At Lake Ianthe there are two places to park. You can park on the roadside where it’s flat, or you can park on the lakeside… where it isn’t.
Being equipped with levelling chocks, I moved into a lakeside berth, orienting the van to look straight across the lake from my seat at my desk. It took me three moves to get the Heems’ levelled to my satisfaction, but then I’m a perfectionist. ‘Levelled to my satisfaction’ means flat enough for a game of pool.
My Astroturf mat went down at the door to keep the dirt outside. I opened the door to let the fresh air in, and closed the fly-screen to keep the mozzies out.
I wandered around for a while with my smartphone testing the mobile signal strength. There was only a whisker of a signal… ‘hmmm… Number One antenna I think’. I mounted my high gain directional YAGI antenna on the pole, and powered up my laptop.
My YAGI antenna needs to point directly at the closest cell tower and I have made a wee gizmo to help me with this. I opened my cell tower mapping tool, indicated my current location, and my gizmo responded with the bearing of the closest tower… 23.8°W. I took my compass, gave the mast a twizzle and ‘boom!’… Internet connected!
I wound the satellite dish to the correct altitude and gave that a twizzle and… whammo!… TV.
I heard the TV promoting the big game tonight… All Blacks vs England at Eden Park, so I checked the online TV guide for the ‘free to air’ game time, and wrote on my whiteboard “9:30, Prime, AB’s”.
By then it was coming on to dusk, and time to apply my evening fragrance. Within moments I was utterly repellent to anything smaller than a bat, and my mozzie candles dared anything flying to try and enter the van.
My German neighbours (the only others here) were not quite so prepared. They were travelling, as most do, in a small van. In these vans you can; drive, or sit or, sleep; but you can only do one of these at a time, and between each activity, everything inside has to be moved. Even getting changed requires either bending double, or lying down, and even then can only be achieved one person at a time.
I noticed the curious way which their van was inclined; both downhill and crosswise. This would make sleeping uncomfortable, and cooking precarious, but it didn’t seem to deter them.
Cooking requires the back door to be lifted. In the growing gloom of a cloudy evening they stood behind the van and boiled their pasta under the light of their head torches, trying in vain to save themselves (and their dinner) from the mossies.
For me, it was all on. By that I mean all ‘ON’… computer on, lights on, stereo on, heater on, and TV on. I folded and put away my fresh laundry, in the light, in the warm… and standing upright.
Had my neighbours been English or Kiwi I’d have already invited them in to watch the game, but presently that thought of civility became unnecessary. With the daylight gone, and the day’s checklist completed, the Germans were soon inside and closed up for the night.
I still had a game to watch.
It’s easy to make fun of the Germans, they are after all, well… German. But it is largely undeserved. Of all tourists on the road, young Germans are by far the most numerous. At any given time they are probably actually the majority… and this dispels a stereotype. Of all the young people in the world, they are (on this measure) the more adventurous… and I meet them in all the best places.
They are not confined to Queenstown, Rotorua and Milford Sound, they are anywhere remote and beautiful… and they are wonderful, respectful visitors.
If a German couple pulls onto a site you will hear the noise of their wheels over gravel, the occasional opening and closing of a door, and you will hear them quietly talking. You will not hear anything to disturb the calm of the scene… that is the reserve of the ‘Deigo’s’. Perhaps I’ll write about them one day (but it’s probably wiser not to).
When the Germans go, they will leave the place pristine… no litter, no empty cans, and no toilet paper in the bushes… spotless. You would never know they had visited… unlike the Diego’s, who you have to clean up after.
The typical English campervan-ers are completely different. These are usually retired couples, most often from some sort of professional background. Their vans are ‘well appointed’, top of the range models, new, and fitted with every possible convenience.
In England they would probably be keen bird-watchers or Ramblers, and almost certainly members of the National Trust. When not enjoying tea and cake in a suitable cafe they will be parked somewhere truly spectacular, where they’ll enjoy more tea, and perhaps a nice sandwich.
They are not as energetic as the young Germans… and they are not in a hurry. The Germans will have been up to the local hilltop lookout and back again, packed and gone, while the English are still having their second round of toast and marmalade. But the English are good tourists too; they slip quietly in and out of the landscape without disturbing it.
The Japanese, bless them, don’t have a clue.
Generally you don’t find them in vans, but in cars. They are going from motel to motel, on a whirlwind tour of the country, seeing everything, but never stopping anywhere long enough to enjoy it… if they are even able to. To be honest, I don’t think they have the slightest understanding of what they are looking at.
You see them most often parked on the side of the road, somewhere nondescript, taking a picture of the girl stood in front of a sheep. She is likely to be wearing a pink puffer coat, long boots, sunglasses, a woolly hat and gloves, and she is terrified of the sheep.
They have a list of where they should go, but once they’ve arrived, they don’t seem to know what to do next.
The Germans have their hilltops to visit, and the English have their flasks, sandwiches and chairs to sit on at the seaside, but the Japanese?… they’re just like fish out of water… and if you happen to see a Japanese in the water, then get your towel handy, because you’re likely to have to go in and rescue him.
Then there are people like me… I call them the ‘Wingers’, and it’s about time I explained just what ‘Wingers’ are.
There’s an association, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, and membership affords you certain advantages; reduced rates at campgrounds, on the inter-island ferry, and cheap DOC passes. Anyone who spends a lot of time in their vans is a member of the NZMCA.
All members of the NZMCA have an identifying sticker on their van… a pair of red wings.
They’re a sociable lot the Wingers. Mostly they’re travelling around in couples, but quite a lot are travelling alone like me. If there’s another Winger on a site, then you will go and say hello, exchange pleasantries, compare notes on where you’ve just come from, and enquire about where you’re headed next. Wingers are keen on their vans, and like to talk about the modifications they’ve made, and many of ‘my’ best ideas actually came from them.
If you have a problem, and need help, then you go and see them first; it was another ‘Winger’ that I pulled out of the mud at the Tukurua Road campsite. It wasn’t a big deal, and he would have done the same for me without hesitation if I’d needed it; Wingers are like that.
Wingers are also excellent parking aids. If I pull onto a site that already has a few vans then I look for the red wings. These people will be parked in the right place… they will be optimally positioned relative to the wind, sun, toilets, water, and view and will also have taken into account the slope and firmness of the ground. I can take my cue from them without having to first go walkabout before settling in.
Wingers are also fun on the road. Whenever you pass one, there will be an exchanged wave of recognition. You always get a cheery wave back from a fellow Winger. Everybody else is ‘sour’ by comparison.
But, back to the Germans.
This morning I rose, pulled the curtains and looked across the lake… beautiful… flat as a millpond; the surface disturbed only by the wake of a few cruising swans.
I had already filled my flask with hot milk and was on my second coffee before the Germans unfolded themselves back to their proper stature after a cramped and damp night. One of the things I’ve noticed about those small vans is that they seem to suffer terrible condensation… perhaps they’re not insulated like I am.
I watched them stamping their feet to encourage some circulation, and after a while, kettle steam rose from the back of their van. They ate their breakfasts standing up … some concoction of mixed oats and nuts, before wrapping their hands around steaming cups of coffee, their noses hovering in the rising vapour seeking that illusion of warmth. And it was only an illusion. Frost lingered on the ground and their breath floated on the air.
I sat at my desk, looking alternately at them, my screen, and across the lake. I was listening to the wonderful whooshing sound of my heater, when . I had to hold back the tears.
I sit here, sipping my expresso coffee, in awe of everything that allows me to be where I am, and doing what I’m doing; in complete ease, facility and comfort.