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Punakaiki – Saturday Night

Another not-so-satisfying night in the tent at the Barn. I got up around midnight because my feet were itching intensely. Some sandflies must’ve crawled into the sleeping bag with me and were feasting on my feet. Wide awake again, I went to get some socks from the clothesline. I had washed everything and hung it to dry the evening before in a frenzy of activity after returning from the track. The socks were still damp and cold. I bathed my feet in bug juice and put on the socks, expecting discomfort. But the coolness was soothing.

That morning, I checked out and thanked the guy at the desk who had been very friendly and helpful, full of “sweet as” responses, the Kiwi equivalent of “cool”. He was from Raglan and had noticed my board. He asked me where I was headed next and when I told him the West Coast he gave me a few pointers. Tauranga Bay and Punakaiki had some good spots he had surfed before when he was driving buses.

I went to the local cafe “Hooked on Marahau” and had a flat white and eggs florentine. I have reverted to buying prepared food instead of making it myself recently. No regrets here, this was delicious. I spent the next three hours writing the post about Abel Tasman, fixing and posting photos and linking them. I was going to skip the photos just to get it up quicker, but at least a few people said they were looking forward to seeing them. It was nice to have a little break. There was almost no one around and the waitress was a friendly young woman from Missoula, Montana, here on a working visa. All I had to do was turn my head to see the water and mountains in the distance.

Loaded up on some junk food, chocolate and chips, and was on my way – driving south and west. Roland had asked me what “awesome” meant and in trying to break it down for him, I was stuck on how to translate “awe”. Of course we overuse “awesome,” so that it’s original meaning is quite diluted. We aren’t actually filled with awe every time we proclaim it. Driving along route 6, the peaks of a large mountain appeared behind what I would have formally called mountains, but now looked just like hills. I was struck with an involuntary wave of fear, a feeling of opening and sinking in my chest, that passed in an instant. A base animal instinct. It was followed by childlike wonder and then the frontal lobe brain kicked back in. It was as if I had come across a large predator around the corner. Maybe my nervous system was rebelling – “I have to cross THAT?” Immediately I thought, this is awe. Awe is big. Not just physically, but as a feeling. To Roland I had said it’s when you see something so beautiful that you stop and stare. He responded, “Oh, and then you say ‘ahhhhh’?” Exactly.

I followed the sign to Tauranga Bay, which has a seal colony apparently. I found a wide-open beach with lots of crashing, messy waves. The sun was getting close to setting, so I parked my car near two campervans, grabbed my camera and went for a walk down on the beach. The waves were crashing in an interesting way farth north on the beach, so I walked that way, watching them. After beginning to break, they seemed to jump up again as they reached the rocks. They must’ve been hitting something underneath that rebounded them higher. Big, powerful, scary-looking waves that were barreling slightly, the setting sun lighting them from behind, that beautiful aquamarine green. A family was playing in the little waves as the Dad harvested mussels. So many mussels of all different sizes thickly clustered over the rocks. An astonishing amount of large ones, as well. I really need to figure out how to pick the right ones and how to cook them up. I like mussels, but I think I need a little more information before I tackle cooking them myself.

The sun was almost set but I decided to push on to Punakaiki. The man at the Barn said there were some good hostels there. And there are the famous Pancake Rocks, as well as possible surfing. I thought I would get a dorm room, choosing warmth over solitude, but there were no beds left at the place I stopped. Pitching my tent again. I may buy myself a down sleeping bag. I bought a silk liner in Nelson, which helps some, but my legs still get cold. It’s a little drafty.

This hostel is right on the water. I set up my tent and walked down the beach on a gravel roadway. To my left are imposing cliffs. They were lit up from the sodium vapor street lights bouncing off the road. An eerie and unreal scene, creating what almost looks like a watercolor version of cliffs pasted to the sky. This effect is created by the contrast between the artificial uplight on the cliffs creating murky brown expanses and jet black shadows, and the star-filled sky which operates on an entirely different lighting scheme.

I have a lot of driving ahead of me to get down to Te Anau by March 31st, to begin the Milford Track hike on April 1st. I hope to squeeze in a little cold-water surfing on the way, though. We’ll see.

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