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.