The stars are dazzling
My favorite wild place is where I live, on the windswept foothills of the Saint-Arno ridge. I moved here 20 years ago without knowing anyone. But the property offered everything I was looking for: native forest, two streams, pens for my alpacas and a large area of swamps and alpine hills.
If you climb to the top of the road through the woods, listening to the calls of thuja and karimako along the way, or the robin, the fantail and the cocoa, you will find stunning views of the St. Arno ridge. But they don’t match the look you might have if you reach for the back of the housing. Here you can see the mountains in all directions. It’s spectacular.
At night, when there are no street lights, the stars dazzle. I see no other home than my own. As the property gets wilder, more and more birds live here. I know that spring is approaching when I hear the first sound of catharsis, a local kingfisher, which was soon followed by the coveted swallows returning from wintering in the lowlands. Later a brilliant cuckoo will fly in from the Pacific islands. Why fly here, I wonder. But I’m not complaining. They like it here, and so do I.
Like a mirage
My favorite wildlife is the fur seal colony in Ngawi. Kekeno (NZ fur seals) inhabit the rocky ledge of the coastline. The road is windy, narrow and a bit dangerous, including a short ford that may be unsuitable for a smaller car after a heavy rain. It is better to be a passenger, looking not at the ocean, but at the blade of grass between the rocky shore and the road. Kekeno is like a mirage. You’ll think you see big boulders, then your eyes shift, and the seals open, stretched out in the sun.
DOC advice – do not fall between the seal and the sea. On land, they look awkward, deceptively fast. The last time I was in Ngavi, we watched a young seal crying for its mother, which responded from somewhere deeper in a large rock formation.
Tracking them in the ocean can be challenging. They will dive under the waves and float to the surface much farther than you think. Their thick fur protects against the cold of the ocean. New Zealand’s east coast seems to come straight from Antarctica – so it’s no surprise that they sunbathe whenever possible.
A mountain of sand
Twenty years ago, someone said the dune is the largest in the southern hemisphere, who knows if it’s true, who cares. You have believed in it ever since. Bordering the estuary and the Pacific Ocean, it looks like a sand mountain 100 meters high. It’s across the road from Mangawa, about an hour north of Auckland. This is a presence that cannot be ignored.
The wind there can be tough. Climbing a sandy face can be an agony. Perhaps a short agony, but the lungs are still screaming, and the quadrupeds are burning. And if you climb to the top, then only to rest and breathe before the descent, run or fall back. Often a mixture of both.
As a child, when you fought on the edge, felt a touch of despair, you did not sink below. As a teenager, you learned a little more about how things work, about how things went wrong. For example, one day you rushed to the boogie board and instead of flying, went with your mouth open, head forward, into the hot sand. Too late you realized that years of use have completely removed the skin of the boogie board.
Later there was also romance. And jealousy. From miles around you could see little black ants, which meant that others, strangers, were on this beautiful sand mountain. So you rushed. You followed in their footsteps. You have reached the top and the ground below has shifted a bit. Slightly collapsed. You couldn’t see the change, but you knew it was happening. The sand was constantly carried in one direction or another, washed away. You were told it was stolen for beaches in Auckland, on ships at sea.
No doubt the dune has changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is that it still seems otherworldly, shiny white gold still catches the eye from everywhere.
Many times we watched the sunrise
The mouth of the Kakanui River is where I would like my ashes to be thrown. Between the 60s and 80s we had a crib on Stirling St., right next to it, next to the crib of our grandparents.
Staying there every January was a must, although it was quite far from our hometown of Invercargill.
We swam, jumped with my grandfather’s boat, caught flounder at night, and when there were September holidays, we went to visit to check their prey.
The best part of staying in Kakanui during the various school holidays was observing the clouds in the sky, the color of the sea or the smell and feeling of the air of that time of year.
The mouth of the river often looked different due to storms or royal tides, and many times we watched the sunrise or sunset from a large cliff south of the mouth of the river.
Until recently, my sister lived there with her children, but we, five brothers and sisters and families, will no doubt meet there in the future.
I recognized Theater Flat in Aspiring National Park as a soul mate from my first visit. I was a final year medical student, savoring my last vacation, and ran after three friendly men from the South. Walking down the high road from Mount Nereus, we followed the turquoise waters of Rockburn, and here, like sunlight splashed with a picnic blanket, beneath us was the horizontal oasis of the Flat Theater with boils, beeches, and boulders as large as bedrooms. In addition to the drama the peaks on all sides were named after the Greek gods. We climbed the smooth applause of Amphion, and the next day before leaving I stood on a rock in the middle of Rockburn and sang “Worship his Majesty” in honor of this perfect place.
Two decades and four children later, I reached the theater apartment for the second time with experienced climbing friends, Jane and Rosie. Years later we finally escaped, leaving the children with their husbands to enjoy the charms of the wild.
On my third visit to the Thespian apartment, just weeks before the Covid blockade, I confidently descended from the Park Pass, the Pillars of Medicine, the 20-year-old twin daughters and three others who were lagging behind. I led the crew right to the boulder of Theater Flat, where you settled. I led them up the mossy slopes (how steep, slippery and sketchy it all seemed this time) to Amphion, where you look at the Unknown Lake. I showed them the stone where you stand and sing praises, and the next morning we watched with reverence wu (mysterious whistling alpine ducks of New Zealand) jump in giggling Rockburn. I am very comforted by the fact that Theater Flat continues to ignore this pandemic and feels determined.