|Posted by Tara Mulvany on April 24, 2014 at 10:20 PM|
This amazing adventure has all drawn to a close way too soon. Over the past few weeks, I have struggled to sum up and put into words all that has happened this summer. All the incredible moments that are now just memories, all the places, people and feelings that I have felt.
Memories of barefoot days, where money means nothing, but life means everything. Days where a full moon is a measure of progress, and there is never a schedule, decisions simply determined by the wind and the sea. I will miss so much about this rich, simple way of life. I will miss camping alone on windswept beaches, the glittering green twinkles of phosphorescence on a dark ocean, and nights in a million star hotel. Days brought alive by the chiming of cicadas amidst the rustling of pohutukawas, and leaping dolphins and diving gannets. And I will miss the early morning stillness on a glassy sea, beneath a glowing sunrise. No price can be put on it.
Don’t be fooled though, it wasn’t all perfect, and there are some things that I won't miss, not a tiny bit. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to eat cheesy pasta and popping candy chocolate bars ever again, however delicious they were at the time. I think I've eaten enough for a lifetime. I will not miss blowing up my therm-a-rest up three times every night, or being blasted by sand inside my tent. And I have to admit, it’s actually quite nice not having to check the weather forecasts everyday.
This summer, I have learnt so much. I have learnt which fruits float, and which don’t. Apples, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, and even bananas float. Plums do not. Big, dark, juicy purple plums. It was a sad day. And Feijoas? I'm still not sure. They're way too precious to be messing around with.
The gannets taught me so much about life. They are big, goofy and uncoordinated. But they never give up. They keep diving, getting smashed time and time again until they succeed. I learnt that fear is only a feeling, and it's up to you how you deal with it. So often we come up with a list of all the obstacles that are stopping us from doing the things we’ve always talked about, and the idea is quickly brushed from our minds. What is the point of life if we never embrace the freedom that is ours if we pursue it? Life is way too short.
I perfected the art of living like a hobo. I slept in car parks, in ditches and under bushes. Remarkably, after having paddled around the whole of New Zealand, only once was I told I couldn't camp somewhere. Crazy lady at Wakapohai, South Westland, on the West Coast of the South Island, that was you. In the North Island, no one, not a single person booted me from my camping spot. I stole fruit from strangers trees. More than once, I washed my hair in the basin of some public toilets, and gave myself a haircut with my pocket knife. I did my laundry by hand, after all, what's the point of a washing machine when you only have two sets of clothes - one to wear, the other to wash. And I did occasionally shower, even if it was under a tap, maybe I'm not such a hobo? (even if google thinks I am..) A nomad? I like that term better. I think that's me.
So, was the North Island easier than the South? That has been a question that has ticked over in my mind many times. They were such different trips, that it's hard to compare them. For a start, I did not set off on the South Island trip alone. And it was winter, which brought with it a whole realm of frozen challenges, that I thankfully never experienced this summer. Days then were short, so the distances we were able to paddle on the west coast of the South Island were much shorter than what I managed up north. If I was comparing the surf, the coast, the landings - then the North Island wins as being the most ‘technically’ difficult trip. The west coast of the North Island hosts by far the biggest and most intimidating surf I have, and hope to ever run in a sea kayak. It was downright scary. The South Island has nothing that can even slightly compare to the entrances of Manakau, Kaipara and Hokianga Harbours.
The South Island however wins for isolation – after leaving Te Waewae Bay on the South Coast, there is nothing for around 500 km, nothing but an incredibly remote coastline, with some of the most violent weather of anywhere in NZ. I just love it, and it will always be my favourite place to paddle. I went into this North Island trip with a lot more experience than I had on that cold morning in May 2012, when Sim and I paddled away from Milford Sound. I'd like to think that it was because of the experience that I gained on that trip, that meant things went relatively smoothly this summer.
So many people that I met along the way all asked me the same question. A one word question. "Why?" I have no intelligent answer. How can I put these experiences into words, to create a convincing answer that most people would understand? I'm yet to figure that one out.
Aside from that, probably the most important thing of all, that this trip has taught me, is that the world really is a good place. Over the years, kayak guiding slowly turned me into a hater of people, but thankfully, this summer has restored my faith in human kind. Everywhere I paddled, I was treated with kindness from complete strangers, kiwis who so generously fed me, gave me a bed, a shower and a beer.
It makes me think of the old Maori woman with a moku, who I had met at a remote beach on the west coast. At her whanau's ramshackle crib, she had spoken of Tangaroa, the god of the sea, how he had kept me safe, and that I should thank him. During the following months, I had kept her wise words in the back of my mind. I wasn't sure if my trip was a success because of Tangaroa, my respect for the ocean, or if it was just because I was too scared to take on the surf when it was huge. Either way, possibly a combination of all three, with a bit of luck added in, I pulled it off.
I was blown away by the number of people who showed a genuine interest in following my trip through my Facebook page and on my website. When I created those pages, I assumed it would just be a few friends and family who might be remotely interested. Turns out I was wrong. It was humbling to have had so many messages of encouragement, support, and offers of help along the way from such a broad range of people. So thank you. And to all the people who got out of bed in the early hours of the morning to come down to the beach to see me off, often in the dark, thank you.
So what's next for me? I don't know. I have no job, no home, and no plan. But strangely, I'm not so worried about it. Hopefully I'll find some work for the winter, and the big edit of my book has just begun. That will keep me busy for a while. Then later in the year I'm going to apply for a Hillary Expedition grant. Which means I have some planning to do, and deciding what the next big adventure will be. If you have any ideas… let me know.
If you’ve watched my youtube movie that I posted on my facebook page a few days ago, you would have read the quote at the end (if you made it to the end..). It’s a quote by Paulo Coelho, and I think it's pretty awesome. It says, “One day you’ll wake up and there won’t be anymore time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”