Highway 45 | A Backpackers Tale | Chapter 2

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

It’s raining, I’ve barely slept, and I’m hungry. Mike feels the same way, we complain about how uncomfortable the bed is, think a lumpy bag of dust, hostel life. Showered, we make our way downstairs to scavenge for food. The kitchen's open and covered in other people’s mess, there’s a strange smell in the air from so many different types of food cooking at once. Burnt crockery, greasy surfaces, and rat droppings, this kitchen has it all. Located on the shelf is a box labeled ‘free’ by free what that means is other people’s half-eaten food they simply can’t be bothered to throw away. I don’t care, my shame disappeared the day I was old enough to drink, I dive in. Oatmeal, check, instant coffee, check, that’s me done. Mike cannot find anything.

Time to head out to explore Auckland, and as far as cities go, Auckland is decent, not too busy and plenty to see. I’m trying to find the Quiksilver store, Queen Street to be exact. Danny moved here a year or so ago, it has been almost 3 years since we last caught up; the day we left our University house. We find Danny working in the store, it’s like I literally saw him yesterday and no time had passed whatsoever. We leave him to work, we need to get our phones, bank accounts, and a camper van sorted.

Let’s skip ahead a few days, not much happened apart from crippling stress trying to open a bank account which included an interview and a $500 deposit. We are meeting someone to potentially buy their van, it's Friday and as it currently stands, we have one more night of accommodation which we eventually paid, this van better be working.

We wait outside the hostel, luckily no rain. 1:30 was the supposed meet up time, I don’t do well with lateness, I am that guy who’s never late, turns up early to work, and time management is something I take pride in. “Are they definitely coming?” I ask in my frustrated tone, it’s met with silence, Mike is probably just as pissed off as I am. Suddenly a vehicle turns the corner, it’s green and straight away I notice the cracked bumper, not as the picture described.

A couple comes out of the car; he is older than her by just a few years but enough to notice, he introduces himself as Gavin. Gavin speaks in a Scottish accent and his partner, well her accent is foreign, a traveling hook-up if I've ever seen one. I’m invited to check out the inside and I’m instantly greeted with the smell of feet, Gavin notices it as well, after an apology he sprays air freshener around the van to tame the stench. Aside from the van needing an hour or so to air out, it certainly needs a clean according to my standards.

“Can I take it for a drive?” I ask with enough confidence in my voice that implies I know a thing or two about vehicles, I do not. “Yep, can I come with you?” Gavin holds little or no trust in me and why should he? I fight the urge to joke with him and say “No.” We belt up, safety first, adjust your mirrors and taste the aroma of air freshener and feet, I’m winding down the window. I take a drive through the city; Gavin still doesn’t trust me. As relaxed as he appears, I can’t help but get the impression Gavin thinks I’m going to suddenly lock the doors and just abduct him, he keeps giving me directions to get back to our meeting spot even though I never asked for them.

We return. Do I like the van? Yes, but in my eyes, it has seen better days for the price he is asking. Now, is it the sheer desperation of needing a van? Not having anywhere to stay after tomorrow? Or the fact I just wanted to get out of the city and explore? We seal the deal with a handshake. Gavin is paid and Gavin leaves, registered, the van is officially ours. We inspect the van more thoroughly; it gets a quick clean in the process. Most of the items do not work, disposable cooker is just wrecked and the crockery at the hostel now seems appealing.

The realization hits us in many ways, we are packing a van and driving around New Zealand. No final destination, just a few maps and areas of interest we want to see, Raglan being the first. The last realization is, we are sharing a bed. We try to make light of the situation, but deep down I’m thinking it’s a little weird, so weird in fact we create an imaginary line going down the mattress to have our own side of the bed. This isn’t the first time we have shared a bed; we shared a bed in Amsterdam for a weekend, Mike got mugged, another story for another time.

We spend our last night with Danny at his flat, nice and chilled, reliving old memories, reading magazines and stealing his music from his computer for our trip. Danny shows me a new board he managed to grab from work, I notice his old one. After some more conversation, he offers his old board for me to use while I travel around New Zealand, this board will almost be the death of me somewhere along this adventure. We call it quits early as we are leaving in the morning and need to get the most out of having separate beds for one more night.

The morning sun shines through the cheap curtains and catches the dust dancing in the air. There’s a gut feeling with today, I’m nervous, it’s the unknown, I have not got a clue what lies outside of Auckland. All I can think is, what if I fucking hate this? Am I making a mistake? How far out of your comfort zone is too far? What if we get targeted by some biker gang? I picture nothing but the original Mad Max; The Nightrider, that was his name. The mind is truly a weird thing at best.

Showered, packed and we are ready to go. I drive since I already have a feel for the van from the 5 minutes I have driven it; at least the foot smell has disappeared. Have you ever been so focused on driving that when you try to recall that memory, it’s a blur? This is one of those moments. I remember a bridge and then next minute I am outside of Auckland heading towards Raglan. We stop off at a supermarket to stock up for the next few days, we decide to shop separate so I can eat the same thing every day to cut down the costs, my logic is more survival than luxury. What foods will give me what I need without breaking the bank? There’s a fog setting in overhead.

It's close to 5 and we are 20 minutes from Raglan when all of sudden the worst thunderstorm hits us, the rain hits so hard I can barely see. I’m driving just on instinct, barely seeing which way the road bends, I pull over. Mike suggests a campsite outside of Raglan, he suggests this because it’s cheap, I reluctantly agree and we call the owner. He tells us to pull up into his field, camp the night and pay him tomorrow. After a few wrong turns, we arrive in a flooded field, there’s nothing, no shower, no toilet, no kitchen, it's just a field with a boat in it. We phone the owner again to make sure we heard right to which he responds “That’s the right place, I can see you, I live in the boat.”

There’s silence in the van, our first night and this is how it’s starting? Soaking fucking wet with a storm up our asses in a field with nowhere to shit? I truly have made a fucking mistake. I have to dig my heels in at this point, I’m not staying here because it’s cheap, I start the van. I drive out of the campsite not saying a word and head into Raglan. I continue just straight on the road, the storms so bad I honestly don’t know which way I’m heading. At the end of the road lies a campsite with a vacancy sign over the top.

A little old lady greets me, I’m tired, soaking wet and now debating if this trip is even worth it, she notices. “We have nice hot showers and tents to cover your van from the storm outside.” Her words are honestly the best news I had heard all day. We pay for one night and she gives us directions to our spot. It’s total darkness at this point, we cook some food in the kitchen and I take that hot shower, it’s the simple things in life they say or the fact that I was close to getting hypothermia, but fuck. The conversation is quiet, for a first day it was just pure shit from the second we left, I’m already thinking about going home. I’m heading to bed, I check the imaginary line to make sure I am on my side, Mike does the same. I figure out how to turn off the overhead lights and lie in the darkness to the howl’s nature has provided. I feel a cold drip on my head.