Archive for May 21st, 2007

Happy when you’re happy

My first memory this morning was that of a WW II spitfire crossing the bay in front of me. And in the dream I was having it made perfect sense. And then I woke and struggled to reconcile why a WWII spitfire would be strafing an unpopulated bay on the east coast of NZ. As the fog slowly cleared – the fog of sleep that is, it became clear that there were no WW II spitfires in the area, only milk trucks on the road behind me.

The sky was again all kinds of wonderful colours. I pinched myself again, not to wake from the dream but more to convince myself that I was actually blessed enough to be here. There’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote with a lot (but never quite right…) truth that the greatest thing in life is to realise you’re happy when you’re happy. Not like all those miserable twenty something’s bemoaning their lost school and uni days. Oh wait that’s me…

30 mins down the road I’m at Waihau bay. The type of place that’s so beautiful that really no one else should be allowed to see it and definitely shouldn’t be able to put such lovely bachs on.

The waves were good and the sea was empty. I obliged and threw myself all over the place on my board. Inhaling most of the surf. Great stuff.

Next stop was Tolaga bay – apparently the most populated bit of the east coast. Must be at least 500 people in one place. They even had a school, and a hobo fishing from the bridge. Indeed I doubt he was even a real hobo, just employed to look scruffy.

So I sat in the café, beside the supermarket, opposite the Tolaga information centre (which was empty and was bizarrely playing a tape of Jimi Hendrix live), and supped my latte (they always do good coffee wherever you are) and read my paper and eavesdropped on the conversations of the unemployed mums (sorry, being a mum in no way makes you unemployed, but these one’s were) beside me and silently judging everyone in sight – mostly in positive ways it must be said.

Outside the town was a 3-hour track to one of the places our dear friend captain Cook landed on one of his first visits here. It was a cool wee track, though full of sheep and cows, who I never quite trust, convinced that one of these days one will charge at me when I’m not looking and cause me all kinds of damage.

And I’ve ended up at a place called Anaura bay, recommended to me by a few people since my arrival. And justifiably so. A largely deserted, couple of mile long crescent of golden sand, surrounded by hills of native bush and a barren craggy island just off shore.

The sun is shining, it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t would it? The campsite at the end of the dirt track is a voluntary pay one and apparently closed out of season and is now full of sheep, but the gate is unlocked and anyway I just park on the beach anyhow and I see no one to complain.

There is another ‘less than nothing’ surf, so I just go swimming, sans wetsuit, so a tad chilly I realise. In the end I just sit on the bonnet of the car with the setting sun on my back and reading my Kerouac book and remembering that Vonnegut quote. As it gets dark, a quarter moon comes out, bright but not quite bright enough to read by so instead I just lie  back on the bonnet with a few extra layers on and stare at the stars thinking the world’s in a terrible state of chassis… but sure ain’t them stars pretty…

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If the amoeba don’t get me first

I’ve had better nights sleep. And I’ve had worse. Like being crushed in 17F from Joburg to Sydney or one time cramped in the wet porch of a vango force 10 in a rainstorm in the mournes, just shivering my way through to morning.

So as I say I’ve had worse. Sleeping in my car gives me the simple satisfaction that it can be done. And I did it. Lying on your back it’s really remarkably comfortable. Tucked up in my sleeping bag staring at what I can see of the southern stars through the window.

The problem came when I tried to lie on my front – the only way I seem to be able to get to sleep. The bend in the middle tends to arch your back in ways it’s not meant to go. Either that or you just hover in the middle with all the weight on your chest and legs. I saw 3am appear with no notion of sleepiness. From 3 to 6am I think I slept. At least I dreamt so I presume I slept.

I woke to see the sky turning orange and watching the white caps on the sea. I crawled out of the car to a silent and empty beach and a glorious vista of reds and oranges as the sun came up. Alas the surf was as benign as the evening before so I popped over to the other side of the peninsula to what is described as a beach with a ‘good wave for learners’ in the surf guide Jess had given me.

So it wasn’t massive towering waves, with me tucked under the crest looking staggeringly cool. But it wasn’t shore break and it was consistent right to left break, not too far out so I didn’t have to paddle too far.

And the new board did me proud, I stood nearly every time, but still suffering from a tendency to lose the crest of the wave and be left standing on a stationary board. I like this surfing lark.

By this stage it was 8am and I’d been going for two hours. I cooked some porridge on the gas stove in the car and waxed my board – yes I know all the lingo now!

