The road to Castlepoint is long, winding, and blissfully empty. I weave through farmland, climbing up, falling down ridges. For some reason I decided this part of New Zealand was flat. I was mistaken. Comparatively speaking it probably is flatter than the Tararua ranges I left this morning. On reaching Castlepoint I find a crowd. More people than I’ve seen in months. Of course, it’s a Saturday. The first nice Saturday since lockdown ended and we’ve all had the same idea. I squeeze into the carpark, thankful to have a spot. No messing around I head straight for the trail out to Deliverance Cove. The sun makes the world of difference. It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s a joy to be outside. The path is short, I climb up to the summit. There are people here too, on their backs in the grass watching the few clouds. On the edge two absolute madmen are taking it in turns with a skipping rope. I take the time out of my day to tell them they look quite insane. They take it as a compliment, good for them. The view of Castlepoint from here is spectacular. A sweeping wall of limestone, the little white lighthouse on the end, the coast fading into the haze beyond. How ever heavy my doubts may be, they’ve lifted for now. This, this is what it’s all about. I walk along the beach, up to the lighthouse and back again.
By evening the crowd disperses, the carpark empties. A handful of vans remain. I seem to be the only person doing this alone, he says based on a handful of vans in a single carpark. The others here are with brothers, friends, partners, possibly even a parent. I notice all of us are taking sly looks at each others vans. What have you got that I haven’t? I’m most interested in the dual sliding door with the kitchen set up on one side that’s at standing height so you don’t have to hunch. I wonder what they’ve compromised on for that to work, a shorter bed maybe? Then of course there’s the coach built, fit for purpose, double bed above the cab van. Sorry, it’s not a van, it’s a motorhome. Safe to say those of us with commercial conversions have all looked a little longingly at the real deal.
I sleep well for the first night in days. I’m awake early in the morning, the payoff for being asleep at 9pm. There’s already a touch of pink in the clouds. 40 minutes until sunrise. Better get out there for it. The tide can’t have turned all that long ago. The sand is a perfect mirror for the purple clouds above. The lighthouse is still on, flashing, turning. Another star in the dawn sky. Truly, this is the best way to start a day. I head up to the lighthouse to find a few other people. Two of them spinning fire, the other taking photos. Aren’t we all just doing it for the ‘gram? A bank of cloud on the horizon reduces the actual sunrise to a flash of red. Getting up when I did was the right idea.
The road to Castlepoint is another there and back again journey. The earlier clouds have come inland, turning yesterday’s summer to today’s autumn. On the way to my next campsite, one that costs money, has hot showers, I noticed there’s a bird sanctuary, Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre. Might as well spend the afternoon there. On arrival the woman on the front desk takes the time to tell me about Kahurangi, their resident kōkako. She was rescued and raised by a man with a beard and glasses so she’ll be pleased to see me, I’m one of her bros. The woman then went on to tell me she’s Jacinda Arden’s fourth cousin, so maybe everyone gets the imprint story. I didn’t care, it made this customer feel special. When I stopped by the enclosure, Kahurangi hopped straight over to the fence to say hello and have a chat. Kōkakos have regional dialects and don’t understand one another, because Kahurangi was raised by people her dialect is English. She can’t understand other kōkakos and they can’t understand her. Having people in to talk is good, so though she knew nothing about it, she was glad the lockdown is over. English kōkako, it turns out, is nothing like English. I talked, she whistled. Despite our language barrier I stopped by a second time on my way out to say goodbye.
Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre was worth the visit. Throughout the day they have several talks showing off some of the local fauna. In turning up after opening, I missed the reptiles talk. I had, however, arrived just in time to hear lots of information about kiwi conservation projects. Kiwi-fact: the human sized equivalent of the egg laid by a kiwi would be like giving birth to a four year old. Based on the sounds in the room when this was shared I imagine that’s a painful comparison. Another star of Pūkaha is Manukura, the resident white Kiwi. In the made to look like night enclosure her white feathers make her a significantly easier spot than the more common brown kiwis. After further wandering the park and looking in on the other bird enclosures I went to watch the eels be fed. Long-fin eels are endemic to New Zealand. I’m not sure on the length of their fins, but some of the locals on show here were long. Writing black tubes with little pink mouths full of inward facing teeth. One of the fun facts shared with us fascinated onlookers was that if you spook one in a river and it bites you, you’re likely to lose whatever it bit. One local farmer apparently had the back of his calf muscle nipped off. The final show for the day was what you would consider the headline act, feeding the kākā. Who doesn’t love parrots? They started to appear at the feeding station before the rangers. Once food appeared they were happily flying over the crowd, snatching walnuts from one another, then heading back to the trees to eat them. Once finished, they had no problem in dropping the shells on those of us sat below. I left feeling quite content, a mood that was only to be further encouraged by standing under a hot torrent of water until I could no longer feel my skin.
The next morning I was woken up by someone shaking the van. I looked out all the curtains, trying to see who it was. Why didn’t they just knock? Nobody there. I thought nothing more of it until I got a message from Andrea asking if I’m ok. My rude awakening was infact a 5.8 magnitude earthquake off the west coast. A nice big tick on the list of things to do in New Zealand. That, apparently, was not even a big one. I don’t think I’d like to experience much worse. With no firm plans for the day and the gentle tapping of rain on the roof I’m reluctant to get up. At least the bed in the van is both warm and comfortable. Eventually I jog over to the showers. Feeling marginally more human I decide to head into town. I walk in to the information centre and ask the question. What is there to do here? A cover up for the real question, what am I doing here? It’s still better than the alternative. I’d already checked the maps, searched the internet. I was hoping local knowledge from the professionals would point me in any direction. There’s not really anything, I’m told. At least not in the direction I want to be heading. North-East towards Hawkes Bay. Disenchanted, I decide to head to my next camp. The gorge road out of Palmerston North is closed and I’m diverted over the saddle road. In the rain, the fading light, a van I still don’t really know how to drive, I’m climbing, twisting, doubling back. All in heavy traffic. By the time I reach Woodville Ferry Reserve I’m mostly glad to have made it alive. I’m waved in by Mr. Czech. We chat briefly about lockdown and plans for travels. He sends me a map that has a waterfall pinned between here and Napier. I knew there had to be something to go and look at on this 100km stretch of country!