12,000 km with Cal

June 9, 2016
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By Caitlyn Latham
Art by Luke Clark (@meatwavves)

Home is important to me. I haven’t always had a home, spending ages 15 to 19 couch surfing and in ever-changing transitional housing. As a result, I clung to any house that seemed to be a sustainable place to live, and was saving to buy my own abode.

So nobody was more surprised than me when I decided to pack up my things, leave the little bit of home that I did have, and move to New Zealand. I knew nobody over there, would once again have no place to live, and was completely leaving any ounce of comfort behind.

Once there, I was intrigued by the backpacking culture: people were travelling around the islands, living out of their cars. Not because they had no other choice – but because they wanted to. Because to experience waking up with mountains, beaches and forests peeking into your back windscreen is one of the most breath-taking experiences you can ever dream of encountering.

I wanted in! A complete rookie – I went for the first cheap station wagon that popped up in my search. A navy blue, 1998 Toyota Caldina. She came complete with snow chains, a boot that wouldn’t stay open and an oil leak. I handed over the $1500 and drove off in her, pleased with my buy.

A mate gave me a blow up mattress. Another donated blankets, and I bought myself a crate which I filled with noodles and a $20 gas stove from the department store. I lowered the back seats and set up a makeshift bed in the boot. Together, my car, Cal, and I drove out of the town I had been living in, and off to our new adventure.

I dreamt of sleeping next to mountains – in reality my first night was a bit of a blow. I was terrified. I’m still not sure of what – monsters, being alone, or the cops arresting me, but I ended up sleeping in a hostel.

My next night was a little more adventurous. I slept under a bridge next to a lake. I awoke to the most beautiful sunrise peering through my windows. I smiled as I opened my eyes, and that was the beginning of my addiction.

From then on I fell asleep to the moon rising above mountains such as Mt Cook, and woke to brilliant artworks of orange, bringing each new day to me over rocky beaches. I could stop where I wanted when I wanted – checking out hot pools, waterfalls and the wacky Moeraki Boulders. There was something exhilarating in the idea that I had nowhere to be, no one to answer to. For someone who was a stickler for stability, it was the most freeing experience of my life.

One of my craziest memories was driving up the west coast of the South Island, and it was snowing. As a relatively new driver, this scared the absolute hell out of me. I took it slow, skidded several times and turned a few corners unsure what was beyond – but I survived. The roads over there were nothing I’d ever seen before, twisting around hills and forests and lakesides. Beautiful – but deadly if you were to lose concentration for a second.

Early on I discovered Cal’s radio didn’t work, so we drove blasting this terrible pop compilation that I had picked up for $2 at a charity shop from the speakers. From the bottom of the South Island, to the top of the North Island, I screamed lyrics including ‘WE’RE LIKE DIAMONDS IN THE SKY’ and ‘SAY SOMETHING I’M GIVING UP ON YOU’ out of the window, scaring fellow tourists and kiwi birds alike.

Despite bumping into friends along the way, it could be pretty lonely on the road by myself. But with so many other people living in their cars, you’re never completely alone. There was always someone at the gas station to have a laugh with, or at the camp stop to share ideas of where to go next. I picked up hitch hikers, including a pair of French brothers, and heard the most wonderful stories of their travels, and made friends of many different nationalities.

We travelled 12,000 kms in total, Cal and I. It was a relatively cheap and effective way of seeing one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It put me completely out of my comfort zone and onto an adventure. But that’s what being away from home is all about, right? It was a journey that I will treasure with me for the rest of my life. It tickled my travel bug, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone – including you.

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