Day 57: When we woke up, there were already a lot of people hiking and jogging on the nice, wide, flat rail-to-trail. We walked into town, talking about growing up and our perspectives on money and social status, stopping for some breakfast, then hitching out with some Maori folks- two dudes and a girl probably in their late 20’s, one dude with tattoos on his face, talking about all the places their friends have tagged with graffiti, making apparent gang references and day drinking in the car. They told us that we absolutely can’t pass up Raglan, but we did. They dropped us off near Hamilton, where we got some drinks and snacks at the gas station before hitching across the street in the shade of a mini-mall sign. This hitching spot is a weird one, in a city with lots of traffic right around a turn. Xena hula hoops and I play guitar and stick my thumb out when necessary. We joke about how campervans never pick us up, even though they have so much room for passengers, and as we see a big converted military truck pull around the turn, I say half seriously that I have a good feeling about this one. Sure enough, they pull over and we meet another one of our favorite people from our time hitching across the country- NZ Strutter, named after one of Xena’s close friends from back home that shares a striking resemblance to this dude. And what a character this dude is- big and tall, like Tito from Rocket Power, but with curly black hair and a beard that does nothing to conceal a permanent smile. He exudes positivity and energy, showing us the mobile radio station he’s set up in the back of his truck, which he got only a few days ago, for himself to broadcast a program during Kiwiburn, NZ’s version of burning man. We toss our packs in the back, climb in the cab, and the world is bright and shiny. He tells us about how he hasn’t slept, having worked so much to get his truck ready, about all the recording and travelling he does, indirectly explaining that because he’s so charismatic and one-of-a-kind, good things follow him wherever he goes. He sees a guy he knows at a random gas station in a tiny town along the highway, also on the way to Kiwiburn, they make arrangements to meet up there, and we drive up into the mountains, between Rotorua and Taupo- big pines and alpine above the pass but with palms and ferns everywhere in between. We could see a few volcanic vents spewing out sulfuric smoke, looked at each other briefly, and just giggled with excitement, Xena grabbing my arm and shaking it gently and making a noise, “eeeeeeeeee!!!!”. As it gets dark, we quickly come up on a spot right off the highway and we’re dropped off. NZ Strutter’s friend takes a polaroid of us standing in front of Lake Taupo and gives it to us as a keepsake. We set up the tarp between two big tufts of grass, the lake to one side, and the road on the other.
Day 58: In the morning, we quickly got picked up in a campervan (what luck!), driven by Markus and his mom, both from Germany, and they too are headed all the way into Wellington. Markus is a special blend of crazy- crazy good dude, endlessly energetic, almost manic, mildly socially inept, 19 years old and attended school here is NZ, so is familiar with all the quirks of the Kiwi millennials. His mom was lovely, cared very much about her son, and was probably having a great time, most of the time. We got to lay in the back on the bed, killing time swapping stories, and soon stopping at grocery store some food, and a picnic in a small public park, cooking couscous and veggies with our backpacking stove and their car camping one. We played music in the park, Nova hooped, and Markus spun his fire-spinning sticks without lighting them. We drove past Tongariro, my heart yearning to be up there in the snow, Xena’s mind blown. We stopped at the library in Palmerston North to get ferry tickets, and ended up in Wellington that evening, which started quite a bit later this time of year and so much farther from the equator than Paihia. We found a place to park and immediately Markus pours whiskey drinks and gives everyone a beer, and we all partake, but mom and I skip the whiskey shot. We walked around the city for a short while, looking for a place for him and his mom to stay that would be comfortable for her. This is when Markus showed his plumage, talking to pretty much everyone we saw on the street, and in a way that was usually both polite and aggressive, even offensive, shouting, “I LOVE YOUR HAT” and remaining intensely engaged after the polite thank you in a way that intimidated and/or annoyed those who thought he was being sarcastic, which he was, but only halfway, and this continued long after the body language of the person on the other side had become dismissive, often to the point that the other person would just turn and walk away to end the conversation, and Markus would follow, continuing to compliment