Published: March 15th 2009March 5th 2009
The flight from Sydney to Wellington is around three hours long but it seemed longer as I made the mistake of watching the in flight movie 'The Day the World Stood Still'. When we arrived our hire car was ready and waiting for us so there was no lugging around awkward bags, negotiating of taxi fairs or deciphering of bus time tables to be done. We drove to the Tapa Museum which was free and had several exhibits on. We visited the history of New Zealand which started by describing how the first Mauri settelers came here from Asia via south sea islands thousands of years ago the going on to the first Europeans arrival through political struggles for racial equality in the Sixtys and seventies through to present day culture. It used allot of personal accounts which were very interesting. The music instalation which allowed people to remix various styles of music by waving their arms under sensors drove me to distraction as some talented individuals decided to entertain the rest of the museums visitors with their epic, highly repetitive mix. Headphones would be a vast improvement to this piece. There was also an exhibit describing early European settlers journeys to New Zealand a favourite gem in this one was an account of a Doctor who prescribed alcohol for most ailments from sea sickness to constipation. He drank heavily himself and ended up slitting his own throat one morning.
We left the museum and headed for Highway 1, the main route north on the North Island which resembled a minor A road in the UK. I wildly underestimated the time that it would take to drive the 300 kilometres to the Whanganui National Park as I calculated the time as if we were travelling on a motorway rather than the a winding road that's speed limit slowed to fifty kilometres an hour through the many towns we passed through on route. I do not think the word By-pass exists in New Zealand. We arrived at the Adventure lodge around ten thirty and went to bed straight away. We rose at eight the next morning to the news that with eighty kilometre per hour winds the weather was far to bad to attempt the Alpine Crossing that we had driven five hours north to do. We settled on a lower walk to the Upper and Lower Tama Lakes. Lou put in a great effort for dipstick of the day award by leaving the camera and car insurance documents in the apartment so we had to return for them. She later cemented her position at the top of the 'Doh!' charts by leaving her sunglasses in the ladies toilets at the visitors centre forcing another U-turn. The walk itself started low following a stream through alpine woods. Lichen hung from the branches of grey bark testament to the purity of the air. I had run out of antihistamine and had been sneezing since I got out of bed. I had tried a few of the usual tricks to stop the dreaded achoos! but to no avail. I had resorted to stuffing screwed up tissue up each nostril to stop the constant drip, drip, drip from my now bright red and soar nose. I got the strangest looks from people. We emerged from the wood and crossed a bridge that ran over a couple of small but powerful waterfalls below. We then followed the path upstream to where the largest and most impressive waterfall burst from a dark grey rocky cliff thirty feet above us. The path then wound it's way up hill across marsh land then on across a lava flow where spongy green moss grew abundantly on the ground and a velvet red moss clung to black rocks. I put in one ear phone through which I played Apex twins Selected Ambient Works Volume two it's strange sounds and rhythms helping to enhance the otherness of the experience It took us about three hours walk across an alien landscape to reach the electric blue waters of lower lake before we scrambled on up a scraggly rocky, scree hill towards the upper lake. We had to cross a windy ridge where we were blasted by howling gusts that reminded us why it was a good idea not to have done the Alpine crossing. Clumps of long wheat yellow grasses bowed in the wind against a background of hard slate grey rocks. The Upper lake emerged as we rose over the brow of the hill. It was a deeper, darker and more ominous blue than the lower lake. We watched gusts of wind move across it rippling the surface with little waves and a light spray. We sat for a while looking around us at the mountain top that disappeared into a cloud just as the snow started, at the view back across the strange landscape created by larva flows and down at the big dark lake. Breathtaking. My nose continued to drip. I changed soggy tissue for fresh and received some more enquiring glances. I sucked in the air through my mouth and drank down a big gulp of the moment, swallowing it whole and absorbing it so that it became part of me. We set off for the return journey.