Next stop was the Morere hot springs. Geo-thermal energy is a feature of NZ geography. Exploited for either energy or making tourists smell of sulphur, it’s wonderfully popular.

This place was something out of the cold war, at least the concrete and paint was. The water was dark green with floating red bits in it. It was wonderful. The type of heat that makes you dizzy when you stand up, your baroreceptors wondering what’s going on.

I had the main complex to myself, which was also pretty cool. The guy who’d charged me the meagre sum of 5 bucks for the pleasure had also told me that there were a further 3 pools about 10 mins up a track.

Now there are few occasions when you’ll regret bringing footwear with you but my list of occasions when I’ve regretted not bringing footwear is lengthening by the day. I love going everywhere in my warehouse shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes/sandals. I just like the idea of bare feet. That sounds weird written down, I’m sure it made more sense in my head.

I am immediately regretting my decision to leave the sandals in the car but I persevere. Mostly from the thought of being embarrassed having to go past the ticket guy again and partly from some kind of masochistic tendency. Like some kind of painful pilgrimage. I’m convinced someone had been along before me and sharpened the stones.

At the end of the track were three baths of different temperatures. One was ice cold, one had a rather large and intimidating Maori guy in it who refused to acknowledge my existence (really quite unusual in NZ), and the third seemed to be heated for poaching eggs or splitting the atom. I was stuck with the third option, if only cause I was cold from the walk up in my togs and couldn’t go to the cold pool and going to the pool with the big guy in it would have been simply asking for trouble.

I eased into the (very) hot pool, wondering how long it would be before human flesh actually begins to cook. In the end I get into my knees and simply sit there with the rest of me above the water.

Given that my mate the big guy isn’t into polite conversation I search the walls for something to read. All I can find is two signs. One – beware hydrochloric acid with one of those skull symbols. Two – keep your head above water when swimming to avoid the risk of amoebic meningitis.

The second one grabs my attention and makes me immediately withdraw what little of my legs are in the water. I have no desire to get amoebic meningitis. Largely cause it’s bad form for doctors to catch diseases they’ve never actually heard of.

Pools done with, I drive on to Gisborne as the clouds roll in. I’ve been here once before, for a weekend with 20 of the docs from work all crammed in a wee beach house. Wonderful weekend. I look back a the photo of us all and realise there’s only about 5 of us left at the hospital. Maybe it was the amoebic meningitis…

I have recommendations from Forbes about a quality bookshop in Gisborne. Something I’m most excited about as there’s a definite lack of a decent bookshop in Hawke’s bay. Some people like bookshops with character with a pleasant owner with inside knowledge. Now I’m not averse to these but to be honest I prefer a good old multi-storeyed, stacked shelved, impersonal Waterstones. ‘yes i’m happy just browsing, leave me alone…’

This was somewhere in between and actually had a wonderful coffee shop attached. So despite having neither Coupland, Vonnegut nor any CS Lewis, it still scored reasonably. So between browsing (‘yes I’m still happy browsing!’) and coffee (served by a pretty American girl who was lovely and made me drop my change in confusion/embarrassment) reading my new purchases (‘the poisonwood bible’ and a Jack Kerouac book) I filled 3 hours.

To complete my time in Gisborne (where it was now grey and raining) I wandered the empty main street with the ‘old and the bored’ and found another three bookshops – none of which sold any Kurt Vonnevgut books. The third was a wonderful second hand bookshop which was simply a unit with books piled randomly and a few seats strewn about the place. The owner said hi and offered me a cup of coffee as I entered the door.

He identified my accent as from NI (and not Scottish like most do) and when he found out I was from Portadown he told me he’d played footy with former Portadown players with names ending in McCoy or Kennedy. This was the 70’s and I wasn’t born I tell him.

He has at least heard of Vonnegut, though of course has none in stock – dying is the only way to get famous and sell books. He has never heard of Douglas Coupland. I spend a pleasant 30 mins there, wondering at how many books there could be actually written in the world. I managed to find a gem of a newspaper comic strip book, a Toni Morrisson book, a kiwi novel and a book by some Spanish guy I’ve vaguely heard of.

I drive out of town and up the coast and find the wonderful Pouawa bay which has a nice picnic area set up for free camping. I’m treated to a nice rain shower and the best rainbow I’ve ever seen. It’s 7.15 pm and I could have fallen asleep hours before now. I don’t think the ‘bed’ will cause any problems tonight. That’s if the amoeba don’t get me first…


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