This morning, Chris and I provided feedback to the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) on their Freedom Camping Bylaw. This is the second round of feedback requested. It is a good thing that QLDC asks for feedback, but it is quite a time consuming process to respond to the relatively frequent requests. We responded in the first round of feedback. We were particularly spurred to do so when we found that a verge on the lower part of Coal Pit Road is proposed as a specified Freedom Camping area, because there is a toilet block nearby. The verge is steeply sloping, right by the road, on a blind corner and adjacent to multiple houses. It seems like a really bad place to encourage people to park and wander around.
However, the feedback that the QLDC got initially can’t have been too discouraging, because in the new proposal, Gibbston Community Reserve is still on the books for Freedom Camping. We noticed that all the proposed Freedom Camping areas near Queenstown and Arrowtown and Wanaka have been deleted, but more far flung ones like Gibbston, Glenorchy and Hawea have remained; maybe those are the places with fewer people to protest.
We are not over being heartily sick of hordes of tourists yet; COVID may have stretched time strangely but the scenes of people everywhere is not yet far enough beyond the horizon to have let our psyches bounce back. What people in campervans forget is, although they are only in a place one or two nights, there are hundreds of thousands of such people. So a Freedom Camping site can be constantly occupied all year round. Therefore it would be quite horrific if you lived in a rural area for the peace and solitude and found a Freedom Camping area proposed near your house. And, on that note…
“Hey Randy, isn’t the view just sooooo beooootiful?” I said. I have to admit that my voice was ringing a little false, even in my own ears. There is only so enthused one can get about looking at the view through a windscreen, day after day. OK, OK. Yes it was me that wanted to come on this holiday. I thought it would be fun, you know. We could see another place, have a break from home, because we were locked down for so long that I knew every little speck of dust that I hadn’t bothered to dust off the dresser.
Randy was quite dubious. He pointed out all the rigmarole around travel and insurance these days. Not to mention the horrendous cost. I pointed out that we hadn’t saved for all those years just to sit on our butts and wait for our money to disappear as inflation runs rampant. Sure, we should have got on with the travel sooner, before the COVID. But later is better than never, so we should take our opportunity and go. And, hey, you never know when COVID-20 or whatever will come along.
So we booked to come to New Zealand, the whole 12 hour flight and all. We signed up for a Sani-Tourist package with Maui Rentals. I got quite interested reading about those old Māori stories, how Maui pulled the North Island out of the sea and his canoe turned into the South Island. They weren’t very inventive, those Māori, were they – calling the two islands North and South? Anyhow, we committed to a 2 week trip, which would have been the whole of our annual holidays before we both retired.
We flew into New Zealand in the early morning and it wasn’t all that spectacular. Low green hills and a harbour and a big city. It was a bit cloudy too. We had to put on funny suits once the plane had touched down, then we were sprayed as we walked into the airport. We were told our luggage would be transported straight to the Maui depot and put into our campervan, we wouldn’t have to touch it. There were a whole bunch of extra forms to sign, non-contact of course. They wanted to make sure we understood that we couldn’t get out of the vehicle for any reason. Of course I understood, did they think I couldn’t read? Finally, we got into the campervan, thankfully took our suits off and trundled down the road.
The way it works, you see, is that you have to be truly self-contained. The campervan holds 3 days of water and waste at any time and you are booked in at sites that will top you up. You buy all your food online through Maui and when you get to a site the staff put it into a little hatch thingummy on the campervan with like a double airlock door system. You cruise down the country from north to south along the designated route, looking at the scenery on the way. Some clever person has designed a system that you can put your phone or iPad into and it gets pushed outside the campervan so you can take pictures without them looking like there is smeary glass in the way.
By the time we got here, down the south end of the West Coast of the South Island, Randy and I were heartily sick of each other. I hadn’t thought of how much like lockdown it might be to be stuck in a campervan for 2 weeks. Randy apparently had thought about it but he says I didn’t listen when he told me. Well, he is quite the know-it-all a lot of the time so it is possible I was ignoring him when he said it. The mountains and forest and sea down here really are beautiful, but we have seen oodles of mountains, and forests and sea now, and I can’t remember where any of them were.
After we screeched at each other about nothing for the nth time, Randy suddenly wrenched the wheel and drove the campervan down a side road with a No Entry sign. We were not supposed to stop anywhere other than the designated campsites but I was beyond caring and Randy clearly was too. We couldn’t see any other people so we bounced down the track until we got to the beach. It was a stunning beach on a stunning evening. The huge sun was slowly settling into the sea, far far away. The beach stretched endlessly up and down the coast. The trees showed the direction of the prevailing wind, sloping steeply up and away from the beach. “I guess we are stopping here” I said. “Guess we are” Randy replied.
We cooked and ate our dinner, oohed and aahed as the last remnants of light left the sky, and then went to pull down the blinds. It was at that point I noticed a gate behind the campervan, and it was closed. We couldn’t have driven here through a closed gate, and that was definitely the road we had come down. Now I looked carefully, I could see it was a big gate, in a big fence. The fence was covered in grass and shrubs so I hadn’t noticed it before. “Randy, did you notice that gate?”. Randy wasn’t listening to me, as usual. He was staring at something outside the vehicle. There was a group of people coming down the beach and they appeared to be dragging a big log.
The group walked right up to us and dropped the log under the edge of the camper. They didn’t look in the window and say hello, they didn’t look at us at all. They looked a bit unkempt, to be honest. They had long khaki tops, black shorts and big, black gumboots on and their hair was pretty messy. I think they were all men. They headed off down the beach, and then we saw them coming back with another log, which they rolled up next to the first one. I waved at them, trying to catch their attention. How were we going to drive out of here with logs under the camper? Not to mention that our insurance excess is huge if this thing gets damaged.
By the time they had a pile of logs beside the camper we were getting pretty worried. If we could have got out to talk with them, we would have. But we couldn’t. That was the deal, you see, the camper was sealed up tight in a way that you would need an axe or a crowbar to break out and the camper didn’t come with an axe or a crowbar inside. We tried banging on the windows and doors but it didn’t affect the camper and the guys didn’t notice either. It was when we saw them chopping kindling that we got really worried.
To cut a long story short, I’m recording this message on my phone in the hope that it survives the fire, and someone will know what happened. I can’t get a message out because there’s no cell reception here. Tracey, we love you lots and can you please look after the cat, even though he is old, and has no teeth, and needs pills every day. This holiday was a damn mistake, I admit it, but you only live once, right?
One of the guys is lighting the fire with a flaming torch and I can see all the others holding signs that say “f-ing tourists, we hate you”, although some of them are spelled wrong. It occurs to me, before I pass out from smoke inhalation, that even frogs in a pot may sometimes leap out before boiled and bite the chefs with their little froggy teeth.