Monthly Archives: March 2016

New Zealand – March 15, 2016

Skedaddling is the revolutionary departure strategy for today: enough with the floral. Rain dissuades us from tackling the Catlins, a further leg of the Scenic Southern Route that runs along the ocean for 120 kilometers east from Invercargill. We take the inland route instead. Small towns and sheep pasture roll by. A motorcyclist ahead of us seems to be engendering terror in sheep. Each time he passes a flock by the roadside, they scatter, usually in unison. We marvel at his anti-magnetism. It is gradually apparent that this reaction is caused by his horn. We, too, have the power to repel sheep. Honk.

Our lodging, St. Leonard’s Lodge outside Dunedin, looks out over a shipping channel, a railroad line, and a busy road. It’s a lovely brick arts-and-crafts house, yet no one answers the bell. I guess it’s another case of nobody’s home until check-in time, usually two or three o’clock. Okay, so we’ll go get lunch. Dunedin is on a generous slope with streets that radiate from a central octagon. Navigating is complex and parking incomprehensible. It continues to rain, but, of course, stores are open.

It happens; Joss finds the symbolic item that makes the trip. A sheepskin jacket, all fluffy white, with luxuriant combed fleece trim that extends from around the collar down the front and around the hem. It looks stunning. And it was made in Invercargill. And the price is right. But it forces the packing issue. We’ll be flying tomorrow. She needs another bag. Suitcase? Where to find a suitcase? NZ has a department store chain called Farmers that I thought at first was a Home Depot kinda place. “Go look. I’ll park the car and meet you inside or circling the block.” This $20 striped zipper thing’ll do just fine. Oh, we’re good. We’re so good.

Sue opens the door at St. Leonard’s Lodge and the incredible details of the place dazzle, beautiful woodwork, stained glass, and brass and copper fixtures. We’re shown the skylit billiard room and the lawn chess set and the over-stuffed living room with baby grand piano. I, of course, take The Albatross Room. It’s time to pack, to make order out of suitcase chaos. I promised Joss that I’d try the ‘rolling of the garments’ technique. It mostly fits, though I must abandon my unread novel and my trusty umbrella. One carry-on is devoted solely to doll-size Gandalf hats and red tomato squeeze bottles.

Pizza is our farewell dinner.


New Zealand – March 14, 2016

At breakfast, Dawn shows us a map and encourages us to take the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill. Dawn is wise. This route will lead us to the ocean. As we leave the mountains behind, the landscape flattens with multitudes of grazing sheep scattered about like cotton balls on a pool table. I leave the highway when a sign indicates – Clifden Suspension Bridge. An engineering marvel? Not really, but an exquisite piece of work made of concrete, steel, and wood one hundred and fifteen years ago. It combines grace and substance and utility, while avoiding any trace of artifice. It is a beautiful thing. The Bridge carries only pedestrian traffic nowadays, humans and ungulates.

Dawn pointed out a microscopic coastal village called Cosy Nook and recommended its utter picturesqueness. We find it. Four or five tiny shacks with smoke stacks and flowerpots ring a shallow, rocky cove with crashing surf and blue mountains in the far distance. Then, in Riverton we stop for lunch at Mrs. Clark’s and enjoy a perfect meat pie and two perfect fish cakes.

Entry into Invercargill is dispiriting. The sunny day has turned leaden. Big box stores and derelict property line the congested four-lane thoroughfare. Flat terrain and streets in a grid are cold comfort. The Railway Hotel is charming from the outside, all Edwardian brick and white trim. Inside, the operative word is ‘nauseating’. It’s like a Glade factory exploded. Rank, chemically floral intensity. Something must have gone terribly wrong.

We drop our stuff. “Let’s go for a walk, maybe we can find some those tomato-shaped squeeze bottles. I see them fuckin’ everywhere, except in your neighborhood retail outlet.”

We head up Dee Street, a main drag of sorts, under the arcade of sad, under-used buildings. Tomato squeeze bottles are found. We buy out the store (except for one). I recall that there’s a tuatara museum in Invercargill, in Queens Park, which is over that way, I say, waving my hand. GPS is, of course, no help. Looking down streets, we see patches of green, and following deductive whatnot, we locate the Park and the Museum, which contains the nation’s only tuatara breeding program. The one in Picton probably came from here.

