I had been in the Fiordlands and the Te Anau area for over three weeks and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I said goodbye to the good folks running the Te Anau Backpackers. They said to me, "You'll be back. We know it." I started hitching and it didn't take me long to reach the town of Mossburn. After that...nothing. I had been told that this stretch of road could be a tough ride and one car passed every 20 minutes. It was a 20 km walk to a highway that would be better for hitching. I went back to town to the ever-present Fish 'N Chips shop before I started walking. I sat outside eating and a van pulls up and starts flashing its lights at me. It was Jan! We greeted each other and I said, "I bet you had fun with your girlfriend." He looked surprised and asked, "How did you know?" "I just do." I knew that this would be the only thing that could have possibly kept him from making it to Te Anau. He ran across a Czech woman and his fate was sealed.
Jan was on one of his guided trips and we were able to hang out for a few hours and sit on the rocks by a river. However, he did have to take care of his clients and we agreed to meet in Te Anau that evening. I started to hitch back, but it went slowly. I was picked up by Paul from Invercargill, who was going to his weekend home in Te Anau. He said that he didn't usually pick up hitchhikers, but made an exception saying, "You were looking really bored" (which I was). He had to stop at his friend's ranch near the town of Manapouri. They had just bought a new ranch and farm and it was their very first day in the house nestled in the hills. They were cooking a dinner of fresh steaks and potatoes straight out of the ground. They asked if I wanted to join them. "Well, Duuuuh!" This was surely an occasion for the Raised Fist of Corinne. The dinner was magnificent and they made sure that I was completely stuffed. It was good to see (and eat) something other than the backpacker's scene. Paul invited me to stay at his house that night. Good food, good people, and a good evening. Later on I went to Jan's motel, but he was out with his clients and he was leaving the next morning. Well, that gives me an excuse to go to the Czech Republic.
Paul got up early and tried to catch some trout for our breakfast. "I'm sorry I couldn't catch one for you." he said. I told him that it was quite ok. Anyone who even tries to catch a trout for breakfast has done more than enough. I said goodbye to Paul and I was on my way to Dunedin and Stewart Island. On the way out of town, I stopped by the Te Anau Backpackers to say hi. They said, "We told you that you'd be back. See you soon."
I went to downtown Dunedin to read my email. "Going to see who died" I told someone. Turns out someone really had. One of my best friends, Jim, had committed suicide a few weeks before. The good times and bike rides we had shared would always remain in the past. All I could think about was how we would never laugh together again. I've heard that people remain alive as long as someone remembers them. I hope that's true.
I had to find something...anything, to keep my mind off of this. I went to see L'uomo Delle Stelle (The Starmaker), an Italian film dubbed in English. It was a good film and it kept me occupied, if only for a while. I was supposed to go to Stewart Island the next day, but I just didn't feel like it. That night I wrote some letters to friends back home about what had happened. I was feeling very badly and was somewhat impolite to the other backpackers. Funny how I pushed people away when I really need to be around them.
The next days, I wandered aimlessly in Dunedin trying to keep occupied. In the Octagon (the town center) I ran across Lisa, the American I met in Te Anau, sitting outside of a coffee shop. We sat and talked for long, long time. We walked around Dunedin and eventually went back to her hostel where she cooked me a good meal. I really enjoyed her company. As I said before, I don't always like to meet Americans, but Lisa was an exception (plus she fed me and I didn't even have to look pathetic). I wanted to see the Moeraki Boulders north of Dunedin, but it was raining. It was time to get moving on to Stewart Island.
It took me one ride to hitch from Dunedin to Invercargill. The driver told me that he only picks up hitchers who look like they are making an effort, such as those walking or at least standing up. We saw a hitcher who set his pack down with a sign reading "Invercargill". He was sitting on the other side of the road playing his guitar to the sheep. He didn't get picked up.
I did a little (probably too little) shopping for the 8-10 days that the Northwest Circuit on Stewart Island would take. Soon I would be frolicking with the penguins and kiwis. I went to the city museum where I had to see the tuatara. This is a lizard that hasn't changed in 250 million years and is only found on a few offshore islands. This island nation certainly has developed a unique ecosystem and that's a lot of what attracted me here in the first place. I flew out of Invercargill to Oban, the only town on Stewart Island and got a bed at Innes Hostel. Stewart Island has a few hundred people on it and I imagine that the social opportunities are pretty limited. Mr. Innes seemed to be putting the moves on the female backpackers, though not doing particularly well. Stewart Island has a real different feel to it. I don't mean that in a good or bad way. I can't quite quantify it, but it is different.
