After emerging from eight days of camping near lake Heron in the central part of the south island I made it back to relative civilization and cell phone coverage. I had a number of messages and of them, the most interesting was one from a person who worked for the Piha police. Someone had returned my wallet!!! Frankly, I was speechless. In what other country would not only someone return the wallet, but have the police actually proactively contact the owner? Maybe it was a slow crime day. I was also thankful to be the only Sam Wettling on earth because that, no doubt, made tracking me down a lot easier.
I wasted no time reaching back out and the woman told me that if I gave her my itinerary she would send the wallet to a police station near me. A few days later I was to meet up with the March family in Kaiteriteri and the closest police station was in Motueka, so she said that's where it would be sent.
To Motueka I went.
The drive was through some stunning mountains. Interestingly, the mountain roads here almost never have guardrails, so a high degree of awareness is paramount. Additionally, most of three bridges are one lane, so you have to yield to oncoming traffic should there be any. The key message here is to be cautious and take your time. There is basically no way to get anywhere in New Zealand fast. Thankfully, I was not in a hurry. Not being in a hurry has really been the theme of this trip and is a habit I hope to take home with me. After about five hours I arrived.
Sleeping in the van did not appeal to me that night, so I checked into a hostel. I asked the guy checking me in where someone could grab dinner and a beer and he quickly reonded, "next door. It's where I just was before you buzzed me to check you in." I thought to myself that it seems like I picked the right place to stay.
After tossing my backpack on a bed (you have to grab the best bunks first or you'll end up on a top bunk on a tiny matterss.) I walked next door. Not only was this place a restaurant, it was a brewery. Jackpot! I was feeling indecisive, so ordered a sampler of six beers, each about 6 or 8 oz and ordered a pizza. Worth noting is that the pizza in New Zealand has been phenomenal and the Mediterranean I ordered here was no exception. Order placed and beers in hand I sought a place to start drinking. Out on the patio I found a large, empty picnic table. It was the only one with space. Let the sampling begin! I sipped the delicious beers and caught up on some news and whatnot until about two thirds of the pizza was gone and I was sated.
Minutes later a couple who appeared to be in their mid thirties asked if they could sit down. The woman was clearly from the states. One thing I have learned from my travels is that there is no easier way of opening a conversation than hearing an accent and guessing where the person is from. US, French and German being the easiest. After asking her where in the states she was from she said Washington state. He was French, but hid his accent better than every other French person I've ever met. They had been together for several years, but had just gotten married and we're on their honeymoon. They now lived in Paris together. When I told them I was from Austin the girl's face lit up and she told me that not only had she been born in Austin, she had gone to school at Texas State. What a small world it is.
Jerome, Maria and I chatted until we were the last people in the bar and the staff was putting chairs up on tables. They asked the same thing that almost every single person I've met has asked, "What's up with Donald Trump?!" They did not ask me the other question I get when people find out I'm from Texas which is, "how many guns do you own?" Stereotypes are funny. Donald Trump is too.
Before heading out they invited me to join them the following day for some hikes and since all I was in town for was collecting my wallet I said yes almost immediately. The spontaneous places I have gone and things I have done on this trip have been the best and the next day's trip was no exception.
At ten am the next morning they showed up in their car outside my hostel and we went to a cafe for breakfast and to select our hikes. We elected to go to a couple places a little over an hour away including some gigantic natural springs and to a small town for lunch, but left plenty of room for playing it by ear.
Before heading out I grabbed my passport and asked that we swing by the police station. It felt like such a weird request to make. I was not alone in this feeling and after sharing my thoughts and having them agree we all had a good chuckle. Jerome's GPS guided us in French the few blocks to the station and I went in. The lobby was tiny and empty but a few moments later a cheerful woman emerged from the back. After explaining who I was her face lit up and she said that it had arrived the day before. I could hardly believe my ears. After filling out my name and signature she handed me my wallet, all contents intact. If I had seen aliens I might have less surprised than i was at the sequence of events that had led me here this day. I guess the universe was smiling on me, if but for a second.
Wallet in hand I jumped back in the white Corolla with my new friends and we were off. Our initial stop was at some caves, but a bus full of grade-school kids outside made us think twice and we continued on. The next stop was a quick view out a scenic outlook. By this point in the trip I think I had become jaded. I have seen vista after vista, each more beautiful than the last and at some point it started to all blend together. My companions agreed and after a quick photo we drove on.
The next stop was at our original destination, some of the highest volume springs in new zealand, perhaps in the world. We applied the obligatory sunblock and ventured down a trail through what felt almost like rainforest. There were ferns of every imaginable type surrounding us as we wound around through the forest. Fifteen minutes later we emerged from the woods to behold what I can only describe as the clearest, most beautiful water I have seen in my life. If water could be clearer than air, this was, and the volume of water being pumped out was more than enough to form a healthy and stunning stream mere meters away. I have never seen a spring like this and beneath the surface of the water was otherworldly. Plants swayed gently in the water as the morning sun glinted off its surface nearly hypnotizing me. For another half hour we slowly followed the path around the springs, seeing them from various angles and hardly lifting our gaze from them. We finally made the brief trek back to the car. The total walk had not been more than 2k, but because of the scenery we had spent a conserable amount of time on it. Somewhere near the beginning of the trail with had seen a sign for another walk just a twenty minute drive away. It was still before lunch so we decided to give it a go.
The sign at the beginning of the next trail said a loop took about two hours and wanting a bit of exercise we all agreed that it sounded perfect. Without question this was the most curious and intriguing trail I walked. Back in the late 1920s gold was being mined in the area and they needed power so they built a hydro electric system. What is unique about this one is that instead of using the pressure of water behind a dam to spin turbines, they built what looked like a mini aqueduct from the water source atop the mountain all the way down to about 300 meters from the bottom of the hill. From that 300 meters up the water , which to that point had just meandered down the mountainside, went through a filter and then down a large chute to where the turbine resides. The result is about 152 psi on the blades of the turbine as well as a power generating system that only used a fraction of the total available water, leaving the rest to flow down the creek as normal, thereby minimally disrupting the local ecosystem. It was almost a hundred years old and still working to power local homes. I was simply amazed.
Upon completing the hike we were all hungry and thirsty. A quick search led us to a local brewery that not only had wonderful beer, it was built in such a way that I could have been in Austin. I felt right at home. The building itself was quite old and built out of wood. Outside there were picnic tables sitting atop well-worn bricks and shaded by canvas tarps. Topping this all off was a tractor tire swing in the shade and a fireplace that must be wonderful to sit around on a chilly evening. All of this was surrounded by such thick foliage that sitting there felt completely private despite a road and parking lot being mere meters away.
This day my lunch consisted of some healthy selections including a pickled egg, something I had never tried, a bowl of sausages and cheese covered chips. My compatriots did not order much healthier and we all laughed about it. A few minutes after ordering, Maria went for another round and before bringing the beers, came out with the pickled egg gleefully hoisted above her head. I think she was as excited it see me eat it as I was.
The egg really didn't taste like anything more than a hard boiled egg soaked in vinegar (probably because it was), but I scarfed it down nonetheless. We ate the rest of our feast, drank a couple more beers and headed off to our next destination, Kaiteriteri. While in Kaiteriteri we drank another beer, watched the sun set over the bay and drove the last twenty minutes home.
Once back in Motueka we were ready for drinks and ended up back where we met, at the Sprig and Fern. It would be the second consecutive night we were the last people there.
When I made my way back to the hostel I felt exhausted, but completely satisfied. We had all truly made the most of the day and both my face and my heart were smiling as I drifted off to sleep.Read more