Not From Round These Parts

How do you know when you really belong in a place? Perhaps when it stops feeling like you don’t belong. Small towns all over the world have locals and outsiders, and the chilliness towards the latter group varies greatly depending on location. Last weekend we had an ‘outsiders’ experience that made even the most glowering of looks from back home seem positively welcoming. The scene: a rural pub in a lonely coastal town. Thursday evening. The goal: have a quiet pint before dossing down for the night in our brand new tents, which were carefully erected just beneath the local satellite tower, in the only campsite in town. Course of action: head down the street to the local pub.

As we walked through the doors, all conversation ceased. Seven sets of eyes all swivelled round to appraise the foreigners who had dared to let in a draught. The woman perched at the bar eating her tea put down her fork with a ‘clank’ that resounded through the entire room. A fly buzzed against the inside of the window, desperate to escape. All that was missing was the banjo soundtrack.

To be fair, this particular town did not see many visitors. It probably didn’t help that one of our number was a six foot something Irishman who was sporting a drooping red moustache that reached almost to his shoulders, where it was carefully twizzled into two waxy points. Even in the most bustling metropolis, he would have elicited a double take.

We bid a good evening to all present, remarked upon the strength of the wind out, and took a seat at the bar. Bazza, Rozza, Timmo and Davo (names courtesy of the chalked scores next to the darts board) looked distrustfully on as we sipped at our pints. We spoke in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the living-room atmosphere. All ears were aprickle with interest – who were these strangers? Which team did they support? And were they going to talk through the best bits of their programme? Eventually all present turned back to watching the evening’s show, which consisted of a remake of classic tunes from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ featuring famous sports coaches in place of the original actors. On a scale of bizarre, you just couldn’t make the scene up. We only stayed for one, and made sure to thank the barman on the way out.

The next day was a scorcher. Come lunchtime, and post-hike, anything with ice in it seemed like a good idea, so we headed back for the local Hotel. What a difference! Instead of silence, we were greeted with nods, served our ‘usual’s, and granted leave to eat our fish and chips in the yard. ‘Timmo’ even joined us out there, imparting detailed advice about the local roads whilst finishing his cigarette.

The moral of the story? If at first you’re treated like an outcast, just try again the next day, when the AFL final is about to start, and the local team is about to win and make history. That subtle chin-raise greeting had never seemed more of statement, and cider had never tasted so good.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

Danger Camping

New Zealand is such a safe place to camp. Aside from swollen rivers and regular hypothermia-inducing temperatures, nothing’s really trying to kill you. Head 2000km West, however, and every creature seems hell-bent on human destruction. That’s what Aussies would have any visiting kiwis believe, anyway. Although we took such advice with a grain of salt, after a week in the wilderness, we’re almost convinced that everything (bar the drop-bears) is true.

Our first encounter with Australian wildlife came in the form of a wombat. Or rather, an ex-wombat, recently transformed into roadkill. We backed up the hatchback to hop out and take a look lest we never see another, but that evening, once we had pitched out tents, we found ourselves in the midst of a swarm of wombats. Perhaps ‘flock’ is a better way to describe the bumbling marsupials, as they rather resembled oblivious nocturnal sheep. They were oblivious to the impediments our tents ought to have caused to their course, anyway.


Meeting the wombats was a good warm-up for encountering other mammals, as they certainly posed the lowest bite risk. After dinner, the scrabbling black and white creature with the wide open jaws that appeared in search of food was another story. Tasmanian Devils are renowned for their biting prowess – in fact, it is via biting of each other that their deadly facial cancer is spread. Luckily for us, we got out of the way in time to avoid a souvenir scar in the buttocks. Ouch.

It seems that the bush animals are in cahoots with one another, however. As this episode was unfolding, one very cheeky possum was busy unzipping the top of our pack to take a nibble on the personal locator beacon. We caught the rascal red handed some 10m from the tent, thanks to some beady eyes noticing the flashing light sneaking off into the distance. That could have been one embarrassing situation to explain to search and rescue, particularly seeing as possums are held in high regard around these parts. Having survived the mammals of the area, and generally had a lovely time, we still had one last hurdle to leap on our way out again… Snakes.

What do you do when a tiger snake takes the liberty of sunning itself right in the middle of the only path out of the wilderness? Well, first you stop and eat some morning tea. Scroggin is good at any time of day, but has excellent inspirational properties when it comes to untangling oneself from a snakey situation. The recommended stomping action was having no effect on our slithery friend. Neither was our three day old sweat – the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. Then, whilst repacking, our Eureka moment came – in the form of a banana. Not wanting to hurt the snake – but not wanting to become a statistic, either – we decided to throw the ripened fruit into the vicinity of the reptile, in order to scare it away. Happily for us, it worked. Future Mario-Cart developers, take note: banana blocks snake. We were soon on our merry way.

So, what’s the verdict of these camping kiwis who took their chances for a week across the ditch? It’s not as scary as Australians make it out to be – only almost. And no matter what happens on our next camping trip, we’re bound to appreciate the safe peace and quiet far more for our overseas experience.

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian