Friday, October 03, 2008

Coast To Coast


The plan was to carry on up the coast to Greymouth for an overnight stop, before we had to peel away from the shoreline and head towards Nelson.

Greymouth was indeed preceded by its reputation. Louise's friends Jye and Angie had recently moved away from the town, and had given it the moniker "Greyhole", and then used it so frequently that a third friend, not a Kiwi, walked into a travel agent and asked how to get to "Greyhole" , and was met with a blank stare.

And, as if to confirm Greymouth's status as an undesirable location, upon entry we were met by a huge hoarding stating "Kids who are into sport, stay out of court". But if this was indeed a hole, we saw little evidence: it wasn't particularly dirty, or down at heel. It was just, well, a town. Like Leek in Staffordshire, except with a few more Maoris.

Admittedly, the hostel, Noah's Ark seemed misplaced. A huge wooden manor house with mid-air verandas on every side, massive and deserted. Each of its rooms featured an animal theme (ours was festooned with zebra stripes), and entertainment was provided in the shape of an old piano, log fire, the biggest TV I've ever seen in hostel and finally, Bez the four month old labrador, who came with an accompanying health warning magnetted to the fridge: "please do not give Bez milk - it gives him the shits".

Lord! Nelson

We left early next morning, after having another quick squint round the town and headed for Nelson.

Nelson's had a reputation too as, nestled in the North of the South Island, it had been dubbed "the most liveable city" in New Zealand. We arrived after 4 hour drive through the rain, saw little of the town and made straight for the hostel, Accents On The Park.

Accents On The Park. Best Hostel Ever. Fact.

Imagine your typical backpackers: run down building, former nunnery/Victorian manor house/borstal, crammed full with cheap bunk beds and even cheaper bed linen, kitchen consisting of a few electric rings and a microwave from 1983, and one dedicated "entertainment" room with a old TV overbalanced on a bracket high on the wall.

Not Accents On The Park. This was to be an exercise in what a backpackers COULD be if hostel staff weren't too drunk/idle/absent to do anything about it.

We entered onto a thick shagpile carpet, and approached the huge gold trimmed mahogany desk, certain we had accidentally stepped into The Ramada Nelson. Our double room was down the corridor past the thick armchairs in the lobby. Lobby. In a backpackers. The bedroom had bathtowels neatly folded on top of the snazzy, new bedlinen. There was a sink, his and hers bedside lamps, a wardrobe, a parking space and, the best bit, a double-sided Do Not Disturb/Make Up My Room sign to hang on the door. All this for $33 each. That's 12 quid a night.

Nelson didn't disappoint either. The next day the Sun was out, revealing a compact but pleasant town with some great cafes, and a beach 15 minutes from town. Indeed, it was a very liveable town. Big enough to attract a host of supermarkets and shops, but small enough to retain a sense of community and small town buzz.

Mr Fixit

A trip round Nelson's camera shops had proved disappointing: Louise's broken lens was eliciting a fair amount of gurning and whistling from the experts: "Hmmm.....I think that's going to have to go back to Auckland. Might be cheaper to buy a new one" some of them said before gesturing to the new lenses tucked inside glass cases in their window displays.

That was not an option and Louise maintained that we needed "a little man", meaning a boffin, an expert, an enthusiast, and not some Kodak-sponsored camera shop who had no real on-site expertise.

Luckily one shop knew "a little man", and scribbled a name and a phone number on a piece of paper, adding "Go and see Peter". After a phone call we were off round some more first gear corners, zig-zagging up a steep incline to the summit of a hill, possibly an old volcano, only a few minutes from town.

I pulled up on the 45 degree driveway and wrenched the handbrake up firmly. If the car rolled away here it wouldn't stop until it was back in Queenstown. I also stuck it in gear for good measure.

The house was dug into the side of the hill, and was simple and residential. It was opened by a man, in his mid 60s, with greying hair. He was wearing glasses with a tiny binoculars attached. We presumed he was Peter. He ushered us into a tiny room, which was dominated by a desk with a white handkerchief spread across it. Minuscule cogs and machine parts were painstakingly laid out on the handkerchief in excrutiatingly neat fashion. There was a pile of lenses stacked at the side, and disguarded camera backs lay in one corner. Yes, this was definitely Peter. This was the boffin, the expert, the enthusiast that Louise wanted.

He chatted easily for a few minutes and examined the lens with his keen eye. "I think I can fix it, but I need to have a proper look" he said, in a clean, almost English accent, and we agreed if it was to be more than $100 he would call us before he started the work.

There was something reassuring about a man who does what he does for the love of it, and not for profit. And we agreed to call him upon our return from the Abel Tasman coast.

We left Nelson the next day, and due to return a few days later. And of course, we had already booked ahead for Accents On The Park......

The room at Accents. Jacuzzi not in shot....

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