New Zealand is known for it rugged, natural beauty. It’s also known for its high prices. We arrived here with a plan: we’re going to camp our way across the country. We hit the ground running in Queenstown and head to the Salvation army, stocking up on pots, pans, blankets, etc. We look online for used tents and sleeping bags, and go to the cheap stores around to get the stuff we can’t find used. We head back to our pre-booked hotel and set to work, washing the dishes, laundering the fabrics, packing, sorting and planning.
After an 11 hour rest at our last nice hotel for a while, we pack our little budget car to the brim with all of our supplies and make our way down to Fjordland National Park. With ice carved Fjords, this national park is home to many unique and endangered animals (like the Kiwi bird), and the world famous Milford Sound.
With little to no plan, we stop at the closest town to try and figure out where we are allowed to camp and to buy food. Along the roads there are many signs that say “NO FREEDOM CAMPING”, and have signs with tents and camper vans with X’s through them. We stop at the “camping info” pull-off and read the signs. “You may only camp in designated areas, no fires are permitted unless in designated area, must have fire permit.” The signs essentially dash our dreams of a beautiful, solitary campsite. Our hopes are dashed even further as the town is overrun with camper vans, smelly backpackers, and dreadlocks with hiking boots.
We decide to just hit the road and see what we find at these designated camping spots. We stop at the first one, along a nice lake. A little windy, but we are pleasantly surprised by the lack of campers. There are only one or two along the whole strip for about 20 cars. It’s a little windy, but not too bad. Why is there no one here? Then, it bit us… Sandflies. These pesky, little, fruit-fly-like biters are terrors on wings. They swarm you like an old banana, so thick you take one swat and kill 5 of them. We run into the car and speed away, a cloud of dust hiding the swarm that follows us.
We go to the next site, and the next, finally settling on one close to the river. There doesn’t seem to be too many flies here, there’s a fire pit, a picnic table; we can abide by the rules and still be in nature. We set up our camp in the grass. It goes surprisingly smoothly. Everything fits in the tent, it looks in good condition. We set up our chairs to relax looking at the mountains. Then, like a slow leak in the roof that eventually collapses and pours, the flies come. We dig out our bug spray and coat ourselves in the smelly stuff, mixing dirt and spray until we are as grimy as those smelly backpackers back in town. We give up and admit defeat to the lord of the flies and decide to take a walk in the beautiful area we’re in. Heading through the grass we get closer to the river. The sun peaks over the mountains, illuminating the wildflowers and grass. The water sparkles as it ripples over the rocks. As we stand there in the light breeze we notice that something is missing… The flies! We shriek in happiness and decide to heck with the rules, we’re moving our camp down to the river away from the blasted pesks. It’s worth it even if we do get a fine! So we pick up our tent and our gear and haul it through the grass, climbing rocks, and crossing creeks until we get to our little piece of paradise.
We re-set up our camp, and finally sit back in our chairs to relax…Then a bite, and another. Not to worry, a couple must have just followed us over. We’ll just kill these and then we can be in peace. Nope. The sandflies apparently just love to come when you get comfortable. We layer up more and give in, this is a more beautiful spot anyways. We attempt to start our gas fire cooker. It doesn’t light. Then we try the lighter we bought. It’s a dud. We are now in the middle of the park, with all of our food, and no way to cook it. After some fan-angling, some swearing, and some damning the flies, we got both things working. Then we decided that the cooker was too slow and we wanted a fire anyways. We’re right by a creek. No forest fire risk. We can plead ignorance if someone comes. We have our campfire and cook our nice warm meal; the heat of the fire warming us.
With our tummies full we crawl into the tent, ready for a nice night’s sleep. Perhaps this is a thing we should have done first, as Mark is unable to lay flat in it without his head and feet pressing into both sides. There is nothing to be done about it now, and we cozy up for the night in 3 layers of clothing, two sleeping bags, two blankets and one hot water bottle. Within an hour we are sweating; within 4 hours we are freezing, and we awake at dawn with frost covering the tent and our noses frozen.
We leave our stuff and head to Milford Sound to cruise through the fjords, hoping that it will still be there when we return. It thankfully was, with no issues at all. We heat up some water and give ourselves a quick sponge bath, with the cold whipping our bare wet skin like frigid arctic air. We dodge and duck from the occasional Chinese tour bus that might be able to see us from the road. Now slightly cleaner, we cook dinner and prepare for bed. We learn from the lessons of the night before: tarp more securely fastened, windblockers with bags, hot water bottle swaddled to slowly release heat. Miraculously due to the ferocious, unrelenting wind, there are no flies! We’ll take the cold over the flies any day.
We sleep much better the second night. We sit drinking our morning coffee by the fire when we hear a helicopter. Searching we find it low, coming towards us through the valley. Ooohh crap. Yep. Fire is definitely not allowed. There is no way they don’t see us in our bright blue tent and smoke signal. It comes closer and lands near the road. Odd, but quick! Put the fire out! The helicopter takes off again and flies toward us zooming past us 100 ft away. Yep. We’re going to get a fine. He’s definitely radioing to someone right now. We accept defeat and slowly start to pack up our camp.
But then no one comes. We’re almost finished, and still no one! Hurray! We speed out of there high on adrenaline; swatting at flies as we go.