Where’s the plum tree?

For the past three days Jivana and I have happily explored the Golden Bay area together, hitting it off incredibly well, at least for complete strangers, and enjoying our time at The Innlet. The highlight of our stay there, in my opinion, was the hostel’s “Hot Tub.” The tubs in question are two antique claw-foot tubs, long enough for a weary cowboy AND his horse to stretch out for a soak. The old tubs are tucked into a private hollow below the main lodge of the house (a turn-of-the-century house with great tall ceilings and simple, almost Shaker aesthetics). The tubs are filled, by hose, with piped-down HOT water. We availed ourselves of the hot tubs after our hike in the hills of Cape Farewell, soaking away our sore muscles under the trees for nearly an hour, listening to the burble of the stream flowing over stones, and the watery-oboe song of the tui overhead. Bliss.

Jivana is a bit older, very well travelled — a former flower-child type, I think — passionate about creativity and self-actualization, interested in new age healing practices and various aspects of earth-conscious living, as she lives in the alternative community of Byron Bay, NSW Australia. A beautiful, vibrant, sensitive human being. By comparison, I feel a bit crude and maybe jaded. In one sense we don’t have that much in common — and yet we were able to discuss a number of things that we do share in common, as we are both single women who have been happily living and traveling on our own. The conclusion we both seem to be coming to is that we each desire companionship, despite our intensely independent natures. What form that will take in our lives will no doubt be very different, yet we were able to discuss a great many “things of the heart” in our short time together. A blessing, to meet such open folks in one’s life.

Yesterday, we decided to drive down the coast to Collingwood for dinner — come dusk, we dressed up just a bit, and walked through The Innlet’s back yard to her small rental car. We discussed the gorgeous black hens (led by a royal black rooster) pecking through the yard. Then – whonk! – she backed into a tree-branch, shattering the rear window.

It was the plum tree, an ancient specimen covered with lichens and hanging mosses, nearly leafless, yet covered with lovely red plums, which the hostel provides free in a big wooden bowl in the kitchen. We’ve been thankfully eating the small wild fruit in our breakfast muesli for three days — FREE PLUMS! — and marveling at their goodness, so having the rear window of Jivana’s rental car shattered by the same plum tree was a bit odd. We knelt together under the tree, picking up the million shards of shattered glass from the grass, and we picked it out of everying in the boot of the car. (Today, driving back through Takaka, we bought plastic sheeting and duct tape and covered the window to keep petrol-fumes from drifting back into the car as she drove.) I felt very bad for her, as she had to spend considerable time on her cell phone, trying to work out all the details (windshields are the responsibility of the car renter, in New Zealand!) and it being Saturday night, everything local would be closed until Monday. She decided to return the car in Christchurch on Monday morning, and have it repaired there as well. Stressful — it reinforced my desire to avoid renting a car for myself in New Zealand. I bought her dinner and we tried to stay positive — no one was hurt, it could have been worse, etc. Still, a disheartening turn of events. I pocketed a few plums, as a reminder to remain vigilant.


Jivana and I packed this morning and drove back up the coast towards Farewell Spit, where an old friend of Jivana’s is building a homestead-slash-vegan retreat center called Abundance. (Vegans are vegetarians who do not eat dairy products as well.) He and his partner purchased a lovely hillside of bush from a farmer — one of the last bits of property before the Puponga Park and the Farewell Spit. He is now building (by hand and with incredible craft and aesthetic skill) an octagon-shaped homestead. We parked just off the beach road and walked the short hike up through the bush, to the Abundance building. He and a friend were fitting tongue-and-groove boards for the cathedral ceiling. The windows are giant — perhaps 7 x 7 feet clear glass — and the building is oriented on the hill to face heart-swelling views of Golden Bay, and the distant blue line of the mountains in Abel Tasman National Park. The main room has sliding glass doors on two sides, a kitchen on one side, and window walls on two others. Since it is an octagon, he will be able to attach square “wings” to the building in the future, if it is necessary to expand.

