I did my favourite Raglan walk today – through the Bryant reserve, along the beach and then back to the bush track that takes me to the lookout, where I snapped the photos above. One of the delights of this walk is the sounds – the boom and crash of the waves, the cries of the gulls and the calls of the birds that frequent the bush, the sighing of the trees in the breeze – which is why I don’t emulate those who walk with headphones plugged into their ears. Most of the human activity is muted – the occasional shout of a child finding the water colder than they’d expected, people one passes on the track saying hi, the slap of a surfboard hitting a wave. But today, the high-pitched whine of several jet-skis could be heard even above the sound of the surf. They set out at speed from the Manu Bay jetty, accelerated along a stretch of coastline and then performed noisy U-turns before heading back the way they’d come. They repeated this several times, with no discernable purpose apart from going as fast as they could, making as much noise as they could. On my way back to the track I passed a couple sitting on a bench overlooking the beach far below. I have often sat there myself, enjoying the view and listening to the waves. But this couple were playing music from some sort of portable device – why is it always music with a repetitive beat and inane lyrics (she asks judgmentally)? And then there are always a few people who fail to remove their dog’s droppings, which is not noisy but noisome for others using the track. It was a relief to get to the lookout and enjoy the quiet of the bush all around, watching the silent surfers below and the silent paraglider above.
… springs eternal, or so they say. It has been difficult to be hopeful during a Covid-19 Delta lockdown and then another vile terrorist attack in New Zealand on Friday. It is tempting to say, along with die-hard pessimists, that things are bad and getting worse. But on my walk today, I saw this – a pohutukawa tree about to burst into flower – and suddenly I felt hopeful. In New Zealand the red pohutukawa flower is synonymous with summer, sea and sand. So along with the perhaps misguided optimists, I look forward to freedom from lockdown, summer and the season of goodwill to all.
Near the town of Takaka in Golden Bay (South Island of New Zealand) are the Te Waikoropupū Springs. Though we’ve visited Golden Bay before, we hadn’t seen these spectacular pools. They are very close to optically clear water, with visibility to 63 metres, and are surrounded by native bush with prolific bird life. Alerted by his distinctive call, we saw a grey warbler flitting around in foliage right beside the walkway – this is the closest we’ve been to this tiny elusive bird and it was thrilling. It is easy to see why this place has been a taonga (treasure) for Māori since they arrived in the area over 700 years ago. It is also wāhi tapu (held in high cultural and spiritual regard) so there is no contact with the water at all – you just look, listen and marvel.
On a recent visit to the top of the South Island, we went to Cable Bay for the first time. Though it was the middle of a New Zealand winter, which is often grey and rainy, we were there on a gloriously clear day, as you can see in the photograph. As we edged our way along the narrow road to the bay, we came across a couple persuading a pair of cows into a paddock – apparently the cows were in disgrace because ‘they’d already munched their way through Grandma’s garden’. When we got to the bay and parked on the shingle, we noticed two more people bundled up against the cold wind, sitting on canvas chairs holding fishing rods. Then we put on our jackets, scarves and beanies and braved the elements ourselves, walking up the steep incline to read the information board. The bay was the site of New Zealand’s first overseas cable link – via Australia – and was opened in February 1876. It revolutionised the lives of settlers who could now get a message to their families in Europe in four days, instead of the six weeks it took a letter. The cable station operated till 1917, after which it was moved to the North Island, at Titahi Bay near Wellington. I’ve just checked the track details on the DOC website and noticed an alert – the track is closed for lambing. How much more Kiwi could it be? Cows, fishing, lambs and splendid isolation!
We are lucky to live on a farm, which gives us the lovely, wide views that have been a life-saver during lock-down. It also means we can walk out the gate and up the road without seeing anyone else. We do, however, see lots of animals on our meandering around the neighbourhood – cows, chickens, sheep, goats, hawks and the odd bold rabbit. It was a delight to find a paddock filled with cows and their new calves one sunny afternoon. There is something so hopeful about seeing young animals in the autumn.
