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A soggily eventful day – Opoutere and Whangamata

Feeling very sleepy and worn out. In a very good way.

This morning I took my time, as the rain was constant and not particularly inviting. Sat at the table with the Washington State couple, who. though friendly, maintain a certain cool distance. A sort of shy reserve in the man and maybe a kind of wariness in the woman. I get the feeling from their small iritated interactions that they aren’t happy. But how would I know? Maybe they have just been together a long time.

Sitting at the other table was Barry. A man of about 70 I would guess, with a thick white beard and bushy long mustache, curled up at the ends but not styled that way. And a fantastic talker. Fortunately he is full of interesting and useful information. He is here in New Zealand from a town near Cambridge, England, to photograph plants. In particular, ferns, which he seems to be tremendously enamored with. Maybe even obsessed? He is a member of the British Pteridological Society, the “focal point for fern enthusiasts throughout the world.” One of the things he suggested, within a wealth of plant information was to take the walk to the top of Maungauruawahine – the “mountain of two women” – right behind the hostel.

You can see it here:

I photographed that from right in front of my tent, here:

So I decided to brave the rain. I put on my rain gear – rain coat, rain pants, a precious pair of clean and dry socks and the hiking boots. This was their maiden tramp in New Zealand. And they worked out perfectly – I came back with dry feet despite some seriously damp conditions. I walked out the hostel gate and took a right on the road, as the sign in the kitchen had said. I walked up the road a while and realized I must’ve missed the path. Circling back, I found a narrow, slightly overgrown unmarked path in the direction I wanted to go. Up I went. I quickly realized the hoodie was too warm, so took that off and put it in the bag. Not soon after I started to contemplate taking off the jeans from under the rain pants. It wouldn’t be worth how wet and dirty I would inevitably get, so I nixed that idea. Very soon I came to a fork with a wooden sign pointing right to the “hostel” and left to the “summit”. Well that will be the way back.

At places the path became a very small stream and I wondered if I was still on the path, or in fact just fording up a stream. The path was so overgrown that I pushed my way through sopping wet strands of wide, flat grass stems. I was sweating underneath it all and breathing more heavily than normal, but it wasn’t a strenous climb really. Before I knew it I was looking straight back down over a steep precipice. The clouds were below me streaming over the second hill (the second woman?) rising like steam and streaming across the trees. There was mist all about, but I could still see down into the valley. A self-portrait from the first wide view:

I winded my way higher up the peak until I could see back down on the hostel and out to the ocean.

To the right is this view, the sandy beach is the Wharekawa Wildlife Refuge, where the New Zealand Dotterel nests:

The mist cleared so that I could see a few islands off the shore. And some sunlight hitting the waves, traveling towards me. A bright green-blue patch of water in a vast expanse of greyness. That sunlight never did reach me. And the islands disappeared behind a veil of white once again. I descended slowly stopping to take in the views.

Along the part of the path heading to the hostel I came across two great Pohutakawa trees. One’s roots was encircling a large boulder, giving it a bear hug. Barry had told me a story earlier about the warden who was here the last time he visited, four years ago. This warden’s son, at the time about 8 years old, had gone off on the path alone one day. He returned with something and proudly brought it to show his father – it was a human skull. He had found it beneath a Pohutakawa tree near the path. The child brought his father back to the spot and they returned the skull. It was most likely a Maori burial site, and the warden did not want to anger or disrespect the Maori. Who knows how old that skull was.

One of the Pohutakawas:

A tree nearby with a heart-shaped knot:

I really need to feed myself bigger breakfasts. All throughout the walk I kept thinking about what I wanted to buy at the grocery store, or what big meal I would cook myself later. So I filled up again. The hostel site was completly empty. A tin of smoked salmon, a can of Kumpara (sweet potato) and vegetable soup, some more bread and marmalade that the English chap left behind, and a cup of tea. For dessert, a can of “Creamed Rice”, another thing Gavin convinced me to buy at the Pak’N’Save. Good choice, I love what we call “rice pudding”.

After a quick upload of photos and a post, I headed into Whangamata. I almost left the board behind, but decided to bring it along. Just in case. The straps that hold the pillow-like pieces the board rests on come into the car through the windows. When it rains, the water travels down the straps and drips into the car. At all four corners. Some things in the front seat were soaked. I need to find some rags of some sort to wrap up the straps to collect the water.

