After a cracking few days in Rotovegas, it was time to leave. I’d decided to go in the morning rather than staying near Auckland, a sound decision however this did mean an early start. Departing at 6.30 in theory should leave plenty of time to drive the 3hrs back and then check in for the midday flight…
…thankfully it did. Made it possibly a bit early but it’s better to hang around than be stuck in gridlocked traffic watching the minutes disappear! Hire car returned without a hitch and checked in well ahead of time for the short hop. Free food too, thanks Jetstar.
I was met at Christchurch Airport by someone annoyingly referred to by my mum as my “twin” but who was, to be fair, born on the same day as me in 1979. We went to the same primary and secondary schools but our ways parted. It was nice to see Chris but also less nice to see how much kinder the years had been to him!
I’d met up with Chris by the social media miracle that is Facebook, and my holiday in NZ seemed a golden opportunity to meet up. Prior to coming I’d also tentatively raised the prospect of a ride-along with his Police department, and this was approved. Result!
We made our way to Christchurch Central nick to join the 1600-0200hrs Response shift. The Police station is still in temporary accommodation after the devastating 2010 earthquake which destroyed huge swathes of the city. Many spaces where buildings once stood remain empty awaiting reconstruction.
It was good to see ‘business as usual’ entering the station, with exactly the same gripes, moans, issues and organisation as back home. Chris’ team were a good bunch, with the standard-issue response cop sarcastic wit. We briefed and then I hit the streets with Chris and his partner. Not before checking the semi-automatic rifle in the boot, sidearms and TASER though. This was the first big difference which hit me. NZ cops are well armed…
We passed a fairly routine shift on response, with a typical mix of nonsense jobs, and then jobs which sounded tasty but on arrival were far less exciting. I’ll admit to more than a slight flicker of excitement when we responded to a couple of jobs at high speed. This is one aspect of response policing that I do miss. The cars in NZ are a darn sight more exciting too, with a big growly 3.2 V6 under the bonnet rather than an asthmatic 1.6 diesel.
As we stood on a beautiful pier looking over the Brighton beach sunset whilst shepherding some drunken muppets away from the area, I really did feel that it was ‘same shit, different place’. Policing is universal and for anyone thinking about transferring somewhere exotic with the expectation of it being like Magnum PI… Nah!
The shift passed mainly without incident. I got to dust off my traffic management skills at an ‘all hands to the pump’ serious RTC, and we returned to the station at 0200 for a couple of beers to celebrate Chris’ move to Traffic.
The next day I went over the other side of the city, as Chris’ colleague Cal had kindly agreed to lend me his van for a week. This was a massive result, I had looked into hiring a campervan but the rates were extortionate. With a few borrowed camping bits and a mattress I was good to go.
Again, the thrill of the open road gripped me. Total freedom. No maps, no plans, just a week wandering around and sleeping wherever I ended up. Perfect. The original route I’d discussed went down the main route from Christchurch towards the South, travelling down the East Coast. However, not far along this road I saw a sign “West Coast via Arthur’s Pass”. Well, that sounds fun. I turned right.
Not long after then, I saw a sign indicating the nearby Waimangi Gorge, so I thought I’d have a shufti. This was not wholly successful, as I simply ended up on an increasingly tiny road, gravel road, track, really steep track and then riverbed. Time to turn around. This taught me an early lesson in NZ signs. They put up signs for everything, not necessarily significant sights or indeed accessible sights… Turn with care!
My bizarrely intact faith in the wisdom of signs continued into the early evening when I spotted a sign for “View Hill car park” via “Wharfedale track”. Sounded scenic. First though, a supplies run into the nearby one horse quaint town of Oxford. Suitably stocked up and back up the track… This really was a bit of a track, with 4 gates and 2 fords to pass. But I made it before dark to the deserted carpark.
I haven’t been camping in the wild for ages so, to tell the truth, I found it seriously scary. When you have your city head on you can only think of the remoteness were you to be visited by axe murderers in the night, however actually the truth of the matter is that it’s all fine, nobody is trying to kill you and you’re far safer up there than, say, in urban Bristol.
Nonetheless, I did wake up a couple of times in the night and think “feck, I’m at least 10 miles away from the nearest village and around 5 miles up a track. What was that bump?” I survived the night unscathed, readers. If a little cold. Unconverted vans whilst comfortable, lack the extra insulation which makes campervans a bit more liveable.
Next up: Oxford to Greymouth.