A 4-part report about a trip to New Zealand.
-Misty forests and lovely beaches-
In the Fjordlands the rain is at its maximum. The rainforest alone is one of the most beautiful features NZ has to offer. The primeval pureness and cleanness of air, water, and land affects you like a powerful drug. However, here the sandflies are also the worst, a real plight at times; there is always something to remind us of our intrinsic human tendency for suffering. There are ways to live with them; they love to bite your ankles, so long pants and long socks help.
So, of course, it’s raining when we come. The weather forecast usually goes like this: “Clouds, heavy rain, strong winds”, the most optimistic outlook you could expect would go: “Chance of showers, variable conditions”. We want to do a longer ‘tramp‘ (NZ-hike) into the mountains. Soon we give up to wait for favorable weather and just take off. It rains cats and dogs when we set out, but at least it’s warm. The rainforest is only magical when it rains, bright sunlight spoils everything.
Once we’ve shouldered our packs and walked the first miles on the Routeburn Track into the dim green light under the graceful umbrellas of the ferns we are enchanted. Everything is soft, bouncy, or slippery. Running water everywhere, dripping, trickling, murmuring, and every now and then powerful, roaring water falls.
Sometimes the rain subsides. Thick clouds are slowly drifting through the trees then, the cheerful, playful songs of birds fill the air (Tuis and bellbirds) and insects, cicadas make the unique deafening, nerve-wrecking background noise.
I never knew how many different kinds of ferns you can find in one small area. And mosses; at first they all look similar, but a closer view shows they are immensely divers. Some mosses are thin and fragile like a layer of paint, some are thin but strong and hard like a carpet, and some are thick, soft, and fluffy to such an extent that lying down on such a cushion feels like resting on a super-soft mattress – unfortunately soaking wet. Sometimes entire regions of rock, roots, and fallen trees are covered with such soft green moss mass so that the original shape of the covered object is completely lost. The soft, velvet-like appearance of the mosses is contrasted by the filigree, elegant shape of the ferns. Their leaves are poems about form, about magical symmetry and swinging, dancing elegance.
I never before realized how these complex forms of fern leaves are actually rather simple basic patterns that are, with only minor changes, repeated over and over again. The beauty of the detail catches our attention, but the endless variation, the perceptibility of playful evolution is even more striking. The young shoots seem like symbols of creation and incarnation.
The half protective, loving and embracing, half unfolding, expanding shape of these spiral-like offspring of most fern types is actually a basic pattern of Polynesian and Maori design art. It’s used and modified in all kinds of art work.
I’m surprised to realize that I have used it myself over and over again in my own attempts to create art and never knew what it was.
* * *
We do other tramps, but the rain slowly takes its toll. At Punakaiki the sun comes out for a while. We literally spread out everything even ourselves and let our wet bones dry in the divine sunshine. Soon our spirit comes back.
The coast is riddled with caves. The ground is trembling even a mile away from the surf crashing into rock cavities sometimes feeding gigantic blowholes.
* * *
When the Fjordlands are too wet try the northwest of the South Island.
In Abel Tasman National Park you’ve got an abundance of golden, sandy beaches and reliable mild climate. For a week or so we stroll along that beautiful coast line.
It is really more strolling than hiking as we never go very far each day before we actually look for shade under a tree, go for a swim, and set up camp.
The coast is carved out by many bays and shallow river outlets. These river mouths fall nearly dry at low tide and only then is it possible to cross them and find the trail on the other side continuing through the jungle. We are gently forced to adjust our pace quite a bit to the cycle of the tides.
These tidal mud bays – some are many kilometers across – are uniquely interesting. Being fed by river water from the jungle, very rich with nutrition, the mud is full of marine life, crabs, worms, mudfish, and incredible numbers of all kinds of shellfish. I actually find a little pearl in one mussel after I have bitten on it and almost ruined my tooth. I can walk for hours ankle-deep in the mud, watch the crabs run around and nibble on my toes, enjoy the strange feeling all around my feet, touching invisible things and creatures underneath, and listen to the funny gulping noises in the mud when I move. For some deep, unconscious conditioning Parvin doesn’t enjoy the mud that much.
