Tales of a wandering lesbian

Arthur’s Pass

There are a couple of things that one must realize about traveling by campervan.  Depending on the kind of van you have, you’ll have certain amenities.  And you won’t have others.  Ours, for instance, had quite an adequate kitchen area.  The cooler stayed cool, and we were able to cook great meals on the camp stove.  We did not, however have any kind of bathroom facility.

During our two weeks on the south island, we had two showers.  That’s all, just two.  Neither of those took place on day two.   Even with the drapes pulled around our little bedroom, we woke with the sun, slowly and steadily working our way into a conscious state.

Krista, who had already been traveling the north island for two weeks, was in full-out adventure mode.  “I’m thinking about a bath in the lake,” she declared, beginning to strip down the morning layers.

Appalled, I crawled deeper under the covers.  I like being clean, but the idea of a morning dip in a glacial lake wasn’t the kind of adventure I was quite ready for.  I require a bit of warm before hurling my naked body into freezing water.

And so, from my warm perch inside the van, I watched as more and more skin appeared, and Krista walked out into the water.

(Yes, of course I took a picture.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of compromising shots of me…)

After a good shimmy and shake, she emerged, smiling and clean.  I shuddered, and pulled my hood up over my ears.

Day two meant that it was my turn to drive.  I was looking forward to the challenge.  The gas and brake pedals were in the same configuration as in the states, but the steering wheel was on the opposite – as were the windshield wipers and turn signal.  I’ll say that there were only a couple of moments when Krista had to yell, “wrong side!” to get me onto the right side of the road, and I only tried to climb into the other side of the cab a few times.  However, I activated the windshield wipers approximately 24 times every day, while trying to signal.

As we drove on, with an exceedingly clean windshield, we delved deeper into the beautiful New Zealand countryside.  We climbed higher, working our way to the pass.  Unreal landscapes presented themselves to us over the edge of the road, perched along the mountain.

Mullen, scotchbroom, water, mountains and lupine stretched in fingers below us, the foliage following the waterlines of glacier-fed streams that led from the distant, snow-capped mountains.

As if in response to the flora, and not wanting to be outdone, the fauna began asserting itself.

Kiwi bird crossing signs popped up, and while we were out photographing the landscape, a large, brown-green bird landed on the roof of the van and stuck its head inside.

“What was that?!” I’d looked up to see it land on the van, 20 yards away from us, up an embankment.  “Something big landed on the van.  I’ll go check it out.”

I scrambled up, wondering what I’d just seen.  It had appeared to be checking out the open window, but fluttered to the ground when I walked toward the van.

“No way.”  I was looking at something completely unexpected.

“It looks like a parrot!”  I yelled back to Krista who was now climbing up as well.  “I didn’t know there were parrots here.”  We both looked around at the mountains and then back to the bird.

He was friendly, and seemed as curious about us and our colorful van as we were about him.  He stayed in the shade of the van and turned his head back and forth looking at us.  One of the people Krista had stayed with on the north island was a zookeeper who had showed her something similar.  We were both excited to confirm what we were seeing when we hit the next ranger station.

When we described what we’d seen to the smiling ranger, he pointed, without looking, at a picture on the wall.  Sure enough, it was a Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world.  These guys are known for being social friendly, and mischievous, famous for removing the rubber parts off of cars, and stealing anything they can from campsites.

Along with the Kea confirmation, the ranger gave us directions to a couple of different walks that would take us into the Arthur’s Pass wilderness, and waterfalls.

The first was a towering two-tiered fall.  We walked the half mile up, seeing a couple of other hikers.  The falls were beautiful, and we climbed down to the pool below for a closer look.

Coming from Oregon and Idaho, comparisons were almost unavoidable.  The falls looked like Multnomah Falls, a well known set in the Columbia Gorge of Oregon.  We took our pictures and moved along.

Our next hike would take us further in, closer to the mountains, past alpine lilies, and a gorgeous tumbling river.

Soon enough we found ourselves facing a series of large rocks, falls and pools.

“Shall we cross?”  The question was barely out of Krista’s mouth before we were picking our way across the river.  Once across we clambered up the bank, working our way toward the larger pool.

“It looks pretty deep.”  The hot sun had me thinking about a bath of my own.

“It’s not.”  Krista’s time as a member of a swift water search and rescue team gave her the ability to tell whether we should be jumping into any rivers.

“Okay, I’ll start lower.”  Now, I’m not known as someone who will strip down and throw my naked body into a body of water with other people around, but my sense of adventure was growing, my body was starting to smell like 40 hours of travel, and the clear skies were taunting me.

I looked over to see Krista taking off her shoes.  “You coming, too?”

“Of course.”

While she waded in, I climbed to the lowest ledge of a boulder on the side of the pool.  It gave me maybe a 6 inch drop, but it was enough.  I much favor the sudden cold to a gradual freezing.

My feet touched gravel, and my head popped quickly out of the water, followed by the rest of me.  Krista was still splashing around as I stumbled from the pool.  She ambled out, and we worked our way over to the big, flat rocks in the middle of the river.  Sun-warmed, the rocks were perfect for drying off.  We threw our soggy bodies onto them, and closed our eyes, sighing happily.

I jerked a little when, ten minutes later, I felt myself sliding down the sloping rock.  When I’d plopped down, my wet body had effectively adhered me to the slab.  Now, as I dried in the sun, I was losing friction and moving slowly to the edge of the rock.

It was then that I looked up from my perch and realized where I was.  Naked.  In the middle of the river.  Fully visible from the trail we’d climbed earlier.  Startled, but laughing, I rolled off the slab and looked around.  There were hikers below, but it wasn’t clear whether they’d had a chance to see the enhanced view.

I laughed as I gathered my clothing.  It was entirely possible that the unwitting hikers would find a surprise if they looked closely at their pictures when they got home.

Well rested, cleaner, and sunned all over, we packed up and headed back, with one last look around at the towering scenery.

We repeated our routine from the day before, scouring the map for a campground and picking our way through the mountains to one that would give us a good start the next day.  Lake Ianthe was the winner.  While it was a much smaller camp site – barely more than a parking lot on the side of the road – it had running water, a picnic table and a dock.

It was here that we learned the true value of our van’s paint job.  While a little creepy to us, it was equally creepy to others.  In the small campground, we had two separate vans pull in next to us, only to move a short time later.  It seemed the van served as vehicle, home, and protective gargoyle, a handy feature throughout the trip.

The lake provided us with another delicious meal, another comfortable place to sleep, and another beautiful sunset.

We ate and watched, and laughed about the perfect moment on the rocks in Arthur’s Pass.

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January 5, 2011   1 Comment