You never know what New Zealand is going to throw at you – the weather, travel experiences, people you meet, or the places you stay. That was the case when I was travelling in my campervan from Christchurch, heading to Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass.
I’d been listening to the weather reports and they were calling for a storm. Sure enough, as I drove west, my little campervan was hit with pelting hail stones, followed by freezing winds and driving rains. But then the sun came out! That’s New Zealand for you.
Driving through the valley towards the mountains ahead, I chatted merrily with my fellow traveller Sonya, an Austrian student on a gap year. We arrived at Arthur’s Pass around 4.30pm to a good snow fall.
We stopped at the ranger station, where they confirmed they were about to close the road. We would need to find a place to stay. The ranger recommended an old place, a tradition in these parts, offering very basic dorm rooms and run on an honour system.
The entry door led to a small hallway with three doors. The first door was the dorm room. It was freezing! The second door was the bathroom. The glass roof leaked and dripped water over the slated wood floor. You could see daylight through the walls and wind blew in.
It was looking pretty bleak and I was considering a night in the van might be more comfortable. But then we opened the third door and there was a sight that warmed us right through to the soles of our cold feet.
The first thing your eye fell on, and your body felt, was the roaring fire. Francis from Hungary knelt next to it and was feeding logs into the belly of the beast. His grin was almost as warm as the fire itself. Marchant from America sat at the dinning table. She looked up from her book with a smile and welcomed us in.
On the floor was a mattress. Francis had already spent a couple of nights here and had dragged the mattress in from the bunkhouse to sleep in front of the fire. Marchant had arrived earlier that day, after a few hard days tramping, and was just drying her soaked clothes.
In our sparse but warm bunkhouse, we found a travellers kinship that bonded us as instant friends. We shared our food, our stories of travel and of our homelands.
That night with our mattresses laid out in front of the fire, we were all one family while the snows fell in black silence across a star-filled sky.
The next day I wanted to tramp somewhere just to experience the beautiful snow-covered landscape. Francis and Sonya were game.
The three of us set off on a tramp that Francis had done a few days before.
The snow was still falling, but only lightly and we crunched our way up the trail in snow that sometimes came up to our knees. It was a great adventure, at times losing the trail in the thick snow, the winds sometimes driving into our faces.
Our feet, legs and hands became more and more soaked, but we were still warm and our spirits were high as we chatted all the way up the mountain.
At various points Francis would announce, as he made a sweeping motion of his arm, that “from this location there is a magnificent view”.
All we saw was a snowy white-out, but we didn’t care. We were having a great time. As we neared the ridge, the snow was becoming quite fierce and we finally decided that we’d probably pushed it as far as was safe and so headed back home.
We reached the bunkhouse in the late afternoon. We shared our food and watched the roaring fire as night fell. Outside the trucks lined the road, the drivers dressed in their traditional attire of boots and shorts, stuck for the night as the pass was still closed.
The scene through the window was beautiful, snow falling with a backdrop of white mountains, a distant last screech of kia birds before they settled
in for the night.
After dinner, the four best friends snuggled together in a line under sleeping bags. It was a perfect moment in a perfect location, with perfect friends.