I waited out the morning rain and started on the Northwest Circuit. Eight to ten days of uncrowded trails along with (hopefully) kiwis and penguins! I thought the track was quite nice. Sometimes I would be on the ocean, sometimes I would be inland. After a few hours I got to the Port William Hut, which was right on the ocean. I was dismayed to see a large amount of gear and coolers on the porch. It was worse than I could have imagined.... Fishermen!
My family owned a fishing resort for eight years so I was familiar with fishermen. I made a few fun predictions:
1) They would be really great guys.
2) They would share their catch.
3) They would liberally partake of the beer cache.
4) They would snore very badly.
5) With the size of their beer cache, they would annoy me.
I spent the afternoon with a Japanese woman, Miko. Later on when the fishermen came back, they were very friendly to us. Prediction #1. They brought their catch to the yard and started to clean it. They were eating raw oysters and gave one to me. Somehow I managed to choke it down. Next they cut open a sea urchin and asked me to try it. Miko seemed to look forward to eating the urchin. I hear it's a delicacy in Japan, though I don't understand why. If you've never seen a sea urchin cut in half, it kind of looks like a stew, just without any of the appeal. They told me, "Dig around until you find the white parts." I found a white part and tried it. It didn't last very long as I spit it out quickly. I said, "You actually eat this crap?!" Everyone else was chomping down sea urchin and got a big laugh. Next they opened up a scallop and offered it to me, I said, "I don't think I'm open minded enough to try it." Prediction #2.
#3 didn't take long.
As the time for sleep rolled around, #4 soon proved itself when they snored like pigs. I could even hear them through the walls of the hut when I was in a different room. One of the fishermen became obnoxious. I don't mind people drinking, but have no tolerance for idiotic, drunken behavior. This guy just wouldn't leave me alone, so I went out on the porch to sleep. When he found me, he bothered me some more. When I went to the bathroom he took my mattress and wouldn't give it back telling me, "I'm concerned since we're by the ocean and these things don't float." He was a basic butt wipe. He didn't leave Miko and I alone until we went into the separate kitchen to sleep and he was too drunk find us there. I didn't dislike all of the fishermen, in fact most of them yelled at him to leave me alone, but when someone is behaving like this, #5 becomes apparent.
The next morning Buttwipe wanted to shake my hand saying, "We just wanted to have some fun you know." I said, "So did I" and walked away. I started the tramp up the east coast of the island. It took me a few hours to reach to the Bungaree Hut. I met a few more fisherman who had just helped another backpacker. She had fallen and broken her arm. The fishermen told me they found a very depressed backpacker sitting on the hut porch and they took her by boat out to the ferry which was passing by on its way to the mainland. There are good folks all over the world.
I continued to tramp north towards the Christmas Village Hut. The sections along the ocean were very beautiful with blue water and blue skies. A few hours later I started to re-assess my situation. The forest was nice, but it wasn't so unique that I hadn't ever seen anything like it before and most of the track was a bit inland instead of on the ocean. I looked at my food and started having doubts whether I brought enough. My left knee didn't hurt or even bother me, but for some reason today it didn't feel 100%. I decided that since there were no shortcuts once on the track, perhaps I shouldn't do this one. I still don't know why I felt the way I did, but I had doubts about it and thought it was best to heed them, for whatever reason. Even as I write this, one year later, I still wonder if I should have continued. I really wanted to see kiwis and penguins. Maybe I'll have to go back some day and do the track. I reluctantly heeded my doubts and went back to the Port William Hut, where I would walk the shorter Rakiura Track.
I started the Rakiura the next morning. I still had nagging doubts about whether I should have stayed on the longer track, I even stopped and turned back to do the Northwest Circuit. I struggled for a long time with this decision, but I had to put these thoughts behind me. Numerous times I would stop and sit on top of my pack for a long, long time. Sometimes I was absorbing the forests around me and other times I was thinking about the Northwest Circuit. As the day went on, more and more of my time was focused on the forests. After a few hours tramping, I made it to the North Arm Hut. About an hour later a Dutch and Swiss couple, Rob and Valerie, arrived and we got to know each other a bit. We talked the evening away, being the last people in the hut to go to bed. I didn't know it at the time, but one of the best parts of my trip was about to begin.