‘I’m going for a poo.’
‘No you’re not.’
‘Come on. It’ll be fun.’
‘Let go of the door. You are not going in there.’
‘Someone has to christen it.’
‘No someone doesn’t. The camper van toilet is for emergencies only — between the hours of ten pm and six am.’
‘This is an emergency. I need to christen it.’
‘There is a flushing toilet thirty metres from here with hand dryers and soap dispensers. Go and use that.’
‘Step away from that door.’
‘Why are you so grumpy?’
The honeymoon was over and we were still at Queenstown Airport.
I did what my friend The Primary School Teacher told me to do when my head starts to explode. I held up my four fingers and pretended they were birthday candles and I blew them out. One, two, three, four. I couldn’t remember what she said about the thumb.
Had I not been desperate for a change of conversation? Talks that were not about cancer and cardiac conditions and other crappiness going on for my extended family (and many, many others) right now?
I smiled. I breathed out. Look! We may not have reached the lakes or fjords yet but here, in the Two Minute Parking at the airport, we could see the Remarkables, cloaked in snow, sparkling toothily, reminding us who was bigger, older, prettier, and generally more remarkable.
Small and I were ready to roll on our camper van road trip. Duffle bags in the back, engine roaring, brown paper bag full of lollies between us.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘Enough about that. Let’s get this show on the road. Do you know where the thing is for the, you know?’ I waved my hand in the general direction of the camper part of the van behind us.
He shrugged. He didn’t. We smiled at each other. We were both thinking of the Executive, who we love. I slapped the stick into drive and floored it, whooping as we flew over a speed bump. Somewhere behind us, glasses clinked in their cupboards, cutlery clapped its hands, toilet water sloshed its enthusiasm.
If the Executive were here, he would still be at the Maui camper van HQ, bless him, circling the vehicle, spectacles on the end of his nose, frowning as he checked the many, many things that needed checking and double-checking and scrutinising and committing to memory before even thinking about pushing the start button.
Us? We were gone burger. No fannying around. We would work things out.
The campervan, it turns out, handles like a llama. Or maybe something from a Studio Ghibli movie: a cat bus or Howl’s Moving Castle – a living, breathing, rattling, clanking thing held together with a bit of spit and masking tape. It bounces and lopes and lurches and rattles and holy Christ it’s a noisy thing. But that’s OK. It’s our home for the next few days and we are very happy with it. Visibility is fantastic. Huge wing mirrors, reversing camera and a massive rear window to watch the traffic building up as we lurch and lollop along.
The road between Queenstown and Te Anau is a bit spesh.
‘Oh my gosh,’ I said, and braked suddenly, sending the barbecue table, a couple of deck chairs and a computer flying through the air toward the windscreen.
‘Mum,’ said Small, hurling a deck chair back into the heart of the beast. ‘We are going to see a lot of mountains. You can’t take photos of every mountain.’
‘I know, but look how pretty that one is.’
I kept driving. And stopping. And driving. And stopping. There were mountain-lined lakes, snowy fields, sheepy sheep, rickety cottages. I tried to not stop to take photos all the time, but it wasn’t easy.
I did put the camera down when we were at a lakeside rest stop and three beautiful young backpackers got naked and ran into the water one after the other to get the money shot for their Instagram accounts. It was four degrees outside.
‘Go you,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s good to be young.’
A wee while later we arrived at the Te Anau Lake View Caravan Park and settled into our lake view powered camping van site. Just like the professionals.
‘Right, where’s the thing for the power or whatever?’ I said to Small.
He shrugged. We grinned. We thought fondly, again, of the Executive, who would be all over this. We decided to start with the beds instead. Everything got a bit jumbled. There seemed to be only one bed. I bumped my head a couple of times. The bags seemed to get in the way. My toothbrush fell on the floor and the bedding was the colour of calf manure. The cushions didn’t seem to fit right and the tea towel was sticky. Also the fridge smelled like cigarette smoke. And we still seemed to be missing a bed.
‘Stop,’ I said. ‘We need to find instructions.’
We scanned the vehicle information booklet in the glove compartment. Nothing.
‘We going to have to make the call,’ I said.
‘Do it,’ said Small. We were a team.
‘Hi,” I said to the helpful woman on the telephone. ‘I’m just wondering how to make the beds.’
‘Did you watch the videos?’ the woman with infinite patience.
‘’Oh yeah,’ I said, and shrugged at Small. What videos? ‘Everything is right there. On the dashboard,’ she said. ‘Like I told you,’ she didn’t say.
‘On it,’ said Small.
We watched the videos. We made the beds, connected the power, turned on lights, turned on gas, pre-cooked our chilli, played Exploding Kittens then went for a walk alongside the lake. All by ourselves. Without any help from anyone.
The mountains smiled toothily upon us. The water rippled fetchingly. We stumbled upon a Department of Conversation bird repair sanctuary and saw a morepork, a bunch of takahē , a few grumpy kākā and a beautiful kākāriki. All of them so endangered but these particular ones being saved. Lovely.
We returned to our camper, wrote our first blogs, ate chilli and corn chips and watched a pink sunset interrupted only by backpackers running to stand in our view and capture the moment for their Instagram accounts.
It was a good day.
I’ll write about Milford Sound tomorrow but first I have to fast-forward to this morning when we emptied the toilet waste. We studied the video, parked up the camper and went in. Team work.
‘Stand back!’ I shouted, and used the very tips of my fingers to lift the hatch to the poo dumping receptacle thing. Every cell in my body was contaminated.
‘Take out the thing!’ commanded Small.
‘Roger,’ I said.
‘Turn the pipe around,’ he said.
‘Tip it up,’ said Small.
‘Tipping now,’ I said.
‘Push the button to release the pressure,’ he said.
‘Here we go,’ I said.
Thin, foul-smelling liquid the colour of rotten lettuce flew out. More than seemed possible. It glugged and sloshed and ponged. Not a single poo in there, praise be. The kid had followed instructions.
‘Urgh,’ said Small.
‘We’ve got this,’ I said.
‘Rinse,’ he said, and passed me the hose.
‘Rinsing,’ I said.
‘Arrrrggggggghhh;’ we both said. We got the hose back under control.
‘OK,’ he said.
We put the chemical in, added water, turned the pipe around and slotted the canister back into place. We washed our hands very, very well.
Then we emptied the grey water, topped up the fresh water and drove in comfortable silence toward the Kepler Track where we would cleanse ourselves in primordial forest, visit wetlands, take photos of mossy broken tree trunks that looked like poodles.
Small shuddered all of a sudden.
‘Uerrrk,’ he said.
‘If you did a poo in the camper van toilet, you would see it later, when you emptied the waste.’
I noticed that he spent a long time visiting the long drop next to the car park.