Gathan Beaga


I’m writing this offline. We are in the countryside now, where Telecom’s level of service is such that half an hour of reasonably heavy rain can knock out the phones for hours at a time. Ahhh, you might say: what about cellular? Ha! Well you might ask: due to a monumental screwup by the Telecom Cellular people siting the local cell tower, it cannot see any other cell tower as planned (it’s located on the top of a hill above the valley, but a few metres too short apparently) and has to pipe all its traffic through the local landline network. So 027/025 has gone phut too.

Vodafone is working though. Funny that. I may yet send this through that way.

Anyway, yesterday was pretty full on, but not too bad really. We ran into Martha and Glen and the boys on the ferry (Martha heard me nagging R₂ apparently). You never know what the people you get to know via the internet are really going to be like, and so I can report that Martha and Glen are not psychos. In fact, they seemed worryingly normal. And Finn and Malo are lovely wee boys too.

The ferry was packed so it was sheer luck our paths crossed, although we would have met up sooner or later in the dodgy play area in the bowels of the Kaitaki: deep down swaying back and forth; screaming kids mixed with the thrum of engines and the smell of machine oil in the air.

I’m not convinced about the Kaitaki: maybe it’s too large. It takes an age to get on and off it with 1600 people and probably about 350 vehicles crowding in and out of ferry terminals not designed for that amount of peak traffic. But eventually we got out, starting our drive from Picton at around 12:15pm.

Probably as a result of the ship we were on, the traffic was quite heavy and slow, with lots of trucks. We fed the girls in the back seat constant snacks and more Wiggles on the stereo, enough to soothe the savage beasts within. There was no point obsessing about trying to pass things, because sooner or later we’d have to have an enforced pit stop anyway.

And so the afternoon passed slowly: warm but not a lot of direct sunlight; I spy; Berry V at Kaikoura; standing in dog-poo at the Greta Valley service station “playground” (a broken picnic table and an ancient-looking but quite fun swing probably violating dozens of OSH rules); skirting Christchurch and then relief at Rakaia as we turned onto Thompson’s Track to avoid the traffic; R₂ getting hungry and agitated and saying “Let’s go home” or even better “Let’s go into the lounge” (obviously delirious by this stage). We pulled in at Geraldine for petrol and fish’n’chips about six hours after we left Picton. There’s a nice playground there so the girls could run off some of their physical energy after dinner.

Theory was that we could put the girls into their pajamas and they’d just fall asleep. Yeah right. But by now we’d passed Fairlie and were driving up into the Mackenzie and the change in landscape told me that I was coming home, and that we’d make it tonight.

Eventually the girls came to a crescendo of irritated whinging and crying before dropping off to sleep, and then it was quiet – just R. and me cruising State Highway 8; the evening sun making the Mackenzie lupins glow and as it disappeared giving the very top of Mt Cook a roseate glow that in our destination-focus we did not stop to photo. There was no other traffic.

At the Lindis Pass we ran through showers of Porina moths and river nymphs; and I bowled a hare with maybe too little regret. Earlier, between Twizel and Omarama I’d had another berry V and now driving was like the Irish farewell: the road rose to meet us and the wind was at our backs (helped by the fact we were now on roads that we knew pretty well).

We pulled into the farm driveway 11 and a half hours after leaving Picton. Perhaps not unexpectedly, we’ve had a quiet day today.