Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Deep South

Wrote May 2nd, 2008
When I said that it was winter and it was cold in my previous post. I was wrong. It is NOW officially winter and it is cold. I didn’t even know what cold was until making it this far south. As I am currently writing, it is snowing and hailing and raining all at once. It is cold. It really is winter. I can hear the thundering of the Southern Pacific Ocean pounding the most southern point of the South Island of New Zealand. With the exception of a small island off the coast, the only thing separating me and a brutal winter in Antarctica is an ocean and the massive storm erupting outside.

We finally fled Kaikoura after getting my car fixed and started making our way south. The further south we drove, the evidence of winter became more and more apparent. The leaves were amazing colors. The Canterbury Plains near Christchurch gave way to rolling hills of green pastures the closer to Dunedin we got. Deciduous trees because more abundant and so did the colors. Checking for surf the whole way down, we followed endless country highways twisting, climbing and flirting with hills for hundreds of miles. The leaves we everywhere, falling and covering the road. We could see our breaths on every beach we stopped at. The change of season was here. After a stop for the night to check out some Penguins and some odd round rocks on the beach, we eventually rolled into Dunedin. A dramatically beautiful and chilly city. We decided that after a week of camping, a night in a hostel might do us some good. A shower at least would be nice. Being in a city was exciting in itself. Dunedin is also the home to one of New Zealand’s biggest school, the University of Otago. The striking resemblance of our own college town in Bellingham, Washington gave it an air that just called for some exploring.

Our first stop was a tour at the Speights Brewery. A popular New Zealand beer which is found all over the country. Everyone said it was a “can’t miss” and for an entire hour we didn’t understand why. We were in a brewery, we were thirsty and we were learning the history of some dudes that made beer. Pretty dull. At the end of the tour it all came together for a 20 minute showdown. They unleashed us with schooner glasses and 6 beers on tap to try. They let us behind the bar for our own pouring. For 20 minutes they let us at it. And 20 minutes later we successfully sampled all their brews. Needless to say it was an exciting evening. Having spent so much time camping in the middle of nowhere, it was a blast to pretend to be civilized for an evening. But much like the rest of New Zealand, hanging out in cities has a way of draining the wallet fairly quickly. The next day we were off. Back on the road and heading further South, looking for surf.

We stopped at every beach we could get to and eventually we found ourselves somewhere south of Dunedin, 30 miles down a dirt road and on an empty beach in the middle of nowhere. The sun was setting. We set up camp and put every single layer of clothing we owned on. We bunkered in because on the horizon, when the last drops of light faded away around 5:30pm, we saw a massive dark wall on the horizon headed our way. Temperatures hovered around freezing all night as wind, rain, snow and sleet pounded us. It was a completely sleepless night but I felt even more sorry for Craig because every time a giant gust of wind would hit and shake the car, I’d look out from the window of the Subaru and see if Craig was still there. He never flew away but it made me cold just looking at his flapping tent that was completely soaked.

The next morning we quickly threw everything into the car and got on the road as fast as we could so the car could warm up and thaw us out. We went for a much deserved warm breakfast but we were still cold. It took us all day to finally warm up. This southerly storm is in full force now and there is no way we were about to attempt to camp again. We found a chill little hostel with a fireplace on the beach and I haven’t moved 3 feet from it in hours. We’re in the Catlins. A rugged spot and a beautifully remote stretch of coastline. It’s amazing here. Again, the striking dramaticness of this country never ceases to amaze me. The weather is crazy. It is cold and fierce. Unfortunately we haven’t found waves in a while, but I’m having the time of my life looking.

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