Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hodgepodge 36/365 - Birthday in New Zealand

Two years ago I decided we should take ourselves to New Zealand for my 60th birthday. We spent five glorious weeks down under. Best birthday ever!

Here (because I'm feeling lazy) is an unedited version (yes, I'm that lazy) of what I wrote in my journal on my very birthday two years ago:

The tiny town of French Pass
I’m thinking back to when I was doing my planning for this trip, when I settled on French Pass as the place to spend my birthday—for very little good reason. Bob had mentioned a lovely time he had here when his daughter and now son-in-law were working on a farm, and he came to visit: his first evening, they fired up a hot tub right on the shore and he sat in it listening to the waves and looking at the stars. (Steve, our boat driver today, joked, “It’s easy to spot the Americans: they’re always looking at the sky.” Why that wouldn’t be true of Europeans as well, I don’t know—but that’s what he said.) Anyway, that mention of Bob’s lodged the name French Pass (associated with pleasure) in my head, and then when I started researching and read that the road out the peninsula is perhaps the most beautiful road in all New Zealand: well, that sealed it. Also, the guidebook recommended a four-hour tramp on D’Urville Island, which I figured would be ideal for the birthday day itself.
Steve
      And so it came to pass that this morning at 9 we were picked up by Steve and ferried over to D’Urville. He said most of the walk is along the gravel road just below the ridgeline, but when it came to the turnoff heading down to the resort, where he would pick us up, he got rather vague. The only solid information he gave us was that if we got to the “community center,” we’d gone about half a kilometer too far. Lyn described the road we should take as a jeep track. But anyway, the turnoff was several hours into our day, and to begin with we just launched ourselves up the road, enjoying the vegetation—most of which we had little clue as to its identity—and the birds and the sunshine, mixed with occasional wind and mild spatterings of rain. We saw silver ferns, huge trees covered with bromeliads and vines (I wish I knew what that tree is!), manuka flats, tree ferns, beech forest—and much, much more. As for birds, we saw gray warblers, fantails, brown creepers, tuis, weka, silvereye, and tomtits, the bird of the day! A.k.a. Petroica macrocephala (the species name is apropos: these little guys have big black blocks for heads) or, in Maori, ngirungiru. Pretty little things, and very active right next to the road, which helped our viewing no end.
The road to French Pass, with D'Urville in the background
      So: Steve had said we’d head down a long ways to a saddle, then we’d go back up—so far that we’d think we missed the turn. So we were watching very carefully. And yes, it seemed like we marched on and on—until, look! A little stile and orange triangles—trail markers! So off we veered, into the forest. No possible way a jeep could go here. But we could, and there were orange triangles in goodly number, luring us ever deeper into the woods! It must be the way! And on and on into the woods we marched. It was very beautiful, but that “jeep trail” kept niggling in my head. Meanwhile, David was crowing, “Oh, an adventure! What fun!” I remember going for a hike on my birthday in Sequoia and, not exactly getting lost, but eventually being unable to follow the marked trail because it was a ski track and a lake had not yet frozen over, and waaaay over theeeere, across the lake, were the trail markers. So we went around, and David was pretty sure we were very close to the lodge again—it was just over there, over that little ridge, he assured me (Mr. Boy Scout)—but I wasn’t feeling at all comfortable (Mr. Boy Scout and I have gotten well and truly lost a few times, after all, and I did not want to be wandering in the woods on my December birthday in the mountains as darkness fell), so I insisted we turn back and retrace our steps. Which we did. Anyway, today the thought of retracing our steps back up the orange-marked path kept flitting through my head, as we progressed ever farther downward. Soon we reached a T-junction, with blue markers on which someone had written in (now faded) magic marker: ⬅︎ 4WD / Ridge Line ➡︎. No one had mentioned a T-junction. We chose the righthand trail because the lefthand trail went in the wrong direction? And on into the woods we continued. Until eventually: look! buildings on the shore! It must be the resort! About that time, the orange markers disappeared, but they were replaced by, yes, a jeep trail. And yes, eventually we made it to the deserted lodge—so no cold beer for us. But chairs to sit on and rest our tired feet? Oh, yeah!
Leaving the dock at French Pass
      After a while Russ, the “resort’s” current caretaker—he’s leaving at the end of the month, after having been here three years—returned in his boat, so yes: we got our beer—or rather, for me, cider. Pretty cold, though the electricity has been off all day: repairs on the power lines. (I say, “resort,” because Steve commented as he dropped us off and told us where he’d pick us up: “I’ve been to a resort, in Australia—the Radisson Resort. And D’Urville Island Resort? That ain’t no resort.”) It’s more like an Alaskan lodge, and they do take people fishing and hunting for the local deer—hunting season eleven months of the year. Russ said they’d had the option of doing another five years’ lease, but it’s too hard. I mentioned the remoteness, but he said, no, it’s not so much that, it’s the weather. Big wind a lot of the time. It’s why he removes his boat from the water—which we had watched him do, using a rusty van tied to the boat trailer with a rope: as he drove the van forward, the trailer slid into the water; reverse to bring the loaded trailer back out. Russ runs high-voltage electrical maintenance crews as a contractor, and his wife, Marie, administers convalescent homes throughout New Zealand, also as a contractor, so they’ve both been able to pursue their careers while running the resort.
View from the road to French Pass
      Steve, meanwhile, worked most of his career as a fisherman—rock lobster (crayfish) and shark, mainly—and lately he’s been ferrying people to D’Urville, where he lives, and he’s just started a new career as an apiarist, cultivating “manuka gold.” Lyn, our host here at French Pass Safari, has lived here 24 years; she lost her husband, Danny, this past May, and now the place is up for sale. Steve thinks the asking price may be too high. It’s so interesting to meet these people with their different but intertwined lives. So many stories.
      . . . When Lyn came up with our dinner—home cooked chicken, spuds, salad! so nice!—I asked about her sale. She said everyone wants it for nothing. She’s in no rush. She’s waiting until someone gets out of the car, looks the place over, and falls in love. There’s a story there, too. In the future.
Willie
      When we got back, Lyn asked about our walk. We said the last part was a little surprising, and she frowned and asked if there wasn’t a sign to the resort, directing you to the jeep track. We said maybe we didn’t get that far; we followed a bush trail instead. I’m afraid she thought we were upset, but we tried to assure her we were perfectly happy. As we finished our conversation, there came Willie Weka. We pointed her/him out, and said that surely she must have a name for it. She said no. We told her what we’d dubbed him. She laughed and said, okay, that’s what I’ll call him from now on. So Willie now has a name.

I've just been looking for the photos I took there, but they are eluding me. So the photos here of the island are pulled from the Internet. Which reminds me: I think my wish to myself for the coming year will be to get back to curating my photos. (I will find those photos of French Pass!) And to clean the garage. More order, less stuff: my motto for my next trip around the sun.

Today, for the record, was very low key: a lovely hike at Garzas Creek, leftover tandoori chicken for dinner (alone), the I Cantori Christmas concert (this director of 35 years's last: he'll have one more spring season, then into retirement he goes), followed by a late-night episode of The Blacklist. And plenty of FB, text, email, and phone birthday wishes. A very pleasant day, if not as memorable as the one on D'Urville Island. 

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