Beaches, Big Trees and Camping by the Ocean with Savvy Natives

A swiss couple picked me up before the rain got real heavy, they'd just been looking at the sand dunes I'd camped on the night before. They weren't particularly sure where they were heading, just loosely exploring, same as myself.

We stopped in a cafe for a bit, talking about our various travels. They'd gotten round the world tickets, flexible tickets good for a year, they were part way through this adventure.

I was keen on getting myself some sort of fishing gear, I also was in need of a needle and thread, a hole had busted in the seam of my pack and was rapidly getting bigger. They had a small sewing kit from a hotel stay in Japan, we got back on the road I was able to patch up the rip.

We stopped at a windy beach for a look, the sand skirted down in wispy streams in the big gusts. This was a short stop, then back on the road with a destination, Kaitai, which was the closest reasonably sized town.

We got there and went to a McDonalds, one of the few places in New Zealand one can go to for free internet. The couple continued on from there and I stayed behind in town.

I went next door to the Warehouse, the big Walmart type store. I found myself the cheapest little fishing pole they had, it was marketed as a kids pole, but I figured it would do.

I wandered through town afterwards and to the other edge thinking of hitching a ride, to where, I hadn't thought of. I didn't stay long, my head wasn't fully in on the idea and the rain was coming down a bit heavier.

I headed back towards town thinking I'd visit McDonalds again for the internet. I stopped into a backpackers hostel on the way to see what was what, then continued on, then later came back to it, giving them 27 new zealand dollars for a dry place to sleep the night.

An older man from the UK was in the same room I was staying in, he was biking from the top of the country to the bottom, clutching a lonely planet guide book as he told me his plans.

I was able to get a shower in and semi wash some clothes, hanging them to dry in the rain, very efficient. I relaxed in the common area a bit listening to people chatter away in every language except english, fixing nice dinners and the like.

In the morning I set out again, checking the internet one last time for messages from couchsurfing hosts, then headed out to the road. The hostel had been decent, but I was thinking camping and couchsurfing from then on out would be best.

I'd seen on the map there were a few small lakes just a couple miles from the coast line a ways south, so I aimed that way.

I got a ride straight away from a man who told me about fishing and hunting in the area. I told him about the baby hogs I'd chased and he got to telling me how to knife them in the throat to let them bleed out after clubbing them to stun them still, then the thing was to soak them in warm water to make it easy to knife all their whiskers off before cooking. I wasn't so sure I'd be getting to doing anything of this sort, but it was interesting to hear about. He'd got a number of them and would get use of the whole pig, feeding the brain to his cat, tossing bones to the dogs and he would even feast on the head. "you can buy half a head for $3, most people don't want them, but it's plenty good. You hold a head in your hand, it's heavy, there's a lot of meat on there".

He dropped me off in a small town where he said the fishing was good. I would have given it a go, but the place didn't seem right for starting a fire to cook one up, I wasn't about to catch a fish and carry it around with me.

I walked 4km down the road along the river to the ferry and rode it across. I think it was supposed to be a couple bucks, but no one said anything to me about it, I was the only walk on, everyone else was in cars.

I walked through the town on the other side and down the road a ways, eventually thumbing a ride from a local woman who took me to the next junction, telling me about the giant trees on the way to the lakes.

My next ride was from two local guys and a girl with unnaturally sky blue eyes. They took me to the next town, pointing out a wharf to fish from and dropping me off on a piece of land that their family owned saying I was welcome to camp there if I liked.

It was early in the day still, so I decided to continue on, thinking I'd come back perhaps later.

A london girl of about 30 picked me up next, she was on her way to see the big tree I was told about earlier. She'd been in the country a month or more already helping a sick friend, but was now on the loose and exploring for a while. She was on a big trip all together, planning on Australia and southeast Asia after New Zealand.

Just down the road we parked and hiked into the woods to see several more of these massive types of trees, massive, but apparently fragile, we had to spray the soles of our shoes with a sanitizing solution before being allowed to hike in.

We continued driving after this, she'd be passing by the turn off to the lakes and heading through Whangerei eventually, there was a couchsurfing host there who said I could stay. I hadn't made up my mind until the lake turn off came, right then I opted to pop out and go explore, the london girl let me out and continued on.

A guy picked me up and took me down near the lakes and I walked to them, a big campsite in front with signs saying $10 a night. I saw mostly families there, tents the size of houses and motor boats racing around the big lake. I'd expected something a bit more remote, and in fact later I found out the lakes were once surrounded by trees and it was a different scene.

I decided I'd hike down the road to the next lake and find my way to the ocean from there in hopes of finding a more remote place where I could camp freely.

A group of locals sat around a picnic table at the next little lake smoking a joint, they pointed out the way to the beach, saying I'd have to hop one gate and go down a path that would lead me there.

I walked a ways, finally seeing the gate, I hopped over and a series of dogs I couldn't see barked away at me. This trail lead me into rolling hills of farm land, after stepping past many cow pies and hopping a couple more gates, I was fairly certain I'd gone the wrong way.

