I began my first real adventure on New Zealand’s South Island yesterday morning when I boarded a ferry to cross Lake Manapouri. It was 7:30 a.m. and I was well-rested from an easy night at a local holiday park (a.k.a. campground) in the town of Manapouri. Everyone else on the dock looked as bewildered as I felt. About twenty people clustered around five staff members in matching shirts as we turned in our medical release forms complete with emergency contact information for people “who are not on this trip with you.” I didn’t know anyone else in the country, so that would be easy.
I did have a quick flash of what it would be like to try to reach anyone back home if I would happen to capsize my kayak and hit my head on a rock or something. It involved a helicopter and an industrial-strength walkie talkie that would reach Queenstown and relay my mother’s name and cell phone number seven THOUSAND miles away while I was receiving CPR and a tourniquet around my head.
It’s a kayak in the Doubtful Sound, known for sheltering boats from rough seas.
With all of our forms signed and the basic information shared, we were ready to board the boat and I found a spot near the front. If the weather had been warmer, I might have sat upstairs to get clear views of the landscape. As it was, I was already scoping out the staircases to get some clear shots of the rising sun and mountains reflecting themselves in the vast water that would take fifty minutes to cross.
Here’s where things started to go a little off track. First, I noticed a trap door in the floor next to my seat. It seemed to me that it might lead to a mechanical room or some other thing passengers needn’t concern themselves with. Then, I felt a breeze come out of the crack around the door. Next came a light that shown out of the crack for only a few seconds before it disappeared. No one else seemed to notice it, but I alternated my casual tourist glances out the windows with quick ones at the door.
When nothing happened for a few minutes, I pulled myself away to take some photos of the sunlight in our wake and the passing mountains. Those are some of my favorites from this trip so far.
The upper level was so windy that I pulled my hair back, put up my hood, and leaned forward to keep my balance. Even so, I was surprised that no one else had had the same idea. That was o.k. with me too. I had clear shots everywhere I looked.
It smells so good out here.
I lasted about five minutes up there before the wind sent me back downstairs to warm up.
The door was still there when I returned to my seat and so was its wind. I put my foot over the crack just to see if anything would happen and it froze there, not like it was really cold. It felt like it was stunned in place, like in one of those superhero movies.
I tried to move in a way that looked at all natural, but that was impossible. It didn’t look natural to struggle against the floor and my leg wouldn’t move.
Stay calm. This can’t last.
I relaxed my leg as if I didn’t want to move it, and after a few minutes something loosened, and I was free again. That didn’t make sense to me, but I was relieved anyway.
A few ferry attendants huddled near the exits and chatted among themselves. It seemed like they might not even notice that we were there, not how I imagined they’d behave if they had something terrible to hide on the boat. I looked from them to my fellow passengers who also chatted on about this thing or that thing and no one at all seemed the least bit worried about the trap door next to me.
I was about to dismiss the whole thing as an illusion, a very convincing illusion, when the trap door flipped open and filled the whole boat with a sharp light.
No one reacted to it except me. I gasped and fell to the side. No one noticed that either.
I sat up and moved a little farther away from the aisle.
“Excuse me, sir?” I waved at the attendant who was closest to me. “What’s going on here?”
He came right over and stood next to me and that whole as if there wasn’t a light blasting him in the face, as if I might just have a regular nautical question like so many other passengers most certainly had had in the past – how does the navigation system work? How fast are we going?
“Yes, how can I help?” He smiled, open to whatever I might ask. He looked certain that he had the answer.
“Um, do you see, uh, what’s this in the floor?” I pointed to the trapdoor.
“I’m not sure what you mean. This little spot here?” He rubbed his foot across the carpet. “I think that’s just a bit of water that will dry in no time.”
He doesn’t see it.
“Oh, sure, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Thank you.”
“No worries,” he said with a different sort of smile and looked at me a little too long.
He knows something.