The car was waiting for us as we ambled off the Ferry, still nauseous from the choppy last hour of the journey.
Two others were in the car with us, people we didn’t know who’d be sharing a ride.
“It’s $10 each.” Sue said to them. She collected their money, and then turned to me.
“$15 for you.” She snapped.
My surprise must have showed, for she looked at me sternly and said “you’re going considerably further.”
We arrived at the hostel and I lugged our bags – one full of clothes, the other of food – down the gravel driveway.
A man with a weather stained face and slightly unfocused eyes stared at me. His tank top was dirty, the same colour as his jandles.
“Are you supposed to be here?”
“Yes. Nathan James Thomas – we booked three nights in the Chalet.”
He blinked and turned to his wife who was shuffling papers in a small shed by the house.
“It’s the people for the chalet.”
“Oh I’d forgotten. Yep, they’re supposed to be here.”
She turned to us.
“You’re in the chalet.”
“Tim’s in the chalet.”
“His stuffs still there.”
“He’s out. When he comes back you can move in.”
We went to the kitchen and unpacked the food and made a quick snack of bread and cheese. Those fantastic square smoked cheese slices that look like plastic and taste like chemicals but are somehow addictive and go well with everything.
The mistake was taking the bread outside.
Chickens soon crowded the table. Necks twitching, eyeing our food with ferocious greed.
We batted them away, and they circled us wearily.
I took my eyes off them to drink in the view. The hill on which our hostel was built overlooked the coast and the perfect impossibly blue, bluer than blue blue of the water and the whiteness of the sand gleamed up at us from down the winding driveway. Cows grazed in the fields right below the house and the grass was greener than any green I’d known and it was beautiful.
Then my sandwich was stolen from my hand halfway to my mouth, and the gleeful chicken damn near winked at me before scurrying away to scoff his foods before his mates snatched it from him; no honour among thieves nor fowl.
The water grew more blue, impossibly, as we walked closer to it and was cool and refreshing and we couldn’t believe that we were the only ones on the beach. Just us and the trees and the sand and the ancient rocks, towering, covered with native ferns and tall, proud Kauri guarding the coast.
We swam and read and tried to deal honestly with the beauty around us, but my mind was up to its old tricks and seemed to rise to the challenge of the beauty by conjuring and concocting worries and fears to try and distract me from the pureness of the nature around me.
Such is life when you return home from your travels and find yourself waiting for you at the airport. This was a new part of my country but it was still my country and just 90 kilometres from where I grew up and no amount of external paradise was going to save me from the reckoning the traveler is owed when he is forced to confront all he left behind, and in some ways the stillness of the beauty merely made the battle worse.
But the trees were just as green and the water just as blue to my eyes despite what was going on in my mind, and over the few days we spent on the island I learned slowly to trust the beauty of the island more than the jackals of my mind.
The jackals stayed there and were never silent but grew their quietest on our last night as we sat on a small bench and turned out the lights in our little chalet and drank cheap white wine as the milky way twinkled, stretched and then finally revealed itself for all that it was and the millions of dots of light above us we knew to be worlds as rich and vast and complex as our own and our problems seem to shrink as we for a few minutes or even just a few seconds stumbled on a fleeting, true, piercing awareness of what it really means to be alive.
And then we left the island, the voyage was less choppy so the seasickness stayed away and there were dolphins on the horizon giggling and gossiping and they leapt through the water and I envied them in what I saw as their freedom and immediacy of life and wondered if they loathed or feared or pitied us in our metal boat cocooning us away from the life and death of the ocean below.