Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lost – Even Without A Translation

Dec. 9, 2012

Yesterday (12/8) we headed south to the town of Tongaporutu, on the west coast (facing the Tasman Sea) and in the district of Taranaki (named for the volcano, which we could just barely see in the distance).  We wanted to check out the beach there, but it’s only accessible at low tide, which meant overnighting.  There wasn’t a motor camp or holiday park anywhere nearby, and the carpark which used to be available for freedom camping had NO CAMPING signs all over – so we drove back to the scenic overlook picnic area, and that was our overnight spot.  And our first night of Chanukah 5773.  (Yes, I carried my portable menorah, and we bought Chanukah candles at the synagogue in Auckland.  I mean, these are the important things for travel, right?)

There are two things I love about freedom camping – it’s quiet because there’s no one around (other than the occasional car driving by), and since there aren’t any lights the stars are incredible!!!  We saw the Southern Cross out the front of the caravan, as well as the Milky Way; and I swear Orion cruised by the back window, presumably to our north.  It was a fabulous star show last night! 

We got up this morning and waited a bit for close to low tide, then headed back town to Tongaporutu Beach.  The Tongaporutu River runs to the sea right by the beach, creating a huge sandy delta inbetween two carved sandstone bluffs – and the sand is all the black igneous sand leftover from the volcanic eruptions eons ago.  Plus there are bizarre spherical boulders sitting on the beach – some solid stone, some almost like clay – but perfectly spherical!  Our Frenzy guidebook said that there are more down on the beach, at the north end – which meant on the other side of the river.  So Richard and I wandered down our side of the beach/delta, planning to cross the river at the beach itself, when the water usually is quite shallow.  Well!  Our side of the delta has various piles of rocks and boulders, or outcroppings of rock, which had to be climbed over and around.  Then some more jet black sand.  Then another pile or two of rocks.  After several dots and dashes of rocks and sand, we hit a point where the bluff came out like a huge corner, cutting off all access to the beach unless we waded through the river and out onto the beach on the other side.  Problem was, the water was at least knee or thigh deep, there were rocks on the bottom that we could see, we couldn’t see what else there was, and the water was COLD!  Richard and I tried to figure out how to get around the bluff without going through the water, but there just didn’t seem to be any way to do this.  I finally took off my shorts and tried to cross at that spot, but the water was just too cold for me – so I came back out, and we abandoned the effort.  I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see all the stone spheres, but, well, cold water is cold water, and there’s a reason I spent 25 years in the Caribbean!

So we headed north again, having lunch in Mokau (cute little beach town) – then followed highway 3 north to Awakino, where we took a local road heading to Marokopa, another little beach town but visited by fewer people.  Our local road turned into a gravel road.  It went around bends and turns and crossed single-lane bridges.  Eventually we came to an intersection of two gravel roads, and were totally baffled – one way went back to Te Kuiti, the town we’d been in two days ago – the other road went to some village we couldn’t find on the map.  We picked that one.  It continued on and then turned into a single lane gravel road.  Went up and down hills and mountains, and the road got worse and worse – it was the road equivalent of our track on the side of the mountain – with sheer drops and washouts on Richard’s side of the vehicle, and overhanging rock cliffs on my side – plus the road was banked in weird directions for drainage – so we’d go around a corner (no railing) close to the left side of the road because Richard could see there was a missing bit of road, but we’d be leaning into the cliff and missed knocking off the mirror by an inch or two.  Over and over again, Richard saying “Ah-ah-ah-ha” and me going “Eeeeeeeee” and the poor Mighty Whitey Mercy B groaning and trying not to slide off the mountains!  Once we realized we were obviously on the wrong road, there just was nowhere to turn around and go back, so the only option was to keep going!  And then, there was the spot where the fallen rocks was really more of a landslide, with half a tree and some big boulders taking up half the single lane road – so I jumped out of the car and threw a bunch of big rocks out off the way, rolled some boulders out of range, Richard moved the tree, and I guided him between the fallen rocks and the drop off side of the road.  Agh!

There were funny moments, too – we’d stop to just breathe and de-stress, and Richard moooed at a few cows – suddenly, all the cows in the field came running down the hill and running over to see what was going on!  (He gave them a speech trying to get them to stage a cow protest.)  I baaaaed at some sheep, but, well, sheep are followers, they don’t take kindly to insurrection.  The scenery was gorgeous, but the road was like nothing we’ve ever been on!  And the first sign of human life was a man on a mini ATV with two dogs on the back, who didn’t seem to care about the severe drop offs and sheer cliffs!

After over an hour, we reached another intersection and couldn’t figure out which way to go – as we looked at the sign and the map, trying to pick a direction, a truck with two men drove up and we waved them down.  They came out of the truck laughing and said, “A camper van out this way, you must be lost!”  They were very funny, very helpful, and after a lot of laughing they sent us on our way.  Twenty more kilometers of gravel road (but at least two lane gravel road) and we hit pavement – then a few turns and we were on the road to Marokopa Falls!  Finally!!!

More driving, and we found the car park for the falls.  Hiked in, it was about 6 PM, no one was around, all good tourists being settled in their accommodations by then.  So we had the forest and the falls all to ourselves.  The Marokopa Falls are truly majestic – a 90 meter fall of water (that’s over 300 feet), falling over layered rock cliffs, making a veil of water that is tiered and semi-sheer, semi-solid, thundering to moss-covered boulders below, and sending up so much mist that the rainbows show up even in photographs.  This waterfall is one of those sights that just takes your breath away – and as Richard said, it turned a really horrible day into a really wonderful day!  Of all the waterfalls we’ve seen on the trip, this is probably THE BEST waterfall!!!  EVER!!!!  (These really are three different photos of the waterfall, trying to capture the rainbows as well as the structure of the rock creating different patterns in the falling water - you need to enlarge them to see the details.)

We tore ourselves away from the waterfall, and headed north again – our destination was the town of Kawhia (pronounced like Mafia but with a K), on the coast.  We drove, and drove, and drove – signs pointed the way, we drove around the Kawhia Harbour, we stopped to eat dinner in the camper parked by a field of Black Angus bulls and sheep – then we drove on.  

As we approached Kawhia, we pulled into a gas station and shop area – one young man told me the place was closed, so we turned around and started pulling out – another young man was standing by the side, staring at me, and doing something like the haka, the Maori war dance – or maybe it was a welcome dance – anyway, it involved a lot of staring and chest thumping with arms and feet stomping – and I seriously didn’t know what to do – does one smile and nod?  Say thank you?  Was he sending me war messages?  Was this a courtship ritual?  I’m clueless, but it was one of those strange little moments that happens when one travels.  (He most likely was just a teenager trying to confuse a tourist, but who knows.)

We finally found the Kawhia Motor Camp, and we’re settled in for the night.  Tired, happy to be here, and not lost and wandering on the seemingly endless road that we still don’t know where it was.  The road to nowhere.

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