So what about the much-hyped camping-on-the-farm holiday you ask? Well I’m glad you did because it was adventure of high renown from start to finish.
First, the disclaimers. We cheated a little bit over the break. While the almost entire House of Davidson was staying with us we felt we needed to have some form of transport and particularly if we wanted to head up to the farm for a spot of ‘camping’ – more about that later.
So with the tremendous support of Granny and Grandad we hired a car for a few weeks. Don’t hate us for our loose commitment!
We always talked about how not owning a car would save us money that we could potentially use to hire one when the need arose. And it’s true and I’m glad we did. End of disclaimer.
So. We ended up hiring the cheapest station wagon we could find – it was little more than a glorified hatchback and there was no way we could fit Aunty Taffy and Brad so our poor couch-surfing Queenslanders had to catch a bus to Blenheim through some of the windiest hill climbs in the whole island – the infamous Hundalees – not-so-affectionately known as the ‘Chundalees’ as poor Aunty Taffy found out.
The rest of us stacked in 4 adults, a bouncing bobbin in her carseat and the bootspace was jam packed, floor to ceiling with two tents, a mattress, bedding and a chilly bin full of food. Oh and a 5 kg bag of flour. There was absolutely NO room for the guitar, or the camping oven and table (which were only really for fun anyway seeing as we were camping by a house). The back windows looked like the car had been vacuum sealed – everything was squished into the corners filling up every available space. Somehow Elizabeth managed to fold herself in two to get into the back seat with Granny Margaret.
Things were going swimmingly until the wee bear fell asleep at the bottom of the Lewis Pass, which gets rather windy itself, before waking up at the top and vomiting her poor little tum out. She’s only thrown up in cars twice and both times it was from falling asleep on windy stretches. She was so good though, as her mother managed to contain most of it somehow (my eyes were firmly on the road) and the car itself survived without a direct hit. We pulled in at Maruia Springs down the bottom to clean up and get some fresh air. And become sand-fly bait.
Now Maruia Springs is an interesting place. I’ve stayed there and camped there. Pulled in for a cold one and played pool there. It’s changed over the years from a sort of road house pub with hot pools into a pseudo-Japanese health resort with chalets. It’s still an incredibly beautiful location and the Japanese-style baths are great. I’ve always preferred the hot pools at Maruia to Hanmer Springs as the setting was just amazing – they look out onto a mountain river with steep native forest on the other side, it was a bit smaller and quieter and generally less touristy. Oh how things change.
The first things we notice are what Uncle Puff coined as ‘no-signs’. Lots of verboten everywhere. No this, no that. No, we were not allowed to use the toilets. The whole entrance has been redesigned – all windows are gone and there’s some sort of design-award-ready trendy wood panelling that makes the whole entrance look intimidating and unwelcome. You can’t see in and you don’t really know what they’re even offering as most of the signage is dedicated to telling you what they’re NOT offering. Yikes. Maybe living in a perpetual cloud of ferociously biting insects has made misanthropes of them all. We got cleaned up using our own water and towels and got the hell out of Dodge. Goodbye Maruia Springs. I miss you.
The rest of the trip was tough. Hot and tiring and Seraphine was over it. She’s still not great on these long car journeys.
The flooding that had previously closed the Pass was still evident near Springs Junction with the road down to one lane in places and further up the road we stopped at Maruia Falls to marvel at the swollen river hurling itself over the shelf in an angry tide. Great stuff!
The sun was definitely on the downward slide as we took the turn-off to St Arnaud and headed for Tophouse. Once again the journey had taken most of the day and we still weren’t there yet. But as the golden hour approached and the trees were thick with cicadas, we saw the farmhouse complete with Aunty Niki and Uncle Ewan waving from the verandah as we rolled up to the gates of… Muntanui!
To be continued…