Straight after our 100km bike ride, the weather turned bad. After a day of doing work in the library, we ended up back in Kumara, where we met up with our mate Scott. Scott has been working as a kayak guide out at Okarito and drove up in his weekend to hang out with us.
Bad call, as we had two days of rain and gale force winds and the weather got so bad that the road back to Okarito got closed. We sat out the storm in a swimming pool during the day and a bar at night, which made it just about bearable :). After two days, the storm was gone and we were back in blazing sunshine, with only the massive river, flooded houses and a washed away bridge as reminders of how bad it was. To point out some silver lining: the van looked VERY clean after all that rain. I said to Thomas: “it looks like we’ve been through the carwash”, which – thinking of it – is EXACTLY what the storm had sounded like when we were up all night listening to rain being bashed against the van.
Luckily the washed-out bridge was beyond Okarito so we happily made our way to Okarito, which we had heard great things about. And what a nice place it turned out to be! A tiny village, tucked in between the beach, a lagoon and the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps. With only around 40 residents, Okarito is far from boring as we spent our days filled with hiking, cycling, running, kayaking and even some impromptu bouldering on the beach. One of the best things was the sunrise kayak trip with Scott, when the water was very still and the views of the mountains reflecting in the water were amazing. Our visit to Okarito culminated in a live music gig in a tiny building in town followed by a house party, where we met probably all 40 residents in one go.
While we were in Okarito, we discovered another side effect of the big storm we’d just had: a nearby facility storing rubbish had been flooded and an endless stream of rubbish had been washed into the ocean, only to be deposited back onto the beach. When we went for a beach walk on our first day there, we were absolutely flabbergasted by the amount of rubbish we came across. We started picking up pieces but within a few meters we had our arms full of rubbish and there was so much more still lying on the beach.. Back in town the word spread fast and the next day the local community rallied and got together to start cleaning up. The press was notified and before long, a massive clean up operation was underway including helicopters flying volunteers to remote stretches of beach to make sure most of the rubbish would be picked up before ending up in the ocean again. I’m not sure what the situation is now as we were only there for a few days, but we got a heartbreaking reminder of why we need to get rid of using so much plastic in our lives!
Leaving Okarito, we drove back to the real world where there are things like supermarkets and dump stations and spent a day replenishing our water and groceries supplies. Since Thomas had come off his bike in Okarito and hurt his hip, we made a last-minute call to change our plan from bouldering at Castle Hill to taking the Lewis Pass, to discover a new and unexplored area of the South Island for the both of us.