Thursday, 9th April 1987
It was still raining the next morning but I decided to look around the beautiful town of Queenstown as best I could anyway.
Kevin and I took the car back to Budget and then I said goodbye to him. He was continuing his travels by hitching south and, attempting to do the Routeburn trail, he was skipping Queenstown for the moment.
I wandered around the town by myself. It was a really neat place. It felt something like a cross between the Lake District and Scotland. I browsed in a few bookshops, had a coffee and then went up in the cable car lift to the skyline top. The view from there was not as brilliant as it could have been. It was misty and still raining, but it was good enough. I had a little walk around for an hour and then took the lift down again.
In the evening Roy and I cooked a shepherd’s pie. Eva and Lota pronounced it better even than our omelette and spaghetti. We wondered whether we should just stay in Queenstown and open a British restaurant to cater for passing hungry Swedes. We sat watching TV in the girls’ flat. I saw Coronation Street for the first time since leaving the UK.
The next day I planned to check out and get a bus and head to the magnificent natural beauty of the fjord at Milford Sound.
Friday, 10th April 1987
I checked out of the Pinewood and then had breakfast with Roy, Lota and Eva. I lost track of the time chatting with them and by the time we had finished washing up I found I had missed the bus to Milford.
Reluctantly I decided to abandon Milford and go directly to Dunedin instead. Roy and Eva set off to go whitewater rafting leaving Lota and me to trudge back into town together. She was going shopping and I was going to start hitching out.
I was pissed off about missing Milford Sound but I was sure that I didn’t want to spend another 2 days around Queenstown to try to get there and back. Then I saw a sign outside the Mount Cook Airways office saying “Flights to Milford”. I was curious and popped in.
The price they were asking for a flight was far too expensive but I got chatting with the lady and she made a phone call. If I was prepared to set off there and then they could fly me to Milford and then immediately straight back. It would be half price. It was 1:30pm then and she said they would look after my rucksack and I would be back before 5pm. I decided to go for it
They put me in a little bus and drove me the short distance to the airport. An 18 seat De Havilland Twin Otter was sitting on the runway and I was guided towards it. I climbed on board and only then discovered that I was to be the only passenger. One of the two pilots shouted to me to sit in any one of the seats and to fasten my seat belt. Within 10 minutes we had taken off.
Once we had levelled off the two pilots called me to the cockpit. They explained the mountain scenery we were flying over and let me take pictures out of the front windows. It was only a 35 minute flight to Miford but it was a pretty spectacular experience.
We landed and I wandered around the airfield for about 15 minutes. When I got back to the plane I saw that it was almost full. There were 16 Japanese people sitting in the front and just two seats free at the back. I grabbed one and we took off again.
We headed south to Te Anau taking about 30 minutes and flying directly over the famous Milford track, a submerged forest and more snow capped mountains. We landed at the tiny airfield and all the Japanese got out.
I had now worked out that the Japanese had chartered the plane and it was originally planned to go empty out of Queenstown and back. Mt Cook had decided to make a bit of extra money out of me. Fair enough I thought. It was my lucky day. After we took off again I was invited back into the cockpit for the final 30 minute sector back to Queenstown.
As promised I was back at the airline office in the middle of Queenstown by 4:30pm. I picked up my rucksack but I knew it was too late to start hitching out now. It would be dark within a few hours. It was cold too. I noticed it was getting really chilly when I saw my own breath for the first time in over a year.
I headed back to the Pinewood. They were full for the night but Eva and Lota suggested I could stay on their sofa instead. We would have to be careful to dodge the warden though.
Finally Roy and I got to taste some Swedish cuisine. The girls made a risotto and we ate it whilst we discussed the day’s activities and our plans. Roy would stay in Queenstown and try to get work with the Walt Disney people who were making a film nearby. The Swedes would hitch directly to Christchurch and I would resume my plan to go to Dunedin.
After dinner we went out along with Katerina, another Swede, and a visited a pub on the shore of the lake for Steinlager beer. The girls were surprised when Roy and I declined their invitation to see the Swedish band “Stig” who were performing at another pub. They gave me the key to the flat and left.
Roy and I had a few more beers together and then hitched back with a guy in an old Morris Marina. I let myself in the flat and settled down on the sofa.