Glass enclosures house I don’t know how many of these reptiles, from tiny four-inchers to Henry, a three-footer and, at 130 years old, reputedly the oldest tuatara in captivity. Henry’s story plays on a video nearby. It’s captivating. Henry was a total badass, the Tuatara Rex. Tuataras are generally mellow, straightforward reptiles. Not Henry. He bit the tail off the first female he encountered. For some reason, they then put him in with another tuatara named Albert, who after Henry subsequently mauled, required stitches. Why was Henry so mean, when other tuatara seemed to cotton to nookie? X-rays revealed Henry was suffering from a tumor, which subsequent tests revealed to be cancerous. His whole outlook on life changed after the growth was removed. Henry is now dateable, but still not suitable for long-term companionship.

After dinner, the hotel still smells like ten thousand ruptured air fresheners. Not on the second floor where our rooms are, Thank God.

New Zealand – March 13, 2016

Sometime close to dawn, we awaken permanently. It is utterly black outside. Jocelyn and I gather at our individual muster points. The anchor is hoisted and breakfast is served. Then, on the foredeck, the ship’s naturalist, Stu, begins to explain everything about the Sound.

Stu is a tan and handsome man with his head shaved with the exception of an untidy man bun. He wears two heavy spiral earrings. Joss suggests that we may see him on next season’s Black Sails. When he speaks, sometimes his speech almost gets tangled, but he sails right through. He segues from topic to topic with ease and humor and his New Zealand accent is easy on the ears.

We learn this – Milford Sound was discovered by a Welshman in 1812 and named for Milford Haven in Wales (also the town in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline). The Sound has many other Welsh-named features. From the ocean, the entrance to the Sound is not obvious: it doesn’t even look like an inlet. Captain Cook missed it entirely forty years earlier.

And this – The Sound possesses an unusual, possibly unique, aquatic environment; ten meters of fresh water rest on top of salt water. Fresh water pours into the fjord at an enormous rate, most obviously in cascades, and because it’s lighter than salt water, they don’t mix. Only two of the hundreds of visible waterfalls have permanent sources.

And this – The vegetation on the sides of the mountains looks thick and lush, but it hangs very precariously. There’s no soil to speak of, so the trees cling via a mat of root material. The long scars of bare rock are from tree avalanches.

The less you know about the Hagfish, the better.

The Mariner ventures out of the Sound and into the Tasman Sea. We feel the swells. The boat comes about and begins its slow journey back to dock. A light mist drifts over us. Here comes the rain. Stu sights a dolphin off the port side. Suddenly, I bet there must be a dozen of them pacing the boat, surfacing, diving, and surfacing again. Joss catches this on her phone: my camera is worthless. After the dolphins leave for more challenging sport, we spot fur seals basking. These are exiled young males, shunned by the alpha dudes. They bide their time and then they will kick the old dudes’ asses.

The captain slows and turns the boat into the spume of Stirling Falls, a splendid cascade that spills in veils and ribbons down the sheer face of the mountain. He brings the bow a dozen feet from the plunging water and the proximity is breathtaking. Serious rain is falling now, but no one notices until we pull away. Then, they scurry. Soon, the Mariner will dock and we will be on our way back to Te Anau. It’s only 9:20 in the morning. The trip has been exciting and rewarding, a highlight.

A welcome shower at Dock Bay Lodge precedes lunch, which precedes another boat trip, this time across Lake Te Anau to the Glowworm Caves. All month long – glowworms, glowworms, glowworms. Finally, we will see the little fuckers. It’s quite an assembly-line operation. The tour company sure knows how to achieve maximum throughput. The cave is cool, wet, and noisy and the glowing little critters put on a quite a show. Glimmer, glimmer.


New Zealand – March 12, 2016

Today is the 31st anniversary of the first day of my life without booze or drugs. I think I’ll celebrate by driving on the wrong side of the road.

We’re due in Milford Sound for an overnight voyage through the Sound to the Tasman Sea and back. Milford Sound is perhaps New Zealand’s premier tourist attraction. Pictures of its iconic Mitre Peak appear on just about every promotional piece ever printed. The sky is always clear and the water always glassy reflecting the peak’s perfect triangle, which gives the lie to the fact that Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on the globe.

