I’ve never been camping by myself before. But I was pretty sure it wasn’t rocket science. Get a tent, sleep in it, that sort of thing. I was filled with those images of strong women, camping on top of a mountain, with a giant quote in a sunset sky saying something like “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
In hindsight, I feel a small footnote should be added, along the lines of *unless you of course have no common sense and actually believe camping in New Zealand can be this easy. Bahahaha. You idiot.*
Arriving at my chosen camp site, a conservation site in Mount Aspiring National Park, I fake confidence and put up my brand new tent with a swagger, only panicking at the last minute when I see how small it is. Maybe it’s a Tardis tent, and nod to the moustached-man watching me from his ginormous campervan.
I pop my head inside the tent and curse. It’s fecking tiny – Dr Who wouldn’t accept this shit. The camping shop ‘expert’ had assured me it was a two-man. I’d quite like to invite her inside, and as we lie nose-to-nose, trying not to accidentally sexually assault each other, I’ll ask her if this is the kind of ‘cosy’ she meant.
“You’ll want to get into that soon.” The campervan man says, “or the sandflies will get you.” He closes the door, vanishing into what I can only presume is an air-conditioned, bug-free palace of luxuriousness.
Sandflies. Those little devils whose bite is a hundred times as itchy as a mosquito and leaves a nasty scar. Our last encounter on the West Coast was not pleasant – I’d arrived glowing from fresh air and adventure, and left a gibbering polka-dot mess.
But I had a plan. I’d bought B29, a natural yet powerful repellent. The air is heavy and humid, and drenching my skin in oil feels grim, but it’s better than being bitten the bejesus out of.
It’s dinnertime, and soon great wafting clouds of steam and smoke from around the camp site set my belly rumbling. I take my bread and hummus dip to the nearby picnic bench, but two cyclists have arrived and their bikes seem to have vomited a lorry-load of fancy equipment all over the table. No matter, I drag out my inflatable mattress, dip a chunk of bread into the hummus and pick up my book.
That’s when the sandflies descend.
They crawl under my cuffs, around my ankles, swarming in front of me and landing in their hundreds on my clothes. I snap the book shut, spray more repellent on the back of my hand, and watch as one gleefully lands in the oil, and drowns.
I give up, and crawl into my canvas coffin. The view is incredible – a gaping valley of mountains, native rainforest and glacial-blue river. It’s so awesome, I’ve pitched my tent on a slight hill, facing downwards, to see it from my one window. I figure I’ll just sleep with my head at the narrow end – easy.
Darkness falls, and the tapping grows more feverous as insects try to get in. I feel a shadow flutter around my small lamp and my heart stops. Slowly, I raise the lamp, and the shadows melt to the floor to reveal a crawling roof. At least a dozen bugs, flies, and one spider have somehow snuck inside.
I stifle a scream, and look away. When I look back, like a horror film, the spider has vanished.
“What the-” I pause for a moment. Where could it have gone? Maybe it fell… oh god… I slowly look down, onto my pillow, and there’s the spider, inches from my face.
Fuck fuck fuck – I’ve literally paid to be trapped inside a canvas coffin filled with live creepy crawlies.
The next ten minutes are a murderous blur – despite my vegetarian values, I suddenly become a killing machine, hunting anything small that moves. It’s a dog-eat-dog world inside this tiny tent, and I don’t plan on waking up eaten alive by sandflies.
Finally, it’s just me and the moth. By this stage, I’m a hot, sweaty, oily mess filled with psychotic apathy. I know the moth will keep me awake – it’s too small a space for it not to fly into my face during the night. I know I won’t be able capture it without injury. I’m at my wit’s end. I have to kill it.
I raise my sleeve – my murder weapon of choice for the night – and slowly smother the moth against the tent roof. I can’t bear to look, filled with horror at who I have become.
I turn off the light. I am broken.
Karma is a bitch. A few hours later, I wake up with a wet nose. Confused, I open my eyes. Lying at the narrow end of the tent, the rain has dripped down and pooled right above my face. I raise my hand in the darkness with dread, and draw away with wet palms. The whole roof is soaked.
“That lying ************!” I swear, cursing the camp shop lady for promising me a two-man waterproof tent. YOU HAD ONE JOB LADY. ONE FREAKING JOB.
The next morning, I pack up my sodden tent in silence. Not even the leech stuck on the side of the tent bothers me.
When I get to Haast, I walk into the first motel I see.
“Room for one please.” I say, ignoring my inner adventuress screaming in protest. Wimp! Wuss! You gave up after one night! Think you like the outdoors? You’re a fake!
Later, I’m sitting in my underwear, on a huge dry bed, drinking Earl Grey tea, and I have to admit; sometimes, it’s better to know when you’ve been beaten. I turn on the TV, and a scene from The Mummy comes on, where the bad guy is buried alive in a sarcophagus with deadly scarab beetles. Dude, I totally know how you feel.