Brooke was actually from Ohio, but lives in Colorado with her husband. He left her, though not in the Estonian sense, and went back to Colorado for work. We had a great chat all one hundred kilometres back down the road, and all too soon we parted ways at Kaitaia Pac’n’save.
I headed North West towards the Bay of Islands, wondering if I’d be able to see any islands in the morning. The campsite was miles from anywhere, but huge, so I got to run a few laps before retiring to write.
Wednesday began more brightly, but as I caught the vehicle ferry across to Russel things turned grey. I’m not sure what I’d have done if the sun was shining, but with the wind blowing and the rain falling I decided to get out of Dodge.
…and back to Whangarei.
Nothing in the guidebook grabbed my attention, and with fatigue setting in I was glad to be back somewhere familiar. I checked back into the Top 10 and said:
“I see the Estonian’s still here. Has his girlfriend come back?”
“Oh, you know about that?!” squealed the excitable lady on reception. “She came back!”
I parked back on site 42, and was looking forward to another attempt to run up to the lookout, when the Estonian guy appeared.
“How’re you doing?” I ask, with more purpose than usual.
“Meh. She’s still deciding”.
He then asks me about the South Island and if I could help him persuade her to go with him. He’s got his laptop out under the tree so I point him at google images of “Queenstown Gondola”, “Milford Sound” and “Mount Cook”. His jaw drops, he’s blown away.
“…and the photos are nothing like as awesome as being there!” I add.
His girlfriend returns from a shower and sticks her head into their car. He shouts something in Estonian like:
“Hey honey, come and look at these pictures”
“…but they’re amazing, you should come look at them”
Seriously. I didn’t know why he was waiting for her before, now I’m very confused.
I had bigger fish to fry. Man against mountain once again. This time I’m ready. Well rested, two days sober, I know what’s in front of me, and I know what I have to do. To the top, run every step!
But the hill is relentless. It doesn’t feel pain, or pity, or remorse. It just keeps on battering me, until my Achilles feel like they’re going to snap.
But I’m a machine. I can take it. All the way. Just….keep….lifting….those …..feet.
And then ….what’s that ahead? Can it be?
It’s the lady from reception.
“You’re doing well, keep going!” She says, pausing from her stroll to stand around drinking her water.
“phnnnk yrr” I grunt.
And then, a sign! No, not an omen, an actual sign where the paths join. This means I’m almost there. I’ve made it! Just a few easy yards to the top and:
Getting back down’s a lot easier, and I bolt into the campsite with a smile on my face and a puddle on my head.
“How are ya?” asks one of the campers.
“Great……..just……..ran….up…..that!” I gasp proudly, pointing at the hill looming above us.
“and you do that for fun?”
It’s a long walk into town the quick way, and the reception lady sends me the scenic way. So I’m starving when I get to the pubs after 30 minutes. Legends is open but looks rubbish, so I hit the Irish bar. Oh, for a large bowl of pasta, a chatty barmaid, and maybe some live music.
“It’s Jam night, tonight” says Hannah, taking my order for chicken linguine. I confirm that doesn’t refer to a fruit preserve competition, and so I’ve hit the jackpot!
My bowl of pasta arrives, but it’s not massive.
“I’m off” says Hannah, to be replaced by some stoic barman.
“When’s Jam night start?”
…it’s 7 o’clock.
The place is empty so I don’t fancy hanging around. And I don’t fancy doing the walk twice more. So I give up. But I’m still hungry. I stop off for a Mcdonalds on the way back. I’m not talking about a McFlurry, a full cheeseburger meal. When I reach my van I’m still hungry and have a bowl of cereal. Don’t diet, run!!
Thursday. Last full day in New Zealand. Nothing much to do but head South, rejoin Highway 1, and head to Auckland. I wonder if I might see Brooke again on Highway 1, because most people will have to go that way down to Auckland. But she didn’t need to get back until Sunday, and was planning to stay up North a lot longer than me. I’m being silly. I guess after travelling for so long I’m missing company. Luckily, Ben is free to join me tonight back in Takapuna.
The scenic road south from Whangarei is fairly scenic, but extremely wriggly. In fact I’m in danger of running out of diesel because the hills and bends are using so much more than they should have. I pop out onto highway 1 and am glad to see a familiar petrol station. Though not glad to remember it’s the one with the pump attendant.
What’s the point of a pump attendant? It’s not a complex task. I don’t mind standing around with a petrol pump in my hand. But if he’s filling the tank I’m just standing around with…well, nothing to do!
Back on highway 1 and heading south I spot a hitch-hiker. Despite my tongue-in-cheek comments last blog, it’s hard to tell what someone looks like as you head towards them at a hundred kilometres-an-hour. I can tell that it’s a woman, and she’s not huge, but that’s about it. So I brake and hope she’s as interesting as Brooke was.
She’s certainly similar looking to Brooke.
“Hey, Brooke!!! What the hell?”
She’d made better progress than expected, ending up ahead of me. But still, for me to come along at the same time as she was waiting alongside a very busy road, the main road of New Zealand no less, was pretty amazing.
So we caught up on adventures and swapped stories, before I dropped her off at a Honey store by the road.
“Is it a special place?” I ask.
“No, I just like honey”
Well, that cheered me up. It’s nice to return to Takapuna, and be in a place where I know the layout. Ben makes the long trek across the bay to meet me, and we have a few last beers.
Friday is a fairly boring day in a lot of ways. There’s nothing to do but admin. Returning the bike, the van, catching a flight. But it’s also very exciting. Not least because I get to see whether I’ve won my two thousand dollar bet!
You see, the van rental people have an excess of 7500 dollars. So if I have a prang I might have to pay that! In fact they charged the full amount to my credit card as a bond. Maxing out my card. You can pay to have this excess reduced to nothing. But on a 33 day rental that would cost two thousand dollars. So I gambled.
But for some reason this makes the last day’s drive particularly nervous. Of course, I’m in the only campsite that has a very tight entrance. It’s today that a lady chooses to park her caravan across the entrance, making it tighter, but I squeeze through.
Somehow I survive to the bike rental place, and say goodbye to my bike. I park up and indulge in the epic task of repacking my stuff down to 2 bags for flying. Not helped by stuffing in my XL helmet.
Finally I make it back to the rental place and the van’s in one piece. I get all my money back, wahoo!
“You have to pay diesel tax, 5 bucks per hundred kilometres”
To the airport, and into the business class lounge.
Oh , sweet luxury. After 33 days in a campervan this feels really good.
Now just a 14 hour flight to get through and I’ll be in Vancouver.
…and it’ll still be Friday night!