South, Berlins.

The South Island is diffferent. Apparent from the moment the large, comfortable Interislander ferry, escaping the rolling oceanic swells of the Cook Straits, glided into Marlborough Sounds at dusk.

A world away from the busy industry of the Wellington ports and the relative bustle of the North. It is immediately quieter, calmer but wilder and more remote, I suppose one could draw analogies with the Kiwi psyche. The brashness and loudness of the quasi tropical, volcanic north juxtaposed with the remote and quiet wildness of the outrageously beautiful south.

Mount patriarch.jpg
Mount Patriarch. A fairly unheralded mountain in the empty Kahurangi national park. It got to me though, walking miles from anyone. Calling me to climb it as mountains tend to do. 

Travelling again is refreshing but expensive. I am dwelling within a fairly dilapidated, leaky van that fustrates as much as it delights.

Van

I have pushed this beast to Nelson, Takaka and the very north of the south, to the Kaharangi National Park and the Wangapeka River and now it sits in a rainly campsite in an odd little place called Berlins, consisting entirely of an old pub overlooking the powerful Buller River. Taken over and run by the quintessentially Kiwi Dean and rejuvenated into a pub/truck stop/diner/campground. Catering to the endless stream of motorised tourists travelling the long and winding highway 6 to the West Coast. A haven for travellers, motorhomes and sandflies. The sign in the door said help wanted and so I stayed in this peculiar limbo-like little place for the Easter. It felt right.

The three residents are colourful enough to form the basis for a novel that I am too ill-disciplined to write. A permanently grumpy but in fact rather kind waitress escaping something in her past, a french girl who speaks no English despite living here for a year, a haphazard, grizzled, taciturn but friendly and eminently likeable owner who has quite clearly done, seen and been part of a great deal. This, I suppose, is the essence of travelling, the unexpected meetings, interactions and lives that you encounter.

I can’t help but think on fatalism in the rain. Was I always going to end up here? Was I supposed to meet and mix with this odd collection of humans. Is there a reason I am supposed to find? I felt drawn here. When you look at a map do you find you are drawn to certain places? I do. I like to follow that.

It makes one think though just how much control we have and the irrational part of my mind debates the rational.

If I hadn’t stopped and spend Easter with Dean and the crew at Berlins then would life have been different? Would I have gone to Karamea afterwards, would I have met the Czech girl there, would I have seen the Cave Spider at the Oparara Arches and eyed the broiling Tasman trying to lure me in to kill me? Would I have travelled south or along the west coast or would I have gone to do the Kirwins track in Reefton as I had meant to and seen Arthurs Pass rather than take the coastal route.

Life takes the path that it does of course but it’s such an arbitrary lineage of choices and their outcomes that it takes some getting one’s head around. I suppose this frighteningly complex nebula of possibilities and consequences is so mind-fucking that the thought of being guided through it is calming. It is remarkably calming actually.  Also the fact that quite of few of us to negotiate this minefield with relative luck, ease and success it feels as though we are being guided.

 

 

 

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Taranaki

Nine months in Taupo.

Restless. I suppose we are all inclined to self-criticism; I should have done this or seen that, should have saved more money, should have spoken to that person but in the end I guess that we do what we do.

The spring came through the winter and we were stir crazy. So we went south.  Traversing the ‘Forgotten Highway’ out of Taumarunui.

DSC_0624
Mount Ruapehu

North Island countryside follows a certain pattern, one largely laid down by its hugely explosive volcanic past; sharp, angular grassy hills in jagged rows.

This was a journey between two volcanos. Mount Ruapehu, the irregular giant at the end of Lake Taupo taking up the heart of the North to the uniform, neater cone of Mount Taranaki, guarding the southwest coastline and looking out to the brutal Tasman sea.

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Typical countryside of the North Island. Farmland, steep-sided hills, little wooden farmsteads. The native bush razed to make way a century ago.

 

The Forgotten highway cuts through the central plateau linking Stratford and New Plymouth to Taumarunui. It is a long, old road carving through precipitous gorges and the ubiquitous farmlands and then, suddenly, it ends and the landscape becomes flat as  the fertile plains emanating out from the nearly symmetrical Mount Taranaki are reached.

And so New Plymouth, a coastal city with a definitive beachy vibe, interspersed with some colonial architecture and modern glass shopping centres. A small shiny, bright city. Like the air here.

New Plymouth is so named due to it being here that the first landfalls of the West Country settlers were made. Mount Taranaki would have been the first thing that met their eyes as they neared this part of Land of the Long White Cloud.  An alien sight to the people used to the relatively gentle hills of home, although the battered coastline around the south-western cape called to mind immediately areas of North Cornwall around Treyarnon, Trevose and Harlyn so perhaps it also did to the first Cornishmen on the William Bryan.

The ‘settlement’, incidentally, did not go well. Heavily affected by famine, disease, mutual distrust and eventual war with the local Maori Iwi. Taranaki is sacred in Maori lore and the surrounding plains were relatively densely populated by the Maori during European colonisation so conflict was inevitable

MountainMount Taranaki is a startling sight, magnetic, I had to force myself to keep my eyes on the road as the clouds lifted from the summit.

The Surf Highway follows the hemispherical coast and the coast circles the mountain. From the air the peculiar landscape is made obvious.

03 Mt Taranaki, from air, New Zealand
Not my picture unfortunately.

The odd green circle is the National Park boundary, where the native bush starts and the fertile, artificial farmland – mainly dairy – ends.

These mountains have a certain mystique about them I find, being so singular and dominant. I can perfectly understand why Maori legend personifies them into separate quarrelling entities, ancient god-like beings, a conceptualisation brought all the more sharply into focus when their latent geophysical power is taken into account.

Taranaki then was once standing with other Volcanoes in the central plateau but was sent retreating to his lonely position after viciously losing to the powerful Tongariro in a battle for the affections of the diminuative but beautiful Pihanga, where it is said that when he remembers his lost love he calls the clouds in to hide his tears.

And that was how we left him, returning to Taupo after a clear night under a Supermoon and inverted constellations.