The Quiet Traveller: Day 16 – Franz Josef

After a night of multiple beverages (beveragi?), I wasn’t feeling the greatest, but my plans consisted of nothing anyway, so that was ok. Today my plan was to shower, eat, do washing and just chill. And have a decent cup of tea, if that was at all possible. Coffee made outside the house tastes good. But tea rarely does. Tea must be made inside the walls of this Englishman’s castle.

Part of my plan was also to find some wifi, as the hostel wifi was as weak as my knees after hearing a biscuit packet rustle. I decided the best bet was a cafe named The Aviator, as it charmingly advertised free wifi on an outside A-frame. I sat down, having ordered a coffee and what I think was a lasagne, and logged onto the interwebs. It had been a while since I had used the internet, having been busy surfing and being in remote areas. I chatted with friends, which given the location I was currently in, was such a cool feeling. Here I was at the foot of a glacier on an island on the other side of the world, talking to people from home. That’s globalisation for you.

Having wolfed down my food, I slowly slurped my coffee as I still wanted to use the internet, mostly to check up on the Premier League. Honestly, the one time in my life I go to the other side of the world for two months, Leicester decide to cause a ruckus and I’m not around to watch it unfold. This was a disappointment indeed. Such is the life of a Spurs fan.

The cafe was slowly filling up, which meant a chance to kick back and people watch. Americans are always good fun to watch. I witnessed a portly man complain that there was not enough hollandaise sauce on his food. It wasn’t the taste, the temperature, or the presentation. It was the quantity. Classic.

However, I perhaps was just a little jealous, as I saw another group of wealthy Americans sign up for pretty much every glacier tour. Maybe I could use my British accent to get adopted by them. Does that work? Hello Mr and Mrs American, I’m British. Will you fund my adventures in exchange for me saying words that sound funny to you?

Aside from Americans, there was a herd of old people bumbling about. There needs to be an appropriate word for a large group of old people. For such a common occurrence, especially on the South Coast of England, it’s surprising there is not one. The offenders had stickers with their names on and the name of their tour operator, which I quite frankly, found hilarious. We start our lives as babies in the hospital with name tags, and end them as named-tagged troops of the blue-rinse brigade.

Before the staff of the Aviator cottoned on to my raccoon-like use of their wifi, I trotted off to see if I could find any parts of Franz Josef that I hadn’t already explored. Heading towards the edge of town, full of lasagne, I soon found myself needing to publish a lengthy title. Luckily, Franz Josef has public toilets, so no issues there.

However, these toilets were unlike any I had ever encountered in my life. I walked in and discovered you had to press a button to close the door, which would then automatically lock. I did so and a disembodied voice echoed ‘door locked’. Weird.

As I made myself comfortable, music started playing. The kind you usually find in an elevator. If I’m honest, this was most off-putting. But what was put me off the most in this bizarre contraption was the writing on the door-locking device. ‘This door will open after 10 minutes’ it said. So it hit me that I had 10 minutes in get the job done, or else the door would open directly onto the main street in Franz Josef. What kind of 1984 toilet was this?

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The Big Brother toilet cubicle.

Now, don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned previously, toilets can be a handy restorative niche if you need a few minutes away from people. But this was just ridiculous.

To be fair though, this toilet was probably the most interesting thing about Franz Josef after the glacier itself. Sure, the scenery was good, but it was obscured by thick clouds (see awful featured image) for both days – which was both annoying visually and for those trying to get up the glacier by helicopter, as recent accidents have tightened the flying conditions that can be flown in. It will be interesting to see what happens to the town after the glacier one day disappears. Thanks to global warming, it is vanishing at a rate of knots, and that rate of knots will only increase thanks to Donny Johnny Trumpington.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 15 – Franz Josef

Setting off from Westport, we continued along the coast in the direction of the Franz Josef Glacier. I was not booked on to do anything at the glacier, so I decided I had to make the most out of the stops on the way.

The main point of interest on route was Hari Hari, where in 1931 an aviator named Guy Menzies landed the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea. The Tasman is the lengthy wet area between Australia and New Zealand, although the flight is not far by today’s modern aviation standards. But in 1931, such a trip took some industrial sized military-grade balls. Menzies landed not on what he thought was a field, but was actually a swamp. This unfortunate turn of events, and the fact that Shrek had negated to install any kind of runaway that could accommodate an Avro Avian, meant Guy’s plane ended up with its wheels pointing at the sky.

Luckily Guy survived, and there is now a memorial garden dedicated to him at the site of the ‘landing’. This consists of a mosaic with a lot of inspirational messages from people around the world, and a sundial. I looked at the sundial and appreciated the ultimate analogue form of telling the time; a stick and the sun. Upon closer inspection, the dial had an inscription, which read ‘Be true to others as the dial is to the sun’. I boarded my mental submarine, locked the hatches, and hit the dive lever.