Our luck with weather thus far has been brilliant. We’ve had rain rarely and only in the morning. Gray clouds hang over Te Anau as we depart. This’ll pass. Dawn catches us in the driveway with a map of the route. She’s circled a couple worthy stops along the way. The road follows the Eglinton River Valley, which wanders through a lush, golden prairie between steep, dark green mountains. The river runs shallow, weaving in and out of its gravel bed. She recommends a side trip to Gunn’s Camp, a preserved Public Works Project camp built in the late ‘30s, when New Zealand started constructing the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. A dusty road leads to the encampment, a collection of tiny, brightly painted cabins, the sand flies are very inquisitive, and the Museum is fascinating and hilarious. Joss and I then decide to search for a waterfall, but find the road narrowing and the bush closing in. We turn around more relieved than discouraged. The next encounter with the unknown is with the Homer Tunnel, an engineering feat started during the Depression and finally completed in the ‘50s. It’s a single-lane, three-quarter-mile, granite-walled tunnel that descends a meter every ten. Until it was paved, it was the longest gravel tunnel in the world.

On to the Sound. Gray clouds cover the mountain peaks. We sit on the curb and eat a sandwich. Because we’re on the overnight trip, we can park the car at the terminal. Yippee. At four o’clock we board the Milford Mariner, a vessel that sleeps sixty passengers. After the requisite safety briefing – “In case of emergency, gather at the muster point” – we locate Cabin 28. It’ll do. Two teeny beds and a teeny-weeny bath. We steam up the fjord (Milford Sound is really a fjord) and anchor in a bay for ‘water recreation’ and overnight. Joss takes the tender to see some sights. I hang in the cabin, composing a post I won’t be able to send for twenty-four hours. Our dinner companions are assigned: a boring, Republican couple from Cincinnati and an elegant, sophisticated Japanese couple. We manage an hour and a half of semi-animated chat. Joss finds the Ohioans reprehensible and almost lets ‘em have it. But they have a son who lives in the East Village and seems like he might be gay. They love him. Dinner passes.


New Zealand – March 11, 2016

The plan is to meet Martha at nine o’clock. Joss and I scurry, leaving the Berry Farm in a bit of a rush. There she is, sitting at the coffee shop, an impossible surprise. She’s traveling with a guy named Bill, doing some horseback riding and fishing for two weeks in Wanaka.

The A&P show, a New Zealand version of a county fair, spreads over a couple grassy acres. We pass along long rows of booths with all manner of item to promote or sell, some corporate, some purely homemade. Here, let your preschooler handle a miniature front-end loader! Big, shiny ag equipment looms above the lowly exhibitors, as this is predominantly a farming community. The hipster and retiree contingents are also very much in evidence. No retired hipsters, however.

There’s a ring where equestrian events are taking place. “Next up is Obama, ridden by Chelsea McIntosh.” At the far end is a shed where the flowers and vegetables are judged. The walls are covered with classrooms’ worth of kids’ artwork, which lends the room a bright and antic feeling. Sculptures made of vegetables by schoolchildren, mostly wilting zucchini monsters, sport awards. The blue ribbon for the most mutant vegetable goes to two intertwined miniature carrots. Both of us are dazzled by the abundance and the good humor at the fair, but after a couple strategic purchases we take our leave. The second leg of the journey to Milford Sound lies ahead.

Martha and Bill have told us about the oldest hotel in New Zealand, the Cardrona Hotel, that’s on our way to Te Anau. It serves a lunch to reckoned with. The hotel, from the 1860s, is a one-story building of tan clapboard outlined in brown with HOTEL CARDRONA in big block letter above the windows. Out back is a beautiful, well-tended garden with picnic tables in the shade. We order the Ploughman’s Platter, a two-person meat-and-cheese board that satisfies completely. Ginger beer straight from the tap completes. Prince Harry stopped there for bangers and mash in 2015.

We push on. The drive is wearying, another twisty, zigzag trip under unassailable skies. Our destination is the Dock Bay Lodge, an elaborate B&B beautifully sited in the late afternoon sun. It’s quite a grand home with the staircase to prove it; kind of nouveau on the outside, but inside has thick wood details and spectacular views. Dawn, the omnicapable hostess, sits us down and organizes our next couple days. We have dinner reservations both nights. Life is good.



New Zealand – March 10, 2016

We can hear it. It’s fucking pouring. My first thought – How lucky we were with our glacier hike yesterday. My second thought – Today’ll be a real fun drive. My third thought – Breakfast, for it is essential to be caffeinated when visiting a kiwi, because otherwise you might miss it in its room of gloom. Joss is so happy to see these little birdies again that I can’t help but be patient. Two kiwis are visible. One is rather circumspect, but the other feeling a smidgen of agita.

