Away beyond the Wawa

It took us a day and a half to get to new. That’s always the challenge when you set out from the same trailhead time after time, it takes a while to branch onto uncharted terrain, to find the new. For us the new was just east of Tirau at a place somewhere, yet nowhere called Okoroire. A place of good grub, tall tales and even better, a steaming thermal hot pool.

Night was descending quickly as we slipped below the surface, I watched the stall and swoop of fantails through the punga and mist, as it gradually clawed its way up from the Waihou river falls below. Eventually arriving, greeting my chin with its chill fingers as I dove lower into the earthy warmth of the waters. It was definitely autumn and this was a definitely a very New Zealand kind of place.

Following a good meal I lay back thinking of months past. Well planned intentions and destinations not visited. Now feeling wearysome, fat and unfit, I drifted off to the roar of white water. It’s tumble, foam and swirl forcing fading memories into the deeper fissures of my mind. Ride tomorrow.

The Wawa

It wasn’t the first time we’d seen that sign that particular day, ‘Private road, no entry!’

Horse and I had made good from Okoroire, passing through Tirau and the back roads, sliding slippery in the cool fog over the rolling green south through Putaruru and onward to Tokaroa. Taking shelter from the cold drizzle under a slender canopy of the local two dollar shop where we silently squaffed down our pies.

Then passing Kinleith and the long decent to the Kopakorahi stream to that damned sign – ‘ye shall not pass’. We pulled up as the road continued on into the deep of the forest ahead. It was a wide road, a paved and beautiful road, a lost road, lost forever as just another national chattel surrendered in the sale of now private forest ownership.

Surly, I straddled my bike scouring sites for solutions when Horse quietly muttered a Lebowski under his breath: “oh fuck it!” and pushed on down the road and into the Wawa. I watched him disappear into the deep, soon following.

I missed this. Where the only sensible barriers are the natural not the human. I’ve missed the silence that comes with travelling in company and the trust that comes with it. And I’ve missed the paths untravelled, I’ve missed the new.

So as we rode on we considered our excuses if caught. Horse suggested I swear in broken Spanish, I responded that he may want to invoke tino rangatiratanga and claim his sovereign rights over the Wawa. We eventually settled on sensibility and pressed on through the endless even formation of plantation forest. With its creeping suffocating silence that lays dormant in its still.

We slowly weaved our way up the ravine the top of the Wawa, which then gently fell away in a seamless decent down Flavell Road to the Waikato river. Away up river was raw tooth of rock that is the ‘Pohaturoa’ rising near vertically from the river valley.

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Horse took point and led the way through the remaining hill country to Mokai. My legs were tiring as was my mood. I was spent and Horse knew it. Encouragement from Horse is a bit like getting encouragement from a fist full of warm gravel, its blunt, brief and raw. But it had its effect, as I climbed the last wall prior to Oruanui, then on into the fading glow of twilights passing to Taupo.

“Pub?” said Horse. And the man abides.

Through pine

With a light crust of dry dirt with equally dry joints, we headed south into the hills. It had been some time since we rode together, Horse and I.

In the beginning was Hunua and the climb up Moumoukai Road. Then the drop in a scramble of single track to Mangatawhiri, the Waterline and on into ‘the forbidden’.

It felt tamed, the forbidden. But that’s the thing about a plantation, there is order in unwilding pine. That and the suffocating silence that comes with it.

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It was Reminiscent of another place, another time, where I climbed up out of Mexico City’s endless rivers of traffic in search of space – Desierto de los Leones high above the city in the Sierra de las Cruces to the west. Its ridges and gully’s of wild pine, fir and oak pierced by flickers of light within. Nature’s palisade from the inescapable fire and rumble of the city beyond.

“Nobody here, will ever find me, I’ll always be around, just like the songs I leave behind me, I’m going to live forever now…
…and when this old world has blown asunder, and all the stars fall from the sky, just remember, someone really loves you, we’ll live together, forever, both you and I,
I’m going to live forever, I’m going to cross that river, I’m going to live forever now.”

Onward we rode, eventually screaming down the gravel winding to Ness valley and Clevedon below. And so it is. Like Mexico of old, we were back in the world.

Epilogue

I sat in the back. Window seat. Melancholic, flying over the indescribable beauty of Central Otago as I peered out of window and surveyed old worn trails and weathered landscapes.

