Monday, 6th April 1987
On Monday morning we got all our gear together and walked the short way across town to the Budget location. Budget’s man in Nelson, Wayne, slowly explained all the controls of the Commodore to us and then rather begrudgingly handed the keys to Roy. He then wished us a pleasant and, looking a little worriedly at the car, a safe trip.
With all the preparations complete we were ready to leave Nelson at noon. I drove the first bit to Murchison and then, after a pie and a coffee break, Roy took over. As we headed south down the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, “Radio Scenic land” was playing on the radio. We stopped off again at Pancake Rocks, an unusual rock formation, and again later for more coffee.
The girls had made it clear that they didn’t want to drive at all so we had agreed that they would sit in the back whilst Kevin, Roy and I would rotate. This usually meant that the driver be would chatting with the guy in the passenger seat whilst the third guy in the back would be trying hard to listen in whilst the girls chatted between themselves loudly in Swedish.
It was soon obvious that we would all get on really well. We all shared a similar sense of humour and the first day was almost full of laughs. Although they always spoke to each other in their native tongue, the girls (like all Swedes) spoke almost fluent English. They didn’t take themselves too seriously either. When they made small mistakes or when their accents meant we struggled to understand them, they laughed too.
Eva told us that her brother was a “farmer” at the airport in Stockholm. We spent 10 minutes trying to understand how Swedish airports mixed agriculture with aircraft. Eva insisted that all airports in the world have “farmer”. Lota agreed they did. The whole car erupted into laughter when we worked out she had actually said “fireman”.
We arrived in Greymouth, our goal for the day, but the town looked a bit of a dump. We didn’t like the look of the youth hostel either so we decided to look for somewhere better. We grabbed a pizza in the centre at a very atmospheric old restaurant, and the waiter told us of the “Blackball Hilton” a budget place a few miles down the road. We paid the bill and armed with two flagons of DB Beer from the local bottle shop we headed off.
It was already dark at 6pm as we chugged up a valley and finally arrived in Blackball. The Hilton proved elusive. We made two wrong turns and had to get directions from a jogger and then again from the barmaid at the local pub. We eventually found it. It was a real gem of a place.
Certainly not part of the famous US hotel chain, Blackball’s Hilton was a converted old pub. The interior was dark, poorly lit and smelt musty. There was a quaint old fireplace and there were really old portraits hanging in the corridors. Out the back they had a makeshift sauna made from railway sleepers. The accommodation was in dormitories each with 6 beds, but no one bed was the same shape and size. The whole place could have easily auditioned for a part in a haunted house film.
The owner had 6 dogs and kept a pig out the back which he told us he fed on beer. We settled in and drank beer around the kitchen table together whilst a group of Kiwis sat out the back and smoked dope.
Tuesday, 7th April 1987
We set off at about 11:30 on Tuesday with Kevin driving. We made a stop at a lake and had a swim and then finally arrived at the Franz Josef glacier around 2:30pm.
After coffee, pies and ice cream Kevin left us as he wanted to take a ride in the helicopter ($45) to see the whole glacier from the air. We carried on up to the glacier car park.
The Franz Josef was impressive. We read on the sign that nowhere else in the world at this latitude did glaciers come so close to the sea. Sadly Eva sprained her ankle in the car park and only managed to limp half way up to the path. Lota made it the whole way to the viewpoint, but only Roy and I got to the ice itself. It was about an hour’s walk in total.
When we got back to the car Kevin was waiting for us. His helicopter flight had been quite disappointing he told us.
We checked into the Youth Hostel. It was run by a guy who looked exactly like Karl Marx. We went out to the shops to buy ingredients for dinner. Roy and I pooled our recipes and introduced the young Swedes to the British version of Spaghetti Bolognese. Kevin had steak. We all had ice cream and fruit salad for dessert.
One of the highlights of the hostel was the evening glow worm trip. At 9pm the warden, taking a break from the Communist Manifesto, led us on a trail for about 40 minutes to an area where glow worms hang out. He told us that they were the second stage of young flies and they glowed via a chemical reaction whilst laying webs on which to feed. This lasted about 12 months and then they became adult flies.
It was a fascinating little trip. He turned out the lantern and the area was lit up by the worms. It was actually quite beautiful, but we struggled to walk in the dark along the little path and we had to file past slowly with arms on the shoulder of the person in front. In all we were gone for about two and a half hours. We didn’t make it back until just before midnight.
Wednesday, 8th April 1987
I was at the wheel again when we left Franz Josef the next morning. With Prefab Sprout playing on the car stereo and everyone singing along we drove south. We made good progress. We stopped at Fox Glacier, fed the birds and then had another stop for coffee and pie at Haast. We went through the Haast Pass just as it began to get windier just as it was starting to rain. We eventually made it to Queenstown for 5pm.
We checked into the rather curious Pinewood Motel. It seemed like somebody had bought up a series of private houses in a residential close and turned them into a motel. Kevin, Roy and I got beds in the dormitory whilst Eva and Lota got a flatlet to themselves with a cooker and a TV.
We were tired after a long drive so we stayed in and watched the TV. Roy and I cooked an omelette for everyone and Kevin went out and got the beer. We managed to stay awake for long enough to watch the curious New Zealand TV closedown just before midnight.