Excepting perhaps Raglan, which I never visited myself, I imagine Takaka is the hippie capital of New Zealand. Being a tiny town with a small main street area, I walked by a surprisingly large amount of coffee shops, multiple of which were all organic or vegan or fair trade, and there are multiple shops selling Himalayan styles and similar clothing one would typically associate with a certain crowd of people. Not that I judge, if they were a little less expensive or were I trying to carry as little with me as possible I would have bought something. I spent a while browsing the stores myself and now sit in one of the coffee shops sipping the aforementioned fair-trade coffee. I am looking for a place to stay for a while now. Takaka was the closest town to the campsite last night. Despite its charm, it is too small with too little to do if I am going to stay in a town or city. It is not a hard decision to move on.
I pull into a campsite a few hours south near Nelson Lakes National Park. There are a few hikes close by and I am hoping for one day of at least mediocre enough weather in the next days. I spend a few minutes walking around the camp and find a small nook at one end of the camp. There is a chunk of the trees that are missing, nearly perfectly square, about one Toyota Camry Garcia station wagon in length and about ten feet deep. I am able to park my car along it, creating a tiny, private, outdoor room. Tightly knit trees form three of the walls, more natural than any other wooden walls that I have lived in. The fourth wall has a beautiful painting of a landscape with a mountain backdropping grassy and forested fields. I set up my chair and camp stove creating an odd approximation of a home with a kitchen and my car serving as a bedroom. If this campsite had a lake or river I might decide to settle in here for a week given my recent discomfort with moving. I will sleep on it, but I do feel comfortable here. Maybe it is only comfort because I once again knowing the way forward.
The most popular one day track is Mount Robert in the national park. A four or five hour hike with views of the lakes below. Sitting in the car park at the base of the track I look up at the grey and looming clouds hovering above. It is probably going to rain, but I figure the hike will probably still be worth it. At least there will not be many people on the trail.
Eventually, I get high enough up the mountain that I am in the clouds themselves. The path is easy to follow despite the low visibility. The fog obscures vision beyond about thirty or forty feet. It is reminiscent of scenes from movies or video games meant to be creepy. The posts marking the path seem lonely, isolated by the fog from their companions. I laugh at the thought. Certainly worth braving the rain. The views once I get below the altitude of the clouds provide the more classic wonderous views one expects from the south island.
I am on the road again, I am too excited to stay here in the parks despite the nice campsite. It will not be great in the rain so I decide to drive down to the glaciers on the west coast where there will be a few free campsites near rivers I can check out once the rain stops. I drive past Franz Joseph glacier, which is also the name of the town, in favor of Fox glacier. It is a little less popular in hopes of avoiding the business a bit. I plan on staying in a hostel in Fox to check for jobs at the hostels and stick around for a bit.
“Hi there, do you have any rooms available?” I ask the woman at the reception, realizing only now that they are the first words I have spoken since leaving Nelson two days ago. They do not, nor any openings for work exchanges. I thank her and shuffle my way over to the other hostel in town. Thankfully there are rooms here so I do not have to spend a night camping in the rain. My night at the hostel is enjoyable, filled with conversation with a cornucopia of people. The people traveling the South Island, and perhaps because of the busier summer season now, are less French and German than the North Island was. Koreans, Israeli’s, a few other Americans, Irish and Scottish are among the travelers here. There are still a couple of French and German of course, but they are not so dominant.
“Have you ever heard the story of the blind man and the elephant?” Hearing the American accent is a bit refreshing, there is comfort in familiarity. None of the others, myself included, sitting in the room have heard the story. “There is a blind man living in a village. He goes walking one day in the mountain and finds an elephant. He touches the elephant’s trunk and now knows what the elephant is. He has felt it and experienced it. He rushes back down to the village to tell his friend about it.”
“His friend and he go back to the mountain to see the elephant. His friend is blind too, and is feeling the tusks and teeth of the elephant instead of the trunk. But still he, too, has now experienced and knows the elephant. ‘I now know the elephant you told me about,’ his friends say. They go back down to the village to tell everyone else.”
“The whole village is blind people, and when they get to the elephant they are all feeling different parts of the elephant, but they are all amazed by the experience. They have touched and experienced and now know what the elephant is despite having only touched separate parts. That’s why I am still traveling.”
Seven years he has been away from The States now. Always living through work exchange situations, working for his food and accommodation. He has been all over the world. Last year he spent in Europe, before that Asia, before that South America, India, and Australia. I wonder if I could travel for so long.