Deep in the hills of Arthur's Pass I could hear the voice of Sir David Attenborough as I set up my Navman HD dashcam to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that had taken residence in my car.
I had received the cam at Christmas and like every out-of-towner clogging up the regional roads I was determined to record every moment of my journey, including this. We learned from the local DoC ranger, a "mouse plague" had hit the pass a few days before we arrived and they were causing chaos, climbing into cars and tents.
Once every three or four years the beech trees flower and drop masses of seeds, causing an explosion in the pest population. Good for the kea, bad for the campers.
"Watch out or it'll die in there and you'll have to roll down the windows every time you drive," the ranger said with experience as he confiscated my poison block of bait and handed me some traps.
My girlfriend was less than excited about our new furry friend, and the leavings in our lunchboxes, so I did everything I could to catch the bugger.
Having no idea where the mouse had made its home, I set up the camera — as well as three traps — in strategic positions with some muesli bar as bait.
Lying awake in my tent at night I swore I heard the sound of metal striking wood. Sure enough, in the morning Mickey lay murdered and bound in the boot. It was him or my brake cables — so it had to be him.
Rogue rodents weren't the only thing I was looking to capture with my dashcam on this trip. I had heard the self-drive tourists in these parts were even more feral.
Travelling down and around a corner on the winding road heading into Jackson township, I had to slam on the brakes as I came head to head with a sedan on the wrong side of the road.
They wanted to get to a barrier on the right-hand side of the road to take some photos and figured they would take the shortest route there — up my lane.
It was just lucky I was going at 40km/h, I later observed from my GPS tracking.
"Smile, you're on Navman camera," I said to them, exercising my right to honk my horn gratuitously.
But that incident wasn't even the closest call. With sandwiches and sunscreen in our packs we were off on another adventure, taking the only road from Wanaka to Mt Aspiring National Park. If you could call it a road.
The Navman warned us about an upcoming "ford". I know that it speaks to the infamous naivety of Aucklanders that it was the first time we'd ever known the word "ford" to mean anything other than a make of car.
"Forget Fords — I'm driving an Audi A6," I joked as we flew over a dirt mound and straight into a rocky river. BOOM! And that was the end of my fog lights.
Later, in the Queenstown mechanic's workshop, the bloke in overalls said: "Yeah, that's not really a South Island car." I respected his opinion because he was the only guy in town willing to see me straight away.
Rolling into Queenstown, I'd wondered why we were getting stares at every intersection. Checking into yet another holiday park, the receptionist asked if it was me that was causing all the noise.
"Sounds like someone's dropped a muffler," she said.
"Yeah, no, I think I would know if I had," I said as a strange old man came and pointed his fat finger at me. "Definitely you," he said. "All that noise stopped just as you parked up."
Lying on the ground with my cheek pressed against the warm asphalt I saw the bottom of my car hanging down from the chassis.
Shit. How did I drive from Wanaka to Queenstown without noticing? Looking back on the photos of my car set against the wide open tundra of tussock, I can just make out the shadow it cast.
"It's just an under shield — we call it the nappy," said the mechanic. "And don't tell anybody, but if you can find a bin to throw it away somewhere in town I'll even remove it for you for free. Then you'll be good to go."
That's when I turned off the camera.
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