Packing our Toyota Corolla for another family holiday around the South Island should make us worthy of an appearance on Top Gear, if not in The Guinness Book of Records. This summer we once again managed to fit tramping gear for five, along with clothes, books and food, into the car using the sort of precision that last year saw 28 British gymnasts break the record for the number of people squashed into a Mini Hatch. When about a week into the trip I asked my youngest daughter if she’d brought a comb and she replied she had not because it would not fit in the car, it was not much of an exaggeration.
As it turned out, our most valuable items were our raincoats. Holidaying on the left side of the South Island is risky at the best of times, and our first three days in Franz Josef coincided with nearly half a metre of rain falling in the mountains. This washed away part of the bridge at Hari Hari, stranding my son, who needed to come south, on the north side, and my niece, who needed to go north, on the south side. The hostage exchange ended up requiring a multi-day circumnavigation of the South Island.
But on the upside, we were in a house with good friends, an efficient wood-burner and a pack of cards, and an excellent bakery was just a short dash away through torrential rain. We even carried a large piece of glacial ice back from where it had been washed down the river and chipped bits off to add to our drinks. There are worse ways to spend a holiday than playing 500 in front of a fire while drinking a gin and tonic cooled by a glacier.
- On one of the days of rain, we went to look at a nearby stream to see how much it had risen. Above the pounding roar of the adjacent river, we heard cries for help. Sure enough, across the other side of what had become a raging torrent was a couple who indicated by sign language and their bedraggled misery that they had spent the night there. We happened to have in our car one of those high-powered three-man slingshots (so much handier than a comb) and I was very excited at the prospect of going to the bakery, buying doughnuts and firing them across the torrent. Sadly, no one else on our side of the stream thought this a good idea, preferring instead to merely report the couple’s presence to the police. All I can say is that if it’s ever me stranded cold and wet on a river bank and anyone approaches who has both a slingshot and a supply of doughnuts, please give it a go.
- From Franz Josef we went to Fiordland to walk the Kepler Track. The reward of the first day’s climb was a magnificent view over lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. But that night, the leitmotif of our holiday reappeared in the form of severe wind and heavy-rain warnings. We had with us my 11-year-old daughter, whose only instinct when the chips are down is to eat them. With the second day of the track being mostly on exposed ridges, she and I reluctantly decided to turn back. Well, I was reluctant. She was lured by the prospect of Sky TV and pizza, so skipped all the way to Te Anau. That night, from the comfort of a proper bed, I listened to the thunder, wondered how the rest of our party was faring and pondered whether, as we packed the car to drive home, we might fit in some doughnuts.
Joanne Black left the Listener to work for Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and returns here with a one-off holiday diary.