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Days 14-17: Trip to Hanmer Springs & Kaikoura | Returning to Rain in Christchurch

This morning I woke in dim light, darker than usual for this early hour because of the thick cloud cover. Rain patters against the roof, and I open the curtain to watch for a few moments as it falls and makes everything slick. I skip my usual morning walk and just do yoga instead, enjoying a long slow practice to bring life into stiff but rested muscles. I am grateful that I took a little road trip over the last few days, because the rain will probably keep me indoors today if it does not let up.

On Wednesday, I woke early as usual and excited for the day ahead. I packed a few last-minute items into the backpack I had prepared the night before, then carried it down to the car. I smiled and waved goodbye to the motel managers, then headed north. I wound my way through hilly farmland, and eventually the road turned toward the mountains. In the distance there were a few snowy peaks–a sight that always brings excitement to my body.

After a few stops to gaze at the scenery and a couple hours of driving, I arrived in Hanmer Springs. I went straight to the hot springs, with my bag all ready to go. This hot spring park was different from others I’ve been to–it was quite large, with a variety of pools to suit many environment or

temperature preferences, plus a big family area with waterslides. I alternated between comfortable warm waters and pools that were a little hotter, reading from my Kindle as I soaked. It was sunny, so I was careful to stay in the shade because the sun here is very intense and it’s easy to get burned.

In the late afternoon, I decided to pack up and head for the hostel. I felt utterly relaxed and maybe a little bit out of it as I checked in with Yuki at Hanmer Backpackers. We chatted a bit before I settled in, and I met the one other person staying in that room for the night. An older fellow taking a couple days rest from the

trail. The hostel was small and cozy, with lots of books to read and board games to play, comfy chairs inside and a nice patio outside with a hammock and barbecue. The kitchen was well-equipped but I decided to walk the few blocks back to town to get dinner at a restaurant. I was feeling social and wanted to try to make conversation with someone.

Luckily, the bar manager at the restaurant I picked was very friendly. Before I left, he told me to let him know if I changed my mind about the job I had lined up, because they were getting pretty desperate for staff! This seems to be the story at most of the places I’ve visited already.

I took a meandering route back to the hostel, coming across a small duck pond and nodding hello to a few other people walking around the neighborhood. Feeling pretty tired, I curled up with my book again and was asleep before long.

In the morning, I did a bit of yoga in the room before taking a shower and packing up. (Later I would realize that I left a couple of things in the shower–oops..). My roommate had mentioned the day before that he would be hitchhiking back to the trail today, but unfortunately it was the opposite direction I was going. However, Hanmer is about 10 kilometers off the main highway. So when I saw him walking down the sidewalk in the rain, I pulled the car over and asked if he wanted a lift at least until the highway junction. He enthusiastically said yes and hopped in.

As we approached the junction and I found a gravel spot to pull off, another hitchhiker smiled at me. I laughed as I slowed to a stop and we did the ol’ switcheroo–roomie got out and grabbed his bag, and Ryan jumped in, equally grateful. “You’re like the hitchhiker bus!” He remarked, and I laughed and said “I guess so!” As we drove through the slowly abating rain, we bonded over our shared love for Alaska. Turns out he’s from Wasilla, a small town that I passed through several times. What are the odds? I thought to myself.

Eventually I dropped him at another highway junction so that he could head south where I would go northwest. Luckily for him, the rain had stopped by now. I chose to take a more scenic route through the mountains as I made my way towards Kaikoura. Again I stopped a few times to take in the lush green hills and endless flocks of sheep. It was a very beautiful and peaceful way to start the day.

Soon, the winding road straightened out and the hills became less steep. Suddenly I could see the ocean and I smiled, thinking cool it is to drive among snowy mountains and then down to the beach in a matter of hours. But I also felt the heaviness of exhaustion weighing on me (another annoying symptom of PMDD that often gets in the way of what I want to do). I drove out to Point Kean where I intended to go for a long walk on the peninsula, but parked and sat there for a moment, contemplating. I decided to listen to my body telling me that it needed extra rest, and I curled up in the back of Valentino and took a nap.

I stirred awake to the sound of voices and groggily sat up to see three people standing very close to my car. They must not have noticed me laying across the back seats, but after I sat up they inched away a little bit. I stretched a little and took a few long pulls from my water bottle, then climbed out of the car. I still wasn’t feeling great, but I decided to go for a walk anyway. The rock formations here were very interesting, and I thought I could see a seal in the distance.

