New Zealand: Poetry in the Western Bay of Plenty

The wind shakes the van. I don’t remember the last night something wasn’t disturbing the peace. Wind, rain, the cold, car parks with unreasonably bright street lights, the nauseating aroma of sulphur. Nights can be rough. At least I have shelter. I’m dry, my bed is mostly warm. These last few days I have felt tired. At times exhausted. Too little sleep, too much desire to go, to see, to do. Days off don’t exist, they’re all days off. I try to slow down, I don’t need to rush. In the back of my head the clock is always ticking. Soon it will be August, then September. Come October I have places to be. I notice the switch. I’m not counting down in the same way. No longer waiting for it to end, still aware time is always running out. The shift in attitude is accompanied with a feeling of comfort. I am feeling more assured, finding my place in this new, new to me, world of travellers. I very rarely have a plan stretching beyond the next three days. All I really need is enough food to eat, somewhere to sleep at night, and enough fuel to get me there.

Tutea Falls

I woke up in a car park near Okere Falls. This is part of my new, now current reality. I already did the walking track here yesterday. I decided to do it again. Walking simply for the sake of it. Walking because it’s the most natural thing in the world. Walking because there is no rule that says just because I have already walked a trail doesn’t mean I can’t walk it again. I am finding a lot of these rules I have made up for no reason, my brain attempting to build some kind of system in which I can safely exist. I am trying to abandon them each time I notice them. Like being the first one to say good morning when someone else steps out of their van, rather than waiting to see if they greet me first. This is easier on some days than others. I go and see the waterfall again. Still there, right where I left it. To make things interesting I’ve done the loop in reverse. Or did I do it in reverse yesterday? It doesn’t matter. I climb in to the front seat of my van, moving on to where ever is next. The four seasons are best enjoyed on the roads. My new favourite weather to drive in is heavy rain in bright sunshine. The road is bright white. The sky is bright white. I can’t see a thing with or without sunglasses. I don’t even really know where I’m going. Further away from where I am, closer to somewhere else. The Coromandel I suppose. 

Lights in the Rain

I find myself in actual cars in a line traffic. Is it just the school holidays or have I finally caught up with everyone else in New Zealand? I stop in Tauranga. The only thing I know to do here is walk up and around Mount Maunganui. I go into the i-Site. They tell me they’re best known for Mount Maunganui. I grab a leaflet for a Coromandel road-trip and leave. I walk around the town for a bit. There appear to be some decent looking cafes here. Without stopping to think I duck in and buy an Americano to go. It starts to rain again. Could the rain please fall somewhere I’m not? I move the van from one car park to another. The car park slowly fills up with water, and then with vans. I wake up to the sounds of the port. Heavy trucks moving. Reversing beeps. Fog horns. The rattle of chains. The grinding of metal on metal. Barrages of rain fall on the roof. I decide I’m not going to hide anymore. I put my waterproof jacket on, pull on my backpack and head towards the mount. In a shocking display of pure coincidence the rain stops. The sun emerges from behind the dull grey clouds. I seek out the toughest possible climb. Anything stating moderate fitness required is the first place I go. Steep steps run up the far side. There are a handful of people at the summit. This is by far the busiest trail I’ve been on. I descend to walk along the beach for a while. As if to reward me for my patience the rain starts again as soon as I get back to the van. I go back to the same car park I woke up in. More of the same is forecast for tomorrow with even stronger winds. I look forward to the day I open my weather app and don’t have a notification for a severe weather warning in my area

Tauranga is home for longer than I expected. I try to catch up with my blog. Before, when I was living a normal life, I thought writing a blog would be easier if I was doing something interesting or exciting. Even the act of writing every day would be more achievable if only I had something to write about. I don’t think that’s true anymore. There is always something to write about, if only I could write it down before I forgot what I was trying to say. Here I am again, rambling. This is a good reflection of my life at the moment. Going to all the places and going nowhere. By the time I finish this page and read it back, I’ll have missed all the things I thought I was going to say. The clever lines don’t fit. The punchline to the joke in the title never arrives. I change the title. I try telling myself a new lie, I don’t have time. During these days of rain there is so much time. The reality is writing is hard. Having an idea, building the idea in sentences, editing the sentences so they’re coherent. I read back over earlier entries. After 10 years even I can see the progress. What am I doing here? Trying to make things different, keep them interesting even though they’re all about me going for a walk in the woods. I check my phone. The sun is finally due to emerge from the clouds behind clouds behind clouds. I repack my brain, pull on my boots and head outside again. 

