We were two steps beyond the middle of nowhere, the sun was setting, we had creeks to ford and a couple of hours to drive on some rough gravel roads back to our comfy hotel in Queenstown. The good news was that it was all backtracking so we knew what to expect and where to expect it.
Or so we thought. Not far from Beorn’s home, we rounded a corner and down a nice straight flat section of road was a tiny little hatchback stopped almost in the middle of the 1-1/2 lane gravel road. We immediately began to slow and it became apparent something was wrong. All of the car doors were open and a guy was lying down beside the front left tire. Somehow his body language let us know that he wasn’t hurt. We could not pull alongside them to ask if they were ok. There simply wasn’t room on the road and the guy wasn’t getting up off the road.
Luckily this was a rare area with nice flat ground on either side of the road even though the road itself was elevated (I’m sure to make it usable in times of heavy rain), so we decided to pull off into the grass a little rather than stopping right on the road in case anyone from Paradise Valley decided to make a last minute grocery run to Glenorchy.
The second our front wheel went off the gravel we began to slide and sink. I screamed “Stop!” but it was too late. What we didn’t realize is that one of the tributaries for Diamond Lake came almost right up against the side of the road here and the ground was incredibly soft. We were sitting cockeyed on the road unable to move either forward or backward. I got out to assess how difficult it would be to get free and check to see if any damage had occurred.
The moment I stepped out the door, I was freezing. It took me long seconds to process, but where there was firm ground that we could have safely stopped on all around us, we had “lucked out” and were hovering over a marsh. The grass here looked identical to all the surrounding area but it hid water. Lots of melting glacier water. “Holy S#*t!” I yelled expecting to step onto sandy or muddy ground covered in short grass but instead falling out of the car into nearly waist-deep ice water and tall grass. I assured Melanie that I wasn’t hurt, reached up and closed the door, and then realized I had better quickly get away from the side of the car since it was leaning toward me and I had no idea how stable it was.
From the side of the road, it was easy to see what had happened. We were only about one tire width off the road with the two left wheels but they had immediately sunk into the ultra-soft ground and couldn’t get any traction on the super slick wet grass and sand. The car had sunk until we were resting on the two right wheels and the frame of the car. We weren’t in danger of sliding off the road but we weren’t going anywhere without help.
I had calmed down at this point and realized that the three people in the other car had come over to check on us. None of them spoke English very well, but once they saw that we were ok they indicated that one of their hubcaps had come loose and they were trying to reattach it.
I wasn’t super happy that they had chosen to stop in the middle of the road to do this or that they had not gotten off the ground when they heard then saw us approaching. They let us know that they could not get a mobile phone signal, which Melanie confirmed (my phone had already died for the day). So I went to check out their car. The plastic hubcap had broken and was being held on at one point by a ziptie. Looking around the car I noticed all the hubcaps had zipties. I’m guessing these were not the first people to take an economy car on bad roads in NZ. It became clear that none of our new friends were mechanically inclined and I reassured them that their car would drive just fine once we popped the ziptie and removed the hubcap.
About this time another econobox rolled up behind us (where had they come from?) and out popped the nicest couple you are ever likely to meet. The guy from the hubcap car, the nice guy, and I all tried pushing and rocking our car while Melanie tried to ease it back on to the road. No dice. It didn’t dig itself in and it didn’t move. The nice guy suggested wedging some stuff in around the wheels so they could get traction, but there was nothing around. Wait, out in the marsh there was a rotten tree that had fallen over. Guess who got to wade out to it to collect branches.
I was so thankful we weren’t back home in Florida where I would not have been able to get the thought of alligators or cottonmouths out of my head. I bounced and shoved limbs and eventually got some to break but not before giving myself a really nice blood blister on my hand. Armed with small logs, I waded back to the car, wedged the branches, and… we had the same result.
Next we took a tire iron and popped the zip tie on the loose hubcap. As soon as that happened, all the passengers in that car got back in and the driver said, “We must get to hotel to check in now. Goodbye.” He collected the hubcap, got in the car, and drove off. I couldn’t believe it! We were about a 30 minute drive from the nearest town.
