Burning Man

Imagine the most thrilling/terrifying rollercoaster you’ve ever been on – only take away the little car they strap you into, and substitute a New Zealand touring bus. Add a very high pass over a large mountain (made of marble!) and innumerable hairpin turns, with vistas of still-wild mountain ranges in the distance (Kahurangi National Park’s Tasman Mountains) and a long greenly-fertile valley at the bottom. Add speed – remove the guard rails – and a big dark storm swooming in from the distant mountains. Voila: this was the last hour of my journey into Takaka.

Takaka itself is anything but high-adrenaline. The pace and feel is more hippie-commune: a few coffee-shops selling soup bowls full of dark coffee, an organic restaurant called “Whole Meal,” an organice grocery store, and lots of little shops selling home-spun crafts, hand-dyed or stitched clothing, hand-beaded accessories and natural fiber-this-and-thats. The hippies in question span all ages — lots of little children with carefully-dread-locked hair, flower-power couples in their twenties, older folks drawn to Takaka for the back-to-Mother-earth vibe, and nostalgic elder-hippies guiding the way. There are communes in the hills, beach-bum families (with tiny kids) living out of their vans, and more patchouli and drum-circles than you can shake a stick at.

A New Zealand version of Burning Man was held just down the road in the bush, before Takaka, and we let off a pair of kids who were going to be heading down the road without raincoats, directly into the teeth of the coming storm — walking to the festival. The local paper ran the image of the “burning man” sculpture in the next day’s paper, but I’m not sure how many were in attendance.

The bus driver, bless him, dropped me off at the doorstep of my hostel, the Kiwiana, just before it started to rain. It was a small turn-of-the-century house, converted to a backpackers by the owner (Jules) complete with an outdoor sauna and a garage-lounge for pool and loud evening gatherings. I met a woman named Jivana, from New South Wales Australia (but originally from NZ) and she suggested that we head off together for our activities the next day, as she had a rental car. As it was a rainy night, I walked downtown to grab dinner at the Whole Meal cafe, and then sloshed back to the local theater, which was screening the last night of a film from Bhutan (!) called The Travelers and the Magician. Very homely (in NZ “homely” is a compliment for comfortable places and experiences, I’ve discovered) and a bit of a fairy-tale and seeker’s story. Best — the theater was filled with locals of all ages: Takaka is truly a community that attracts and embraces both creativity and curiosity about the world. I was soaked to the bone in the night’s storm, heading back to the hostel, but it was worth it, and my mind remained in the mountains of Bhutan for many hours.

(I should mention that I learned of Takaka from several firiends in Antarctica — a few even dream of heading there and getting a little farm some day.)

Jivana and I shared a lovely day in the north end of Abel Tasman National Park, hiking out to a GORGEOUS waterfall, made wild and large by the previous day’s storms. We tried another hike, along the coastline, but high waves and high tide combined to “close” the track along the shore. Instead, we sat on the beach together. She fossicked for shells and driftwood while I sketched: it is rare to meet a fellow traveler and be able to “be quiet” together so easily. I bought her a drink for her kindness, and we made dinner together at the backpackers, where she taught me a terrific trick: grating raw beets for a salad! UNBELIEVABLE FLAVOR. Why have I been cooking them all these years? It was so good, I immediately resolved to grate beets from now on. ; )

Yesterday, we moved on together — up the beach further, and took rooms in a hostel (The Innlet) in the middle of nowhere, on the coastal road, where I am now writing this. We hiked in a DOWNPOUR to Farewell Spit, ate at the local legend Mussel Inn tavern, and today we are off to do Cape Farewell. More later. I am reading a terrific novel I found here: Mountain of Winter. Finns – iron ore – coming of age story. Great find. And this quote from a Minnesotan author, found in a New Zealand travel guide:

“We are drawn toward wilderness as water is toward the level.
And there we find the something we cannot name:
We find ourselves.”

– Paul Gruchow

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