Part of my healing was to get to the end of that wharf. I’d come almost six hours, with a night a little to the north of middle.
I’d started with a feeling of elation that is hard to explain. I’ll try. It was the start of a roadtrip where every sense was honed – all that you touch, all that you see. North out of Napier, the sea at Tangoio by the Urupa rock was the most amazing milky aquamarine. The air was alive, warm, every breath an intake of spirit. The wind in the northwest. The lyrics of Pink Floyd brilliance on the stereo.
I believe so strongly in synchronicity. And there I drove north, free, and – by the aquamarine and the rock where I once picked up stones from the beach on a day to remember – Eclipse played on …
All that you touch All that you see All that you taste All you feel. All that you love All that you hate All you distrust All you save. All that you give All that you deal All that you buy, beg, borrow or steal. All you create All you destroy All that you do All that you say. All that you eat And everyone you meet All that you slight And everyone you fight. All that is now All that is gone All that's to come and everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
Everything under the sun is in tune.
Elation is when you’ve been scuttled into a coma, all the bungs pulled out, sucked to the seabed, connected to a physical life by tubes and machine, and surprisingly (for some) made it through to float again. When you float when you ought not, you are primed for elation.
When you’ve sensed the weird and felt the big love; when you’ve been confined oh-so-unwillingly to first the bed, then the ward, then the hospital, then the confines of day-to-day then week-to-week home-based medical care – for a year – then you are primed for elation.
And then they do the last surgery, give you a couple of weeks to recover, and a nurse who has become a friend, a sister, hugs you and says with a smile that you are no longer on the outpatient system, a year and two weeks after they flew you to the big city for the first emergency surgery – then you are primed for elation.
When you are elated, there is only one thought. To feel the joy. No district, no house, no room or bed can hold it. You have to leave. To go. To travel far and fast. To find life again, embrace it, greedily suck it up. Every. Last. Drop.
You need to feel the land again, to hear it say kiaora as you sale on the winding paths, swoops and zooms and leaning banks and diving turns of New Zealand hill country roads – the nearest thing to flying on wheels. You wind the window down, push every bar on your sense equaliser to the extremes, turn Pink up, feel the poems come into your head, and scream into the wind.
Elation is wheeling out to the end of the wharf, to feel the sea embrace the land. Elation is being blessed by people and their essence – their humanity and humour and goodness. The world is still a beautiful place.
Tolaga Bay was named by Captain Cook. I’m not sure if that was before or after he shot the local who had an interest in the ship’s stores. The Maori name is so much more beautiful – Uawa Nui A Ruamatua.
The Uawa wharf was being restored. At 600 metres, the longest in New Zealand. Rubble and hard clay between me and the concourse. I started negotiating the obstacle course on wheels and a great big-hearted man asked me if I needed a hand. “No,” I said, “but thanks. I need to do this myself.” My emotions were right on the edge. I’m doing this. I’m alive and I’m doing this.
We wheeled and walked and talked. His name was Hombre. He was gentle and caring and with the strength of character you see in gentle men. A shearer from Ngati Kahungunu working amongst the Ngati Porou.
“Hombre is an unusual name.”
“My mum and dad really liked this old
western, and named me after it.”
“Was is a good western?”
“Nah, I thought it was shit.”
We laughed, kept talking, went all the way to the end where we met three Dutch tourists, a dog and a Cawthron Institute researcher taking water samples. Hombre sat on the bollard, all zen and humour.
On the way back we said kiaora to all the children with rolled towels under their arms, hurrying toward us in groups. They smile, say kiaora; shy but with shining spirits, anticipating the wild leap into the sea and the hurried climb back up the rusty ladder.
The anticipation of joy. The joy of anticipation.
A man in a Harley Davidson growled toward us, waved and said I had nice wheels. Laughter.
The East Coast is more than a place. When you’re born to it, as are generations before, you are a part of it whether you like it or not. Spirit flows through the land and back through you. I came back once after working as a presser in a Northern Hawke’s Bay shearing gang, and hearts embraced me. Welcome home.
And the wharves call to you. You have to go to them.
They are part of the history of these once thriving towns with wool stores, fishing boats, freezing works and dairy co-operatives. Part of the quest. I remembered these wharves. I remember as a boy going out on to the Tokomaru wharf in evenings back in the 1960s and early 70s, with men carrying beer crates, crayfish pots and sacks. The pots to bait and drop off the wharf; the crates to sit on and talk; the sacks to divvie up the spoils. The boys would run around and play the games we always found without looking, in the days before handheld screens.
We didn’t eavesdrop on the boring grown ups and their laughter, but there were old men, some from the Maori Battalion, and I’d
give my eye teeth to hear their korero today.
So after the Tolaga Bay wharf I headed for those memories. No people. The old wool store restored, the freezing works a carcass, and the green wharf sheds underneath the mountain. The wooden end of the wharf is “at your own risk.”
I so wanted to clamber out to the place we used to run around. The ghosts of men and children still sit and play out there.
Looking back from the sea, you feel the landscape. Powerful. The old urupa on the mountain we once walked up to, and were told in no uncertain terms to respect. You can feel things here, looking back to the Maunga and back in time. Chi. Mauri. Many benevolent spirits saying Tenakoe.
The powerful benevolence of belonging.