and joke and small talk loudly at them, leaving Xena, mom, and myself to watch from a distance. I played my guitar and Xena played with her hoop as we moved, effectively bringing the scene with the three of us wherever we went- Markus pulling them in and all three of us holding them there. We waited outside while his mom checked in at a hostel next to a bar, people watched and were watched in return. When she was all checked in, Markus returned to the van with us and we found a place where we could park the van overnight so that Xena and I could sleep there while Markus went back to stay in the room at the hostel with his mom. We planned to roam the city for a while, busking and bringing the party with us, but although Markus didn’t have fuel for his fire sticks, which was probably for the best, he did have glowsticks that we all put around our necks, and I put one around the neck of my guitar too. Almost immediately after setting off, Markus drew himself, Xena and I, and another group, hanging out in a different parking lot with their two campervans, together with his unstoppable chatter. He carried with him a water bottle full of schnapps to share, but Xena and I didn’t share that much of it, choosing to distract ourselves with guitar and hula hoop instead. Markus yelled at literally every skateboarder and cyclist that passed by that either they should, “WEAR A HELMET!”, or that they had a “NICE HELMET”, he invited anyone that walked by into our “party” for only $10, and yet again, continuing these conversations far beyond the point they ought to go. The other group consisted of European teenagers, guys and girls, that had all met and combined while travelling. The made song requests, which I obliged to the best of my ability, resulting in singing cheesy pop songs with one of the German girls. Spliffs were passed around and no one lasted much longer after that. Markus made the short walk back to the van with us, and when we were all set up, he disappeared into the night, presumably, but not certainly, going to his mom’s hostel room.
Day 59: I woke up early, maybe around 6AM to pee and not long after, Markus knocked on the door of the van. We got up, collected our things, gave hugs, and they drove off. We walked around Wellington and I felt crowded by all the people on the bustling streets with their tall buildings of glass and steel. There was a dude juggling on the street and a lot of people in suits. We found a hole in the wall bakery for breakfast and cheap coffee, bagels, and pastries. We hung out at the library for a bit, charging phones, checking maps of the South Island, and establishing a short-term game plan. The library had an extensive section on everything Maori; history, law, translations, etc. and an awesome map set too. I took a few of the South Island maps to our table and we decided on a tentative route. Then we went to get sushi. We stopped at on place with a less than impressive buffet, then went instead to the busier place downstairs instead. We walked the 2 or 3 miles to the ferry station, as we had the time and it would have been a hard hitch. On the road, we see Jake, the dude from Montana that I met in Taumarunui. He’s also catching the ferry today, so we walked together, catching up on his hiking adventure and our hitching one. We waited a while outside at the ferry station before boarding the colossal boat with multiple decks and staircases winding inside and out of the cabins, coffee and alcohol bars, plenty of rows of seats, children’s play area, and heavy steel doors in the cabins and rows of bleacher style seating on the top deck. The land slipped away as we sped off the one island and toward the next, the hills coming right out of the water in mass, then not at all for a while. Xena and I jammed in the hallway for a bit, a kid stopped to dance, and a bald old man in a green military jumpsuit sat down next to us. His grandson was highly entertained, dancing erratically, jumping and rolling around.The old man was quiet and looked pretty serene. The conversation that followed, however, became awkward very quickly. He told us that he’s going to some multi-week yoga and meditation retreat where they will holding basic positions for a long time, which he demonstrated by raising his hand like he was casually about to ask a question, and he rambled about the holistic benefits of this retreat. He then went into a rant about some pretty fascist shit about the government of NZ and told us to check out his website where he had rewritten the NZ constitution like he thought it ought to be written. He sang some weird song from a musical he had written, but the theme was something awkward, like domestic abuse. When he said some more passive aggressive shit to Xena, and yelled at his grandson often, telling us that he was intentionally being cruel as a form of discipline, talking about him as if he