I turned to the nice guy and he just laughed and offered to give Melanie and me a ride to Glenorchy so we turned on the hazard lights, locked the car, and headed out. The difference between the cheapest rental car and a 4WD SUV was immediately apparent. We had to speak loudly to hear each other over the road noise and it felt like our insides were being shaken to liquid. Nonetheless, we were all in a good mood knowing that we were not going to be stranded, no one was hurt, and we were on an adventure.
The only stressor for me was wondering how we would get back up here, rescue the car, and get it returned to the rental place the next day before we had to board the plane back to the north island. It turns out that fear was unfounded.
The sun had set some time ago when we pulled in at the bar/eatery in town. Locals were milling about with drinks and relaxing on a Saturday night. The first loud group of guys we strolled over to listened to our tale, but thankfully they made an honest assessment saying, “We’re all too drunk to help you but maybe you can get someone over there to come out tonight.” They pointed at a larger group of friends that were dining together. Once we had established that we were dumb tourists that didn’t have a shovel or a winch and our car was really stuck, the diners knew immediately that this was a job for Dweeb. “Dweeb?” said Melanie, certain she had heard them wrong. “Yea, his name is Duayne but nobody calls him that.” “People call him Dweeb?” “Yea.” “In the States, that isn’t a nice name.” “Not nice here either but he doesn’t mind.” “And he will be able to get us back on the road?” “Oh sure. He has a good truck and he knows what he’s doing. I just don’t know if he’ll come out on a Saturday night. His wedding is next weekend and they are doing last minute prep.”
The nice couple said they had planned to eat dinner in Glenorchy and if Dweeb didn’t get us back on the road, they would take us back to Queenstown since they were staying there too. Soon enough Dweeb pulled up in an old squared off truck that had obviously lived a very hard life. It had a big winch on the front which I liked seeing. In the front seat was a smiley rancher and his friendly dog. Dweeb got out an introduced himself and let us know that only one of us would fit in his truck. Melanie went with the nice couple and Dweeb, the dog, piles of horse farm equipment, and I took off in his truck.
“When the guys at the bar called me I asked if you’d left the keys in the car. If you’d a done that, I coulda brought someone with me an’ we coulda driven it down to you. It woulda saved a bunch time, but no worries.” “Is that a normal thing to do?” “Around here? Oh sure? I always leave my keys on the hood of the truck. Otherwise, I’d lose them.” I got to hear stories of hunting all around New Zealand and places to visit in the area and then we were at the truck.
In short order Dweeb had his winch on the back tie down of the car and I was in the driver’s seat. He backed his truck while I backed the car. We had the windows down so he could yell instructions to me since I couldn’t really see anything. After just a few moments the car righted itself and I eased back on the road. Dweeb was laughing his head off. “So how was that ride?” “What do you mean?” “You were at an angle then –pop- you were back on the road.” I tried to explain that I was sitting on the pivot point so I didn’t move that much, but he would have none of it and thought I was trying to play it cool. In reality I was so focused on not shooting back into the side of his truck once I got traction that I wouldn’t have noticed anyway.
Back at the restaurant, I collected Melanie and bid our new friends farewell. They insisted that they had done nothing and hadn’t even changed their itinerary to help us but I don’t know what we would have done if they hadn’t come along. It is a great reminder to go the extra step and help the people around you. It might be a small thing to you but it could be huge to the person you are helping.
Next it was time to settle up with Dweeb. Just like our other new friends he refused any sort of payment. I told him to think of it as a wedding gift. Nope. “Please let me do something. This was several hours of your life, gas, etc.” “Well, you could buy me a 24-pack.” “Done. That is nothing though.” “You could buy me a pint as well.”
Dweeb and his new wife co-own a horseback riding company in some of the most remote and beautiful part of New Zealand. If I was looking for a once-in-a-lifetime riding experience, there is no question I would book with these guys. Anyone as kind and patient as Dweeb is when he doesn’t have to be has got to be wonderful to be around when he is doing his job. You can see a picture of Duayne and his cool dog, find out more about his horseback riding tours, and see plenty pretty pictures at High Country Horses.
Thankfully, the drive from there to the hotel was uneventful.