I plopped two coins into the box controlling the shower, turned the knob and waited. The showerhead coughed a few times and then stopped. Then, after a long pause almost as if reconsidering, it began to reluctantly emit a miserly mist of insanely cold water. I frantically turned the unlabeled handle first one way and then waited and then back the other way and waited. Which direction was hot?
After all, once I put in my coins I was on the clock. Naked and on the clock. Finally the mist changed to a scalding hot drizzle. I bent under it and began to shower.
This was the holiday park shower experience. What’s a holiday park? A holiday park is what private campground/trailer parks are called in New Zealand. Usually consisting of a front office, communal bathrooms and kitchen and number of campsites, trailer sites and often small cabins, holiday parks vary in quality and appeal.
First, don’t you like the distinctively British word ‘holiday’? It always sounds so light and airy. Whimsical. Free-spirited.
“I’m going on holiday.”
There’s a line in a play—I don’t remember which one—where the couple impulsively decides to go to Paris and the heroine says, “I’ll buy a toothbrush in Paris in the morning.” That is the feeling ‘holiday’ always evokes in me, not the heaviness and chore-like quality of “being on vacation.” And indeed, anything might happen whilst one is on holiday.
Most holiday parks are quite pleasant and are more what campgrounds used to be like in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s. Pleasant, safe, well-groomed grounds where travelers and families set up tents on patches of bright green grass or park their campers, and then sit in chairs just enjoying being outside, where children frolic and play, where people smile and talk to each other. No loud music, no giant campfires, no trash, no beer cans, no giant RVs with generators growling through the night. There’s a certain wholesomeness to holiday parks as there is to all of New Zealand.
Many holiday parks are close to scenic areas or on beaches. But each one is different. While some holiday parks are little more than places for people to stay relatively inexpensively while traveling around New Zealand, others are more like family resorts. Indeed, many Kiwis have their favorite holiday park where they come year after year with friends and family.
Some holiday parks just have traditional tent and trailer sites, whereas others, in addition to this, allow people to rent sites long-term. Kiwis plop their caravans (trailers) down on these sites, usually attach some sort of canvas porch or extra bedroom to the original caravan, and voila! they now have a semi-permanent home away from home. This invariably gives at least some holiday parks a quasi-permanent tent city appearance.
Throughout our adventures in New Zealand both visiting and now living here, we’ve stayed at dozens of holiday parks. The communal kitchens are always interesting. Usually there are a number of cooking burners, sinks and a variety of mis-matched pots, plates, bowls, cups and kitchen utensils left by previous visitors. Invariably there is a refrigerator with warning signs to label and date your food items lest they be tossed. Sometimes there will be maybe ten different families eating and preparing their meals in the kitchen, and part of the fun is walking around and seeing what everyone else is having, and comparing it to your own meager fare.
The German visitors to the holiday parks irritated us the most. No, it wasn’t that they were particularly unfriendly. It’s just that they were so damn organized compared to us.
When we were on the South Island, we could often spot the Germans as we dragged our tired and bedraggled bottoms into some holiday park in the late afternoon or early dark. The Germans had already been ensconced there for hours. Looking through the doors of their campers, you could see the almost military-like organization; everything had a place and there was a place for everything. Vacation, or holiday, like I imagine so many other things was being done with such precision, thoroughness and punctuality that it didn’t look like much fun. It was all so tidy and organized, in sharp contrast to the trunk and backseat of our car where you could never find anything, in sharp contrast to our plans where we were never quite sure where we were going or what we doing the next day, in sharp contrast to our lives.
But it was in the communal kitchen that the Germans were often the most vexing. The German mother would have a series of carefully labeled bins and containers from which, slowly, methodically, she would proceed to cook a healthy nutritious, well-balanced dinner for her husband and the one or two children. Then she would serve it and they would sit there eating silently, perhaps with a glass of wine, but never getting tipsy or loud like we were prone to.
Often, the Germans would be cleaning up their dishes and placing them carefully back into their proper well-marked containers by the time we got ready to cook and eat.
“Sometimes I wish we were more like that,” I said to Rebecca as I watched a particularly fastidious family obviously well contented after a balanced, wholesome dinner clean and put away their dishes.
“Well, we’re not,” Rebecca answered slopping the contents of a can of Spaghetti O’s into a frying pan. “Get over it,” she added pouring me another cup of wine into the yellow Kiddie cup that I had gotten from the communal shelf.
Then there were the Italians at another holiday park here on the North Island a few months ago. Two young guys on bicycles. Well, they had bicycles but we never saw them riding them. We know they must have ridden there from somewhere.
Their bicycles rested propped against a tree. They spent long hours pouring over maps and arguing back and forth. Still longer hours cooking elaborate meals and talking to girls in the communal kitchen. Occasionally one would wander back to the campsite, do a few pull-ups on a tree limb before returning to the kitchen area. More animated discussions presumably on where to go next or perhaps on how much garlic to use in the evening’s repast. In the morning, they had a small French press for coffee. We would go out and explore the surrounding area all day. Whenever we would come back to our campsite, they were still there, again usually in the kitchen area, gesticulating and arguing over maps and cooking. When we left, they were still there. I’m not sure they ever left.
But back to the showers. Half the fun of staying at a new holiday park would be wondering what would be involved in taking a shower. Most often due to water shortages or simply that the owners don’t want people taking endless long hot showers, there is usually some sort of control on the shower to control the hot water.
Many of these involve using coins or sometimes tokens to get the hot water side of the shower to run, all with varying results. Sometimes your money just plops into the coin box and nothing happens. Sometimes you have the wrong coins. Or you need to swipe a card to take a shower. Even if money isn’t involved, there is usually some sort of timer that locks you out after your three or five minutes of hot water. And once the shower starts, you can never entirely trust it. With no warning, it will suddenly cut off. Or change to ice cold.
Back to the shower with which I started this blog—I survived.
Now I think I’ll head to the kitchen and see what the Germans are having for breakfast.