Happy 2016! I hope the first three weeks of the new year have been as healthy and productive for everyone as they have been for us. We just completed a cleanse, are having no trouble sticking to our half hour of meditation each morning, and our conversational French is improving nightly!
Just kidding. We haven’t even hung up a 2016 calendar yet. Since hauling out we’ve been sanding and re-sanding the decks and hull in preparation for Tamata’s new coat of paint. We wake up early, drink lots of coffee, snap on our dust masks and get to work. At the end of the day we scrub the dust out of our pores and wash the paint chips out of our hair and climb the ladder to what is now our second floor home. And that’s pretty much how life goes at the moment. People ask how much longer we’re stuck here in the boatyard, and they clearly pity us for having to do all this dirty work. But we actually enjoy it.
We ended 2015 with a trip to Western Australia for Christmas. I learned all about pavlova and cricket and the sea breeze in Perth. I was treated to a sampler of meat pies and sausage rolls and was introduced to candy like Smarties (M&Ms), Whiz Fizz (as gross as it sounds), and Violet Crumbles (don’t crumble, aren’t violet). I watched Rambler, the racing boat built by New England Boatworks (hi Dad!), cross the starting line of the Sydney to Hobart race on live television. What else? Oh, I nearly died trying to go for a run in heat that I considered suffocating but Matt classified as merely warm. And I swam in the Indian Ocean. It’s hard for me to admit that any beach can beat Second Beach, our beach in Rhode Island. But WA has one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. And Matt’s mom happens to live across the street from one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to. Her house is perched in what was once a sand dune and after a morning swim, we’d shower off with the hose like little kids in her grassy front yard. I could sit on the shady front porch there, among the potted plants and succulents, gazing out on that view for hours.
The part we were most excited about, though, was finally getting to spend time with all of Matt’s family, all in one place. Every day and every night we had something planned with some combination of family members and, as those things usually do, it always involved food. There’s nothing I love more than sitting around the table eating, drinking, talking, surrounded by people with whom I can be totally myself. We had so many fantastic meals, but Christmas lunch with grilled crays and prawns - lobster and shrimp to a New Englander - half a dozen salads in every summer color and champagne was one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Our week there went by way too fast and I can’t wait to go back.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for us since arriving in New Zealand (nearly two months ago!) but being in Australia really made me feel like we were back in "civilization" again. And, even if it included airport food and having to spiral our way up parking garage ramps and wait in line while people battled the self checkout scanner at the grocery store, it was nice not to have to worry about bilge pumps and anchor chains for a little while. That’s not to say that New Zealand isn’t civilized (though people do seem to think it’s perfectly normal to walk around with dirty bare feet in the supermarket as though they’re at the farmer’s market. Hippies.) But the sense of urban sprawl is less immediate here than it is in a place like Perth. In New Zealand the emphasis doesn’t seem to be so much on expansion and growth - at least not visibly here in the Northland - but rather on preservation and conservation. New Zealand is a country that understands that there’s eternal value in natural beauty and they invest heavily in the environment. We’d been using the biking and hiking trails the pass by the marina daily, but we hadn’t really been out into the wilderness yet. So we were pretty excited - and maybe slightly anxious about our fitness levels after a rather indulgent week in WA - to join our friends Loren and Christina for a four day hike on the South Island over New Years. The one they’d chosen, the Heaphy Track, was one of New Zealand’s nine official “Great Walks”. I’d read that we might see kiwis, endangered parrots and carnivorous snails and I was looking forward to standing atop a summit surrounded by meat-eating mollusks as the sun set in front of me.
It didn’t quite work out that way. The rain started on the first night and didn’t start to taper off until the third afternoon. The view from the summit was like a greyscale Rothko painting. Thankfully we’d packed ponchos (we hike in style). They were big and yellow and when the four of us marched along in a row wearing them over our packs, we must have looked like monastery ninja turtles ghosting through the tussock. Our shoes got wet and our socks got soaked through and we had to wear rain gear nearly the entire time, but the stuff in our packs stayed dry and we only had to spend one night in a tent. And the tussock looked really cool in the rain. It looked like it was supposed to look, like it was designed to appear in fuzzily illuminated earth tones against the grey. Drops of water dangled from everything, always just about to fall, and there was a constant din of wetness falling weightlessly onto every plant, rock, and creek. We began the hike in sunshine and emerged on the other end in sunshine, but it was as if we’d ascended into another world in between. I loved it.
Somehow Matt managed to find a lobster in the mountains... These freshwater crays (on the left) are called Koura. And that disgusting looking bug on the right is a Weta.
I’m sure I wouldn’t have loved it so much had we been stuck in wet tents for all three nights. Thankfully for us, New Zealand's Department of Conservation builds and maintains incredible facilities. The hut system was unbelievable. All of the huts are equipped with mattressed bunks, propane cooktops, water, and coal for the pot-bellied stoves so if you plan ahead, you can walk the whole 78km trail without having to carry a tent, sleeping pad, or stove. The older huts are what a real estate agent might call “charming” - dated and slightly cramped, but with loads of character (and sand flies). The newer ones may lack that worn in character, but they make up for it in comfort. They’re bright and airy with vaulted ceilings, separate bunk rooms, and flushing toilets. Pretty swanky as far as publicly funded wilderness huts go. So having spent the day soldiering on, splashing through creeks that had outgrown their boundaries, we passed each evening rotating our shoes around the base of the stove, hoping they might dry by morning, and eating Loren and Christina’s amazingly resourceful and delicious camp food.
On the last day, we arrived at the coast. It’s just as breathtaking as everyone says, just as rough and violent and beautiful. Driftwood stacked itself at the high tide mark and the pounding of the waves drowned out every other sound. We were so lucky to have the sun above us for that stretch of the hike. We walked nearly 15 miles that last day, and the fact that it was along this spectacular coastline was what saved us from focusing on our tired legs and painful blisters.
Every part of this incredibly varied landscape was lovely to walk through. But way more thrilling from above. To get back to town at the end of the trek, we had to fly. We met Dave, our pilot, in a grassy field as black clouds rolled in over the mountains. The four of us climbed onto the wing and into the body of the little six-seater and tested out our headsets so we could ask Dave questions like, “What’s the name of that mountain?” (Loren), “How much fuel will you use on this route?” (Matt), and, “What is the likelihood of fatal crash on an afternoon like this, Dave?” (Me). Christina didn’t have any questions. Her father is a pilot and she’d flown in planes like this hundreds of times. Wedged in with the backpacks in the way back, she was probably the most comfortable of all of us, including Dave. He flew us through the slot between the mountaintops and the black clouds hanging above, roughly retracing the route we had just walked and landing us safely back in Nelson 45 minutes later as if he were a friendly bus driver just doing his job.
I chose to focus on the view on the left.
We did all the “end of the trip” things outside the hangar - sorted gear, organized rides, stretched, yawned. We’d left the clouds behind us, it was a summer evening, still perfectly light at 8pm, and we were happy. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the new year.
Too bad things can’t always be so dreamy. We’re back at work now, getting dirty, cursing the rain, and nearing our end goal day by day. We’re aiming to be back in the water by the first week of February. Fingers crossed!