Thursday, 16 February 2017

Hillbilly Harry - A Kindred Spirit

I was going to start today's post by saying I wasn't much of a risk taker.  Then I remembered I sold my house a few months ago, along with almost all my worldly goods in exchange for living in a van and nowhere to call home!  Still, as a rule I'm not exactly a daredevil.  Which is why you may recall when we first set off on our travels that our mantra was going to be to make the most of every opportunity.  When you live a life with no schedule, there's no excuse not to go for that swim, or to go and explore where that track leads or check out that view.  And on the whole I'm proud to say we most definitely have done so.  Even so, wandering off to visit a complete stranger in the middle of the bush?  I don't do things like that.  Until a couple of days ago anyway!

We left Tapawera without really knowing exactly where we were going or how far we were going to get.  The vague plan was to get to Hanmer Springs and we were already enjoying the pretty drive, but we hadn't been on the road too long before we came across a sign which said 'Nelson Lakes National Park'.  'Darn, we should really have gone there!' I said, as we whizzed past before having time to stop.  'I would have liked to go there too', said Gareth.  'Ah well, we'll just have to see it on the way back up'.  We had both already settled in for a decent long trip and didn't really plan to stop so soon.  However, ten minutes further down the road we saw another sign pointing to the same place.  This time we both agreed in an instant that we would stop and follow the road wherever it led for the next 11km.


From the start we were glad we did so, as we ambled along the picturesque lane, peering over the edge at the river rushing by alongside us.  Surrounded by mountains and bush and dotted here and there with dear little houses and shacks, we laughed as we both said at the same time 'You know, I could live here!'  This proved to be an even truer statement as we reached the end of the road and gazed in awe upon Lake Rotoroa.


Lake Rotoroa, Nelson Lakes National Park


A beautiful place on a beautiful day!

Once again, no amount of photos can really do this place justice.  We were looking at the kind of picture postcard view the South Island was famous for - almost too perfect to seem real.  I wasn't quite sure if I was allowed to let Minnie out of the car - so many places at National Parks you can't, but just then I saw a chap with a dear little Cocker Spaniel, having a lovely splash in the water.  'Oh good, you've got a dog too!' I smiled.  'I didn't know if I was allowed to let mine out'.  'Yeah, it's OK, I live here', the man smiled back.  We got talking and I gratefully let Minnie out of the car, explaining that we lived on the road and how awesome it always is to find a nice place where she can stretch her legs.  At this point Gareth wandered up and I introduced him to the man, who said he was also wanting to adapt a similar vehicle for on the road living and would we mind if he had a look? We were happy to give him a tour and were pleased when the chap agreed how well set up Ken was.  He had done a fair bit of research and seen a lot of vans.  A lot of camper vans like ours have the bed nearer the front and the kitchen at the back, whereas Ken's kitchen is at the front and the bedroom is at the back.  As we have discovered, this works much better in many ways.  No having to cook in the wind and rain and no wet, muddy bedding from having the bed right by the main door! 

Minnie and me, just taking it all in

Minnie and her new canine friend greeted one another with interest and enthusiasm.  Which is remarkably rare for Minnie as normally she lives in a world of her own and is oblivious to anyone who tries to make a fuss of her!  'Anyway I'm off', the man said.  'You're welcome to call in for a coffee if you like, you've got to go past my place anyway'.  'Thanks!' we smiled as he wandered off with his four-legged friend in tow.  We stayed at the lake a little longer, taking photos and admiring the view, then headed off ourselves.  'Did you want to call in for coffee?' asked Gareth.  My excuse was that I had to work in half an hour, which indeed I did.  However my real excuse was that I was wary about going to visit someone I didn't know.  I still remembered the videos the nice policeman had come to show us at school when I was five about stranger danger.  Being the highly strung, neurotic weirdo of a kid I was, they had affected me greatly!  I couldn't possibly do anything as risky go and have coffee with a person I didn't know, especially in the middle of nowhere and with no cellphone reception - even with a big hairy Viking in tow!

Yet nonetheless I found myself looking out for the stranger's house as we slowly cruised by, and sure enough, we found it.  He waved at as from his veranda and as we waved back I impulsively turned into the driveway.  'Oh, we're stopping now are we?' Gareth asked.  What can I say, it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind!  Besides, I had enjoyed talking to the man and once again reminded myself that we were supposed to take any opportunities that came our way.  We had already met so many lovely people on our travels and we never knew them before either!  Maybe, just maybe we were meant to stumble upon this person for a reason.


Geoff with his faithful pup, Ishi

The man welcomed us in, Minnie too, and sat us down in his conservatory, looking out over the bush, and settled himself down in his rocking chair with Ishi the pup at his feet.  What followed was two hours of the most enjoyable, interesting and entertaining conversation.  In fact, it appeared we had found a kindred spirit!  Geoff, as it turned out his name was, was just like us in his love of nature, his quest for peace and a self sufficient lifestyle.  He even made a lot of his own clothes and showed us the latest pattern, all cut out and ready to stitch.  'I make them from calico, keeps the sand flies away', he said, going on to explain how the pesky insects which swarmed all around the area are attracted to darker colours.

We could have sat and listened all afternoon, as Geoff told us all about the log cabin he had once built in the bush and his many hunting adventures.  He had even lived in Takaka prior to the Nelson Lakes and detested the hill as much as I did!  Over the years he had earned himself the nickname 'Hillbilly Harry' and everyone in the area always knew who to call upon when anyone needed anything fixing or sorting out.  He also had provided a place to to stay for many a weary traveller passing through.

Not only was Geoff interesting to listen to, he also had a wealth of information on places we should check out with cheap land to buy.  He should know, he had been looking for the same himself, on which to build his own version of a tiny house!  He had even lived in a teepee for a year before now. Just like us, he didn't want anything flash, no $240,000 patch of real estate; just a wee plot of land that nobody wanted or would miss.  It could be as scrubby and bushy as you like; just somewhere to call our own so we could work on making it self sufficient.  I wanted to stay and hear more and I think Gareth did too, but by this time I was very late for work and who knew how far we would have to go before we could access a phone or Internet signal?  Before we went, Geoff went inside and returned with half a dozen exquisite books, all in perfect condition.  Books on building rustic homes, how to build a pole house, even a book on yurts.  'You can't get these here, I ordered them all from overseas', he said.  'You can take them if you like?'


The young pup and the little old lady - Ishi and Minnie!

Gareth and I looked at each other in amazement.  How lucky were we?  This lovely, kind man had never met us before today, yet was willing to trust us with the most wonderful stash of books.  'Thank you so much, we promise we'll post them back to you!' we said, hugely grateful.  'No hurry', he insisted.  'Just keep in touch will you?  I want to see how you guys achieve your dream'.  Indeed we most certainly will!  The two of us couldn't stop smiling as we got back into the van.  So much for being a stranger!  What wonderful good fortune to have run into such a kind and interesting person.  I guess it's true what they say - a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet.  I have a feeling this isn't the last we will see of 'Hillbilly Harry' - in fact, I hope it isn't!

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