Wild Wows

Have I mentioned how much I love New Zealand?

Godzone. Not meaning the zone of God but more the country God created for himself, God’s own. Without getting into a theological discussion, let’s just appreciate the most awesome country hidden away at the bottom of the world.

Today I did the Coast to Coast. East coast to west. Pacific Ocean to Tasman Sea. Leaving a city filled with demolition and construction, earthquake damage and still suffering from a massive flood earlier this week. Roadworks and Friday afternoon traffic slowing our departure.

But soon we were travelling west, slowly climbing across the Canterbury Plains towards the purple ridgeline of the Southern Alps. It was a long slow climb up Porter’s Pass as our elderly Pajero struggled with a furniture trailer filled with a tonne of gear. No hyperbole here – we actually were towing a ton.

It is the 25th Wild Foods Festival in Hokitika tomorrow. It is our 24th year of having a stall, or two. The trailer was chocka with the actual stall, which is being erected in the marquee while I blob out in the motel. (Yay for teenage boys!) plus all the equipment and a lot of the ingredients needed to feed the festival goers.

We reached the summit of Porter’s Pass and began the beautiful drive through the alps to Otira. This country is used a lot in film sets: Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and even this great ad. It never fails to impress me. Something about the clean simple lines, contrasting colours. Especially on a day like today. Blue sky, golden tussock, sharp grey rocks, purple mountains, green bush. And the rocks. So many opportunities to be amazed at the construction of a wild country as evidenced by whole hills thrust upwards by some ancient, or not so ancient, subterranean force.

We drive pass two small lakes, leftover from melted glaciers. Traverse the wide river bed of the Waimakariri River, remembering fifth form geography and alluvial plains, shingle screes and braided river systems. Learning is so much easier when you live among it.

A short stop in Arthur’s Pass. We were amused that the Doc centre’s stone wall was fenced off, probably because of “earthquake risk”. Hello, red tape bureaucrats! Arthurs Pass sits right on the Alpine fault, in a cleft in the Alps. If there is an earthquake, the whole bloody mountain will land on the village. Who cares about a five foot high wall? And we won’t mention avalanche risk!

Onwards and upwards over the Otira Pass, down the viaduct and the gorge. Even though these days it is a “feat of modern engineering”, I am always relieved to be down the bottom again.

From there it is a simple drive through Jackson’s, Kumara, and along the coast south to Hokitika.

Kumara is known as being the base for the start of the Coast to Coast multisport race. Also famous for its cop. Today he was hiding as a tradie in a white van. Just past the junction the booze bus was busy catching the revellers who could not wait to start drinking.

It was a lovely journey. Uneventful. I would say let’s hope the weekend continues like this but my “workers” have just turned up and announced they forgot to bring kebab sticks. A necessary item when planning to sell 700 wild kebabs. The only supermarket in Hokitika did not have any. Neither did the main Four Square. But the last wee store they tried had some. We have their entire stock now.

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A plethora of Wows

My body is stiff and sore. A small price to pay for sleeping crooked in the car as we drove home last night from our holiday.

Was it only two weeks?

It was one of those holidays where every morning I woke and thought I could go home today. This has been good. A simple word but it satisfactorily sums up the days.

I was offline and so could not post all my wow moments. There were a lot. As the heading says, a plethora. I started to get quite fussy about whether or not a moment qualified.

In no particular order these were the moments which made me feel good. Amazed. Wowed!

The sea. I have never seen it so clear. Even quite a distance out to sea you could see the bottom. At the 5 knot buoy I could see the wheel rim anchoring it to the sea bed. Of course the downside was I could see all the marine life. Real and imagined. Although the beach was patrolled daily by a couple of eagle rays, and once by a shark (which has never happened before), I only saw jelly fish and one flounder – while I was swimming out deep. Phew!

My sons. Robbie in particular. A typical teenage boy, who is growing so quickly and always tired. But there were girls in camp for the day. They were staying over two rather big hills at another beach. Robbie decided to bike to visit them. It was a 90minute ride in each direction – I know because I biked home with him in the evening.