Today’s path lies on the Haast Highway, a spectacular road linking the West Coast with the interior. Our destination is Wanaka, the first of two stops on the way to Milford Sound. The rain comes down on purpose from Franz Josef to Haast town, but as Route Six turns inland it begins to diminish. The road follows a riverbed that had been absorbing a lot of precip. Long, white ribbons of waterfall score the dark green forest walls. Gray cloud cover seals the peaks of these mountains from view. I’m not viewing much because my eyes peeled on the twisty road ahead, but I get the picture. We leave the mountains and sun commits to blazing. A lake of unearthly blue green becomes the distracting feature on our right. Rows of whitecaps mark its surface like flaws in a gem. The road then zags abruptly to the left and we find another blue lake right in front of us. We have a lake on our left and this continues for many kilometers through sere brown hills. We’ve passed through rainforest, alpine forest, scrub, prairie, and dry grassland until we come to Wanaka.

Look! Puzzling World! Stuart Landsborough’s quixotic dream in the middle of fucking nowhere was begun in 1973 when he built a maze of posts and planks. The maze has since been expanded into three dimensions with over-arching bridges. The goal is to the reach the towers in each of the four corners and then return to the center within ninety minutes. Two million people get lost in it yearly. There’s a whole other attraction called The Illusion Rooms, a series of encounters with optical tricks. Floors tilting at a fifteen-degree angle make things roll uphill, including my lunch. I feel kinda woofy, so I whiz through these tippy places. Lots of good-natured cleverness. Mr. Landsborough has become the world’s go-to guy for maze building, having supervised construction of thirty of this things all over the world.

Lodging tonight is at the Wanaka Berry Farm B&B. They grow tons of raspberries, strawberries, and boysenberries in addition to putting up guests. I posted a Joss-taken photo of me on the glacier on FaceBook that gets a lot of ‘wows’ and ‘oys’ including one from Martha Wolfe – “V, I’m in New Zealand, too!” She was a few terms behind me at the Bennington Writing Seminars and a member of my last workshop. Wifi had been dodgy in Franz Josef so I couldn’t respond until Wanaka. “Are you in NZ? Really? Joss and I are in Wanaka on the South Island.” Martha writes, “Oh God, I am too. Bill and I have been here since the 1st.” Holy Shit. We make plans to meet for coffee tomorrow and visit the A&P show (Agricultural & Pastoral Show) in the center of town.

Dinner is hopeless. Wanaka’s fully booked with all the A&P-ers in town. Wandering around peckishly we chance upon two food trucks and settle on a large venison pepperoni pizza and two Pellegrino limonata, which we eat alfresco by an abandoned mini-golf range. Later in our walking we discover gelato. Two scoops by the lake at twilight.

New Zealand – March 9, 2016

Breakfast research reveals the existence of a donut shop. We put on our shoes, lock the door, and go for a walk. Plump raspberry jelly donuts and ones filled with chocolate and custard sit innocent and pert behind glass. I ask the proprietor, “Do you have coffee?” He looks apologetic, “Yes, but it is brewed.” Wow, brewed coffee: this is first. “I’ll take a large one.” Among the other pastries is a luscious cheese-and-tomato turnover/croissant thing. “Joss, look,” I say, pointing at it, “And one those.” The guy says, “Do you want that heated up?” “Yes.” “No.” After selling us on the three-donuts-for-ten-dollars super deal, “Do you want some napkins?” “Yes.” “No.” And as we pay, “Do you want a plastic bag?” “Yes.” “No.” I’m hoping we’ve gotten it out of our systems.

It’s starting to dawn on us that, in mere minutes, we will be boarding a helicopter to a glacier. We gather with others, nervously milling. A trio of women wander aggressively through the crowd, disappearing, reappearing, and vanishing again only to be herded back into the main room. We’re given a colored wristband (orange) and asked to fill out a release form at a row of computer terminals. Both Joss and I take blood pressure meds and are questioned about same, then told we’re ‘good to go’ when we can spell lisinopril.

We’re shuffled into another room to be fitted with gear – boots and socks, crampons, foul weather jacket and pants, and a fanny pack for sundries. The gear smells like ass, which lends an element of authenticity to the adventure. Explorers would stink, wouldn’t they? Then we’re led on a ten-minute walk through ‘rainforest’ to the heli-pad. The orange people have been weighed and split into two groups according, I suppose, to poundage.