One night we lie on the bank of a little crystal-clear stream, watch the glowworms below and gaze through the fern-tree roof at the stars above when a slow black shadow catches our eyes in the water. A huge eel majestically patrolling the curving course of the creek. Like a snake it slowly moves along, comes and goes, and its motion is like magic in the spooky starlight.
One day we do a river-crossing pretty late at incoming tide and have to take off our cloths to wade very deep in the water. Later we don’t bother to put them on again and keep on hiking naked, probably a funny sight: naked but huge backpacks on our shoulders, but there is no one around to see it.
In one bay we find an old shipwreck in the mud. Almost completely eaten up by worms and rusted away, it is a captivating sight; we spend a full day there and both have vivid dream about it at night.
Some rivers are pretty deep and powerful and they have built funny cable-bridges across them. At one crossing such a bridge has broken down and we have to make our own way through the deep water. It is so slippery that we slip and fall over and over again. Everything soaking wet and exhausted from laughing we crawl to the other shore and spread everything out to dry and camp right there.
Of course, eventually the rain finds us here too. But it’s warm and pleasant.
* * *
Marlborough Sounds, South Island of New Zealand! Did we finally find paradise? A labyrinth of water and land, of bays, coves, islands, and mountains. The land is covered with lush rainforest, the water is clean, healthy and full of fish. There are only few roads and many houses are only accessible by boat. Cities are mostly in 1 to 2 hour distance, big enough for providing all the usual needs, small enough to lack the usual disadvantages: Picton, Blenheim, Nelson. Crime is almost nonexistent. The climate is good in the sounds, ideal in the Tasman area. The political situation of NZ is still very good. Prices are ok. The people are extremely pleasant and interesting.
We have seen numerous paradises on our ways around the world, something still kept us going all the time. Was it that we just weren’t sure enough? But there is no such thing like a paradise. Maybe I knew this all the time deep inside: Isn’t it in fact so trivial? Everybody knows it but most people don’t seriously think about it. Knowing and really knowing by heart, knowing from experience makes the difference. We don’t have to do anything when we see a paradise, we don’t have to keep it or own it. You can’t own a paradise. Paradises don’t exist, they are situations, circumstances, they rather take place, they happen and – they never last. And I think when you hold on to them they vanish even faster. A big part of our traveling seemed to be looking for paradises and looking for a home. And we actually found them; we found them over and over again everywhere. But then we saw, traveling has nothing to do with finding a home; in fact, it has not much to do with finding at all, just as it has little to do with reaching or arriving. For our way of traveling you probably have to be homeless, or, as I see it more and more, you have to make the way your home. The more paradises we found the more difficult it was to compare them and we clearly saw that our criteria for labeling them were changing all the time.
Marlborough Sounds – Nelson area looked like a solution, but somehow any solution, any conclusion is just that: a conclusion, an ending, an interruption of something that, in its intrinsic repetition and ceaseless reincarnation deeply resembles life. The essential experience is not finding it but searching for it, of resisting the judgment, of holding off the conclusion and remaining open.
* * *
We roamed the Marlborough Sounds for quite some time, hiked some very pretty tracks, and climbed MT. Stokes to marvel at the incredible views from up there all around over the sounds and far out to the North Island. Then it doesn’t take long until fragility and relativity of paradises impresses us once again:
In order to round it all off we rented two brand new sea kayaks to check out the fjords. The forecast was very promising and we set out in perfect conditions. On mirror-like seas we almost effortlessly drift along Queen Charlotte Sound. We raft up side by side and dream about paradises. The mail boat goes by plying the countless farms, houses and places scattered all along the labyrinth-like coastline. The big inter-island ferry comes steaming by. The shore line is studded with big mussels growing on the rocks, huge star fish, and sea urchins. However, in the following days this trip actually turned into dangerous nightmare:
The story might be best told with this drawing. (Blow it up to see more)
* * *
Another exciting story took place on the North Island again.
Read all about it in: “Those who have fear and those who know fear.”
* * *
Klaus March 2012