A Cold Wind

Hokianga Heads

We were living the dream. Traveling from one exotic location to the next. Awed by art and food and nature. We had to wake up somewhere and in our case, that was New Zealand.

Don’t get me wrong. New Zealand is awesome. It exceeds its reputation for natural beauty and then some. The Kiwis are kind, beyond our narrow sample of AirBNB hosts and restaurant waitstaff. More importantly, they’re good at what they do. How do I know all this?

The Northland

On the North Island of New Zealand, my husband and I caught a cold. I blame the artic wind that whistled through our rental house at Donnelly’s Crossing. The wind was cold enough for me to don my long underwear and a hat before I would venture into the kitchen to set the coffee.

It was our first time getting sick on the road. A cold didn’t seem so bad, all things considered. After Frans got bit by two dogs in a Vietnamese temple, he seemed to have become particularly accident-prone. He fell through a paper shoji screen at our house in Fuijeda and banged up his knee. He cut his toe open on a bathroom tile in Korea. In all three cases, Frans lived to tell the tale.

Cold remedies
Cold remedies

So, we pooh-poohed our cold. I posted a photograph of the cold medications we had purchased on our last grocery run for friends and family at home to laugh about. But as my cold got better, Frans’ got worse.

We adjusted our schedule. One day on, one day off. We spent one day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a 2+ hour drive over rough terrain, to learn more about the original Maori culture and how the British colonists screwed them over. The other day we spent reading in the sun. But the sun was too hot and the wind was too cold and it wasn’t pleasant to be outside for too long.

Escape from Donnelly’s Crossing

Frans started getting dizzy. He almost blacked out while we were at the Countdown in Dargaville to buy our last groceries. In a few more days, we were supposed to head back to Auckland and from there take the commuter flight into Wellington. Frans felt bad enough to text his sister, a family doctor. She asked about his breathing and his temperature. She told him to get a chest X-ray.

We went on. Another long drive to Hokianga Heads and back. A hike along the Kai Iwi Lakes coastal track. Frans would seem fine as long as we were busy. But when we got home, he’d collapse. He didn’t want dinner. He couldn’t sleep for all the coughing.

Countdown parking lot
Countdown parking lot. Photo credit: Karen Kao

On our last day at Donnellys Crossing, Frans upchucked his spaghetti puttanesca onto the bed. He was shivering and feverish. He was clearly not up to a 3 hour drive back to Auckland and I wasn’t licensed to drive in New Zealand.

Do Kiwi doctors make house calls? Can we call a taxi to take us to the emergency room? Can we stay a few nights longer until Frans feels better? No, no, no. Our AirBNB host did all she could to accommodate us, including the offer of her spare laundry room as a place to sleep. Instead, we drove to the emergency room in Dargaville.

The doctor on call confirmed my sister-in-law’s diagnosis as best he could without the help of a chest X-ray. Frans had pneumonia and he was dehydrated, the latter possibly the result of a stomach flu going around Dargaville. He loaded us up with meds and I drove on.

In the Infectious Disease Ward

It’s a wonder that we made it back to Auckland in one piece. I had never driven on the left hand side of the road before. It’s a wonder that we were not stopped along the way since I was driving so slowly. Then I would have gotten ticketed or arrested or jailed.

The gods must have been watching out for us. When we arrived at Auckland Airport, we learned that our flight to Wellington had been cancelled. In fact, there were no flights at all due to heavy mist in New Zealand’s cold and wet capital. We had to stay a few more days in Auckland.

Frans got sicker and sicker. He wandered off one day and fell asleep in a park. This was no common cold. His sister was getting agitated and, finally, so was I. The hotel recommended a medical clinic around the corner.

The doctor was irate. How long have you been walking around like this? He sneered and he snarled. He ordered a chest X-ray. Then he sat us both down and asked for our entire itinerary. Where had we gone? How long had we stayed? Any illness along the way?

Frans mentioned his dog bites. The doctor practically jumped out of his skin. It just so happened that he had written his dissertation on rabies. He trusted that Frans had obtained a booster shot, yes? Alas, no.

At Auckland City Hospital, Frans was admitted to the infectious diseases ward. Until they could determine what sort of bug had caused his pneumonia, they wanted him separated from the general patient population. He was discharged 8 days later.

Cold Comfort

Finally, circumstances had conspired to force us to slow down. I cut Wellington and Dunedin out of our schedule. We would spend our time instead in Kaikoura for an enforced rest. With any luck, there would be no cold winds on the South Island.

For the first time in our married life, I had to keep track of Frans’ medication, his pain pills in particular. The walk out of Blenheim Airport to the car park was already an ordeal for him. The trip to the grocery store a few days later went better. A 30-minute loop walk to Mount Fyffe and back. Another one along the Kaikoura coast.

Every guidebook will tell you that “tramping” is the thing to do in New Zealand. That’s to say, back country hiking with your tent and your water and your food on your back. Trails crisscross the North and South Islands. When I had first started planning this trip, I had a wild idea of kayaking our way along the Abel Tasman National Park.

Instead of tramping, we enjoyed our house in Kaikoura. It was the most beautiful one of our trip and exactly what the doctor ordered. There were books for the day and stars at night. A cold wind still blew straight up from Antarctica but in our corner of New Zealand, it barely touched us.

This, too, was traveling around the world. Get sick, recover, slow down, go on.

Kaikoura coast. Photo credit: Karen Kao