Life had settled into routine and I found myself back in the working life, and for the first time in many years doing a Monday to Friday job. The routine actually wasn’t that bad really, and there was a side of me that enjoyed the structure it brought to life. I was working building and fixing houses and looked at it as a form of learning that I would put to use on my own place one day. I continued to search for my new direction amongst that though and found myself once again being drawn to study, and to learning to make beautiful and functional things out of natural materials, especially wood. For a few years I have been looking at the school of fine woodwork in Nelson, New Zealand, and contacted them to see if they had any spots for next years course. This eight month intensive woodwork course could possibly give me the skill and direction I have been l searching for, and so I decided to go down and have a look at what was on offer.
Just about the time of that decision, a mate of mine posted that he needed his car brought up from Queenstown, and with the option of an exploration road trip thrown in the mix I decided to head down and do the drive back up, and check out the course on the way. The south island of New Zealand is very different from the north. The large mountain range of the Southern Alps run nearly the whole length of the island and it’s stunning landscape is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. It’s a place I've wanted to explore for along time and even though this would only provide a brief peek, I was stoked to get the chance to get down there. I finished up the building work and jumped on a plane. Flying into Queenstown is like something of a dream, descending over snow capped mountains and stepping off on a runway surrounded by the overwhelming sense of space, things just seemed bigger, the space between things seemed bigger. I found the car, stashed my stuff away and again chuckled to myself at the places I end up. After a quick meal and a look around Queenstown I pulled out onto the road to begin my journey and up through the crown ranges towards Wanaka.
Pulling into the small car park next to the lake, and stepping out into crisp mountain air, and a dramatic sunset, it was this grand sense of space that was apparent again. It feels like you are at the center of the universe, surrounded by the immense beauty of the lake and the mountains, its as if they are all looking down on you. Later I found myself sitting at the large window of the backpackers hostel, sipping on a wine as I wrote in my journal, and the stories of the other travelers drifted around in the background, it was so good to be on the road again and to be exploring these places I feel drawn to. Chatting to a few others I came up with a plan for the following days and where I would go. I am never one for fully planning things out, but like to have an idea of what I want to do, but with these last minute trips its all about going with the flow, and being open to what may come. Content with a beautiful sunset, some dinner and a glass of wine I hit the hay, ready to explore in the following days.
Early next morning I rolled out of bed, packed a lunch and set off. One walk that I had hoped to do, but was unfortunately closed at the moment was up to Roy’s peak, so instead I headed over to Isthmus peak and soon had the crunching sound of my boots for company as I made my start to the top. It’s a pretty straightforward walk and leads you up through farmland before starting the steep ascent, up and along switchbacks that certainly get the legs burning and the heart rate up. I was surprised by how much I struggled and don’t know whether it was the altitude, getting acclimatized, or just being tired, but its was no easy stroll. The day was clear and crisp and the sun soon warmed things up, though it only took the breeze, that would gust through momentarily to cut straight through you and make sure you felt its chill. It’s a 10 Km walk and after a few false summits I finally arrived at the summit and was greeted with dramatic views of the lakes below and the snow capped, surrounding mountains. There is just so much country to explore here. Kilometers of tracks, trails and climbs to be done, and again, that vast feeling of space. you could loose yourself in any direction you chose. I sat at the top of the trail for about an hour, enjoying the knowledge that I had nothing to rush for and content to sit and take it all in. Sometimes it is better to fully experience a few things than to rush around trying to do everything and sitting there I simply tried to be present and to soak in as much as I could.
The next day I was early up and out the door again, wanting to spend as much time outdoors as I could in the environment. The weather had turned slightly foul, and a light drizzle and low cloud settled in. Changing yesterday’s feeling of clear brilliance, to the mysterious, lush feel of somewhere simply bursting with life and rich damp greenery. I threw on my jacket and headed up to do a short walk up past a lake and on to the peak above. With not another soul to be seen I made my way up the paths, past the lake, popped out above the tree line, low cloud wisping through, revealing and concealing waterfalls and snow capped mountains all around. I don’t have the words to describe what I saw or the feelings I had, something I found myself dealing with on many parts of this trip. Slightly before the summit I came across a hawk sitting on one of the poles that mark the path, quite unafraid and quite curious, we examined each other as I inched closer and my camera clicked away. I must have been within 5 meters of this amazing bird when he soundlessly glided off and disappeared into the mist. What an amazing experience. The rain eased as I sat on the summit and ate my lunch, alone in my garden of Eden and totally awestruck by its beauty.
