Writing for me is a song – a melody that has rhythm, metre, an emotional centre that informs how thoughts can be caught in time. And sung into existence
I arrived in New Zealand in 1960. By sea. I had just turned 11 and remember my first sight of a land that rose sharp, newly minted against a bright sky. These were not rocks aged and worn down with time but sporting a profile proud with youth, a landscape still raw from recent formation.
I had read about bubbling mud, seen pictures of Maori in traditional costume posed against spouting geysers. But my first on-land experience was Wellington – its curving amphitheatre of lighted houses stacked against the hills and gazing over a darkened harbour.
The sense of clarity and depth in this country’s night skies absorbed me then and does still. Undiluted by the accumulated glow and spoil of more densely peopled northern continents, they inspire awe and perspective. Exposed to stars piling on stars all hurtling into an infinity of darkness, how can people play out their lives in any way but with a sense of awe and wonder?
I visited the bubbling mud what then seemed much later – in reality a few short years – when my friend Lou and I spent a school holiday hitchhiking from Waitati, north then West, then North again. We picked raspberries in Nelson, slept under a boat on Kerikeri beach (discovering that seemingly soft sand turns to cold concrete after dark), caught the overnight ferry from Christchurch to Wellington,
Sometimes stuck by roadsides we tucked deep in our sleeping bags startled by eerie possum cries and the scary rustlings of hedgehogs. We were also hosted by Italians staying at a remote work camp just out of Taupo. The drive was worryingly long, dark and remote but our roadside rescuers proved to be total gentlemen – feeding us pasta and delivering us to Taupo’s lakeside the next moring with a bottle of Chianti.
We drank it there, for breakfast, leaning on our packs and giggling. With just a bit of relief.
Then we made our way to the bubbling mud, walked its shakey surface, took photos of each other disappearing into rising steam and then, jokingly, of a lone pair of jandals left at the edge. But I wondered how quickly that hot sulphur-breathed earth might suck you in if you strayed too close.
Back in what seemed like more innocent times, we hitchiked with a teen’s mix of mad confidence and sensible caution. When a rather puny young man exposed himself, it evoked more startled perplexity than any sense of personal danger. We told him to stop and let us out. He did.
There were other treks around New Zealand over the years. In early times it was with my parents, sister and a big tent that we’d first used on a trek through Europe. Later it was with my own two kids – and a partner who was not their father – in a Morris Traveller. It had its moments but the small frame of the wooden-framed Morrie was an inadequate space to contain blended family tension.
The cracks evident then got poked at, papered over, split and mended before we all finally fell into their gaping helplessness years later.
Now, at 61, and with nine grandchildren all growing into their individual skins, I am starting over – in a camper van. Trekking this country, exploring its wild spaces, walking its hills and coastlines, writing about its people, capturing images and stories that resonate in whatever way with my own thoughts – my own journey as a Nana Nomad.
I won’t be alone. Friends and rellies are already booking in to stay here or there. And I am carrying the memoirs of my father who died earlier this year aged 92. He and mum were responsible for wrenching me from the Welsh market town I was born in and bringing me to the far side of the world. I wasn’t grateful then. I am now.
It was the start of a slow but deepening love affair with a country that now feels like my only place to stand.
It is in the light of that gratitude that I want to sing this land into my thoughts. Its bare bones. Its driftwood crusted coastlines, stark hills, seas that speak an enduring promise, its soaring birds and lumbering seals; its rocks moving slowly from the centre of an ever-changing earth.