With a mechanical roar, the bus rounded the corner and ground to a stop in front of us. We shoved our bags into the boot underneath and the driver (a wry, silver-haired guy named Alan who lives on a house boat when he's not driving tourists around the country) ticked off our names on a chart. The bus was half-full of sleepy-looking people. There were two of our friends from Arcadia were there, a few Germans, some British guys and a girl, and one lady from Brazil. We flopped into a pair of seats next to some Swedish girls. I was still exhausted. A four-hour bus ride sounded nice. The bus lurched forward and we were on the road.
"So today we're on our way to Greymouth," said Alan. "If you want to book your hostels you can do it now. Lovely city, Greymouth. We'll be doing a tour at Monteith's Brewery if you'd like to sign up."
The bus got quiet. I shut my eyes again.
"Greymouth also offeres quad biking and ATV rides, if you're into that kind of thing. I'll send around a clipboard and you can tick your names off for whichever activity you'd like to do."
"And on the way there, we'll be going over this little hill called the Hope Saddle. Let's hope the bus makes it. After that we'll stop for some photos at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks."
In half an hour we stopped for coffee at a café next to a farm. I got a cup of tea and watched a chicken scratch around by the bus tires. It was 8:30. I figured we'd get to Greymouth by 1:30 or 2 at the latest. We packed back onto the bus.
In a few minutes my stomach started to churn and cramp. Oh hell. I'd eaten something wrong. Was there wheat in that Chinese food I'd eaten the night before? Probably. I prayed we'd get to Graymouth fast. I tried not to think about killing myself while gluten knives were stabbing my stomach. I was on vacation in New Zealand. I should be loving it.
As we wound our way South down the coast and into the hills, we stopped more and more. We stopped for pictures at Cape Foulwind. We stopped for a walk through the bush. We stopped at the Pancake Rocks. We walked through the bush again. We looked at beaches. Between each stop, Alan would interrupt my nap with a fun fact about opossum traps or New Zealand weather. After a couple hours, I gave up on sleep and talked to the Swedish girls about skydiving.
We got to Greymouth at 4:00. I staggered off the bus and we checked into a hostel called Noah's Ark. I got the monkey room. Good lord, you've got to be kidding me.
We stopped in a few old mining towns along the way. Some of us tried to relax, but we had to get back on the bus after ten minutes or so.
The next day's drive was astounding. Our first morning stop was at a bridge over a river.
We stopped over in Arrowtown, another 1900's mining town with lots of pretty trees and cafés.
We said farewell to Alan, hefted our backpacks, and set off to check into a hostel for four blisfully bus-free days.
Thank goodness. The bus was nice, but being tied to a bus schedule is kind of stressful. And we had to be around a whole lot of people all the time. I'd much rather travel by car with one or two other people and a loose itinerary.