When I first started ‘planning’ my year-long trek around New Zealand, I decided it would be wise to have a theme – a series of articles that totted up to some coherent body of work. Something, even, saleable.
But somewhere along the way to finishing the home-based work, sorting the office chaos, preparing the van, leaving the house etc, that rather vital part of the project slipped from sight. Then a friend came to the rescue with a sort of unplanned non-theme – go with what you haven’t got and do a serendipity series.
How it works is that you just head for a place or person recommended as a ‘must visit’. That in turn leads onto the next ‘you should meet….’ and you just send yourself across the country like some kind of chainmail letter.
It’s not working out quite that way – yet. But escaping habit is already opening doors to a whole bunch of serendipitous happenings. Even the semi-planned stopovers don’t have any expectations attached and it’s wonderfully freeing.
First stop, just out of Turua (home of the Swamp Festival), is with Ruth and Rob. They’re into sheds. Of all sizes – some big enough to house boats. The backyard also features a yacht, a camper for the truck and an unusual looking windmill. With its positive/negative circles it looks like a kinetic yin/yang sculpture but it’s also an efficient energy source – when it’s connected.
After being offered a choice of powered, unpowered, covered or open sites – or a comfy bed in the house, I’ve opted to park next to the “ablution” block which has loo and a great shower. Rob is up on Opua putting the finishing coats of paint on another boat that’s due to go in the water in a couple of days. But catching up with Ruth is just great.
I’ve known her since our kids were little on Waiheke, back in the days of hippy lifestyles and encounter groups. Later, escaping a relationship that was turning sour, I flatted with her in Grey Lynn – making my home in a platform bed that had a great view into the living room of a glue-sniffing addict next door.
Even with two walls and a narrow corridor between, the glue smell often wafted up and erratic, uncontrolled behaviour it produced was scary. But living with Ruth and her two boys was fun.
We worked together on our separate desktops, declared brandy breaks whenever one or other of us had period pains, made several hilarious starts to our great Mills & Boon novel and, when decisions had to be made, consulted Tarot cards.
I remember my most frequent card was “The Fool” – the cheerful chap forever confidently stepping out over a cliff. It’s an image that’s stayed with me and really informs what I’m doing now. Chucking work and life habits is a bit like stepping off a cliff. You find yourself eating odd food combinations just because you happen to have them; deciding to stay somewhere longer or stopping at a campsite you hadn’t intended to just because you can.
And you discover other people leading serendipitous lives.
A slightly scary drive to Port Jackson is rewarded not just with the beauty of the place itself but the couple who run the local DOC (Department of Conservation) camp. For seven months from October to April every year for the past seven years, Bill and Ann park their bright green bus alongside the camp office to greet visitors, care for both people and place – and go fishing.
Their freezer is stocked with fat fillets from a range of different species– some that even they have to look up in their fish species bible. They really enjoy catching fish. But over seven months, the full-on fish diet apparently palls a bit and even before I leave the office, I get presented with a pack of frozen snapper fillets.
In November, campers are a tad sparse but over summer Port Jackson becomes a 500-strong village strung out along a kilometre stretch of the curving sandy beach. Bill and Ann now have friends among the regulars and have got to know a bunch of overseas visitors many of whom stay in touch by email.
Their Port Jackson tenure was completely serendipitous – coming via a contact who had been doing some work for DOC when they visited the Coromandel several years back. Originally offered a caretaking role at Stony Bay, they instead ended up at Port Jackson.
“We thought why not – it wasn’t like we had any other specific plans,” says Bill.
They had already opened the door to serendipity by then. With kids grown up and gone, Bill had found an Australian buyer for his trucking business and they were able to indulge a long-held dream to live in a bus.
The first long holiday in it proved life-changing. Return to normal work was short-lived. When Bill came home one day and said he’d had enough of it, he found his thoughts exactly mirrored Ann’s. So they quit their jobs, sold everything up and moved permanently into the bus. They love the life.
Later, Bill comes over to have a go at fixing my van door – blown nearly off its hinges by a vicious wind gust when I’d stopped on the top of a hill for a photo and now creaking alarmingly. A few gentle heaves against a block of wood and it’s a lot easier to open and close. That evening after a walk around the coastline to Fletcher Bay – and lift back with a couple of German tourists – I cook up the snapper with a bit of oil. Nothing else. It’s delicious.
When Bill and Ann do their evening camp round, I invite them into the van to choose some of my photograpic cards as a thank you for the fish. “Fish,” says Bill. “You can have more of that – call in before you leave tomorrow.”
This time, I’m given two packets. Which is why, when I catch up with friends Vivienne and Percy in Kuaotunu, we have a delicious meal of gently poached snapper – washed down with wine and homemade rhubarb pie. Two days later – and I’m taking some of that homegrown rhubarb to my next port of call in Katikati.
It’s not exactly a chainmail letter – more like “pass the produce.” But, so far, serendipity is making a lot of sense.
Plan to load some pics on http://www.writeawaycommunications.co.nz. Please visit!