Then a couple of days later Robbie decided to run the Abel Tasman Coast Track. A good 40 kilometres of trails and hills and beaches. It took us 4 hours and 45 minutes but he kept going, never complaining. Fuelled on Powerade, jet planes and a bumper bar. He would not borrow a running pack so carried his drink in bottles in his school back pack. Legend!

Jonny – Captain Jonny. Worshipped by young Sam (aged 10) in the next camp. Jonny played cricket with him, and took him out boating a lot. Insisting Sam sat down and wore his life jacket. I love seeing the boy who used to follow around the big boys, being a big boy role model himself. Jonny also impressed a lot of the adults with his prowess at camp cooking – the bread cooked on the campfire and the mussels were highly praised.

Friends. Old friends. New friends. We camped next to a family we had met last year. Mum Linda. Dad Brian. Three teenage kids like us. Through them we met Sam and his family, John, Mo and little Phoebe. And Sue and Bruce. Many laughs, banter, jugs of Pimms, swims and runs were shared. The highlight was one perfect summers evening which began with a big shared meal and ended up with a male chest waxing session.

Old friends. The people we have camped with for many years. Catching up after a couple of weeks, or months, or even years. We update each other on our lives and we talk and laugh a lot of crap. The boys too, just pick up on friendships forged over many summers. Growing from little kids with plastic buckets and spades and toy trucks, to young men with big spades and real boats. And always the card and board games when shade or sitting down is required.

Other friends. A woman my kids and I went through Playcentre (a pre-school group) with was camped with her family. We spent a good hour or two catching up. An old university friend of my husband’s who we hadn’t seen for 15 years. Running into (literally) a family breakfasting at a hut while Robbie and I were running the Abel Tasman track. They were walking the track. The other mum and I decided each other was familiar but this woman was Australian. Finally linked it back to Playcentre (again) – she had spent two years in Christchurch when her kids were very small. There were other links like this – New Zealand is just a small village!

Special moments in time. The realisation that you perhaps are the only person who will ever witness this moment. One in particular was while I was going for one of my longer swims. I had woken early – for holidays. It was about 7am. The camp was asleep and I felt too tired to run. I wandered down to the beach and the sea was glassy with a small swell rolling to shore. Swim time. The sky already cornflower blue. The sun high and slowly sending the temperature higher. I decided to swim out to a small fishing belt sheltering the night in the lee of the bushclad headland. As I rounded the stern of the boat I really was amazed at the sheer simplicity of the scene. White boat reflected in the marine blue sea. Two symmetrical fishing booms extended port and starboard, crisp black straight lines stark against the sky. The only sound was me swimming, breaststroking the water. In the distance the golden beach, a long stripe of sand, and then the differing greens and blacks of the bush, silhouetted against that sky. Still blue to all compass points. I head back to shore. Already the first puffs of wind are ruffling the sea. By the time I am walking up the beach, the camp has woken. The moment has passed. And not long after that the boat weighed anchor and sailed quietly back to work.

The night sky. This was one I wasn’t gong to add. Because why it does wow me it has since I was a little girl and allowed to stay up around the campfire until we could see the first “sputnik” – satellite passing above. Now, there are so many satellites it appears half the stars are buzzing around. I actually have to admit I didn’t see any this year – mostly because I was in bed before dark! But on my midnight wanderings to the toilet I loved seeing the milky way. Picking out the constellations I know – Venus big and golden, Orion’s belt, and of course the Southern Cross, the constellation of home! Coming home last night I was mesmerized by the stars. Jonathan was somehow navigating by taking photos of the night sky with his iPhone and telling us which direction we were travelling – the modern day sextant.

And then I saw the moon. A small wedge of lemon, compete with a thicker rind. Crisp and succulent against the inky black of space.

Wow.

These moments and memories will sustain me for the next year, and beyond. Yep. A simple but truly delightful holiday in a simple but delightful place.

