The Wee Island
I continued my drive down the east coast, starting with the Morekai Boulders, huge round stones that seem like overgrown cannon balls sunk into the sand. Then onto Dunedin, a beautiful town that looks a lot like Sausalito, with all the houses perched on the hillside all around the town, at the edge of the harbor. I decided it was important to see the Albatross Conservatory while I was there, which basically cost me a lot of money and about a three hour chunk of my day. I won’t be paying to see any more wildlife. They were beautiful but elusive and I never saw one up close. The drive out to the Conservatory and the views there were the best part but I could have done that for free.
I left Dunedin to drive further south. I wanted to get to Kaka(pronounced cake-ah) Point and the Nugget Point Light house and try to find somewhere to stay down there. It was getting late and I had no room for the night yet. The road was getting smaller and in the 20 minutes it took to get from the SH1 to the Point, only one small truck passed by me. Kaka Point is a summer destination and in the winter, is empty and lonely. All the houses were closed up for the season, and there was only one hotel and one restaurant open. I booked a self-contained unit with two bedrooms and a kitchen but it was all there was and it cost the same as a normal hotel room.
I immediately left for the lighthouse, didn’t even bring my bags in. The sun was setting and I didn’t have much time. The hotel owner told me that fur seals, sea lions, and yellow eyed penguins live on the beaches below the lighthouse. “How much does it cost to see them?” He looked at me like I was crazy. “Nothing, you just go look at them. The sea lions can move pretty fast though, I wouldn’t get too close.”
I drove toward the lighthouse, the sign said 15 km. The road quickly turned to gravel and was very narrow with a steep drop off to the ocean on my left and usually a mountain on the right. New Zealand does not waste it’s money on guard rails, even on the bigger roads. If you drive like an idiot and go off the road, I think they call that survival of the fittest or cleansing the gene pool or something. One car passed by me in the 20 minute drive. The lighthouse is actually about a ½ mile hike from the parking lot, which was completely empty. The path was wide and well-kept but like the road, had steep mountain walls on one side and an almost sheer drop down about 500 ft to the ocean on the other. Along with the crashing waves, I could hear what sounded like children crying below me. There was a small sign that said sea lions call to each other in voices that like a child’s wail. I was grateful for the explanation.
The sun was setting fast, the sky was filled with purple and pink sunset colors. It was a perfect moment. When I got to the lighthouse, of course it was almost too dark to see any wildlife but I could hear them wailing to each other. I realized then that I was completely alone. I mean physically more alone than I have ever been. The Pacific Ocean was in front of me, no one for thousands of miles in that direction and behind me, no one for at least 3 miles. It was liberating. I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t lonely but I realized that it’s OK to want to be with someone, to share things with, to love. I don’t need it but I prefer it. I’m alright with that.
After driving to the end of the world and back, into the little cluster of houses that comprise Kaka Point, I stopped at The Point Restaurant. It had 2 doors, one, the upper half glass, looked into a well-lit bar area with about half a dozen men standing in front of a bar. The other, to my left, said “Restaurant.” I didn’t feel quite ready to walk into a bar filled with men. It wasn’t a big place, I couldn’t just blend in or go unnoticed. So I chose the restaurant door. Which opened right to the bar.
A big white haired man behind the bar said, “Come on in darlin’, what would ya like tonight?” So, up to the bar I went and ordered poached cod with vegetables and a Speight draft, the local brew.
The white haired man introduced himself, asked my name and if I was having “a walkabout the point.” His name was Paddy and he owned the place. We had trouble understanding each other at first. His accent was very thick and apparently so was mine. We did a lot of “what did you say, sorry”s at the beginning until we got used to the rhythm of the accents. He told me to go sit by the fire to have a bit of a warm up. All the men were by the fire, standing and talking. I waded through and sat at a tall table on the edge of the group. Paddy came over and sat with me and I spent the next two hours talking to Paddy, Pete and the others. Pete looked like Gabriel Byrne if Gabriel had to really work for a living; rough, with long, unbrushed hair that looked exactly like Wayne’s wig in Wayne’s World. Paddy only introduced Pete (it sounded like “pate” when Paddy said it) to me but the others came over one by one once they saw that I was friendly and willing to have a chat. They all gave me advice on what I had to see this trip and what I could put off for a later visit. Paddy pulled out some brochures with maps and marked out my itinerary for the next day as well as the route I should have taken from Christchurch. I didn’t take the correct roads so I would have to come back some time and do it again. He planned out the rest of my trip on the map, including all the things I should do when I came back for a longer stay. He told me I would stay with him and his wife the next time.
He said “All my family have traveled the world but I’ve never left New Zealand. I don’t see the point in it. We may be a wee island but we have everything to see here. Mountains, deserts, rain forests, waterfalls, ocean beaches, rivers, lakes. You need to come back for at least three months next time.” I agreed.