New Zealand – March 7, 2016

It’s a drive day today, therefore caffeination is of utmost importance. Yesterday’s closed coffee shop is still fermé. We detour to Takaka where undeniable breakfast exists; eggs on toast, two flat whites, and our spirits soar. Up Takaka Hill, once again. It’s a bruising fucking drive, but we prevail.

At the gas pump, I am baffled by the payment procedure, so I ask the woman in the car waiting behind me for help. She demonstrates, but my card appears unacceptable. “Do you have cash? I’ll put it on mine,” she says. Her card won’t fly either. I’m drifting toward the office (and despair) when she calls to me. “You’re on the pump now!” I hand her forty dollars with my deepest gratitude. You don’t make payment at the pump itself, but at a separate, not visible, stanchion. I know I know this, but doubtlessly, I’m suffering from delayed Takaka discombobulation.

Our course takes us along the mighty Buller River that will meet the ocean at Westport, our destination. Route Six threads along the slopes of wooded mountains or through flat green valleys. A whole other landscape of clouds tumbles above us. We encounter our most jaw-dropping automotive challenge to date – a one-sided, one-lane tunnel (for lack of a better word) cut into the sheer rock wall at the river’s edge. We see this challenge from a quarter mile distant. Hundreds of feet of sheer rock hangs over the road. This looks absurdly treacherous as we approach, but proves only moderately hair-raising. “Daddums Drives!” exults Jocelyn. I toy with stopping at a Family Fun Park outside Murchison because we’re a family and we like fun, but lunch gets the better of us. Murchison has an intersection.

Signs for Lyell appear. I remember reading about ‘the most inaccessible goldfield in New Zealand’. It’s obliterated now by nature’s implacability, but there’s a short walk from the highway up the stream where alluvial gold was mined a century ago. The path is steep and the drop-off to the left is utter. The forest is loamy and damp. We pass a thin waterfall that delicately drips over moss-and-fern-covered stones every shade of green. The Springs the day before had been every shade of blue.

Further along we find what remains of Lyell’s cemetery. Surrounding each grave is a seemingly unweathered, knee-high iron fence. Some have stones within; some are empty and look like sunken cribs. The stones read – Timothy, Charles, William and an assortment of beloved Marys. These people died an awfully long way from home.

We keep on walking, for the sign at the parking lot promises a loop, but we seem to be just straggling deeper into the forest. Up ahead we spy a guy in the streambed, waving a metal detector. It beeps noncommittally. Joss and I look at one another and turn back.

It’s drizzling as we enter Westport.

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