All the same, I could hear the ocean light roaring over the hills in the distance. I eventually came across a stream, I was happy for this, I knew I'd need a water refill soon and hadn't expected to of strayed so far from the lakes.

I followed the stream towards the ocean, at last the beach was in sight. I also saw something I couldn't make out, unsure if it was a tent, a hut, a car or what. As I edged closer I saw it was an abandoned trailer.

As I got closer still, I was on a narrow trail along steep hillside, on the final turn to the beach I saw a couple trucks and a campsite, one small tent and a bigger two room tent. Two big dogs were chained up, barking as they now saw me.

I stepped over a fence and off the hill, then crossed the thigh deep stream towards the campsite, two men were sitting at a table and a woman came out of the tent with a broom in hand.

"they don't bite", the older man said as I got close.

"hey there", I smiled walking up, I looked back towards the hills I'd come from, "i was up at the lakes and think I got lost getting out here, do you know where the proper trail is supposed to be?"

"just down the beach, there's a waterfall and a trail right up to, you missed a turn somewhere", we all laughed a bit, "we've never seen anyone come from back there before. Setup your tent right here if you'd like".

The two guys at the table were Monty and Joe, the woman was Joes wife I gathered, they were a Maori couple probably in there 50s or so, Monty was a bit younger and looked like he could have been my long lost kiwi uncle.

Joe pulled up a stool for me, him and Monty were sipping bourbon and offered me a glass, "homebrew mate, it's good stuff", Monty poured me a glass with some ice and gingerale. He said he used to brew beer, but got into distilling and liked it better.

We talked about New Zealand, America and travels, Renee had done some traveling and was full of excitement, she treated me with hospitality and friendliness of a grandmother as we all enjoyed our bourbon.

As the sunset neared we made our way around the nearby hill and closer to the surf for a better look. The sun a sharply outlined orange ball, surrounded by pieces of cloud. I watched in wonderment, at the time I had a strong sense of the earth spinning away from the sun, rather than that of the sun falling. Behind us the moon was arguably a full one, just peeking over the hills at this same time. I was powerful with bliss, I felt every memory and emotion from my life blast me at once, the faces of every friend, family and otherwise flashing by, I understood everything there was to know for just a moment, all of it was felt in the smile stretching my cheeks and a tear on the sustained brink of fruition in my eye that never quite dropped.

Back around the table the bourbon kept pouring, then they took out a bowl of mussels they'd got from the beach earlier soaked in vinegar and a pinch of sugar. They also cracked open some other shells for me that they called big pippies, a delicacy they said.

We carried on, I was in a sweat, rubbing my palms together excited and with a sense of new passion boiling up. They told me all about the ocean and what to eat. I'd known some of this, but was grasping it, tasting it, in a way much more tangible and inspiring than any time before.

The next day there was a big breakfast of sausage, eggs and potatoes, Monty had made the amazing sausage and brought the eggs. He was only just getting back from work, he'd left around 4am for milking cows. There was talk of me joining him to see the machines and all, but this talk was mostly from the bourbon and when the time came, he let me stay sleeping.

We took a trip into town later for some more supplies and visited a few people, the folks at the gas station were friends and the same group from the lake who'd given me the directions to the beach.

Back at the beach there were a few more friends who'd arrived. Renee and another woman took me down the beach and showed me how to pick the best mussels. They were all patched up on rocks in the surf, along with some sizable starfish. Back at the campsite they showed me how to shell them, we filled a big bucket that would later be put into chowder.

I watched the sunset again, this time the moon came much later, but bright as ever still. At dark we went out floundering with spears and special lights, but the waves were too rough and murky for anything to turn up.

The next day we lazed in the shade, the wind was ferocious. Monty was planning on heading to town in the afternoon, I was waiting to ride with him that far and hitch on to whatever would come next.

I gave my new fishing pole a try in the surf, a futile short lived attempt.

Joe had gone to town with some others, he came back with his dog. Within minutes, the bigger male dog, one of the ones that had been barking at me when I first came across the campsite, had his little dog by the neck. The little one was whimpering and trying to small back. Renee cried out at Joe, "you had to bring him, didn't you?! You knew what would happen, you had to bring him!"

Joe, half an eighteen pack deep by this point, began trying to pull the big great dane like mutt off his labrador, whacking him with a some sort of plastic rod that was in reach. Bubba (that's what they called the baby girl running around, their granddaughter I gathered) started whaling with tears while witnessing the scene.

Warren, another guy there on the other end of the eighteen pack, began tugging and beating the dogs too. When that all failed, he grabbed a big concrete block and tried throwing it down on the big dog, moments later the jaws lost their grip and the lab ran free.

The dog fight was over. Joe's face looked in shock, I followed his eyes to his bloody hand, dripping as he his fingers twitched. The concrete block and hit his hand as much as the dog, he rumbled and murmured, "a broken hand".

He seemed to be moving it a decent amount, the word hospital got mentioned once, but not again. All the same, Monty looked at me and said we ought to be heading out early. I abandoned my glass of bourbon, some blood had dropped in it, Warren's boot was soaked in red as well. I clasped Joe's left hand in goodbye, then was in the car with Monty, off to see where the road would take me next.