I reach Havelock well after dark in pouring rain. The fuel gauge is hovering near dreg position and the only petrol station in the town has a sign on it reading ‘closed until further notice’. Not promising. My search for a cabin or something similarly cheap has thus far proved fruitless and guzzled fuel I could ill spare whilst making detours following promising-looking signs (and roads that seem to have been incidentally designed by the local soothsayer using cast intestines) to places enticingly labelled ‘Cable Bay Cabins’ and ‘Mount Richmond Chalets’…all as echoing and empty as the Marie Celeste.
I settle for the Havelock Motel that promises cooking facilities. The receptionist confirms this as I hand over the plastic fantastic but yet again I am doomed to disappointment. The room boasts a microwave. Zapping something briefly with radiation does not, in my mind, constitute cooking. Nor is a microwave oven remotely useful for what I have in mind…dyeing several articles with an armful of Nothofagus obliqua, the windfall treasure harvested roadside in the Lewis Pass earlier in the day. Nonetheless I nuke a test-bundle and am at least reassured that this particular tree, one of my favourites, is very likely to impart some colour to cloth. Finding somewhere to do the cooking before I attempt to take said bundle on an international journey is the tricky thing and also vital if I am to clear Customs with it.
I depart Havelock with some trepidation as the fuel situation hasn’t magically rectified itself overnight. The rain is thumping down in sheets making visibility intermittent at best. Despite this I take Queen Charlotte Drive as it is rather shorter than the main highway and likely to be considerably more interesting. My expectations are exceeded. The road is partially missing in several places and liberally adorned with rocks, mud and trees in piles ranging from barrow loads to truck-sized. Negotiating these is mildly exciting especially when they jump out from corners and surprise one. I stick to the middle of the road where possible in order to prevent accidental disappearance over the edge or into a bottomless pit. After 35 minutes I arrive on the outskirts of Picton to find a bunch of sodden gentlemen attired in glo-vests attempting to make a ‘road closed’ sign stand up on the bitumen with the help of a tyre and two sandbags. I wonder briefly how the semi-trailer that passed me got past the motor home I passed earlier. Tight fit, I imagine.
Much later in the day I arrive in Wellytown on the ferry. It makes slow progress against big waves and torrential rain. Being blessed with a cast-iron tummy I simply enjoy the ride. In Wellington it continues to rain and on observing the evening news I discover that the roads around the south island have literally been closing behind me on my journey. Beginning to feel more than a little Frodo-like.
I spend the morning packing up my dye samples in the hope that I can convince Quarantine and Customs on Oz that my intentions are pure. Alas, they are deeply suspicious and confiscate all my beautiful Nothofagus obliqua leaves. Tempting as it is to have a serious hissy fit I take it as a sign that the Universe has plans for me to return some other time…