Whilst deep, I reached out to touch the sundial itself. Pulling my hand back, the middle part came back with it a little way. I reached back again and shook it. The bolts connecting the dial to the base were loose, and I could freely shake it around. I no longer appreciated the dial, but instead the irony of the situation. The dial was as true to the sun as a promise not to invade Poland.

Arriving at Franz Josef, I soon realised that the town itself only existed to serve the purpose of a base for those hiking or helicoptering up onto the glacier itself. There’s not a lot going on if you’re not going up, and much like Picton, it is merely a transit hub.

I also soon realised that this meant there was not much to do except go to the pub. We were greeted at our accommodation an owner who seemed to think he was some kind of beverage based demi-god, who gave out free drinks to a few travellers upon arrival. He attempted to make his place sound like Ibiza, which to be fair to him, he did good job of. The place had a university halls kind of vibe, and after dinner at the onsite restaurant (very hallsy), people came together for drinks.

As an introvert, I do find socialising isn’t as draining after a beer or two. Alcohol can be a verbal lubricant, a phrase which sounds disgusting but is oddly accurate. However, it’s not recommended because you’re fundamentally altering your personality. And this book is about adapting and thriving with your personality, not changing it with substances.

Having said that, I was intrigued to try the local beverage of NZ, Tui. I bought myself one, and then a Swiss guy bought me one, so naturally I had to buy him one back, whilst getting myself one and so on. You get the idea.

Tomorrow would be for recharging, both of the social energy variety and beer variety.

 

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 14 – Westport

Today we were on route to Westport, a small town on the West coast (as the name suggests). Having throughly enjoyed my first experience of surfing in Australia, I had decided to sign up to surf at Tauranga Bay, which was a short drive from our stopover.

Surprisingly, there were only two of us from the bus signed up for surfing, so when we reached the coast, me and Joe went off to the surf place whilst the rest of the bus went on a walk. Joe was a bespectacled chap with an extraordinarily bushy beard, nothing like the useless bristles I was sporting. I swear most of my thoughts whilst on the road were ‘Where can I get food?’ and ‘I should probably shave, I look like I live in a bush and feast on passing rats.

As we walked to the surf place, it came into view, and I realised it was not a surf place, it was a surf van. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but my original thoughts had revolved around a form of architecture that didn’t have wheels. I was intrigued.

We were then introduced to Mark, our instructor for the afternoon. In a word, Mark was gnarly. He looked gnarly, talked gnarly, and when I learned about his past, he was indeed, gnarly. His face looked like he had spent his life in the sea, with a gruff Kiwi accent and bronzed skin from many days in the sun. He also knew his shit.

If you’re reading this online (which you obviously are because I haven’t put anything into print), here’s a link to some footage of Mark and Tauranga Bay. Starts at 5:00.

I later learned he had travelled the world as a pro surfer, spending eight years seeking out the best waves in the world before finally settling for the regular surf at Tauranga. He told me tales of how he had been to Hawaii, where the waves were so strong even the pros were wearing helmets – you know it’s bad when the pros are wearing helmets. I asked him if he had surfed all his life – ‘Nah, only since I was 16’ he replied, as if he had recently picked up the sport like picking up a pint of milk.

The surf proved to be a bit tougher than when I was in Australia, and before long I was absolutely knackered. Strong waves are a problem for me because I am 90% skin and bones with assorted organs thrown in for a laugh. However, Mark’s instruction was incredibly useful, and I spent a fair bit of the afternoon actually on the board and surfing the breakers in. I like to think you have to fight the elements to to earn the right to join them for the ride back to shore.

I arrived back at our accommodation to a hive of activity. People were everywhere, cooking, socialising, and just generally bustling about. All I wanted was a shower, some food and a sit down. I had a shower (sand needs to get back in the sea), and then luckily a friendly German guy called Mathias let me have a share in what he was cooking. I can’t quite remember what it was, but it was delicious, and I am very grateful.

Before long, most people were in bed. I expected the nights to be much later at hostels, but it seems travelling, as fun as it is, can tire out everyone, from the quietest introvert to the most outgoing extrovert and everyone in-between.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 13 – Abel Tasman

The sea kayak were doubles, so I paired up with Veronika and got in the front of the mighty vessel. We were given a kayaking crash course from the safety of dry land, and then we loaded the kayaks aboard the tractor trailer and headed down to the shore. The plan for the day was to kayak along the coast for a few miles, drop off the kayaks on a beach, and then walk back to base along the coastal path.

There were no other Stray bus members with us on this adventure, but there were a few members of the public, including a young Spanish couple and a fantastic Irish family, consisting of two parents who were definitely getting on a bit and their grown up daughter, possibly late twenties. It was a scorching, cloudless day, and I was interested to see how the classically pasty Irish would stand up to the heat. Although I had concerns of my own, which meant I donned my Australian style hat and copious amounts of sun cream.

