Travel Notes: Getting Out of Queenstown

As locals will tell you, Queenstown is a hard place to leave. It’s notorious for people coming there for a week or a month and staying for a year or longer. I knew I had to get out of there, so I planned to hitchhike to the Franz Joseph glacier, roughly a five or six hour drive to the west coast and north along the south island.

After getting picked up by Duncan and a quick ride to the main junction leading out of town, I met Dennis from Hong Kong, also hitching to Franz. After 30 minutes with no success, I decided to move a few hundred meters down the road to get some distance between Dennis. My hope was that someone would see Dennis, drive by, feel bad for not picking him up, then see me a few moments later and decide to stop. Did not work out that way.

After a total of about 30 minutes waiting, I see a big blue bus heading my way, and as it approaches I see Dennis in the passenger seat. Damn. Lucky for me, ‘ole Dennis pointed out to the driver that I was going to the same place and managed to get her to stop for me also. Score.

Florence Annon was the driver, and what a gal. In her mid-40’s, Florence converted an old kindergarten bus into a mobile camper, her home for the past three years as she drives around the whole of New Zealand seeing the sights, visiting family, and just moving. She is of exquisite character.

Among other admirable qualities, for some years Florence took in underprivileged children and cared for them in her home until they found a more permanent living arrangement. She told every child who came into her home that he or she had a clean slate; that nothing in the past mattered, and that what they chose to do with their clean slate was up to them. Each one also had to go to church; they could sit in the back and sleep if they wanted, but they were going.

Florence drove us about four hours along our journey. As we approached the end of her line, she even asked fellow travelers at the fuel station how much further they were going and if they could take us the rest of the way. No luck, and we arrived at Florence’s last stop, still another hour and a half from our destination.

Before parting ways, Florence twice reminded both Dennis and I to call our mothers regularly during our travels.

This left us on the side of a remote, one-lane inner-coastal road with nothing but a few homes in either direction, at about 6:00 PM. Average one car every five to seven minutes. We weren’t worried though, because…

Enter: Dwayne Groves.

Imagine yourself cruising down the motorway at a brisk 80 kph with your favorite kiwi music blasting in your Jucy El Cheapo hired 2001 Nissan Murano four-door sedan, minding your own business as you make your way up the remote New Zealand west coast. You suddenly round a bend to see Chris Healy halfway in the middle of the road fist-pumping and screaming something about the San Francisco Giants. Next to this curious energetic fellow is a tall, slender man from China holding a cardboard sign reading “Franz Joseph  Awesome!,” smiling and offering an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Obviously you stop to pick these guys up. And so did Dwayne.

Dwayne is a 21-year-old full-blown born-and-bred Kiwi from West Auckland, taking three of his four weeks’ vacation time this year in February to road trip around his homeland visiting friends and seeing the countryside.

Since he picked us up, I instantly liked Dwayne, despite the fact that Dennis and I were both strangely offered the back seat. No worries, eh.

Dwayne is the Kiwi I was waiting to meet: an accent thick enough that I have to ask “what?” after most exchanges, with all the classic kiwi lingo: sweet as, good on ya, and eh following most sentences being used as a question, exclamation, confirmation or the conclusion to just about any sentence, only depending on the punctuation used.

A Kiwi, an American and a Chinese man are driving down the road….

After a couple hours drive we pull into Franz Joseph. Dwayne decided just to stay in the hostel I’d already booked, so we dropped off Dennis at his hostel. That was the last I saw Dennis, although I’m sure he’s doing fine; he was a resourceful fellow.

After four nights in Queenstown (Dwayne had also been there), we were ready for a little quiet, spacious hostel larger than a dorm room with fewer than eight people. The Rain Forest Backpackers looked amazing and we were glad to pull in for the night.

After checking in, fired up on the situation, we walked into our room to meet Maciek Wcislik, a 35-year-old Polish man with a thick accent. We chat for a while and freshen up, then decide to grab a bite to eat and a beer or two at Monsoon’s, the hostel restaurant/bar.

A Kiwi, an American, and a Polish walk into a bar…

Wait, this isn’t Queenstown?? Apparently on this night Monsoon’s in Franz Joseph is the most cracking place on the west coast, and we close the bar down. So much for a little extra rest.

Suffice to say we had a great time, and that this wouldn’t be the end of our little trio.

Photo Gallery.

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