Life with 'The Cunninghams'
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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I should've expected a modest welcome come to think of it, following my return to the DOC on Stewart Island. I'd popped in on 'Day Eleven' fresh off the circuit to return the (unused) locator beacon and to fill in the 'I'm back safe, don't send a search party' form. While doing so, I was told (having pulled out my file) that Lorneville Holiday Park had called while I had been out in the bush, concerned. At the time and having gone through the whole hefty experience of trudging the North West Circuit, it was actually quite a touching moment, especially as this was my first contact with civilisation in eleven days. Let's just say it was the icing on the cake.
From the moment I got off the (free) shuttle bus and stepped on to Cunningham property I was embraced with kindness. I'd barely got out of the bus when Chris came bounding out and down his front steps beaming a huge smile and a hearty voice. 'It's real good to see yer mate,' he said, shaking my hand with a real vigorous sincerity. 'Have you eaten yet? Come in, I'll do you a plate of soup'. I couldn't for the life of me remember seeing a menu of any type pinned to the walls around the park. I took off my pack and followed him through the house where he immediately introduced me to his wife Rosemary. As he introduced us, he sat me down at the table in front of a bowl of hot, homemade soup and two pieces of toast. As I picked up a piece he popped another two in the toaster. As I told them of my 'North West Adventures', Chris continued to ply me with toast and soup refills like I hadn't eaten in two weeks. I was stuffed. It was a struggle try and take in all the generosity but it was a wonderful welcome nonetheless - lively, enthusiastic and utterly sincere, to the point of being overwhelming. It was almost as if he'd just received a private 'tip-off' that I was some sort of secret, mystery customer making his final visit of the season, and just about to file an annual report on 'holiday parks with a difference'. In reality, and in short, they're just good, genuine, honest people who simply decided to open their doors to a scruffy-haired lonesome traveller.
And the generosity didn't stop there. At around five-ish and after spending over thirty minutes raking off my new beard before settling in, I looked up and Chris was standing at the window outside the van looking quite smartly dressed and a little excited. 'I'm up for a few beers when you're ready.' As he said it he tilted his hand back and forth a few times in front of his mouth, while flicking his eyebrows just in case I didn't hear. 'I'll see you up at the house.' Then he was gone. When I went up to the house Chris welcomed me in with a cold bottle of Speights. We stood chatting for a while as Rose flittered around in the kitchen sizzling something big. The woodburner was roaring away in the living room and the TV was chanting along in the background. It was wonderful and had a warm, homely, 'end of a hard days work' family get-together atmosphere that put me very much at ease. I was introduced to their son and then found myself sat at the table, with the Cunninghams, in front of the hugest T-bone I ever laid eyes on (it was from their own cattle.) Following the huge dinner, the other two got ready to go bowling for the evening leaving Chris and I to continue our lively banter, which was only interrupted when Coronation Street came on. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before but they're absolutely fanatical about it here. As Chris watched 'Coro', I watched Chris. With great interest. Every time there was a heated, bitchy confrontation, he'd be rolling on the floor. He absolutely loved it. So did I (I was more entertained than he was.) The other two caught up with it when they got back - it had been recorded, naturally!
So the last few days have pretty much followed suit. Most mornings, Chris would walk in to the kitchen to top up the 'igg-tab' with freshly laid eggs and I'd happily scramble them and devour them. In the evenings, I'd be summoned back up to the house for a few beers, a wonderful dinner, great conversation and a dose of Coronation Street or rugby, or both. In between all this I've re-couperated a little, got a new WOF (passed without incident, chuffed) and REGO for my van - both of which expired while I was trudging through mud - and spent a lot of time helping, or rather battling, with the family PC, which had become riddled with viruses.
On Stewart Island I'd start each day with a few laboured trudges, which would mash down and pump out oozing, thick contours of mud in a stylish pattern. After a few hundred trudges (a matter of minutes), I would very quickly become accustomed to thinking single-mindedly of only one thing. Mashed potatoes. After seven or eight days out there this started to develop in to a mild obsession. In the nine months that I've been in New Zealand I don't think I've eaten mashed potatoes once. Until now. Since returning to the Lorneville Holiday Park, it's all I've eaten each evening since I've been here, apart from the sublime meaty offering on the other half of the plate.
If there has been any downside at all to the whole experience it's been the general temperature. I've spent a little time in Invercargill now on three separate occasions - both pre and post summer - and can only conclude that it's an uncomfortably bitter cold place to be. B***ard freezing would be more accurate. It's been so luxuriously warm sat sprawled out in the Cunningham's living room beside the wood fire amongst the family banter, but leaving the room to venture anywhere else has proved to be a very different story. It is deathly cold. There is no heating of any sort here, central or otherwise. Nothing. When I asked Rose how they cope, she just enlightened me with the concept of the 'electric blanket'. Winter isn't here yet.
Yesterday, Chris took me along to a small village north of Invercargill called Drummond to watch his other son, Glen, play rugby for the local club. Following the game, we drove to the local country pub for a swift couple. Apart from being chilled right through to the bone, it made a really pleasant afternoon. Come to think of it, I'm sure today will become another memorable 'chill'. I went with Chris over to the Mataura River to have a look at his hobby hut. He has a little hut on the bank of the river, which he frequents at certain times of the year to harvest load after lip smacking load of fresh whitebait. He'd spoken of it a few times and when he offered to take me along I was quite interested to see it. The plan was actually to build a new toilet right beside the hut, which would replace the rusty, rickety long drop which currently stands a considerable distance from it, which could potentially be a little uncomfortable. Several hours later, the hole was dug out, pipe was in, hole re-filled, toilet floor was placed proudly on top (albeit broken in two by 'Drew the digger' - Chris' face was a picture). By late afternoon all was done and dusted and Chris was chuffed. At this point I had lost all feeling in my limbs. I've never in my life ached to be next to a fire as much as I did at that moment. It wasn't long before we were all packed up, in the forby and back on the road too. There was a serious looking storm approaching from the South (Stewart Island) and Chris wasn't taking any chances. I guess the time to worry is when those in the know start looking a little serious. It certainly looked pretty grim to me. We were out of there, and in less than an hour I was sat beside the Cunningham's fire starting the thawing process.