Merry Christmas Day from a tiny email station I just discovered inside the main building of the Furneaux Lodge. I am staying here at the end of the Queen Charlotte peninsula of the Marlborough Sounds — I arrived yesterday after a day of travel from Kaikoura winding along a narrow highway. We passed through wild territory along the sea, gorgeous coastline — it looks like South Dakota (if only there were a sea near the Black Hills?) with trembling hills of amber grass all tossed this way and that, moving like fine hair, shuddering under the strong coastal winds which ran over the hills in visible currents of grass.
I took an Atomic Shuttle (bus) which actually picked me up at my hostel door in Kaikoura (because the hostel owner is a booking agent), and dropped me at the ticket booth of the Town Wharf in Picton, where I caught the Endeavour Express water taxi. On the ferry, I met an American woman who is currently out on the Queen Charlotte track with her husband and their mountain bikes — she has been finishing up a PhD program in Australia and honing her idea for a proposal to the ANTARCTIC ARTISTS AND WRITERS program, impossible as that sounds! We had a great chat, obviously.
This area resembles paradise. I immediately extended my stay by a few days and I now plan to remain here through New Year’s — I can do a number of day-long hikes in several directions, including 2 mountain hikes, and made plans to rent a sea-kayak for some day-long paddles. Local destinations in this area include two memorials to Captain Cook, including a cairn on a small island out here, where he “planted the flag” back in the 1700’s, declaring British rule over the South Island of New Zealand. Since that’s all dominion seems to require (planting a flag?) I am thinking of cutting up a colorful handkerchief I brought along – maybe planting little flags everywhere I go, claiming terrain in the name of poetry.
Speaking of poetry: I am staying in the quaint old stone cottage that serves as a Hostel here at Furneaux. (Quaint from the exterior, although the interior suffers from some ’70s remodeling, and metal bunk beds that would look more at home in a room for 5-year-old boys).
Cultures collide, in some ways: backpackers hoofing it down the long trail sleep together in the cheap hostel, while yachting families moor in the harbor, and the boatless well-off folks opt for $200-a-night rooms in cute little bungalows arranged around the property. The bungalow rooms are quite chic and private – but the hostel is one large room, and one communal kitchen, perfectly designed for getting to know each other.
In the hostel, we met each other: three generations (grandparents, mom and dad, and one small boy and a toddler who walked several kilometers of the trail by himself!) of a family from Australia, and an older fellow hiking alone, from Northern Ireland. After some tentative attempts at chatting, we got along beautifully, and ended up singing old christmas carols together in six-part harmony, sharing our wine, and enjoying a lovely communal evening.
I woke early and walked up the shore at low tide, gathering fresh green-
lip and blue mussels for a Boxing Day (tomorrow) feast. Today we all dined with the well-heeled guests and the yachters, as the Furneaux Lodge put on a huge Christmas Day FEAST – lots appetizers, fresh mussels and salmon, carved meats, and traditional NZ (Brit-inspired)
Now I think I will need to find a book to read from one of the swap-