Winter is coming. I see the snow on the mountains and smell it in the air. And of course I feel the cold. Especially in the fingers and toes. Despite two pair of thick socks and gloves, the cold creeps into my body and forces me to move. I rub my hands and walk up and down while I wait for the coffee water to boil.
The scenery is breathtaking and distracts me from my cold thoughts. Last night I set up my tent on the banks of Lake Mavora, the surrounding mountains reflected in the clear water and mist waiting to be dissolved by the warming sun. But the hot fireball still hides behind the mountains and lets only a single mountain peak glow.
Everything I see around me, the mountains, the lake, the forest, has always been here and will always be here. Measured in human time at least. Everything is natural, nothing made of human hands, except a little tent on the lake shore, with a bicycle and this little freezing and awstruck human next to it.
After coffee and oatmeal breakfast I pack my things and push my bike back to the road. The gravel is frozen and that makes it pleasant to cycle, my tires have good grip.
As soon as the sun comes out it gets warm, but the snow clearly shows that the warmth on the skin is deceptive. The road that I take leads to Lake Wakatipu and a sign on the roadside indicates that I´m now on private land of the Mt Nicholas station. A whole herd of curious cows mistake me for the farmer and run towards me, probably in the hope of food, as soon as they see me. Apart from the sign (and the cows) nothing points to a farm, the landscape is the same and a beautiful valley unfolds. It will take until the afternoon to reach the actual farm buildings.
The Station property is about 400 km², which corresponds to the area of the city of Cologne and I wonder how a person can posess such a large piece of land.
What if I set up a sign at my campsite last night, at the Mavora Lake, and build a fence and say this is now mine. Private property! Camping prohibited! Fire prohibited! Being free forbidden! No I would probably make quite different rules on “my” piece of land, but all this private property feels wrong to me, because I see it more in a way that the land possesses us humans and not we humans the land.
The Spirit of Queenstown
After a small river crossing, one wet shoe included, I reach the farm which now makes money not only with merino sheep and cattle but with tourist trips from the nearby Queenstown. Every day tourist boats arrive, the tourists get on a bus and are driven around the farm to see some sheep and dogs and a sheering shed. One of these boats is to take me across the lake to Queenstown. It is appropriately called “Spirit of Queenstown” and is a modern excursion boat full of Asian tourists who look at the landscape through clean panoramic windows and enjoy coffee and cake in the overheated interior while listening to the captain’s voice. “Welcome aboard, to the right side you see the remarkable peaks of the remarkables, to your left …”
I don´t feel so comfortable here. The last days I spent almost alone in the nature, endured the weather and was satisfied by eating my dwindling simple food supplies. And now I am among people who travel so differently. They have paid quite some money for this boat trip, for the “real kiwi farm experience”. This evening they will probably return to their comfortable hotels, have a good dinner and the impression of experiencing the real New Zealand.
I think of the last days and know, some experiences you can´t buy for money, you have to do something for it.
The Spirit of Queenstown takes me to Queenstown, where I first go to an ATM to get money out to pay the ferry ticket in retrospect, the half-hour crossing costs 30 dollars.
Queenstown is the tourist hub on the South Island. The just 20,000 inhabitants are numbered out by almost 3 million tourists every year, the whole city is designed for it. For me not a particularly interesting place, only the supermarkets, internet and a hot shower are on my to-do list. I couldn´t find a couchsurfing host, a few of the active couchsurfers accept only female guests, which let me question their true intentions. What kind of hospitality is it if it´s not for everyone, but only for women, by the references on the profile pages especially for young backpackers?
I ask at a few hostels if I could pitch my tent in the parking lot, so come into the enjoyment of a hot shower and pay less than the $30 a night for a shared room with up to eight other people. But without success, I get only compassionate and uncomprehending looks when I explain I can´t or don´t want to pay so much for accommodation. Also a sign on my bike “Need place to stay – will cook for you!” doesn´t produce any reactions or invitations. Only an old lady stops and asks “Any luck?” When I say no, she says “Boy, this is Queenstown, everything has it’s price here”. And I have the same feeling. The famous Kiwi Hospitality, with which so much advertising is made, can only be found here if you paid for something.
I forget about a hot shower for now and cycle out of town. It is not difficult to find a lonely place for my tent near by the river and I´m satisfied with it. Ultimately it is my free decision not to pay for a bed, it´s not that I don´t have money.
The next day, I cycle back to Queenstown and recharge my batteries at a public outlet in the botanical garden. In the city I meet Lisa. I stayed with her through Couchsurfing a few nights ago. She had worked at Lumsden on a dairy farm and now wants to get rid of some of her belonging to begin her next trip. I help her to build a small stand and we make a large sign “For Donation”. Lisa has a lot of walnuts on offer, homemade jam and elderberry juice, as well as a few books and other stuff. But most people don´t pay attention and even don´t want to try free walnuts. Only a small boy is pleased about a jar of jam which he purchases for 20 cents.
The idea of not paying a fixed price, but as much or as little as you want, is alien to many people. Of course, to answer the question “Do I want to pay this price, is it worth it?” is easier than “How much do I want to pay, what is it worth?” I have the impression that some people think because something is for free it is not good.
I feel a little bit sorry for Lisa, it’s not the best place for such a rebellious price and value concept. In the end, she will give away most of the things for free, which turns out to be not so easy as well.
I continue my journey and must now cross the mountains to get to the west coast. The next destination is Wanaka and to get there there are two routes. The somewhat longer but well developed road through the valley and the direct but steeper road over the mountains. I´m sure you know which way I choose.