I think that five hours is my optimum duration of walking time after that I get a little bored of the monotonous plod, plodding homeward. The journey back is rarely as exciting as the adventure of discovery that is the journey there. We were now six hours into the walk and I had had enough. My feet and knees ached and my nose was sore and even redder now than before. I had begun to hate passing other walkers. I dislike seeing other humans out in the wilderness at the best of times as they detract from the illusion of exploration and discovery. Now with my nose all drippy and glowing I felt self conscious and wished people would stop looking at me. I thanked my lucky starts that I was fortunate enough not to have some permanent deformity that people would feel the need to stop and stare at. We got back to the car and I and drove off in search of antihistamine. The nearest chemist turned out to be thirty five kilometres away and the chemist was locking up as we arrived. On hearing my plea for drugs to cease the irritation and dripping nose she looked at me and took pity opening up the till again so that I could purchase some chemicals that hopefully would allow me an irritation free future.
The following day we booked an afternoons Kayaking down the Whanganui river. The drive took us about an hour and a half through beautiful undulating hills along a dirt road. When we arrived we were given life jackets and driven in a power boat upstream to our starting point. After some brief instructions we were left alone to paddle back down stream. The solitude was glorious. We were alone in a tranquil setting. High cliffs covered in lush green vegetation formed the walls of a corridor through which the river ran. We explored off shooting streams that fed into the river green finding waterfalls at the end. We dragged the kayak onto a rocky shore and clambered over boulders into a cave with a echoey pool and waterfall at the back. We the discussed tackling the big rapid that we had seen on the way up. There were two options. Option one was a gentle paddle down the right of the river around the bend. Option two was to head for the big rapids on the left of the river with a fifty - fifty chance of a swim. We secured the camera and other valuables in the 'dry' barrel and discussed tactics. Keep straight 'down hill', brace legs against the sides of the Kayak and keep paddling at all costs. There was a moment when we questioned the wisdom of our decision a fleeting chance to cross to the safe right side of the river but this corse of action seemed inappropriate considering the journey that we had undertaken to get to this point. The rapids grew more vicious as we got closer. A frothing, smashing mincer of water crashed and rushed ahead of us. We paddled on. We hit the first rapid head on in the sweet spot at it's middle and glided over it we weren't so lucky with the second wave that rose above the nose of the kayak so that all we could see was a wall of water. We kept paddling as the water came down and into the boat. It sloshed around causing great instability pitching us from one side to another until inevitably the left side of the kayak tipped below the water line and we were dumped in. The next few seconds seemed to happen in freeze frame moments. I went under the surface and all was dark. Then there was white foaming water and a gob full of river. Then spat out the other side of the rapid was an up-side-down kayak, oars and Lou gasping for breath. I told her to grab the boat which she did but when it started to drift back towards the rapids Lou panicked a bit and let go just as a wave crashed over her head. She came up spluttering and breathing in short rapid breaths now in full panic mode I grabbed her in with one hand and the kayak with the other and kicked for the shore. There was no chance of making it. We were going where the river was going to take us and could do little about it. The boat was heading back towards the rapids again and Lou was none to keen of going with it. 'Just get me out of here' she pleaded with a desperate look in her eyes. I let go of the boat and told her to try and breath slowly. I realised that there was little point in kicking against the current so holing on to Lou's life jacket I angled us towards the shore as best I could and went with the current towards the side. Once we could reach the bottom with our feet it became much easier to go where we wanted and we waded to shore. I looked up to see the Kayak float around the corner. Lou was now pretty much recovered, drenched but happy again now she was beyond the clutches of the current. I waded back into the river down stream and swam after the boat with an oar in one hand. I caught up with the kayak a couple of hundred yards down stream where it got banked on a corner. I dragged it to shore through some pretty vile smelling grey sludge and flipped it over to empty out the water. Meanwhile some other kayakers had caught us up and attempted the rapids. Two made it and another two were dumped in the river. After they recovered they loaded a laughing Lou on board and brought her down to met me as I paddled up stream. I was of the opinion that we should take on the next rapids applying the theory that if you fall off a horse you have to get straight back on and ride to quell the fear. Lou had a slightly different opinion suffice to say I was threatened with separation if we went any where near another rapid that day. This was a bit of a challenge as my kayak skills are not really up to much and the river does have a tendency to take you in a direction of it's choosing and not yours. Still we got back safe and sound and we are still together.
The next day we drove back down to Wellington and caught the ferry across to Picton and the South Island.