Bright and early on Sunday morning, Father Outlaw walked up to the campervan hire place (which is conveniently close to our place – sometimes the advantages of living near the airport really do outweigh the disadvantages (like being woken in the middle of the night by the rumble of the huge Starlifter plane taking off for Antarctica)) and picked up a small campervan (a converted Ford Transit, so we spent the rest of the week teasing him about being a “white van” driver (a joke that will really only make sense to British readers)). After loading up the van with vast amounts of food and things that might just come in handy (yep, you guessed it, most of them came back unused at the end of the week), we set off on the first leg of our voyage (after a quick check of the road code to make sure MrPloppy and I weren’t going to be arrested for sitting in the back (the van was only a 2-berth, so of course only had two proper seats, so we were perched on the bench seats in the back) – we decided the rule “if seatbelts are fitted they must be worn” could safely be interpreted as “if there’s no seatbelts, you can sit wherever you like”).
I was in charge of navigating (a bit tricky when you’re sitting sideways in the back, so I spent a lot of the time (when we were sure there weren’t any police cars around) squatting on the floor between the front seats – not the most comfortable (or safe!) way to travel, but at least I could see where we were going, and more importantly, Father Outlaw could hear the directions I was giving him). I didn’t expect that to be too much of a challenge, given that I’ve lived almost all my life in the South Island, and have travelled most of the roads we’d be driving on more times than I can count. I didn’t expect the first challenge to be getting out of Christchurch! We got onto the northern bypass route (which again, is not far from our place), and I told Father Outlaw where to turn (at Hornby) to get on to the main highway, but when we got to the turnoff they were doing road works at the intersection, and we couldn’t turn. And of course, there was no detour signposted (or if it was, we missed it in the traffic congestion, which was worse than usual around the intersection because of the road works), so we ended up taking a series of side-streets which eventually led us onto the Lincoln road. I decided a long detour on roads I actually knew would be faster than attempting a “short-cut” back to the main highway on streets I didn’t know (and although we had an impressive collection of maps with us, that didn’t include a map of Christchurch, of course), so we took the “scenic route” via Lincoln and Burnham to get back to the highway.
After that, the trip was fairly uneventful (ok, there was one slight mis-turning when I directed Father Outlaw onto the wrong side road in an attempt to get away from the heavy traffic on SH1 (Canterbury is criss-crossed with minor roads which often provide a faster route than the highway), and we ended up on a gravel road instead of the sealed road I’d expected… it’s not my fault that all Canterbury roads look the same…). We stopped for lunch in Geraldine, where I released my first book of the trip (I was very restrained, and only took a dozen books to release): Old Flames by John Lawton, and spent some time looking around the antique shop (which is closing down 🙁 ). Then it was back on the road again, although we stopped soon after just outside Fairlie, to look at the view of the mountains (it was really interesting travelling with the Outlaws, because I saw our mountains through new eyes – you get a bit blasé about mountains living in the South Island, because they’re just part of the landscape, and you tend to forget just how spectacular they are to people who come from less mountainous regions). Lots of people were stopping for the same reason, so of course I took the opportunity to release another book: Grace by Michael Stewart.
Next stop was Lake Tekapo, and the Church of the Good Shepherd, with its famous view from the window behind the altar. Unfortunately, the clouds had lowered by now, so the view wasn’t as good as it can be, and we didn’t get to see Mt Cook, but even in bad weather I still reckon it’s better than a stained glass window:
(No, that’s not a UFO rising out of the lake – my camera’s flash went off without me noticing – grrr!)
Then it was on to Alexandra, where the Outlaws got to meet my mother… and my stepfather, and his mother, and his aunt… despite the Outlaws looking a bit overwhelmed at first, everyone got on well (not that I was expecting otherwise, but it’s still a bit nerve-wracking, the whole your parents meeting his parents for the first time thing). It turned out to be a very late night, though, with lots of wine and whiskey and loud music (Mother Outlaw and Stepfather discovered a shared love of bluegrass music, so Stepfather was insisting that she listen to all his favourite tracks, and his stereo system is rather powerful (I’d hate to live next door to them!)). And of course, after everyone else went to bed Mum and I stayed up even later talking about how the evening went… so it was a very tired FutureCat who had to wake up the next morning ready for the next part of our adventure…