My decision to ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff took me two years with six weeks of that in the saddle. In the past I have tried to articulate my reason for riding. The simple answer is no more complex than ‘because I could’.

So as I cut north, I repeated to myself that continuous inner question… “is that all there is?” And it isn’t. There is always more. Lost Pilgrims are good like that. They keep wandering in search of meaning, because they can.

I slumped back from the window, the seat swallowing my skeletal honey toasted frame as I reimagined wandering. Trails not paths – there is a difference, as Robert Moor eloquently states.

A path is predetermined, civilised, extending forward in time, linked to a destination. Whereas a trail extends backwards, an endless string of signals, aimless and mythical that need interpretation and sure footing.

You may think there is a danger in trails, but that’s a matter of faith and interpretation… ‘what would you rather be doing, laying in the path of an elephant or in its trail?’

And Horse got that. As soon as he made Wellington he was back in the saddle, heading north to round out his tour. I didn’t see him for another three weeks. He was on his own personal journey, vicariously accompanied by me.

Well done Horse, there is nothing better than to ride together alone.

So let’s raise a glass to solitary pilgrims, aimless trails and the warmth that comes from greeting strangers as soon to be old friends.

It’s time to reimagine wandering.

Wyndham to Bluff

Day nineteen – to the end of the road

We were well past Edendale by 7am, riding rim and rush south to lands end. Horse was going like the clappers, with me in pursuit, averaging in the high twenties across the great Southland plains for Invercargill. Breakfast had been ordered by nine as we sat in the early sun skimming the paper.

“Last ride Horse.” I said. Him nodding in response as he tucked into his last trail breakfast.

Old Town

We pushed on south down Dee Street to where our destination showed itself – Motupōhue Maunga. Today was special and needed to be taken slow, if is was to be savoured.

Back on the bikes we rode under high cloud that looked to have been set to a slow simmering boil. Then turning wheels west towards Omaui, following the low road that skimmed barely above the marsh on its long arch around the harbour. On over the old rail bridge to Green point, Tikore Island with its memory of foundered sea-wreaks, and in that grey distance, grey and flat against a grey sea was old town – Bluff.

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Bluff – close to my heart. I’ve spent a good amount of time living and working here alongside the locals. It’s a colonial seaport, one of the oldest permanent settlements in New Zealand’s modest history, forged in the bond between wahine and whaler from 1823.

It’s the very epitome of what makes it world famous here in New Zealand – its oysters. For all appearances Bluff is tough and gruff on the outside, but when you get beneath, well, there lies a tenderness.

Of all the small towns strewn along this long land, Bluff is the one I’d choose to settle. Living high on the lee, I’d spend my days looking out for the old weathered fishers and iron-bellies making port, before ambling down to the Anchorage to trade a share in a jug for a good wayfaring tale.

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The end of the road

As two dusty trail men, we rolled quietly on. Passing tussock and ruin at Ocean Beach, old Joe (Sir Joseph Ward), the Eagle to the very end – Stirling point.

There you will find a great silver chain rolling over rock and surf down into a deep pool of kelp. This place is known as the prow of the great canoe Te Waka a Māui (or Te Waipounamu – the South Island). Away in the distance is Te Punga a Maui (the island of Rakiura – Stewart island) which serves as the great anchor stone of Maui’s canoe – the place where the great silver chain resurfaces. For us this chain marks the end of the road, or as Bluffies like to call it: ‘where the road begins’.

As I straddled the bike, arms at their rest on the handles bars, gazing south towards Rakiura, Horse wandered over. He didn’t say anything, he just grabbed me by the shoulders and hongi’d.

The end.

Todays’ top track: Horse called this one: Sting – All this time “All this time, the river flows, endlessly, to sea…”

Raes Junction to Wyndham

Day eighteen

Rae’s Junction Hotel is a grand old lady – old bones with a fresh heart.

Arriving late in the day steaming and saddle sore, we swung through to the old pubic bar to a wonderful scene of family, hot food and live music (of sorts). Lena had bought the shell of the old gal’, sight unseen over a year ago and in that time has been pouring nothing back in but love.

A fast tour was followed by slow showers, then Horse and I sat down with everyone at a large family table and tucked into the best lasagne this side of Livorno. After a triple portion I flopped back with full belly into the arms of an old thread-bare armchair deep in the corner of the old mirrored bar. Soaking in warm sprits of continuous chatter of two families delirious on living.

