10.01.2009 - 02.02.2009 25 °C
Unlike the wild and dangerous land of Oz, overflowing with life-threatening creatures of all shapes and sizes, there's not a single thing living in the whole of New Zealand that is able to give you a fatal bite.
Not that this fact stops Kiwis from being ever so slightly paranoid. Take for instance my “brush with death” the first night I slept in a caravan.
To set the scene, I guess I should begin by explaining how I came to be resident in this caravan in the first place.
Needing an escape from Auckland, I opted to set sail for the thumb-shaped Coromandel Peninsula lying two hours by boat to the east of NZ's biggest city. I should have realised I was heading for a special land when my journey across the Hauraki Gulf was accompanied for part of the way by a playful bunch of dolphins. Again, hopefully I'll one day work out how to upload video to this site so you can also have a look.
All the same, I was not really expecting to stay for much more than a weekend. The Coromandel Peninsula had other ideas though, and the eponymous township in particular quietly cast it's spell over me. I couldn't have bust my way out of it's funky and semi-comatose atmosphere if I'd tried.
My favourite haunt was the locally famous Driving Creek Cafe, sited about 3km up the road from Coromandel township. A strictly vegetarian place, with much of it's menu organic and locally-sourced, and it's décor having strong Hindu and Buddhist influences, I hung out at this caffeine dealership so much that I ended up helping out – washing dishes, clearing plates and cups, keeping the place tidy and clean – and in return the owners gave me a roof over my head.
A caravan-shaped roof. First impressions of my new abode weren't great as it was also home to an overpowering musty pong of serious potency. Still, what caravan-lending alternative lifestylers lack in carpet cleaner they more than make up for in copious amounts of incense, and so I burnt a large bunch of the smell sticks attempting to make the place breathable.
And then came my first night. Although the caravan was only a ten minute walk from the cafe, it was ten minutes up a remote country side street in complete and utter darkness. Seriously, I could not even see me. I might as well have been blindfolded. I was wearing a head torch, but if anything the small triangle of unnatural light that it threw forward made everything even eerier. So it's possible that even before I reached the caravan and laid down for the night my brain was already filled with images of creepy things laying in wait.
A few hours into a stuttering sleep, I woke violently with a lurch and a sharp piercing pain shooting through my right cheek (on my face, just to be clear... ) Within a minute or so, the pain had been succeeded by a numbness, and then a swelling that seemed to be threatening to outgrow my cheek and spread to my neck and forehead. I fumbled for the small, years-old tube of antihistamine I'd been keeping close by, and smeared the affected area with a large creamy splodge.
With no electricity in the caravan, the next morning's early light was my first chance to take a look at the damage done. Although the numbness and swelling seemed to have retreated a bit, the centre of my cheek was marked by a nasty raised red lump. Not unlike a mosquito bite, but far more intense looking. Heading into the cafe, I let Jessica (one of the cafe's owners) have a look and she immediately proclaimed me the victim of – gasp – a White-Tailed Spider bite.
The White-Tail is probably New Zealand's best go at having it's own eight-legged death-dealer. Like the Funnel Web, Redback and many other genuinely nasty arachnids that antipodean cousins in Aussie so love to tell tall stories of, mention of the White-Tail within earshot of many Kiwis starts a chain reaction of worried looks, nervous reassurances and overinflated yarns of just how dangerous this (pretty rare) little spider can be.
Being diagnosed in a cafe that prides itself on it's use of natural ingredients and it's boycotting of chemical nasties meant that I was not going to be prescribed any kind of 'Western' tablet drug as remedy. Instead Jessica sold me a small vile of nature's best echinacea, with the instruction to dilute a capful in warm water and sip on that every few hours. And, oh yeah, if things don't improve within three days, run like buggery to the nearest qualified medic.
None of this dampened the concern shown by locals or staff at the cafe though, and I became quite proud of my bite, showing it off to anyone within range whilst also half-wishing it was more serious than it really was. Still, it couldn't last, and the echinacea kicked in with impressive speed. So fast, in fact, that I was robbed of my facial conversation piece within just 48 hours of being bitten.
I wasn't taking any more chances. I moved out of the caravan after my third night (by which point I was sleeping under hefty anti-bug netting, just to be sure) and into a bunk house much closer to the cafe.
Of course my change of living quarters had nothing to do with my encounter with the White-Tail, or the ten minute scary stroll home each evening. It was simply because I'd exhausted my supply of incense and was now losing my fight with the funk. At least that's what I told everyone else.
And you believe me too, don't ya?