Even with headphones, the noise is deafening, but lift-off feels like an effortless plucking and tipping, then we sort of scoot headlong through air. The ride is a sweeping, banking, bone-rattling joy. Rock, forest, ice, cloud; all swoop by. And then we land. On the ice. A young man helps us out; there have been six of us in our helicopter. He’s Rhys our guide, a wiry, goofy Welshman.

Where the fuck are we? Okay, this is the surface of the Franz Josef Glacier, twelve kilometers of ice hundreds of meters thick slowly and quickly being extruded between bare rock walls. It snows like a son-of-a-bitch high in the South Island’s Alps and over time it compacts, funnels, and slides toward the sea. The mechanics are as fascinating as they are inexorable. Franz Josef and its companion to the south, Fox Glacier, may be the only glaciers in the world to terminate in a temperate rainforest.

The glacier’s surface billows in major and minor keys, with chromatics of white and blue and highlights of black. It is wet, water everywhere, and today the air is colder than usual, says Rhys; the overcast is the reason. Hikes up onto the glacier were discontinued years ago because of the glacier’s increasing instability. As the weather warmed, it moved faster and dangerous changes to the surface were frequent enough that safety became an issue. This was in the 70s and that’s when the chopper rides began.

Perspective here is not just deceptive, but utter bullshit. Human scale does not apply to this landscape. Looking up, we see an enormous stone outcropping that ice is flowing on top of, around, and in front. “What do you think they call this big black hole?” asks Rhys. “The Big Black Hole,” I chime in, ever familiar with the obvious trick question. “It appeared one day. There was a huge explosion and the face of the glacier blew off. And we had this. It is the tip of a rock spire taller the Eiffel Tower.” The scope of what’s happening here is 99% abstract and 1% real. Just then, there’s a boom and a tumbling crash and a section of Franz Josef at the edge of the Black Hole bursts into pieces. “See that snowball rolling down?” says Rhys, “That’s as big as a campervan.”

Gotta love crampons. Without them, we’d be slip sliding away. They affix to the sole of the boot and, with spikes over an inch long, offer traction and stability. We follow Rhys as he picks a path in the general direction of upward, knocking off protuberances and carving rudimentary steps with an ice axe. He’s wearing shorts and long black boots that come to just below his knees, which are pink with cold and dinged with small scabs and bruises. We are climbing so we can get a better look at the seracs, blue ice towers in all kinds of shapes – slabs, pyramids, pinnacles, and giant sculptures Henry Moore could only dream about.

I could describe every single moment; the experience is that vivid. We took lots of photos, but mostly, when we weren’t clambering, we stood there.

We got back, ate a really late lunch, went back to the motel, got out of our now rank garments and made a beeline for the kiwi. Franz Josef has a kiwi, too. Joss loves these ridiculous birds. But it’s early evening and the little guys have retired from their hard day’s night. Fortunately, our entry fee allows us to come back in the morning when they’re just starting their night.

We pick up some meat pies and eat ‘em in the room.

New Zealand – March 8, 2016

And it’s drizzling as we leave Westport.

Let’s find us some flat whites and kiss this one-horse town good-bye. The rain picks up and soon it’s coming down insistently, wipers at half speed. Route Six rolls out flat and level long enough for me to get used to the wet and then it’s twisty craziness time again. One-lane bridges, some half a kilometer long. One blind 25kph turn after another. Logging trucks. They throw everything they’ve got at me.

The two of us have been looking forward to seeing the Pancake Rocks, but most especially, the adjoining Blowholes. We get there and it’s fucking pouring. After umbrella-ing it to the restrooms, we umbrella back to the car for our weatherproof windbreakers. The rocks and holes are a fifteen-minute walk through the spiky, seven-foot New Zealand flax and Seussian-looking wheki (the NZ tree fern, Dicksonia squarrosa). The intermittent crashing and booming of the surf and the sizzle as it retreats grows louder. Suddenly, we stand at a precipice, looking at the tops of limestone towers, indeed like stacks of very large pancakes, and down into complicated pools where the ocean batters and seethes and explodes in great spumey glory. This is an aria that the earth sings. We’re dripping now and our pants get wetter and wetter. A crack of pale blue appears low in the western sky. By the time we walk back to the Corolla, the rain has given up. We are damp, but very happy.