We live on a farm where there are plenty of free-range chickens, some of which wander into our garden. This is fine with us, especially if they lay us some eggs, which they do from time to time, and stay out of the vege garden. Today one of the hens was out on the road with her four little bundles of fluff. They were feasting off insects, oblivious to the danger from cars and trucks. It seems like a metaphor for those of us who rushed into the supermarkets as soon as the lock-down was announced and bought enough groceries in one day to feed 10 million New Zealanders, oblivious of the official announcements that the supermarkets will remain open and the food supply will be maintained. We need to be smarter than that! We have at least four weeks of lock-down ahead so we’ll need to pace ourselves and use our common sense. I’m happy to report that the hen and her chicks survived (by wandering back into the paddock beside our house) and so will we. Stay home and stay safe
For months we’ve relied on our indoor plants for greenery. It hasn’t rained properly for weeks and outside plants, trees and fields are dry and brown. But yesterday and today it has rained off and on continually and one can almost watch the paddocks going green. How welcome this is when one is isolated – all New Zealanders are now working from home unless they are in an essential business. All our indoor plants have new green shoots, which seems like a welcome act of optimism, and helps counter the grey skies and feelings of impending doom. Stay safe everyone and be kind to yourselves and others.
Readers of this blog know well that Raglan is our favourite weekend getaway. We were there again last weekend and I walked through the Bryant Scenic reserve, as I’ve done often before. This time there was this notice, put up by Karioi Project https://www.karioiproject.co.nz/ – a community conservation group that is working to restore biodiversity in the coastal region around Karioi, the volcanic mountain that looms over Raglan and gives the beaches their distinctive black sand. By trapping and eliminating predators like stoats, rats and ferrets and setting up burrows, the Project has helped 22 oi chicks fledge from the Karioi coast, eight in the 2019 season. Oi are native grey-faced petrels, whose burrowing habit makes them susceptible to introduced mammalian predators. So reading this notice in this beautiful place on a sunny summer morning made my heart lift. Good things do happen, even though it may seem as if they’re very few and far between!
August 1st was the 200th birthday of Herman Melville, the author of perhaps one of the least-read classics of English literature, Moby-Dick. I admit to never having read it but it has always been on my horizon because of all the references to it, for example, the white whale that shall remain “unpainted to the last”, Starbuck (first mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed ship the Pequod), “damp, drizzly November”, “the sea we swim in”. You know that when you call someone an Ahab, it is not meant as a compliment. Philip Hoare is convinced that Moby-Dick is the novel for our times – see his article here https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/30/subversive-queer-and-terrifyingly-relevant-six-reasons-why-moby-dick-is-the-novel-for-our-times
Hoare says Virginia Woolf read Moby-Dick three times and her work was inspired by the evocative vision of “a fin rising in a wide blank sea”. But it is Hoare’s assertion that Melville was born “in sight of the sea” that transported me from my desk to the west coast of the North Island, where I took a long ramble weekend before last. It was a calm, overcast and not particularly cold day, a rarity in New Zealand’s winter, and perfect for walking. I started out at the top of the ridge overlooking the Tasman Sea and made my way down the track, with a long pause at my favourite Raglan look-out, all the way to the wide black sand beach. I walked along the beach before heading up towards the ridge again and found the bench where I took the photo above. The bench was dedicated to a baby boy who had lived for only one day and reading the inscription added to the greyness of the day. But it was hard to stay melancholy for long – watching the waves rolling in, hearing the sea birds cry and catching the scent of the harakeke on the breeze. I was reminded of Don McGlashan’s song The Waves Would Roll On, in which he describes the unrelenting ebb and flow of the sea that will continue after he’ll no longer be there to watch. There was something so soothing and timeless about the scene that I understood why the baby’s family had chosen it as the spot for their baby’s memorial.
You have to love New Zealand! I’ve had the radio on in the kitchen while I cook and have just heard a news bulletin on the RNZ channel. The last item in this broadcast was from and for Masterston (a town of about 25,000 people 100kms north-east of Wellington) about an injured duck that was seen flying away from a fire. The community has been asked to keep an eye out for the duck. Some New Zealanders complain about trivial items on the news but I found this refreshing. It is also a welcome break from the news items about devastation from earthquakes and tsunamis, entitled white men insisting that their power not be diminshed, people being poisoned by secret agents from countries they used to live in … to say nothing about the daily outrages committed by the stable genius who lives in a house that is painted white.