Returning to the car saw me head deeper into this Eden and into Mount Aspiring national park. Driving along a gravel road, crossing though small streams, stopping to fill my water bottle at a waterfall that cascaded down shimmering rocks, with mountains glimpsing out of the cloud and a large river rushed past on its unhurried determined way, could this get any more stunning? By the time I made it to the trailhead though it was late in the afternoon, and the weather was turning, so I simply sat and watched for a while and planned for a return to do some walks in the morning. A good thing too as shortly after leaving, on the drive out, the skies opened and the wind began to howl, shaking trees and littering branches and leaves across the road. The weather here is not something to be blasé about.
Its great to share things with friends as well and my mate Joe’s sister, Emily, and her husband Liam and their two little kids had just moved to town and I caught up with them for dinner and organized to head back out to the national park in the morning to explore. What an amazing place for kids to grow up and we were all back at the trailhead the following morning and beginning the trek up to the Rob Roy glacier with blue, clear skies over head and again surrounded by abundant beauty and space. I love seeing families get out together and hanging out with kids makes me realize how much of the world there still is discover and inspires me to be continuously curious. It was such a cool experience sharing this place with them. We crossed over the large swing bridge over the river and continued on the winding path following the glacial fed streams steadily gaining ground and altitude and the kids were loving it. Though to be honest what’s not to love about getting piggy backed through spots like these? We made good time to the top and were gifted with amazing views of the glacier at the top of the trail, waterfalls pouring off it, and the background of the towering Mt. Aspiring range above, simply stunning. And to again show the unpredictability of the weather here, small snowflakes drifted down as we ate our lunch, but fortunately any serious weather held off and we made it back down with warm sun and a cool breeze. Needing to put a few more kilometers under the tyres I said my goodbyes after our walk and did the 2-hour drive up to Mt. Cook national park to do some more exploration there and lay eyes on yet another amazing mountain range.
Driving into towards this stunning range of rock jutting up from the surrounding ground and the road leading you right to the heart of it all is impressive enough. The fact that it towers above the huge, blue, glacial fed mass of Lake Pukaki takes New Zealand’s reputation of stealing your breath to another level though. It was hard to drive in without wanting to stop every hundred meters to take a photo. With enough self-control though I made it to the car park with still some daylight left and threw my boots on and hit the trail, following the path up into the hooker valley, and past all the people headed back the other way. Seems to me the best time to do anything is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, I enjoy these places as they should be, without crowds of people. The weather was pretty good and not forecast to get too cold that night, so wasn’t too fussed as I made my way further up the trail. Again, how does one find words to portray the vastness of the scene before you, when your brain can hardly take it all in? The cloud had rolled in a bit and the summit of Mt. Cook, or Aoraki (its traditional name) was hidden away, but with the setting sun and the soft light accenting all the rock, snow and water of the river and lakes, it was more than stunning enough. After the hour long walk in I spent some time sitting beside the lake before beginning the journey back out, still having to sort out a place to stay and some food to eat. I hadn’t gotten too far when a glance over my shoulder stopped me, the cloud had gone and suddenly there he was, huge, towering and imposing. Mt. Cook. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more amazing! I stopped and took some photos and got chatting to a guy who had come past to shoot the sunset and do some night photography. As we swapped stories of travel and photography the light began to paint the mountains with the soft reds and golds of the afternoon and with it being too good to walk away from, I joined him and headed back along the path to the lake. Walking back out of the park by myself later in the dark, the well maintained path faintly visible through the blackness and the temperature falling was again a reminder of how much of a part we all with all around us, a very small part at that.
An early start and a quick brekky again saw me pulling on my boots and heading up another trail nearby the one I walked yesterday, this one up the Sealy Tarns track that offers spectacular views up through the hooker valley I had walked yesterday, up Mt cook itself and down on to the small town below with views flowing out the valley and away from the mountains. The only catch is the 2,200 steps you have to climb up to get to this vantage, every one worth it. I packed light and was in good spirits, but even so I again felt the legs burn and heart rate go up as I climbed, enjoying the feeling of pushing the pace a bit. Took just over an hour to get to the top and once there sat at a little bench and enjoyed my sandwiches, chatted with the others that were out enjoying the day, and absorbed what was surrounding me. It’s a pretty popular track and on a clear sunny day like this there were maybe ten or twelve others there, with people coming and going all the time. Its always good hearing the stories of others and sharing views like this, sometimes even as good or better than being on your own. One couple I met there were cycling New Zealand, which must be amazing, but can’t really say it’s my way to get around, hard work too. After half an hour or so at the top I began my decent and made sure to pass a few encouraging words to others I met still on their way up, some looked like they needed it more than others. Back at the car it was time to hit the road again, with a five-hour drive ahead of me to Authur’s Pass and definitely a few coffee stops along the way. Driving away from this place isn’t easy either, with every glimpse in the rearview mirror a stunning scene presented itself, and I would have no choice but to pull over to snap some pictures, or jut take it all in.