The lagoon at low tide

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The shared meal with friends

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Awaroa inlet at dawn

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Captain Jonny and First Mate Robbie

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Solar recharge

Where deepest green meets grains of gold.
Brightest blue reflects in cooling seas.
Totaranui.
The most beautiful place I know.

Winding through the hills
On a road narrow and fragile.
Dust clouds surround our load.
Cicadas herald our arrival.

We drive through the avenue
Of English trees planted years ago.
The sun beats down. Our clothes feel sticky.
As possessions tumble around the car and trailer.
The children vanish into thin air.

They will return. Occasionally.
To eat.
To sleep.
To eat some more.
The only signs of their existence.
Dishes on the table.
Wet towels on the floor.

Meanwhile it is us. Mum and Dad.
Who build a castle out of canvas and boxes.
The sounds of metal on metal ring out across the bay
As poles are assembled. Tent pegs hammered home.
Beds are made. Kitchen organised.
The lounge is on the beach.
My work is done.

For two weeks I live here,
Off the grid as they say.
There is no electricity.
Or cellphones.
Perfect for recharging the batteries.

Before packing it all up.
And driving back to the city.
Until next year.
When we will come again.

I wrote this poem about a place very dear to me. I go there tomorrow. I won’t be able to blog while I am away. But I am sure I will have plenty to say upon my return. Until then.

Ow not wow!

Two days ago I met a wasp. It flew into my left arm as I was running around Lake Rotoiti, an area renowned for wasps, and large sandflies.

The wasp stung me, just the once. At first it was just an angry red mark with a small white hard swelling, about the size of a small coin, a NZ 10 cents. It did not hurt. It did not itch. It was just annoying. I could finish my run, though I was wary of it.

I was running to the head of the lake where I was to meet Andrew and the boys who were boating up. Although I carry emergency supplies and a first aid kit, I didn’t have antihistamine. Or the kitchen sink. I had everything else. Note to self – buy some antihistamine cream for kit. Don’t bother with the kitchen sink!

It was about an hour later that I could spray some Stingose and then my afternoon was filled with packing up and cleaning the bach we had rented for the week. We had given up on the crappy weather and chosen to head home a day early.

My arm was swelling. It was now noticeably bigger than the right arm. And radiating heat. But not enough to illicit any sympathy from any of my boys!!

When we arrived home in Christchurch I put some antihistamine cream onto it.

That night I could not sleep. It was nice to be back in my own bed. The bed at the bach had been playing havoc with my back. But it was a hot sticky night. Aaaah, summer, how I had missed you.

My arm itched. It throbbed. I got up twice in the night to take Panadol and one of Juliet’s hayfever pills. I wrapped a cold flannel around it. More cream.

By the time morning came, my forearm was huge, red, swollen, hard, throbbing, sore, and itchy.

I measured around it. It was 26cm in comparison to my right arm at 22cm. My wrist was unaffected and measured 14cm. My left bicep is only 24cm. Yes, I have chicken arms!

I took more drugs. Used more cream. And put up with mocking derision from three teenagers. “Oh, your biceps are so big. Oh, wait that is just your wasp sting.” “You look just like Popeye!”

I took a nap and slept for two hours. Possibly the drugs. Possibly the restless night. When I woke my arm felt better. I mowed the lawn, with a push mower and tackled two weeks of weed growth. It was lovely to be in the sun, but it did not help my arm.

It grew even bigger. 27cm around the widest part, and the wrist swelled too, into the hand. My wrist was now 16cm.

More cream. More Stingose. I tried arnica too. And wrapped it in ice. Living with a dancer we always have ice packs on the go.

Now almost 48hours later it is still swollen. 26.5 cm and 16.5cm around the wrist. Still itchy but not as much.

It is now annoying me as I have things to do which I cannot.

Oh well, it could be worse. It is, after all, only a wasp sting. And while it has affected me, it is not life and death. Just a normal reaction to a nasty insect. And it will go away. I just need to be a patient patient.

the Department of Conservation’s wasp eradication plan

Dealing with wasps at Lake Rotoiti