Send in the Marines
The road from the Purple Cow Hostel in Wanaka to the glaciers of the west coast takes us past Puzzle Town and it’s massive 3-D maze (open on Christmas day!).
We push on through amazing mountain vistas toward Haast and through Mount Aspiring National Park and the Blue Pools. Weird mailboxes. Abandoned and dilapidated shacks. Roadside fences covered in underwear and shirts and ski boots.
Walking to the vantage point, I pass a sign that appropriately designates this spot the Halfway Bluff. After driving about 1700 km, that is exactly what this location is.
Out of the park, past waterfalls and runaway vehicle ramps and cattle stops, I pull over and walk back a few hundred feet for a photo of yet another amazing river valley/winding road/misty mountain scene. Walking to the vantage point, I pass a sign that appropriately designates this spot the Halfway Bluff. After driving about 1700 km, that is exactly what this location is.
A little red car comes to a stop beside me, evidently with similar photos in mind. I take my shots, return to the car and turn the key. Nothing. Again. A few half-hearted whirrs that fade to silence. Christmas day in the middle of nowhere and I have a dead car. I try again. And again. Nothing.
I open the hood, as if an ominous gaze from a layman is going to fix whatever is wrong. With nothing appearing to be on fire or conspicuously absent, my investigation work appears complete.
The little red car comes around the corner, notices our open hood and pulls over. I ask if they have a mobile phone (thankfully, my rental contract includes 24-hour service). No, but they get out to have a look. The consensus between the four of us is that fault lies with the battery. Fabulous.
Halfway through my driving adventure, halfway through my entire trip to New Zealand, exactly in the middle of my route around the South Island on Christmas day when people are home and everything is closed, I have a car that won’t start. I conjure ominous visions of the end of my smooth sailing, putting in jeopardy much of my meticulous planning for the rest of the trip. Halfway Bluff indeed.
Halfway through my driving adventure, halfway through my entire trip to New Zealand, exactly in the middle of my route around the South Island on Christmas day when people are home and everything is closed, I have a car that won’t start. Halfway Bluff indeed.
We talk for a while and they give us a ride to the next town. I note that the driving seems a bit aggressive for a car only marginally better than my baby Nissan. Eyes focused ahead, they hit corners hard. The passenger has the map out and calls out the details of the route ahead in sparing but precise words of direction. They dive into turns with the pedal down and take short lines through corners. The driver has a solid grip on the wheel and the other on the stick. Like being in a video game, we rocket through the 15 km to the next town and I am fully impressed, and more than grateful for their help. They drop us off and we talk some more.
They’re US Marines. Based in Japan. On leave. They fly F-18s.
The driver, William, is the pilot. The passenger, Derek, is his navigator and weapons guy. With our tow truck arranged and ride back to the car secured, they continue on.