The road wound its way through low lying hills, skirting the eastern limit of the southern alps and offered more supreme views of this impressive selection of wild and raw places, so often leaving me speechless and with a huge grin spread across my face. Again, that feeling of space, wilderness and possibility permeated the air, and everything around me and presented the most amazing backdrop to my road trip. Just before beginning the climb up to Aurthur’s pass I pulled in to get some fuel and a few things to cook for dinner, as eating is a pretty high priority on my list, and my stomach was telling me it was close to that time. Windy roads lead me up, down and around and finally on crossing the bridge over the Waimakariri River I was in the little town where I would spend the night and do some exploring. The only hiccup was that there was a cycling event happening in town, and they had fully booked the backpackers, and the only café that was open. Not good when I was planning on sleeping there and using their kitchen to cook dinner. I found a little campsite in town though, with a small building for cooking and lounging and so I parked up there and resolved myself to cold food and sleeping in the car. Not long after though, another car pulled up and I met a young German girl that was travelling around and after chatting for a while we struck a deal, I’d cook for both of us if she provided the camping stove. Love how things fall into place. Over a meal of beans and rice, followed by choclate and wine, we chatted and shared a few stories from out travels and was a definite improvement on the expected cold dinner alone. That night the temperature dropped and I cursed myself for not bringing my sleeping bag and mat on this trip, I had figured I’d be staying in backpackers mostly and enjoy travelling light. Janna, the German girl, was nice enough to lend me a spare jacket she had, but still shivered the night away in the front seat of the car, managing to drift off to sleep a few times till the sun brightened the sky.
Morning saw me climbing out of the car to find a few large Keas mulling about and planning their mischief. These large parrots are amazing birds, but very much like a sugar-crazed toddler who likes to get into all sorts of trouble and see how far they can push the boundaries. I sat and watched them as they schemed and had to chase them off the cars a couple times as they tried to pull apart windshield wipers and other trim they thought didn’t really look good. I made a quick breakfast and headed out to do some exploring, and again the options were just endless here, and you could walk for miles and get lost (literally) in any direction you chose. After the sleepless night and with the days prior catching up with me, I opted for a shorter walk, which crossed over a small river and meandered its way up to the base of one of the mountains. Near to the top of the trail, where it joined back up with the river, I found a rock and lay down in the sun and snoozed for half an hour. Sometimes its just as good to stop and stay still as it is to push and climb. Warmed and rested by sun and some rest I decided to follow the river back down to the bridge at the start and followed the rocky river bank downstream. It was pretty easy stroll for most of the way, but as I got a bit further downstream I had to do a few river crossings through waist high water to find the easiest way down. Cold, but immensely refreshing and loved the feeling of there being no one else around besides me, and the river of course.
Again it was time to hit the road and head further north to Nelson. I had been there once before, after helping a mate of mine on a yacht delivery from Australia, and would be catching up with him and his family after four years and their heading off cruising as well. It was another five hours behind the wheel, and after the cold night before, a few coffees were required to make it through. Got there in good time though and caught up with Dave and the family for dinner. They also had a little apartment downstairs that they rent out, so had my own little place for a few nights. Always love it when you catch up with people years later and can swap stories and spend some time with them. It was amazing hearing of their adventures and seeing the photos and videos of what they’ve been up to as they sailed through the Pacific islands and Australia on their yacht Periclees. I contacted the woodwork school in town and made a time to go down and have a look and see what I felt. The following day I met up with the tutor, David Haig, who’s taught all over the world and is very experienced, and had a look at the school, seeing how its run, examples of past students work, looking at the workshop and getting a feel for the vibe of the place itself. More and more I had the feeling that this was the right move for me to pursue next and left feeling pretty clear on my coming plans.
