Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 4 - Whitianga to Thames

After I wake up I have a chat with Devpriya who is sitting in the dining room having breakfast with her daughter. It turns out that they used to live in Kalina a few metres from where we used to live and it’s quite possible that we might have bumped into each other on the road or bus or train. They migrated to NZ 6 years ago and 2 years ago she lost her husband in a fatal car accident. After which she packed her bags and daughter and went back to India because she had the notion that ‘a woman cannot survive in a foreign country without her husband’. Her words. I have put it in quotes because it is so significant especially for Indian women. How our conditioning limits our lives in so many ways.

Anyway, after she returned to India she found out that she didn’t get the parental support that she was expecting nor did she get any from her husband’s side of the family. So she packed up again and returned to NZ. She used to teach before but after coming back she got an office job and has changed her attitude to such an extent that she now goes on these solo trips with her daughter. Must say, that misfortune does wonders to people sometimes. It’s good to see that she rose to the challenge and decided to question the beliefs that had previously held her back. But her smile is not fully happy and she seems to have an air of sadness about her but maybe in time she’ll realise that she is whole and complete in herself without needing the crutch of man or marriage to make her happy. I fervently hope she finds happiness within her own self.

The conversation has made both of us late so I then pack frantically to meet the 10AM check-out time. And then I’m on the road again headed for Thames. On the way there is a Kauri grove that is highly recommended but for which I have to take a gravel road with sharp bends. I’m on an adventure and sharp bends cannot deter me, I tell myself, so off I go looking for the grove. The thing about sharp bends is that one has to be very vigilant while driving especially when there is a steep fall by the side of the road and when cars suddenly appear from the other side around a sharp bend. This is when I miss honking. My hands itch to honk so that I can warn the oncoming car of my presence and once I almost bumped into a car that was coming way too fast around the bend. Surprisingly, just before that happened a little voice in my head said ‘honk! honk!’ and while I desisted this white car suddenly burst into view and I had to swerve frantically to avoid it. The guardian angels must be working double-shifts :)))

Finally I reach a carpark where it says ‘Kauri grove - walk 10 mins’ So armed with camera and booted with walking shoes I take to the trail. The road thus far had been through bush country with trees growing on both sides, but on the little path that I’m walking on the foliage gets even denser. Trees, ferns, creepers, palms grow in thick abundance and even the undergrowth is abundantly alive. The road winds over little wooden bridges over surging streams and warbling brooks and birds call among the trees. I am transported into a green, vibrant world of bright sunlight and deep shade where stillness and silence reign and act as balm for the spirit, instantly soothing my frazzled nerves. The kauri grove finally comes into view.

The Kauri tree is a native of NZ and is one of the biggest tree of all, not tallest but big ins size. It is a slow grower but a long liver, some living for thousands of years. The oldest tree in the grove is 400 years old and has a thickness of 1.9 metres and a circumference of 30 metres. Gosh! The kauri used to grow in abundance until the English discovered it and started logging for export to England. It is valued for its honey colour and fine grain. Whole forests were wiped out until the government stepped in and put an end to logging. It is now a protected species.

The trees in front of me tower over the others in the forest and rise majestically above all the ratu, rimu, tree ferns and other trees. I spend a memorable hour wandering around drinking in the air, the silence and the profound sacredness of the grove.

Then, it’s back to the road again, some more sharp bends and gravel road until I finally hit the motorway. Instead of going to Thames which is lies to the south, I head north to a town called Coromandel. To check out a one-hour railway trip which takes one through native bush and maybe a bit of the peninsula. The train itself looks like a toy train with little bench seats and run on a tiny little track, one of those you see in a theme park. Unfortunately, the next few trips are full booked and so I turn back towards Thames. Coromandel itself is a sweet little town bustling with holiday-makes who come there for the sun and sand and great views of the peninsula.

The road to Thames takes me over some more hilly ground around some more sharp bends :( the only consolation being that it is tarred and wide enough to hold two vehicles but only just so. At times it is a tight squeeze and both cars have to really slow down to get past each other. All this nerve-wracking driving is rewarded, however, when I turn the crest of the hill and the sea comes into view. Gleaming softly below in the hazy sunlight like an aquamarine jewel, and it takes all my powers of concentration to keep my eyes on the road.

There is something about the sea that bring up deep stirrings within me. Must be the fact that I was born in a house by the seaside and spent the first four years of life waking up to the sound of waves and watching the sun set over sparkling waters. It brings about a deep calm, an elemental connection that connects to something primordial within me.

But soon it is downhill again and by the time the road reaches sea level it skirts the seaside. The continental shelf on this side must be pretty high because the waves begin much further into the sea and crest upon crest comes rolling on to the rocks, like pretty white lace on a blue-green skirt.

Soon I’m in Thames and I check into the Sunkist Backpackers lodge. This used to formerly be the Lady Savon Hotel and was built in the 1860s so it’s really an old, old structure. The interior still retains its antique look with high ceilings, wood panelling and polished wooden floors. Even the washbasin stands are made of polished wood slabs and the lock on the door is really old-world with the long long key and the light through the wicker lampshade throws neat little patterns on the wall. On the whole it has a nice old-world charm to it. When I open the front door I half-expect a liveried butler to open the door for me but this is not to be. I’m a modern gal in a modern world and here one opens all one’s doors :)))

Thames is also a small town and I’m staying here primarily because I wanted to break journey before the long trip up north tomorrow and also because there is a butterfly and orchid garden in town that I want to see. So after a quick lunch, I head out for the garden.

The garden is again yet another world. A little slice of a tropical paradise. The air inside is deliciously warm and moist and fervid. There are butterflies everywhere, around 400 of them of various kinds. As soon as I enter I spot the little winged delicate beauties flying about amidst tropical plants. They are also hatched here and because their life span is short (around 2 weeks), if the numbers decline they have to be brought in from Asia and South America. There is a little glassed-in hatchery with chrysalis hanging on twigs and when the butterflies hatch they are let out which is usually in the morning.

I walk around the place drinking in the rich moistness which reminds me so much of Kerala with its orchids and banana plants. Then for a long while I just sit and watch the little beauties flit about from flower to flower. Some even do what I assume is a mating dance. Butterflies hovering over and doing a little flapping dance over a stationary butterfly sitting still on a leaf.

I watch fascinated as one black fellow goes from flower to flower and tries to push his proboscis into each. When he finds a bloom he pushes it deep into the flower, drinks for moment and flits off to the next one. Then he comes and perches on the end of my sleeve and tries his trick on the cloth, probably because I’m wearing a red top and he mistakes me for a flower. This brief interest by a butterfly has set my spirit soaring, my heart singing and has made my day and made all that driving around sharp bends to get here suddenly seem worthwhile.

I park the car at the motel and walk to the seashore close by. On the way I pass a beautiful pohutukawa grove with a little pagoda like structure in the centre. The Pohutukawa tree is also a NZ native and is considered a national emblem. At this time of the year it brings out beautiful red and vermillion coloured flowers which is actually a bunch of soft spikes. The trees themselves look gnarled and stately like grand old ladies with little red bonbons in their hair.

So that was the end of another memorable day. I’m going to tuck in early tonight and check out early tomorrow because the drive north is a long one. But I’m picking up a friend from Auckland, a lady in her mid sixties, who wanted to join me. So I’m going to have a companion for the next 3 days. That on a solo trip is going to be different sort of experience.