In time I drifted into a fade, and after saying goodnight I tromped off to my room. Over old creaky floors rich with rumour of intoxicated lovers supporting each other shoulder to shoulder, plus no doubt the odd drunken lament.

My room small was flooded by warm grey twilights glow through net curtains, a single bed on one side paired with a single teal blue hand-basin on the other. The place was timeless and just, well, perfect really.

First bed rest in well over a week, I drifted off to the distant orchestra of bad drumming, electric guitars and peddle powered pianola echoing out from the public bar.

Creaking door

The morning was grey like the previous evening, as I wiped away the condensation from the window and looked out at sou’-easterly squals drifting over the Blue Mountains. It was going to be a slow start and I didn’t care, either did Horse. Only a few small rolling hills and we were onto the Mataura river plains of Southland.

‘I wonder if there were any left-overs?’ Hungry, yawning and scritching a scratch I stumbled off in silence towards the old pub kitchen to raid a fridge.

Waiting it out

Full, we eventually bid farewell mid-morning and turned south towards Tapanui and Gore. An hour later we stopped, stalled, slamming headlong into yet another squal!

“For gods sake!” I screaming as I stood baring down on my pedals getting nowhere. Horse thought better of it and without a word, dismounted and dove head first behind an old elderberry hedgerow to escape. I gave up and followed suit, finding him laying on the leeward side chewing on a blade of grass – looking out into the distance like nothings going on. We waited it out.

“Cup of tea Horse?” I said passing the Tapanui tea rooms. I needed a refresh and besides another squal was racing up the road to greet us. We just got safely inside as it arrived. Like a clean shaven religious zealot touting Gods latest miracle to the unconverted heathens within, it was pounding at the door trying to get an audience, but it wasn’t successful and eventually slunk off down the road to torment another passer by. We sat and sipped at our cuppa, waiting it out again.

But soon it was Gore, and then south. Crossing the old bridge at Mataura and on to Wyndham. The last night, the last camp and the last tall tale before the end of the trail.

Three Rivers Hotel

“Shit Horse!” I said laughing. Neither of us still had yet found a workable solution to refilling our respective stoves, and as a result he had inadvertently set fire to a small area of campground lawn whilst cooking his evening meal.

He looked up grinning, as he scoffed down the last of his dehydrated goodness. “Pub?” He said.

Off we wandered in the twilight, the earlier wind and squal now replaced by evening calm. We entered the Three Rivers Hotel and placed our orders. It was the typical sounds and sights of gibbering tv’s, twinkling pokies, us and a party of three that looked well settled in, judging by the empty pre-mixers stacked at the table like a strike of weathered ten-pins.  Horse and I pulled up at an adjacent table, discussing the day and getting an early night in preparation for the last day to come. It wasn’t to be.

Bryn strode up, arm out and introduced himself, resplendent in puffer vest, walk shorts and sandals he extended a warm welcome to Wyndham – Bryn isa true gentleman. He was closely followed by Malcolm and Barbara, then within minutes we’d covered off religion, politics, motor-cycle racing and were tucking into a round of fat cheese and onion toasted sandwiches thanks to our new mate. Bryn was a Wyndham native, having lived his entire life to date in this wee southern gem, while others had drifted in from all over Southland in the past 30 odd years. The night wore on in a slurry of good beer and better company.

Like many a small town, Wyndham has history and an old majestic shambles of brick warehouses and shops hidden under the rusting rim of an old street awning. As I peered out the window I imagined what it must have been in times past – a river of car headlights frustratingly in search of a park along Ferry Street on a Friday night. Mums bustling for bits and bobs at the drapery, kids ordering banana thick shakes at Lees dairy and all the dads huddled in scrums around lamp-posts, keeping one eye on traffic and the other over towards the laughter emanating from the Three Rivers.

As those moments passed the buildings have remained, but not for long. The bureaucracy of a faceless District Council have condemned Wyndhams history to history. All in the name of new earthquake regulations. It’s simply not good enough to destroy a towns heritage, as without it there is little reason to go and less reason to stay.

Twilight long past we eventually shuffled out into the night, leaving new friends and bidding farewell to the old and condemned.

Today’s top track: Erik Satie – Gymnopedie