I have been listening to a mix that Laura made me last year for my fourth anniversary of quitting drinking. I really don’t listen to much music anymore. Mostly because I don’t have specific times and places that are conducive to it. I used to listen to music in my car in high school and college. Also when I was making something, drawing, painting, developing photos. I can’t wear earphones while riding my bike in New York, it’s too dangerous and I don’t particularly like listening to music when I am out in the world anyways. So now that I have a car again, I can rock out. And this mix Laura made is great. Laura, did I confess to you that I have a secret love for George Michael? Most especially for his album, Freedom, which I happily acquired on cassette in middle school? I must’ve – because how else would you know to include him on this most amazing mix? “Freedom” came on as I drove into Whangamata. And I seriously rocked out to it. I have to be losing “heaps” of cool points for admitting this in a public forum. So be it. Cool points become worthless after 30 anyways, I bet.

Good thing I brought the board, the surf looked much better. Still raining and overcast and slightly chilly. But waves were actually lining up. I walked down on the beach and past two surfers who couldn’t have been older than 13. One smiled at me and I asked him how the surf was. He said they were actually heading down there (pointed north) to surf. I watched as they walked all the way to the point where the ocean and harbor meet, and three of their mates ran to catch up with them. Then they all proceeded to paddle up along the shoreline, out to the point. Aha! So that must be the surfing spot. You don’t _drive_ to it – you paddle to it. Duh. When in doubt, wait around until some locals appear and watch what they do. Teenage boys are a good bet.

I ran back to the car excitedly, put on my wetsuit in the weird little bathroom that had a ten-minute timer and flashing lights. I didn’t walk quite so far up the to the north point to paddle out because there was a nice lull where I was. It took a decently long time to get out there. And once out there you have to be constantly paddling north to where the waves are breaking. There were probably 6 or 7 people out. Including an asian (i would guess japanese) guy and his mates who I had seen watching the waves when I arrived and suiting up when I returned to my car to suit up myself. He was pretty good and I jealously watched him catch a wave. I tried for a couple and didn’t get into them. Almost into one, I popped up too soon. An extra couple of paddles and I might’ve caught it.

Finally after paddling, paddling, paddling north with a group of surfers, everyone had caught a wave and I was out there alone. Perfect. That means the next one is mine. My arms were exhausted but the excitement took over and I kept paddling. I was in the right place, the swell rising up and rounding out. I turned back towards shore and started to paddle, looking back periodically to see if I was still in the right spot. The wave started breaking to my right and then I was in it. Not wanting to pop up too soon this time, I held on a bit longer. But then I careened down the front of the wave and was going too fast to attempt to stand up. Dammit. I pulled out of it and turned to paddle back out again. The japanese surfer caught up to me and with a big smile said, in American-accented english, “You almost had that one!”

A paddled out again. Right when you start to get into the right spot, the water seemed to get more choppy, the wind gustier and the tide pulling you out stronger. Maybe it was just in my head, but the conditions seemed stormier there. At times, I felt like I was just paddling to avoid being swept out to sea. A good motivator. I watched as more people caught waves and then was out alone again. No luck this time. Paddled for some, didn’t catch them. Then went crashing “over the falls” on one, board and body tumbling over and over. A yard sale. And an invitation to head back in.

I played around a bit in the inside waves paddling slowly back to shore. I’ll get. I am sure I will have another chance. It was amazing fun to be out in the water. And the rainy, misty day was actually serene. The sun here is so intense, I don’t mind a little cloud cover at times.

Back at the car, I got into a sort of scattered mindset. I set the board up on top of the car, but then forgot to strap it down as I was enticed into taking this photo:

See those nice lines?

A big wind came up, as they do near the ocean, and my board went flying off the top of the car and smacked into someone’s shiny station wagon. A teenage boy came running over saying things like “Seriously?? What’s wrong with you? Are you kidding me?” while scanning the car for damage. “You can’t put a board up there without strapping it down.” Yes, yes, I know. “I just forgot to strap it down, I’m sorry…” A woman came over in the same mood, cursing me. “Are you stupid?” She said more than once. I thought damage to my board was far more likely than to their car and said so, while demurely apologizing again. And, of course, feeling embarassed. But, no, I am not stupid. Unless you count absentmindedness as a form of stupidity, then fine, I am afflicted with this form of stupidity at times – I think my family will laughingly attest to that. It becomes far more pronounced when I have yet to set a specific procedure for doing things, or specific places for putting everything. I am a bit scattered all over the place right now – it excacerbates the situation. They walked off in a huff and I went about strapping the board down. I will check for damage later.