I tucked my zoom lens into my backpack and crossed the parking lot to a short staircase leading to the path. I took my time walking across the dry area that seemed to once be tidepools, and quickly encountered a few seals stretched out in the sun. Soon, I was completely absorbed in my camera and lining up shots of seals and seabirds and ocean waves. Sometimes I forget how helpful photography can be for me in this way–if I’m in a bit of a funk or upset about something, taking the camera out pulls my focus into that moment. I intensely observe my subjects and suddenly, some large chunk of time has passed and I’ve forgotten all about what was bothering me.

Slowly I make my way around the peninsula, encountering less people and more wildlife as I get further down the trail. The sun is warm on my skin and the breeze is soft. I’m surprised to walk through a field of wildflowers, their purply-red color a stark contrast against the muted blues and greys of the marine landscape. I pause at a large rock formation, feeling a gentle nag of hunger in my belly and realizing that I didn’t pack any snacks in my bag (very unlike me). I decided to head back toward the parking lot, satisfied with how much I got to see today.

Back at the car, I pulled out an apple and a bag of mixed nuts, and sat down on the small wall that separates the parking lot from the shoreline. The sound of waves crashing is always relaxing to me, and I watched as seabirds dove and soared across the sky before me. Then I drove back to town, picking up a couple of hitchhikers from Austria on the way. It was only a few kilometers, but they were grateful. I guess I am becoming the hitchhiker bus! It feels nice to be able to help people out with such a simple act though. I’m sure I’ll do my fair share of hitchhiking in my future travels.

I parked and let them out, then wandered the small town strip. When I looped back to my car, I decided to drive a few kilometers south to the campsite I had booked to get set up there before coming back to town for dinner

later. The holiday park was busy with mini-golfers, volleyball players, and kids playing all kinds of games. But I

found a spot tucked away from the main rows of campsites, where I could set my tent up on a high spot overlooking the beach. Once the tent was up, I took a towel and the Kindle and walked a few steps down the beach. First I walked over to the water to let the cool waves slide over my feet, then I walked back up to the dune where I could lean against it like a chair. I stayed here for a while, reading and enjoying the nice weather.

When I got hungry again, I drove back to town and found a spot that seemed suitable. It started sprinkling just as I was approaching the door. It was relatively busy, but I found a table near the back next to a fireplace and the pool tables. Part of me hoped someone would come along that I could shoot pool with, but that didn’t happen. However, some friendly locals sitting at the table next to mine did lean over to chat with me a few times and that was nice.

After dinner, I headed back to camp. It was raining when I left Kaikoura but just in the short drive to the campground, it stopped and I was able to enjoy a walk along the shoreline. There was no one else around as far as I could see. As the sun sank lower and the breeze chilled, I got cozy in my tent with–you guessed it–my book, and read until it was dark. I slept well with the sound of the ocean lulling me, along with some light rain pattering on the tent.

In the morning I took another short walk up and down the beach before packing up and heading south. This drive would take a little over three hours usually, but I took about four and a half with a scenic route and several stops to explore. A highlight was when I drove to a quiet spot overlooking the ocean, and sat at a bench with my lunch. I was enjoying the sun and the solitude, when something flashed at the edge of my vision. I looked toward the spot and waited–there it was again! I grabbed my camera and quickly switched over to the zoom lens. I watched as a dorsal fin glided out of the water, and slipped back under. This repeated a few times as I wondered what I was looking at. Then suddenly one breaches, followed by a second, and I realize that it’s dolphins! I watched these two jump out of the water repeatedly with a smile on my face, then they made their way down the coast. As I sat finishing my lunch, three or four more pods swam by. I knew there were dolphins in this area but it still took me by surprise and I was so glad that I stopped at this random overlook.

My next stop was at the Hurunui Mouth Reserve: where the Hurunui River meets the Pacific Ocean. I have long felt that water is sacred, and meeting places such as this seem to have an extra-special feel to them. Alone at this spot, I wandered the muddy riverbank and marveled at the deep turquoise waters and the interesting cliff rising above it. As I walked, I considered all the interactions occurring here and what kind of life these unique areas help support.

Finally, I made it back to the motel room. That familiar exhaustion had started to creep in over the last bit of the drive, and I was contemplating giving myself over to another nap. But then my friend called, and we ended up talking for hours. I’ve definitely been starved for conversation and connection as I haven’t met many people here, and I’ve struggled with the time difference to find time to call friends and family back home. People are very friendly here and I love that, but I haven’t had any deeper conversations in a while. It was really nice to catch up with her, and a bit later my mom called too. My social cup filled, I stayed in for the evening to unwind from the trip and think about the days ahead. I’ve still got just over two weeks until my job starts, and I want to fill that time well…

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