I am as I put “pen to paper“ already feeling a mix of being over whelmed by words and yet almost simultaneously bereft of them.
It is Tuesday morning and I am sitting up in a super king sized bed (not that you want to know this but I am painting a picture so read on…) looking out through the largely glass front of the studio we are in here in Porpoise Bay, across about 15m of low growing natural scruffy vegetation between us and an expansive sandy beach. From this perspective the bay scoops around to the north, one moment hiding in the cloak of misty rain that foreshortens the vista to then appearing momentarily as a shadow like impression projecting out into the ocean along this stretch of broken and rugged eastern coastline of Southland.
No wave is the same, something I of course know but which seems to strike me more profoundly now sitting watching them as I am doing as they throw themselves crashing onto the sand. Large, wild, white, chaotic waves chasing each other almost rhythmically, the momentum intensified by the easterly wind. The sea from which they are thrown forth is a beautiful blue grey.
My senses are alive. I can hear the wind whipped waves rolling ashore, watch the hide and reveal playfulness of the mist, feel the wind on my skin as I have walked along native forest fringed deserted beaches with not a hint of human habitation in sight, taste the freshness of the crisp cool clear air and smell the aroma of the damp bush we have walked through to majestic waterfalls.
There is a feeling of awe, a sense of the smallness of my presence, of the transitory nature of my footprint in the sand and at the same time on another level the power of such a footprint to scar the land. The raw beauty of this largely unmodified landscape in which I am immersed here in the Catlins penetrates deeply my soul. As I reflect on this I wonder if the wet, windy and overcast weather we are experiencing is gifting me a heightened awareness of journeying into rather than through this landscape. There is a feeling of intimacy with, and immersion in. Whilst sun and clear skies offer extensive panoramic views along the notched coastline and with this the opportunity to witness and photograph magical sunrises and the colours of sunset’s painting coastal cliffs, the mist, drizzly rain and wind we are experiencing speak of the untamed magical nature of this corner of NZ. The rain is now heavy and the horizon closer still.
Sun filled, windless clear skies for as far as the eye could see have accompanied us on our travels up until last Saturday and our arrival in the north Catlins. This too has been a gift for it was under the umbrella of such skies we travelled into and through the mountainous terrain of several high country stations, climbing 1,000s of feet on narrow metal roads carved into steep hillsides with little room for error. Sinuously they climb and descend, and twist and turn through river valleys and basins hidden in a mountainous embrace before emerging onto more linear stretches of still dry dusty metal but now passable roads. Tony would point out these mountainous tracks from a distance as oblique scratches on the steep slopes. Gulps became largely replaced by feelings of anticipation…that is up until our ascent (which meant too an accompanying descent) of Mount Buster near Kyeburn to Buster’s Digs, some 4,500ft up. It was here the triple R road label came into being. Rough, rocky and ruttered!!! The ruts were deep and ragged, the road steep and narrow. What we didn’t need was to meet a vehicle coming the other way. Thankfully on all the mountainous routes we travelled we did not encounter such a predicament in such circumstances! This 4 wheel driving environment took Sean to the edge of his comfort zone. As he said there was no fall-back position, the edge of the road being precipitously close. On the scale of 4 wheel driving landscapes this was minor given the stories of Tony and companions in the making of the book ‘Out There South’.
Donning on wet weather gear over a warm layer of clothes I will walk the beach, breathing in deeply all it has to offer me. Maybe I will meet Yellow Eyed penguins, Blue penguins and sea lions along my way and see Hector’s dolphin frolicking in the waves.
….I have returned from a 2 hour coastal walk, mostly in the rain which was sometimes light and at other moments heavier. Wet weather clothing kept me warm and dry and sandals allowed me to walk barefoot on the beach, through the waves as these reached up the sandy shore and to boulder hop at Curio Bay. I had the beach to myself and as I followed the path through the deserted camp ground up onto the exposed headland the view of huge waves striking the blocky rocky coast below sending spray tens of metres into the air was memorising. I sat on a lone chair gazing out upon this spectacle feeling the wind and rain on my face and feet, my hands buried in my pockets.
At Curio Bay I met other wanderers exploring remnants of the Petrified Forest for which Curio Bay is internationally renowned. The midday tide was receding exposing small areas of petrified trees lying in the rocks. This area can be more extensively viewed 2 hours either side of low tide. There are a number of informative boards which speak of the history of this forest, the habitat of the Yellow Eyed penguins and the presence of the Hector’s dolphins in Porpoise Bay.
I was aware as I walked of the contrast in my response to the landscapes we have had the opportunity to travel into. The mountainous landscapes in high country regions, the Graeme Sydney landscapes of the Maniototo (in particular the Oteake Conservation Park) to the white pebbled pyramid formations that remain as a result of gold mining on Mt Buster to the lakes tucked into hidden basins, have created a depth of awe that has surpassed words. Such was the height, width and depth of the WOW that reverberated through and beyond me. I felt meniscal in these grand landscapes. A similar and yet different feeling of awe to that in the intimate embrace of the misty rain and closed in views.
I returned to our studio outwardly wet but exhilarated and refreshed to the core of my being. Sean’s movie, watched on his laptop, was finishing. I showered and changed and we are now back for a second time in 2 days in the delightful Niagara Falls Café, enjoying a late lunch.
We live in a truly magical and magnificent country……