Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two legs good

Cold and grey and squally in Gisborne this morning so, acting on a hunch, I drove back towards the Cape, and the further I got from the city, the better the weather became. Hikurangi, its flanks streaked with snow, had its head in the clouds, sulking that there was no sun to see first in the world today; but though the wind was strong and icy, there was brightness and no rain, and that was good enough for me.

It was a long drive, 170km, up to little Te Araroa, where the country's biggest pohutukawa sprawls on its 19 trunks just across the road from the long, wild beach where the breakers were roaring in like express trains - really, it was very odd to hear what sounded like motorway traffic in such a remote setting. The dairy lady with the chin moko told me that the road to the lighthouse was fine so I set off past the playground with its sign 'No Horses' and along the edge of the land towards NZ's easternmost point.

Only about half of the 20kms were sealed, and the unsealed bits beneath the high bluffs were alarming because - quite apart from the tsunami warning sign - they included a number of slips with insubstantial temporary barriers marking where the road had disappeared into the sea, and reducing the width to just one lane - which was where, of course, I met the only traffic coming the other way. But once back on the tarseal and skimming along past isolated houses, wind-bent manuka and cattle grazing along the beach, it was a lovely drive; and the lighthouse appeared sooner than I expected.

It was on top of a separate hill right on the edge of the land, poking up out of thick bush. I drove to the end of the road and thought about climbing up to it - 700 steps, I had been told - and sighed. I got my coat and went to open my door; and I couldn't. The wind was pushing against it so hard that I struggled to get it open even a few inches and I was afraid that if I tried to step out, it would slam shut and snap my leg off. I can read a sign as well as anyone: I didn't climb up to the lighthouse. So sue me.

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