The next two days were lost in a blur of jet lag and sleep. Somewhere amongst it all was a vague recognition that things were not as they should have been in the weather department. The sun was high in the sky on the first morning when I rose in our city centre hotel and threw open the doors to the balcony to be met by a chill breeze and the sight of an empty swimming pool.
“I thought it was supposed to be hot here.” I moaned to a groggy James.
“Ergly og gog,” he replied, so I shut myself in the bathroom for a long, hot, shower.
Things continued in this vein for several days, both with the bad weather and the incoherent comments. It transpired that Auckland was experiencing a ‘bad summer’, that the sun was in hiding and that our jet lag wasn’t going to be over any time soon. While James slept late, I suffered from nausea and a persistent sense of dizziness – as though everything was spinning in the wrong direction, which I supposed it was. Like the water in the hotel’s luxurious bath that James and I watched being sucked down the plug hole the wrong way, I deduced that the tides in our seventy-percent water bodies must be on the turn – not the most scientific of theories but one that appealed even to the more scientifically-oriented James.
When we’d caught up on enough sleep that we felt it was safe to drive, we piled our weighty belongings into tinny hire car. We were headed for the West Coast and the little settlement of Karekare, there to lodge with James’s sister in the house she had been building from the shell of a barn for the past four years. It took a little while to leave the city and I was sure there hadn’t been so much traffic the last time I’d been in Auckland, although the congestion was nothing compared to London streets, or the streets of other major cities and towns I had visited around the world for that matter. Nonetheless, traffic was the mark of the city and the general feeling I’d had that I didn’t want to live in Auckland grew stronger. Eventually we left the single-storey sprawl of suburbia behind us and threaded our way west through the bush. Karekare lies forty kilometres west of Auckland city over the often-misty, bush-clad Waitakere Ranges, which steal your breath at every turn. Wildly winding roads steer a magical tour up and down between trees, ferns and falls oozing with green. The forest is much like that which amazed me when I walked through Abel Tasman National Park – dinosaurs would not be out of place. Although the Waitakere Ranges are a Forest Park this does not preclude habitation, and modern homes flash steel and glass through gaps in the canopy, while up dank and enticing tree-tunnels, homely wooden shacks and hand-built follies hide. Five hundred metres at their peak, the Ranges cut the west coast off from the city of Auckland in a most satisfactory manner and afford frequent broad views of the central business district and Waitemata Harbour to the east. With every bend we turned, the lump in my throat, that hadn’t really left since the arrivals lounge, grew. Each revealed more wonders, the glorious green never ending. By the time we descended toward the ocean and Karekare after forty minutes or so of driving, I was choked with emotion. A few tears wound their way down my overwhelmed face as the sea hove into view. The ‘village’ has no shops, not even a post box, and most homes are invisible, nestled cosily among the trees. From the road steep driveways and endless steps wind their secret way up the hillside to heavenly abodes. All around black volcanic cliffs thrust from red earth, towering over beach and bush, dwarfing humankind and putting us firmly in our place. Bush clings wherever it can, and valleys and ravines thrive with flora and fauna. In December, Pohutakawa trees flame with crimson blossoms and Toetoe, a native grass similar to Pampas, ripples in the wind. Behind is the ever-present music of the fierce West Wind Drift crashing and scouring black rock and pounding dark sand. Part of me was desperate to explore this unusual fairytale, but with the car rammed with our things and fatigue overwhelming us again, we headed straight to Jacqui’s place to unload, eat and sleep.
Next morning I woke early and immediately felt the need for a walk. James was sound asleep in our cushion-bed on Jacqui’s bare chipboard floor. I dressed quietly, took my fountain pen and writing pad and slipped out. My intention was to walk to the beach, but en route I was waylaid by a sign to a waterfall; a high cascade that I had seen from the road the day before. I turned right off the steep tarmac-ed lane and trod my way carefully down the earth path. Within seconds I was transformed into Eve discovering Paradise. Could everything that I was seeing and hearing be real? The variety of plant life, the overhead canopy and thriving under-layers, the song of exotic birds and dance of light on leaves was too, too perfect. Surely this was a botanical garden meticulously planted by someone with a passion for detail? When the path opened beneath the shelter of huge, twisted and spreading trees that backed a rocky beach where a green pool lapped at the bottom of the plunging falls, I laughed. A bench and table beckoned at the water’s edge - the place, the moment, seemed made just for me. The landscape of Karekare is dramatic and extreme, as is the sea, but as I sat absorbing the atmosphere I felt Mother Nature protecting me, nestling me between her ample bosoms, delivering her gift in the simplest and purest of forms. I was supremely content just to sit. To think. To breathe. A mother and her ducklings scratched fearlessly around my feet and all was right with the world. I don’t believe you’ve seen New Zealand until you’ve experienced Karekare. But then, you can say that about so many places in New Zealand, and that was exactly why I was here.