Sometimes I really do wish I was better at standing up to people that treat me like that. I usually just take it, especially when it is obviously my fault. But they were assholes. Fuck them. I am glad I didn’t get into any sort of argument, though – I don’t know what good it could’ve done. And if you don’t engage people who are angry like that, they tend to give up after a while. The problem is I leave feeling like a coward, and internalize everything. Not so healthy either.

I drove into town and found some lovely people to talk to a bit. That helped tremendously.

Driving back out to Opoutere I remembered that there were supposed to be glow worms along the stretch of road close to the YHA. But I was too wet, too tired to go looking for them. And I had to pee badly.

The YHA was packed. Kids of all ages and older people all about. Hopping. I headed into the kitchen for tea and a snack of pistachios. The HUGE bag I bought in Auckland has been serving me well. I should’ve bought more figs though. Those ran out days ago. Barry was there chatting off the ear of a middle-aged German man. I sat near and said hello. He asked me about my day and I told him I went up the mountain. Had I seen the fern seedlings? (or something like that) Nope, don’t think so….I did see many ferns though. Definitely.

After some more talking he said he was going out to see if he could spy the glow worms. Same idea I had! I asked him to let me know if he found them when he returned. Shortly thereafter he returned. Success! He was really very excited. I said I would go out and look for them, too. “Did I have a “torch” (flashilight)?” Yes. “I will take you over there and show you.” So I suited up myself and we went off down the dark road.

When we got to the spot and turned off our flashlights I didn’t see them at first. It did look like some houselights or light from the sky was coming through the leaves. Then I started to realize that those were the worms. The longer I stood there and walked back and forth I could see more and more. Really very cool. There weren’t a whole bunch, we maybe found 20 total. I will be going to the Waitomo caves where the ceilings are covered with them.

My head is feeling stuffy and heavy. I can still hear Barry talking out in the kitchen though he was “going to bed” two hours ago. It’s midnight. I wonder who he has cornered now. A superbly friendly and interesting guy. Going on the walk with him was a treat – he is a font of information. And what he doesn’t know he constantly says he will be “googling” later. He just learned to used computers three years ago, and is hooked now. Like the rest of us.

Back to Raglan in the morning. Crossing fingers for surf there.


  1. Especially liked the way you handled yourself. After an encounter like that I always like to think that the other party realized, as soon as they leave, what absolute jerks they are. And you certainly didn’t stuff it because you told us,and the lovely couple, about it. Yeah! Lovely, lovely picture of you. My fingers are crossed for great surf, love ya PLOB

  2. random comments

    1. In re: the first paragraph. Does everyone who is together a long time act cold and distant? Hopefully not. Let me know if Kerry and I get that way as we age.
    2. I found myself wondering what you would have done differently? Sounds like you at least tried to point out that it was not likely as big a deal as they were making it out to be? The only thing I could think of was acknowledging your lapse while also saying, “…but your anger toward me won’t help me remember better next time.” I’m sure you know that agitating the situation would have done nothing other than left you feeling worse.
    3. Man, that place is beautiful. You have a knack for capturing it, too. Great pics. The first picture of the tree with the light behind it is amazing.
    4. Glad you got to surf, and I hope you get to do more soon.


  3. Re: random comments

    1. ah, I was talking less about the cold and distant, than the easily and overtly irritated with each other. Which you see in families, of course – once you so thoroughly know somebody for a long time, sometimes it is easy to lapse into not hiding iritation for the things about them that have always been there. And that maybe you have experienced with them for 40 years or something. Doesn’t have to happen, but does seem common.

    2. hahaha. I can’t imagine saying that to them. I just wish I had something in response very simply like’ “no, i am not stupid”. ha.

  4. needless to say…

    …though I’m going to say it anyway (which amusingly always follows “needless to say”), this post made me laugh after making my comment on the last post re: your passport! Tie it down. Anyhow, you’ve done your job in at least being self-aware and making improvements as possible.

    Funny, I know exactly what you mean about that feeling of internalizing something and even when you do, I guess the opposite would/should be, “externalize” you don’t feel entirely better but that probably has to do with the situation having no great outcome due in no part really to you, but rather the situation itself or others involved. And it can be helpful to realize how it could have gone a lot worse, i.e. yelling and cursing at each other. I also like to chalk up some of that internalizing guilt to just being a decent person who doesn’t really think anyone should have to deal with that sort of crap and so you’re not willing to put much of it out there yourself.

    I had the same reaction as Rick regarding the couple being together a long time, but I think I know what you mean in that the image they project may not actually reflect the way they feel about each other in the long term.

    Guess that’s enough dime-store psychology for now. Or at least for this post.

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