Oceanfront campsite. A strong offshore wind. Perfect for surfing. Except I’m not really a surfer, nor do I possess a surfboard. And it’s dark. And bitter cold. But one can dream, right?
I back the camper van toward the ocean, imagining the dawn’s early light illuminating breaking waves visible through the large rear window. And the best part? To camp in this scenic paradise costs us exactly zero New Zealand Dollars. A steal! OK, our oceanfront property is actually a gravel car park; the dark expanse of the Tazman Sea on one side, and a rugby pitch – practice under the lights in full swing – on the other. The technical term is “Freedom Camping” and it is free, and we are oceanfront, so it’s brilliant. Today’s brilliance is near Greymouth, on the south island’s west coast.
But all is not surfer dreams and camper vans. Becky is freaking out. “We’re gonna blow into the ocean!”, she says, or something to that effect, and maybe “freaking out” is a bit strong, but I am not fully listening. I’m outside now. The wind rushes past me from somewhere beyond the darkness in front, and off to the darkness behind. I smile. Nature’s power always makes me feel so alive. Up to the point it tumbles me head over heels into a freezing ocean, I suppose, then I may start to feel less alive rather quickly.
We have one freedom camping neighbor, a large Class “C” RV parked parallel to the shore. I confirm the direction and speed of the wind, imagining it pushing hard against the large profile of the RV. I silently pat myself on the back for parking our camper’s nose straight into the gale, but what do I know? This is day 4 as a campervan pilot. The wind pulls at my jacket and I feel it’s chill. Actually, it’s downright cold – close to 0 °C. I can feel the distinct imprint of the glacier-y, snowy, icy places off to our East.
Inside, dinner preparations are underway. Big Ben’s meat pies baking in the camper’s small “griller”. Baking is a relative term, however. The camper’s “griller” is a 6-inch high broiler that burns toward the back and leaves frozen at the front. Regular rotation – front-to-back, top-to-bottom – is required…or else one just eats the warms bits and leaves the black bits alone.
The camper rocks hard from a gust of wind. Again the question, “Are we safe here?”, an edgy nervousness to the voice. “We’ll be fine.” I state.
“Are you sure…?”
Now, I’m a excellent mind reader (NOT!), but in this case I actually pick up on the un-said part of the dialog. She’s nervous. I give myself the second – and just as (un)warranted as the first – silent back-pat of the evening.
“I’ll check.”, I say, and exit into the darkness once again.
I walk around the camper, testing the direction and force of the wind, and our distance, or lack thereof, from the high tide line. I assess the situation with the care I imagine a seasoned sea captain gives a sail change in foul weather. Not really. I quickly decide it’s warmer inside and there’s soon-to-be food, and if I don’t do anything, the questions and nervousness will continue.
So, obviously, something must be done. I hop back in the driver’s seat, shout “Moving” to the chefs in the back and slowly roll our hostel 5 feet forward, and maybe an additional 15° more into the wind, hopefully adding a margin of safety, and a measure of comfort – both literally and figuratively.
That night I slept like a baby – rocked gently by the wind, serenaded by the sound of the waves, and woken up regularly by bunk mate inquiring “Are you sure…?”