Read about Jonny's road trip to the wild West Coast as published in the Northern Advocate, 48 Hours, Saturday 21st January 2017.
Click here to read Likely lads on a road trip online in The Northern Advocate - 48 Hours - 21st January 2017
He met me just inside Nelson Airport’s only arrival gate. All 6ft 4in, 120kg of him, with that spiky hair at the back you get from hours of driving.
He was his wearing his favourite “Tower of Terror” T-shirt. He looked like a giant Sonic The Hedgehog.
“Do you want me to push him to the baggage claim,” the flight attendant asked.
“Nah, we’re right”, he replied, grabbing the Jetstar wheelchair.
“How are ya” he repeated as he strode off with me down the tarmac.
“Pissed off,” I replied, adding for elucidation, “when you order wheelchair service on a flight it’s like you instantly have a frontal lobotomy.
"He threw his head back and laughed, all 10kg of it.
Soon we were driving West out of Nelson on State Highway 6, heading for the West Coast. After filling up Robbie’s motorhome with diesel we arrived at Owen’s River two hours later. We parked up by a Tasman District Council camping ground alongside the raging river and watched a group of nerdy but adventurous looking kayakers happily embarking on what seemed to me a reckless recreation, while we drank gimlets and ate chicken croissants.
Most of the next day was spent in the Moho, climbing and winding up gorges and creeping down them.
“It’s a long way down” I observed, stating the bleeding obvious.
We came across a car and trailer which had gone over the side, held up by young trees from careering at least 100 feet into rocky rapids below.
“You have to pay attention in these conditions,” Robbie confirmed.
Two minutes later his big head was inches away from the floor as he snuffled around for something under the dash. Suddenly he sat upright and said “oops” as he corrected his steering and I tried to get my heart rate back to normal.
The day before, on National Radio, I heard that the only things for tourists and visitors to do in Greymouth was either go to The Warehouse or stand in the rain like a shag. We chose the latter.
In Hokitika I rang an old friend Rick, a muso who I’ve talked about in a previous column on Graham Brazier. We followed Google Maps instructions to Rick’s address, through the wilderness on a dirt road, with a forest on one side and old mining remnants on the other.
“Where does this guy live?” Robbie said. “Is he hiding from something...how well do you know him?”
In the distance there was a man walking a dog. “Oh well, at least he looks normal,” Robbie reassured himself, until the guys back view came into focus.
"Apart from the machete sticking out of his backpack,” he guffawed.
The misty view from the house Rick and his wife had just built was over the Hokitika River and to the Southern Alps. “You can see the snow on the mountains when the cloud lifts,” Rick assured us.
We went to the pub across the road, yakked to the other members of Rick’s band - called The Riddled Liver Band, and then went back to eat copious amounts of whitebait fritters his wife had prepared.
Two days earlier Robbie had dropped his wife off at the start of the Heaphy Track along with six teenagers, and had invited me on a road trip while they were striding out. So the next day we headed to Karamea, up and down the undulating upper West Coast.
A staunch Northlander, I used to think the West Coast was overrated. The trip changed my mind. White sands, white boulders and white driftwood backdropped by a churning Tasman Sea with nikau lining the other side of the road. Cold looking, but subtropical: spectacular. As we waited for the stoic trampers to stagger out of the track’s southern gateway in Kohaihai, I got a text from Rick saying: “I told you the clouds would lift”, with a picture. Evidence abounded.
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