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Geraldine - in the Middle of Nowhere

Right in the Middle of Nowhere, far away from any major city or town – that’s where Geraldine is situated. Geraldine is usually not ticked off on the map of any backpackers or for that matter other tourists who visit the South Island. It wasn’t ticked off in our case either, but it just so happened we got stuck there, and it didn’t turn out to be such a bad experience after all. Geraldine is probably the town everybody passes through in order to get to the mountainous scenic drive to Arthur’s Pass or to other destinations in the Southern Alps. Some people might make a quick stop to get their last provisions, like gas, berries sold directly from the farmer or other needed stuff for a trip in the mountains. There is actually just nothing much to do or see in Geraldine. Well, at least that is how the town appears at first sight, but actually it isn’t all that bad.

Anyway, what actually happened was that we were on our way to Christchurch, just cruising along Highway 1, listening to the mellow music channel, just relaxing – when all of a sudden the car kind of makes a leap to the right and is impossible to steer. The wheels made a terrible noise and so I just pushed the brake and ended up kind of off-piste – right in front of about 300 curious sheep and some lamas.

Getting out of the car, relieved that I had avoided a road accident, I noticed no less than two flat tires – both front wheels. Looking around, I realized that we were actually stuck in some desolate area. There were no houses, no farms, not even a small chalet – just nothing. I didn’t even see any approaching cars, since dawn was on its way, and people probably don’t drive around these areas after dark. We wanted to call the rental company, but an awesome phone answering machine totally discouraged us from trying again, and so we just decided to get the emergency triangle out of the trunk at waive at the next passing vehicle, hoping that a: There would be someone out on the road pretty soon, and that b: That someone would stop and be able to help us.

Well, after a while a guy with a large vehicle came along. Luckily he was able to tow us out of the ditch where we were stranded, and off we went to nearest village – remotely situated 20 kilometres off the main road on the way to the interior of New Zealand. As usual, the guy was extremely nice, and wanted to help us with everything, including dinner an accommodation, phone calls new tires - there are no limits it seems to what lengths the inhabitants of this beautiful country will go to in order to bring help to people in need. He offered us free bed and breakfast – the guy was the proud owner of Geraldine Hotel and Spa, and his wife invited us to a traditional pancake dinner – and that’s when it actually occurred to me that this guy’s kind og odd accent was Dutch. These people were Dutch immigrants who had come to New Zealand 10 years ago and settled in Geraldine, built their way up from scratch, and now owned a beautiful Motel – with 80 % occupancy! Actually one of the few hotels in the area, but the smart thing they had done was that they offered raftin in Rangitka Gorge, trekking in the forests and in the mountain areas and even horseriding for tourists who wanted experiences off the beaten track. Both of them worked as guides and accompanied their own guests to whatever actions they wanted to participate in.

The Dutch pancakes were fabulous, better than the ones you get in Amsterdam, some with “speck”, other with fresh berries and for dessert: A pancake with ice cream. A long jog would have to be arranged the next day before departure. Mr. Van den Berg told us all about the deal New Zealand and the Netherlands had made – that New Zealand would freely accept thousands of immigrants from the Netherlands each year, as long as they could fend for themselves. Since, as he put it, his home county is so full of people now, that “they are running out of seats”, people need to get out and find other places to live. 17 million people crowded together on a small piece of land is not a good deal. So, they were really happy to have found a new haven in New Zealand. He fixed the car the next morning, new tires an full tank.

We decided to spend the morning in Geraldine and have lunch before we moved on. Geraldine is in the heart of a prosperous farming area with dairy cows, sheep, cattle, deer, cropping and fruit growing in abundance. Almost 2,500 people live in the town. Geraldine actually has a reputation as a home to gifted artists and artisans Austen Deans and John Badcock , have their work on sale in the town. Some of the creations come in edible form too – Geraldine’s cheesemaker, chocolatier and the internationally recognised Barker's fruit products all have outlets in the town. Geraldine is home to a plethora of eateries and wineries that surround and stretch along the main street. Robbie’s Cafe & Milkbar located on Talbot Street is a local hang out for young people.

A short drive from Geraldine is Peel Forest. This is a very precious and extensive podocarp forest with abundant birdlife, and with many reminders of the region’s early European pioneers. Rangitata River valley is famous for some of the most spectacular alpine and high country scenery in New Zealand. It is not difficult to see why The Lord of the Rings director chose this superb valley as an important location in his films.

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