wasn’t standing right there, we basically told this dude to fuck off and went back up to the top deck and hung out with Jake. Eventually, the wind became too strong and went back inside. The waves had gotten pretty big, but in a ship like this it was no problem. We did go back up to the top as the ship pulled into the fjords of the South Island, and what a sight that was! They were long and heavily forested, mountainous fractal peninsulas, fractal island in the bay, and super clear water all around. As we landed, the power and maneuverability of this massive boat became evident; a tremendous amount of power churning just beneath us glided us easily right into the port. We got off, bidding farewell to Jake- he was headed for the hostel and we were going to hitch on- and we walked up the road into the small town of Picton, population about 4,000, mostly residential, with steep, tightly forested mountains surrounding it. A surprising amount of traffic flowed out from the boat, passing by us on the one road leading out of town as we sat on the curb for a snack. The houses that dotted the hills looked beaten by the weather, and there were many businesses that ran out of these houses, even an Indian Restaurant (the name was too specific, so we didn’t stop there). We continued up the road towards the edge of town, passing a large circular park in the center, then just up the first hill to where we stuck out our thumbs. Despite all the traffic going in one direction, we were there for about an hour or so before we were picked up 2 dudes, one older, one younger. The old man offered to help Xena put her heavy backpack in the truck bed, and she shot me a look. Not a great start. The old man must have been in his 50’s or maybe just looked shitty for being in his 40’s, but he could have passed for 65, and he was pretty drunk, so his younger pal/employee, named Squid, drove for us. Squid was a homeboy, meaning he’s probably never been far from Picton or the northern part of the South Island. The old man slurred various comments along the lines of “fuck you, but I love you man, but fuck you” about everyone, joked about our heavy packs, talked about how special and beautiful this area was, then threw his empty beer can out of the window. Squid, a quiet dude with neck tattoos, probably in his mid to late 30’s received the most, and only, praise from the old man, and squid beamed. He us they had a gun in the truck so don’t do anything fishy, and I asked how did they know I didn’t have a gun too, and we all chuckled over it. Most of the old dude banter was this way- offensive but uncombative. They took a backroad through beautiful open fields, past hills where sheep grazed lazily, and a giant braided river with smoothed rocks in its bed and along its shoreline. The river looks like show much fun- high velocity shallow water and almost no eddies. From the way the rocks stretch up the banks, its obvious that flooding here must be just nuts. Eventually, they dropped us off back onto highway 6, right around dusk. We laughed about strange ride and quickly got picked up by another dude heading into Nelson. Xena slept in the car and I made small talk with the dude all the way into town, and he dropped us off at the countdown, where we picked up some food and water just before they closed. We walked toward the south side of town on a residential road, looking for somewhere to camp, but to no avail, so we turned around and walked all the way back into town. Now around midnight, we were headed towards the city park to scope it out, when a wiry English dude in a vest, button down, and fedora stopped to chat- told us we would definitely get kicked out if we tried to stay here. Then he asked if we wanted to go see some fire spinning, to which we said HELL YEAH! We followed our new friend to what used to be the outdoor/hunting store and what is now a strange art gallery/costume/piles of junk store/hippie hangout. Outside, a group of spinners and jugglers were already going at it, and after a few quick introductions we got a tour of the inside of the store, where a DJ was bumping industrial house music and maybe 4 or 5 people, including a father and small child, just hung about. There were, at most, about 10 people outside and most of them were spinning or juggling. Xena fit right in with her hoop and I jammed quietly along with the industrial house music on my little guitar, transfixed by the visual spectacle in front of me. One dude had a long staff burning from both ends, one chick had two scythes that burned at the ends, one dude with light-up poi, one dude juggling like 7 or 8 light up juggling balls that changed color each time he caught one, and one girl also hula hooping. We left sometime after 1AM, continuing to walk outside of town and eventually ending up in a field next to a river, which I don’t remember at all because I was so exhausted.