Nelson itself is an awesome spot, and while I do have fears about taking more time off work to study, it does feel to be the right course and I am learning to trust my intuition on things, in spite of some of the fears that arise in the rational mind. It’s taken me a while, but I think I can safely say that I don’t believe we ever have it all figured out. Till the day we die we are on a journey, and there is no fail-proof decision that will sort life out. We just do the best we can, and that’s awesome. I spent a few days around Nelson getting a feel for the town and exploring a bit, its beautiful here and home to a really cool arts scene and think I will like it here. Also went to the marina and discussed bringing Kuhela down, and lets just say that part is a work in progress, as the prices here are almost double where I'm at now. Think once she’s down here though things will fall into place, hope so anyways.
With the feeling that my mate wanted his car back by the weekend I said my goodbyes to Dave and the family and headed on to finish my time in the South island and get the ferry over to Wellington. Just out of town I picked up a hitchhiker, a large Maori man, named Cedric, who joined me for the trip over to wellington and we shared some pretty deep chats and insights about life and along the way got a huge sense of déjà vu as we chatted, again that little intuition thing popping up. It was a pretty smooth ferry ride over the cook straight, especially considering how hectic it can get through that stretch of water and by early afternoon I was in Wellington. One of the highlights there is the Te Papa Museum, and I headed straight there from the ferry. This amazing place needs a full day to get though and experience and after spending four hours there, could have easily stayed longer, but had run out of time. The exhibit on Gallipoli was stunning, and deeply haunting. The huge statues, each one 24 times the size of the person they portray, of actual soldiers and nurses who endured this horrible piece of human history, as well as the written journal and accounts of many who never came back, really had a deep effect on me. The realty of war is so very far from the glamorized theatre of movies and brainwashing propaganda we are fed so often. What these men and women experienced, their whole worlds being turned upside down, and the seeming loss of all sanity and normality of life is something so hard to truly fathom, though there is still so many examples of it even in the present world today. Who knows what this is like without having lived it? Following on from that I spent my time strolling through the six floors of exhibits and taking in displays on everything from the tectonic plate movements, that regularly affect NZ (and would do so dramatically a week after my leaving) through to the navigation and tribal customs of the Maori people. It was an amazing way to spend a day.
Just as I was walking out of the museum I got a message about some possible work, and just like that, I was back in the commercial dive game. One of the exciting, and sometimes irritating and frustrating things about this work, is the last minute nature of much of it. It was Thursday afternoon and I would need to be in Perth by Monday. So much for a leisurely drive back to Tauranga. I spent the night in Wellington and early the next morning began the six-hour drive back to Kuhela. I would have the weekend to pack everything away and ready Kuhela for being gone for a month or two and get a few other things sorted in town before making my way to the airport and on to Perth first thing Monday morning. I like to keep the family on their toes, so only told Joseph that I was coming in and surprised all the others, which was as exciting for me as it was for them I think. I was really looking forward to getting back to Perth, mostly to see the family, and especially to meet my new little godson, Darious, but also to see what feeling I had when I got back there. It is so different from the landscape and feel of NZ, and I wondered what my feeling would be on my return, would I be overwhelmed by the heat and mourn the missing of the mountains from the horizon? Would it feel like a homecoming? Regardless of those judgments I knew I just wanted to spend time with the family and sit and have a cup of tea with mom and dad.
I've now been here in WA for a little while now. Back at work and slightly adjusted to the difference between the 20 degrees of NZ to the 40 degrees of Karratha, with a bit of time in Perth in between and some quality time with the family, and I have been surprised. I have loved being back. There is a quality of light here in WA that I have not come across anywhere else, the reds are different here to elsewhere, the contrast of the blue of the ocean and the hot flat ground of the land contains a quality of beauty hard to describe. Do I like it here better than NZ, not at all, I still think NZ is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been fortunate enough to live, but when I am in WA I love it and when I am in NZ I love it just as much. In the past I have always tried to find absolute answers, in a black and white way of one thing being right or better and the other being wrong or not as good, but I guess now, with a thousand shades of New Zealand greens and varying depths of West Australian blues and reds, what matters is that which ever place I am at, I am surrounded by beauty and take time to bask in it. I was also blessed by being in this amazing place to witness the super-moon, rising over the low tidal flats off this coast. the shallows making it look as though people were strolling across the surface of the ocean. It was especially cool seeing all the people from town, out with their kids and enjoying mother natures show.
It has taken quite some time, after finishing the trip, to find my direction. I was pretty aimless there for a while but through that had the opportunity to really experience and sit with that feeling of aimlessness and learn some important lessons. I now feel myself gaining traction and moving forward again and I am excited by what is to come, and again with that feeling of intuition, feel the start of another adventure beginning. Stay tuned, whatever it is; it’s going to be good.