It wasn’t to be a great night’s sleep. The girls came back at 1am drunk and they brought an annoying Swedish lad with a ponytail with them. They all talked in Swedish until he left at 4am. I managed a few hours.
Saturday, 11th April 1987
After lots of coffee and lots of toast I finally said goodbye to the girls and at 9am headed out towards the centre of town.
Dunedin was 238km and I wanted to do it in one day. I walked a little way out and then just decided to stick my thumb out. The first lift, after 25 minutes, was a builder with a truck full of sand. He told me I was in a terrible place to hitch from. He was heading for a building site on the outskirts and he promised me he would show me a better place.
True to his word he dropped me on the outskirts, but to my horror there was a queue of six hitchhikers spread out along the road. I walked up to the first one. I just intended to ask him how long he had been waiting before joining the back of the queue. As I reached him a Holden Kingswood estate screeched to a halt and beckoned us both to get in.
The car was driven by a young Kiwi couple and they explained they were only going as far as Cromwell. My fellow hitcher, who turned out to be from Cambridge, decided to decline the short ride. I said I thought it was worth it though. He smiled and looking back towards the rest of the hitchers said “you be my guest then mate”.
The couple had just bought a coffee shop business in Queenstown and we talked about their plans for the cafe and the difficulties of hitching in different countries. They dropped me at Cromwell bridge.
After 10 minutes a brand new Mitsubishi pulled up. A middle-aged couple were heading just 15 minutes down the road. They explained the construction work that was going on was all in aid of building a new dam. They dropped me at Alexander.
I walked through Alexander across a beautiful bridge and past two German lads hitching. I put my thumb out again and 30 minutes later a Ford Capri pulled up. The driver, an apple farmer, explained the apple cropping process in detail to me and then took me on a little detour to show me the impressive Roxborough dam. He dropped me in Roxborough which seemed to be yet another New Zealand one-horse town that looked especially dead on a Saturday afternoon.
After 20 minutes on the thumb a blue Hillman hunter drew up. The driver seemed drunk and I was dubious but I climbed in anyway. He turned out to be completely drunk but he was a nice chap. He explained he was a worker at the local apple packing factory. He promised to take me to Raes Junction and we set off with him driving slowly at 30 miles per hour.
When we reached Raes Junction I realised that he wasn’t really going anywhere and he was just doing this for a bit of entertainment. We had a drink together in a pub at Raes and then he suggested another drink at Beaumont 24km further on. He suggested a night’s accommodation back in Roxborough and then a lift all the way to Dunedin in the morning. I declined. He wasn’t bothered at my rejection though and smiled, ordered himself another beer and wished me good luck as I headed out of the pub.
I was now 110km from Dunedin. It was only 3:30pm and I was doing well. I walked down the hill to a little river bridge and waited. 3:30 turned to 4:30 and then to 5:30. There were only a few cars and nobody was stopping. It was getting cold but worse still it was getting dark. The cars that were passing me now had their lights on and I knew that once it was completely dark there was even less chance anyone would stop.
By 6:30 I was starting to look for a place to put my sleeping bag down and spend the night. Then finally at 6:45 a little red minibus came slowly down the hill and stopped. There were 3 guys in the minibus and they were heading to Dunedin.
As we set off in the dark, they told me that they had been out hunting deer. I told them that I thought hunting was fabulous pastime. They were a small businessman, a fireman and a worker in a freezer factory. They were really nice guys and, even though we couldn’t really see much, they pointed out the local points of interest and explained the history of gold mining in the area.
They dropped me outside the youth hostel. I was tired and eager to get a bed for the night. I wandered past the sign and in through the door, down the narrow hallway and into the kitchen. I took my rucksack off and put it on the floor. There was a middle aged lady washing dishes. I explained I was looking for the reception. She explained that I was in her house and the youth hostel was actually next door. I apologised but she was perfectly fine about it.
I went next door and got the last bed in the dormitory. I had a shower and went out for some wonderful Kiwi fish and chips. When I came back and was making coffee I recognised one of the hitchers that I had queue-jumped back in Queenstown. He was from Brisbane. He was fine about it especially as he had made it well ahead of me with just two lifts.