McClaren Falls Park is unlike everywhere else where I become obsessed with the dense green walls of life. The park is man-made. Sweeping hillsides cleared of native trees, replanted with scattered exotic pines and other, leafless trees that could be anything. I walk along tarmac, gravel, enjoying the ease. This doesn’t stop me from taking my first tumble. My right foot slips on the ground, switching from a horizontal to a vertical position. To compensate my left foot does the same. I grab at the empty air. I land softly, sliding on mud, which is perfect because I had a shower this morning. At least I haven’t broken the skin or anything else for that matter. I pick myself up, brush myself down and carry on. I follow as many of the trails as I can, building up distance, enjoying the movement. I left McClaren Falls Park early in the afternoon with enough time to visit Te Puna Quarry. No longer a working quarry, the local Rotary group have converted the pit into a series of gardens. Most of the plants were bare, it is winter after all. At the top of the quarry was a small grove of young kauri trees. I say young, they are probably older than me but young compared to the ancient giants I had seen in Northland. I was delighted to find a pocket of essentially new growth. Work is being done to keep the species alive. I spend the night in Waitui Reserve. So far this was the best freedom camping spot I’d been to. Flat ground, lots of space, a flushing toilet, a cold shower (which I didn’t use because I am soft). Nobody else joined me that night. It didn’t rain, there was no wind. The street light was far enough away not to be a problem. My fortunes were changing

Waitui Reserve Sunrise

The first gull to wake up wakes up all the others. Together, they wake up everyone else. The sun is still below the horizon. The band of orange out East growing brighter. The blue sky becoming whiter. The sun popped up. Time to get moving. Having had a glorious, sunny day followed by a cloudless night, the temperature had dropped. I encountered my first problem, the butane stove didn’t work. Fine, I thought. I had already bought a replacement. I set up my brand new, bright yellow propane stove, attached the gas bottle and pushed the ignition. Nothing. A clicking sound, but no spark and no flame. I had clearly considered my luck to have changed too soon. I didn’t have matches, or a lighter. I do have my backpacking stove though, the igniter on that works. Clever thinking. I pulled it out and tried to get the stove to catch. Nothing. Great. By now the sun had risen enough for the temperature to have increased. I went back to butane. I got my hot water in the end. With trepidation I put the keys in the ignition. The van started. I high-fived the dashboard. I was on the road by 9:30, all was not lost. I drove in to Katikati to wander through the Haiku Park. A pathway through grass with boulders scattered throughout. The boulders etched with words. I read them, trying to remember the form of a haiku. I’m sure there’s a syllable count. 5,7,5 or something like that. None of the poems seemed to be on beat. At the information board I read that the syllabic tradition is rarely continued outside of Japan. So none of them are haikus, or this is a haiku too. Impressed at the audacity, I spent a bit more time exploring Katikati. There’s more weird art, an awful seal sculpture, a mural depicting the history of growing Kiwi fruit. Most available walls seem to have murals recording the past painted on them. I liked Katikati, as well as all this culture there was also access roads to Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park.

Lindemann Loop Track

Lindemann Lookout car park is the only place I get a view. Beyond the sealed road a dirt track disappears in to a wave of green that rises up to swallow the hill behind it. Yes I am going to write about my walk in the woods again. No, I am not imaginative enough to sum it up in one true form haiku. For some reason I believed the loop walk from here would take two hours. The Department of Conservation sign in front me of says five. I hesitate. Two hours would mean I’d be back for lunch. Five would mean I’d be back for dinner. I’m usually faster than the DoC estimates but only by an hour. I’ll start, even if I only go as far as an hour gets me and turn back. The opening climb is tough, I’m taking layers off after five minutes. I didn’t start cold enough. A couple of dog walkers pass me, go far enough, turn back and pass me again. I push on, blowing out hard. I realise I’m going to make the loop junction within the hour. When I arrive there’s another sign, this one states the loop is four hours. In which case, I’m going to do it in three. There are young kauri trees growing up here too. Light from the sun ripples over the leaves. Streams in the valley rustle like wind in the canopy. The path has levelled out, I’m moving fast. I drop into stream crossings. I slide down mud banks. The mud holds on to me for a while. The slippery rocks want me gone. I meet a family with young children, I must be getting close. Two and a half hours have passed. I emerge at the sign which thinks I’ll still be gone for the same amount of time again. I have enough day left to go food shopping, to grab one of the last decent spots on Waihi Beach.

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