The other member of our group was Oscar, our Kiwi guide and instructor. He was incredibly chilled out and incredibly young (younger than me), yet you felt that he knew his kayaking stuff. Out on the water I asked him if this was something he had always wanted to do. He replied that he had become a kayaking instructor straight out of school, because he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he enjoyed kayaking. Sounds like you’re living life right, Oscar.

The sea was flat as a pancake and the wind minimal. We launched into the tiny breakers and I began windmilling my arms, attempting to dip the paddle ends in and out of the water without pouring the ocean onto my suncream-infused face. Being in the front, I had to operate the rudder. Since when did kayaks have rudders? This was news to me. Anyway, steering the vessel proved to be a lot of fun, especially when the occasional boat came past and I had to direct the bow into the wash. Sea-faring language is weird. Rudder is just udder with an ‘r’ in front. Port can be left, an alcoholic beverage and also a place to berth a ship. Don’t get me started on the shipping forecast – yes, I’m looking at you, Dogger.

With two people in a kayak you can go at quite a pace, and although we weren’t racing against our fellow kayakers, I did feel mildly victorious when we nosed ahead. The Irish parents soon fell behind, but to be fair they were doing a good job for their age. Our first destination was an island named ‘Adele Island’. Ironically, it was a really calm day on the water, nowhere near rolling at a depth of many fathoms standards.

The unique thing about this island is the noise it makes. As you draw closer, the sounds of many thousands of birds can be heard, a complete contrast to the near-silence of the forest on the shoreline. This is because there are no predators or diseases that have become abundant on the mainland, and it represents what the Abel Tasman area would have sounded like when Abel Tasman himself discovered it.

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Banana camouflage is what gives this battleship formation the edge over the enemy.
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Ironically, Adele would not be welcome given her track record of arson attempts on the natural world. What did the rain ever do to her?

It felt great to get out and stretch my legs, because as fun as kayaking is, the leg room is somewhat wanting. Still, not as bad as a Ryanair flight. We wandered around the island beach whilst Oscar prepared some much needed tea and biscuits. An island free of human activity, tea and biscuits, and beautiful weather. Life was at a peak.

Clambering back into our cockpits, we launched into the slightly windier open water once again. This increase in wind was because we had left the safety of the bay we had departed from, and I was glad I had re-doused myself in sun cream before setting off. Coming round the head of the island, we came across a seal colony, which really got me thinking. About how I wanted to be a seal.

Wake up. Roll around. Roll to find food. Roll back to sleeping area. Make strange noises. Such is the life of the seal. If only my life was like that. Oh wait…

My arms were beginning to tire as we edged closer to our final destination, a beach on the mainland. My main issue was that my swans were/are nowhere near sick enough to warrant calling a vet. Dipping was becoming stroking, meaning my oar end was not having much of a forward thrusting impact. Eventually, our plastic fleet made it to shore, and I gladly set down my paddle for the last time. Kayaking is fun but hard work.

On the beach, Oscar conjured up a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, and I spent the time chatting away to the amiable Irish family. It seemed the parents were visiting the daughter who was spending a longer period of time in New Zealand. It’s easy to see why people end up long term in what is such a great country.

Saying a slightly sad goodbye to Oscar and the Irish, who were getting the water taxi back to base, me and Veronika began the lengthy trek home. It was still scorching, but I was glad we were in the shade of the coastal foliage for the majority of the route. Over 12km and several hours later, we staggered back into The Barn, my legs like sausages and my German language skills greatly improved. That’s something I definitely did not expect to happen in New Zealand of all places.

The evening was spent reconvening with Stray people around a fire pit. I met a few more of my fellow travellers, including Freddy, a friendly Canadian (of course he was friendly) who lived in Vancouver, just north of Seattle. I extracted a few tips from him about Seattle for later on my travels.

I then got chatting to an American girl, who told me she was spending a few more days than just the usual two in Abel Tasman. ‘Why are you doing that?, I queried. ‘Well, it’s so nice here, and I’m introverted so I need a bit of a break.’ She didn’t have to say any more, I totally understood her. It’s incredibly fun but incredibly draining living out a rucksack, and I could tell that she wanted a few days off from carting her life and possessions all over the place. It was also very satisfying to meet someone on my wavelength in the same situation as me, however brief an encounter it was.

As weary travellers began to head to bed, I spotted a few people spread-eagled on their backs on the wooden decking, looking skyward. I decided to see what the fuss was about and tilted backwards to rest my head. Stars popped and flared before me, the like of which I had never seen. More and more kept appearing, and I suddenly felt small in the vastness of everything.

Track of Day 13 – He’s A Pirate (PoTC Theme) // Hans Zimmer