The road not taken
Commitments are a strange thing. “Next time we’re in New Zealand, we’re going to do some hikes,” we’d agreed in the rosy afterglow of our 2002 trip, and at the time we’d fervently meant it. New Zealand’s incomparable natural beauty is, despite a general lack of roads, surprisingly accessible…but then there’s much more that’s not, unless one is willing to get out of the car, train, boat or tour bus and walk a bit. It was, at the time, a firm commitment to an ideal.
Of course, the strange thing about commitments and ideals is how they crumble in the face of reality. Neither of us much likes camping (Theresa’s just not into the hassles, while any affection I once had was thoroughly destroyed by the Boy Scouts, especially our northern Minnesota winter excursions – 30ºF below zero, all day and night – and their mosquito-ridden summer equivalents), Theresa has a downhill ski racing-damaged ankle and two similarly-damaged knees that ache to the point of immobility on extended downslopes, and, to be honest, neither of us have entered this vacation in the best of shape. An exploratory early-evening stroll around our villa on Waiheke Island drove this point home with accompanying dismay, when after a mere fifteen minutes of low-impact and low-speed walking we were sweaty, tired, and eager to sit down for dinner.
Nonetheless, surrounded by the natural majesty of the Otago Peninsula, we’re determined to overcome our self-induced obstacles. Not being fools, we’ve chosen to start our walking adventures on a flat track and in the cool of the early morning. Bill, our host at the Fern Grove Garden, delivers our breakfast – enough for three starving lumberjacks: fresh fruit, organic eggs, milk, bread, butter, and a rather frightening quantity of muesli – and serves of a side of some experienced advice on which tracks might suit our needs.
Basalt, salt, and the roar of the lion
A short while later, we’re in a dusty car park (really just a flat circle of gravel) with a field full of placidly munching cows gazing lazily over a long wooden fence at these interesting new intruders. We can hear the gentle scrape of the ocean beyond the horizonless pasture, but much walking lies between us and it. To our left, gentle hills turn steeper, full of grassy and fern-covered tumult. We open a gate next to a sign that announces the beginning of our journey – the Okia Track – and start down a rutted tractor path.
Ten minutes later, we’re back at the gate. It turns out that we’re on the wrong side of a fence. The commitment is strong, perhaps, but the skill may be lacking.