Fifteen days into the new year and I read about the resolutions everyone has made. I haven’t made any. One day is the same as another right? One year is the same as another except that we get older…and wiser perhaps? 2008 was an interesting year for me personally. A lot happened. I travelled quite a bit and started this blog amongst other things. My road trip over NYE 2008 was the most liberating experience of them all. It all started with my need to just be alone and reflect. Not necessarily at my Vipassana centre. So I planned the trip. Sort of.
I pack my car boot with my tent, sleeping bag, lots of food, walking shoes, hiking boots, my plastic Bata chappals (that only ‘maids’ wear, according to my desi friends), my jandals, warm clothes, summer clothes, swimming togs, ‘brolly and a big bottle of sunscreen. Got the map, lots of cds, cassette tapes, the petrol tank is full, checked the pressure in the tyres, two cameras, mobile phone, charger, batteries, flashcards and water. It is 2.45ish. I am heading to Waharau Regional Park on the south-east of Auckland, just on the other side of the Hunua Ranges. It is a ninety minute drive and I don’t want to risk NYE traffic headed wherever on the highway. I have checked out all my routes over Google Maps and Google Earth. I know exactly where I am going. I am pleasantly surprised to find complete absence of traffic. Maybe people have left in the morning? The weather is glorious. I look forward to camping out by myself. Never heard of Waharau before I called Auckland Regional Council to book a place at Awhitu Regional Park past Manukau. It is full they say but there is space at Waharau. Yeah cool I say. Costs $10 to stay overnight. I am game to change of plan and easy with a different location. Isn’t life about things never going according to plan? So I drive along, excited. Along highway 2 , taking the Mangatangi exit towards Kaiaua,through pastoral New Zealand. Suddenly…JFC!!!!! The water shows up on the horizon Beckoning from afar. I can’t wait to get to Waharau. It is now about 5pm. The Auckland Regional Council booking office emailed me a code for the padlock on the gates to the camping grounds. I struggle to pen it until this dude comes along and rescues me. He has to go in too. (I like being rescued by handsome dudes, I tell myself. Maybe some damsel-in-distress situations might hit bullseye in 2009?) Once inside a find a place to set up the tent, put it up and go for a walk/hike-a short one. I want to get back and read. I take more photos and think. That is all I will do through my road trip. Take photos and think. Take photos and think. Or read or drive. I like it that I don’t have to work so I can think about anything else but work. Just dreamin’, that’s what I do as I walked through the bush marvelling at the ferns and the various reproductive systems of them. Spores 🙂 I get back to the tent, eat leftover fried rice I’d carried with me and lay back on the chatai to read. It is still daylight and very quiet. Other campers do fry-ups, play badminton and listen to music. Suddenly the sun goes down and it becomes cool. I get inside by sleeping bag, within the womb of the tent, and fall asleep right away.
The new year has begun. It is 6.30am, the sun shines, the birds tweet, the world is up and getting about. I pack up the tent, slap on the sunscreen and head out. It is a big day and I have to reach Waitomo before 11.30 to begin my Blackwater Rafting adventure at 12 noon. I have never driven so far out of Auckland on my own. I just don’t know how long it will take me to get to the other side of the country. So back on highway1 past Ngaruawahia on to highway 29. That is a good short cut because going through Hamilton takes up more time. It is hot and I am hungry. I have not really had breakfast so I keep munching on baby carrots, plums, bird food (my healthy mixture of pumpkin and sunflower seeds roasted with red chilli powder), drink heaps of water and hope to reach Waitomo on time. New Zealand is such an interesting country. You can go from the east coast to the west coast in just a few hours. You can see hills and dales and treacherous country all at once. It shines bright under the sun, without the ozone layer. I reach Otorohanga. No time to check out the town but I do notice the flower baskets hanging outside the shops and a big sign that says Kiwiana with a picture of the Buzzy Bee. I keep on driving until I reach Waitomo.
I feel like Indiana Jones coming out of the caves. I have plunged into cold water, jumped off waterfalls, floated along underground streams, banged my helmeted head against stalagmites and wondered at the surreal beauty of the glow worms. Green things seeming to hang and glow from…ummm… nothing! No sfx can create this! Now it is time to go for a walk in the bush. No rush to reach New PLymouth. It takes tow and a half hours from Waitomo with plenty of daylight. Besides, I don’t want to drive in the heat. The first day of the year and it is unbearably hot. That is the sign of a good summer? The bush is cool and soothing.
Back on highway 3 I am cruisin’. Faraway pine trees stand out in a silhouette on the horizon towards Awakino. Until I get my first, fleeting glimpse of the Tasman Sea. I gasp. OMG! The drive is curvy now. I really must pay attention to the road but I also want to see the Tasman Sea again. As if in answer to my prayer I only see water from Awakino onwards. The Tasman Sea is so different from the Pacific Ocean. One is blue and deceptively calm, the other full of waves and froth. I stop at Mokau for a stretch. From here through Urenui onwards there is no break until New Plymouth. I have to cross the gorge and go through steep roads in the mountains. I am tired and a big tanker tailgates me. I don’t understand drivers that tailgate. Why? Especially if the next bend says 25k and you are on my arse wanting me to go faster. I don’t want to die dude.