The Abundance landscape was once cleared and probably farmed and grazed, and possibly impacted by coal mining that took place in Puponga at the turn of the century, but it is now recovering into healthy coastal bush vegetation. He discussed the process: the gorse (like a terrible thistle that grows to bush or tree size(!), flowers and spreads seed, and turns woody and thorned as it ages…), making it possible for better trees to get a roothold. Farmers hate gorse, as do scratched hikers, but the gorse is a “nursery” plant, he explained. The gorse gets established (as I have witnessed in a hundred locations on my hiking) in neglected pastures or clear-cuttings. Where nothing else can flourish, gorse flourishes. We try to cut down or “spray” to control the gorse, but in the meantime, native bush species like manuka and kanuka and other lovely flowering shrubs I cannot identify are able to sprout in the shade, under the thorny protection of the gorse. These grow up through — and as they flourish, their foliage cuts off the light needed by the gorse. No spray needed! — the gorse dies quickly under the overhanging umbrella of the kanuka. He pointed out this happening, in various directions — the spread of the forest in stages is quite clearly visible on the hillside leading down to the sea — and he explained how well the bush has re-established itself in the time that he has owned the land (maybe half a dozen years?). Under the cool shade of the manuka, palms and tree ferns and succulent vines start to grow. Eventually, true native trees of significant height may return by seed, or seedlings can be planted.

The house is beautifully integrated into the landscape, and the “footprint” of Abundance is kept intentionally minimal. The toilet, like many others I have encountered in Golden Bay (including the toilet at tourist establishments like Mussel Inn and The Innlet hostel) is a tidy outhouse with lovely woodworking inside, set some distance from the house, in the bush — composting toilets are popular in this area, built on a raised platform and accessed by a short set of steps, and each user is expected to toss in a small handful of shavings. The Abundance’s toilet had a full-length glass porch door, an antique salvaged from some older building. What a lovely view!

Unfortunately, the winters along the Cape Farewell strip can be “harsh” — not harsh by Midwestern North America standards, or Antarctican standards, but cold nevertheless, and incredibly windy. Even their summers, I must admit, are marked by incredible wind and the sort of gust that sculpts trees and peels corrugated tin from the roofs of old wool-shearing sheds. The Abundance goal is to live off the land, but the land has not yet yielded enough to meet their needs. Jivana’s friend is a gentle man in his early sixties, with a softly-lilting Welsh accent. He looks down at his hands as he talks, or gazes out at the bay. He is worried that things at Abundance, despite the intense beauty and all his thoughtful artisanship, might not work out, and they might need to return to the warmer land and more receptive community of Byron Bay (a commune called Gondwana), where Jivana first met him. “Ah” he sighed softly, “It is all very well and good to live in Paradise, but if we can’t sustain yourself and fulfill our purpose, maybe we need to reconsider….” This was his parting comment, and it occupied our quiet thoughts for many miles as we drove away. We all want to live in “paradise” but many of us do not care so deeply about the cost.


Leaving Takaka, we recrossed over the Marble Mountain once again, and marveled again at the 360 views. Someone told me that less than 10% of the tourists who go through Nelson bother to make the drive up and over the mountain pass, to discover Takaka, so it is a bit “sheltered” from the ugly aspects of tourism. Jivana feels that the term “Golden Bay” refers to the lovely golden grasses in the rich pasturelands of the valleys, while I suspect that it refers to the golden sunshine (we were blessed with abundant sunshine during our time in the Golden Bay area (Cape Farewell-Abel-Tasman) despite several impressive storms, and daily clouds which seem to brew up on the West Coast, rising like yeast to flow over the bowl of the mountains of the Wakamarama Range and Kahurangi National Park. We followed the edge of the Kahurangi wilderness as we drove south, stopping occasionally to snap photographs of the mountains, and little things like colorful beehives.


Sadly, I just waved goodbye to her, as she drove away heading for Christchurch, after dropping me off at the Lazy Cow hostel, the small town of Murchison — which feels like it belongs in the farming ranges of Montana, not New Zealand. Main Street Murchison — don’t blink — is just a few blocks long, and the town is just a few blocks deep as well. Not “warm” at all. This is a practical place. Travelers stop here on their way to the West Coast, or as they head north to Nelson and the warm sea. The sun is setting now, but not as warmly as it did just last night, as Takaka and Puponga both exude sun-saturated landscapes of white sand, wildly-carved stone headlands along the sea, subtropical gardens and dense bush forests. Murchison is sided by a fast-flowing river, which carves the Buller Gorge just 14 k south of here. Tomorrow I’ll restock on some groceries for my pack and catch the bush to the gorge, where I can enjoy New Zealand’s longest swing-bridge over the Buller Gorge. After that I’m off, I think, towards Westport (Cape Foulwind – terrific name!). Not sure yet if I’ll spend the night in Westport, or head directly down to Punakaiki National Park and the promise of wild rainy coastlines and sunsets.

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