Greymouth, the next big town as we head south on Six, passes in a sprawl. Our goal is Hokitika, an old town much deflated from its magnificent gold rush heyday, now considerably revived. Its streets are wide and intersect in the middle with a grand clock tower in the central roundabout. We’ve seen this layout in many NZ cities. We are ostensibly stopping for lunch, but this is reputedly a good place to find well-wrought greenstone. There’s a natural criss-cross shopping circuit, down one side of the street and up the other, wending our way along the cardinal points. We poke our heads into every store. Nothing.

Jocelyn seems to have caught sight of something and I find myself following blindly. She turn to me, “We’re going to see a kiwi.” “There’s a kiwi here?” “Yes, Dad. A kiwi.” We enter another little naturalist museum/aquarium/zoo. And I see the kiwi with my little eye. It’s about the size of a chicken and, once my eyes adjust to the fake night, kinda adorable with its preposterous posture and all. They’re nocturnal creatures, so we force them to reverse their natural cycle for our pleasure. Still, a kiwi sighting is a kiwi sighting.

More wonders can be seen in the eel tank. There must be about thirty of these critters in various attitudes of eel repose. A sleeping eel is gross and a pack of them is whoa. One eel, a female called Grandma, is estimated to be 130 years old. We are also repulsed by the Axolotl, a large, blind, unpigmented, water-breathing newt.

We step into the Hokitika PO in hopes of scoring more Gandalf stamps. All sold out, but they do have plate blocks of glow-in-the-dark glowworm stamps. This is a prelude to the last stop in our quest for greenstone items, Tectonic Jade. We have great success. Joss finds a five-inch long piece in the shape of a needle and I a beautiful flower jade rectangle, beveled in an adze shape.

Late in the afternoon we enter Franz Josef village, which makes a first impression of being a ski town. We hope to take a hike on the glacier tomorrow.


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.

New Zealand – March 6, 2016

A word about the Sans Souci Inn in Pohara, Golden Bay. This is a lovely, peaceful, tucked away place built out of adobe twenty years ago by Swiss expats. The rooms are modest and light-filled, tiled and whitewashed with a private little lanai out back. Lavatories and toilets are in a single common room ‘to promote comradeship.’ We get used to the set-up pretty quickly, but find little comradeship in communal tooth brushing and composting toilet use. Reto, the owner, is a very fine chef. These have been our best meals so far.

We are crushed to find yesterday’s coffee shop closed when we drive by 9am. It’s Sunday, I guess. We hold our grouchiness close to our chests as we motivate up the road to Collingwood. It is from here that the Farewell Spit EcoTour bus departs for a six and a half hour trip to one of ends of the Earth.

Farewell Spit is an arm of sand and scrub that extends thirty kilometers into the sea, separating Golden Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It is also the northernmost point of the South Island. Not only is it wholly uninhabited, but public access is allowed for its first four kilometers. The EcoTour buses have a concession that permits them to travel the entire length to the lighthouse.

Elaine, our driver/guide, provides droll and engaging patter with a dry Eeyore-style delivery. “During some dicey-er passages this vehicle may undulate and, consequently, you will undulate within. Try to maintain your equilibrium and your composure.” She is conversant in local history, geology, flora and fauna, and oceanography. She starts out practically manic and slows over six hours to non sequiturs and one-liners.

The ride is never dull. We drive along on hard-packed sand, pacing sea birds and pulling up to gape at drowsy seals. At the lighthouse, currently under major restoration, we have our lunch. Jocelyn and I eat sandwiches and drink delicious ‘lightly sparkling’ water under the shade of large pine. If only the annoying German girls would shut up. There was a community of lighthouse keepers out here – The Keeper and his family in one house and two smaller houses for the First Assistant and Second Assistant Keeper. They painstakingly carried topsoil from the mainland and started a grove of pines that ultimately threatened to block the beam from the lighthouse.

On the return trip, Elaine stops the bus and lets us climb one of the enormous shifting sand dunes. The wind out here blows sand into marvelous shapes and patterns. She says Farewell Spit is wind-built. I guess so. It’s expanding eastward at a rate of four meters a year and in Golden Bay, the area below the Spit is filling with many square kilometers of sand flats. The Spit and the Bay itself are restricted nesting grounds for many bird species. By the Second Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s House, Joss and I discover an expired bird. The poor thing looks jewel-like. The bird book tells us it is a Silvereye, very common.

We enjoy another one of Reto’s fantastic meals and split a lemon semifreddo again.