Kraftwerk play on the cd. AU-TO-BAH-NNNN. Electronic music on the New Zealand highway. Yeah! I also recommend Latin Jazz and of course good old Hindi films songs. Mere haathon mein nau nau chudiyan hai…reverberate through the mountains, pile on the colour. I see Sridevi do her thing 🙂 The tanker still breathes down my neck. I am mad at it but road rage is a tool for the impatient. I am going to learn to be patient this year. It is not a new year’s resolution exactly but….
New Plymouth. I am at my flatmate’s parents home. I was meant to go for a hike on Mt Taranaki Egmont. The weather is shite. So Jennifer, my flatmate’s mum and I go into town. To Puke Ariki, the museum cum library (on the other side). The Maori section is well laid out. I like museums and art galleries. Something about the past, something about the future..It is windy and raining. The New Plymouth waterfront is pretty cool. Better than the Auckland waterfront-any day. So far I have seen the Wellington waterfront and the NP waterfront and both are better than Auckland. There is just no character to the Auckland waterfront. The apartment buildings are un-aesthetic monstrosities and one can’t take a walk along the ocean anyway. There is a great coastal walkway in NP. The buildings are interesting too. That apart NP is a small town. I can’t imagine living here. Only five cinema theatres. That is a good reason for my mental death. All establishments are closed too-this second day of 2009. Everyone is on a summer holiday. We go back home and I take a siesta.
It is still early in the day to just layabout. I go back into town and to Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. The home of Len Lye. Entry is free. Unlike Auckland where we have to pay to get into the museum and the art gallery. I guess the scale and scope are different? I mean I have to pay to see some exhibits at National Gallery Of Victoria, Melbourne but I have to pay to get into Auckland Art Gallery, period.
Later that I go to Pukekura Park for the Festival Of Lights. Overflow, a rock group, plays cover versions. Not quite the head banging I expected, yet… It is an open, free event for families. Only in New Zealand can you see groups of people bringing out their mats and picnic blankets, smiling and giving space to each other.. There are babies in prams and hyperactive little girls who sing loudly to all cover versions of AC/DC. Or is it Metalhead? I have seen rock nerds in movies but for the first time ever I see them in real life. Middle-aged men, some balding, do the air guitar and head banging oblivious to everyone else. It is sweet and funny. I go closer to the stage. They have their wives/partners and indulgent kids singing along too. Good on them!
The weather still Scheiße. It will be worse on the mountain. So I stay put and read my book. ‘The World Is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman. I am bored by the avo. There has got to be something to do! It is not raining any more but the sun continues to hide behind the clouds. I drive to Oakura. I want to get into the water. Surf’s up as the wind blows and the flags are close to each other. I stare at the grey water. WTF! I change into my togs, slap on sunscreen and dive into it with the boogie board. The water is surpringly warm and every time I get out of the water the cold wind bites into my skin. Still…
Early morning in the ‘Naki. It is a bright, beautiful sunny day. Just as I had prayed for the previous night. You can’t come to New Plymouth and not go up the mountain ya? It is my last day this side of Aotearoa. I want to get back into my work in Auckland tomorrow. And I am going to get my wish of going hiking on Mt Taranaki Egmont. I pack my stuff into the car, bid farewell to Jennifer and Peter and drive towards the mount as it summons me. Towards Egmont village I proceed. Suddenly-the mountain looms large. OMG! How beautifully imposing is that? Not quite as majestic as the Himalayas yet regal in its own way. I can’t wait to get up and go on my hike. It is a winding road towards the Egmont Visitor Centre, through Egmont National Park.
You have to take all precautions when going on an adventure. If the weather is bad, don’t do it; if the conditions are treacherous, don’t do it. Stick to the designated path. Equip yourself with water, food, suncreen, proper shoes, protective gear…the sun drops down here and it becomes cool. Etc. I go into the visitor centre and enter my details in ‘the book’. Just in case I get lost they know where I went and what time. In case the situation is dire they know whom to contact.
A friend of my flatmate who is a regular on Mt Taranaki Egmont has suggested the Maketawa Hut Loop. First through the bush towards the hut where one can stay overnight or more, up towards the summit but not quite and then back down a gravel path made for 4-wheel drives. I love walking in the bush. This vegetation is so ancient, it whispers secrets I can’t decipher. I can peek up at the summit as I tramp on. The clouds form a curtain around it. When I was at the foot of the Kanchenjunga in Pelling, West Sikkim, the mountain was swaddled by clouds. A local told me then that she (the mountain is a deity for the locals) would reveal herself only when she wanted to. Past Maketawa Hut, into the sparse new vegetation so different from the bush, I climb in hope the volcanic deity will reveal himself to me. (This mount is a man ya?) But nah. Not this time. I take photos, chat with other hikers (so many Germans…) and go down the gravel road. At least I had an adventure. Now to drive back to Auckland.
On my way home I stop at Otorohanga for a quick visit to the Kiwi House and for the first time ever see a live Kiwi bird. Very cute.
I am back. I realise that I am such an integral part of this world, this universe. I have the power and ability to make change, to sustain resources, to make sure I leave behind a beautiful, peaceful world for those after me-however transient everyone’s journey on this earth. Respect of and immersion into this universe, the laws of nature is what will make it a better place. Peace. Now to make some money.