Posted by: cousindampier | 9 March 2011

Hokitika

This post was originally entitled, “A Day in the Life at Franz Josef.”  That post would’ve lasted about three paragraphs.  Franz is like any small town – not much to do but sit around and shoot the shit.

Living in any small town gets to be a life of habit.  I’m certainly not saying it is bad.  But it is the small things which make one’s day interesting.

“Did you see that old car which drove through?”

“Power got cut last night, probably from a tree falling on the lines.”

And so on.  Working at a hotel, which employs a significant number of people, is like working at a small island within an island – everything that happens is known by everyone else.

To make it away for a day feels like a prison break.  I spent a night in Hokitika on Monday, which, though a town of just over 3,000 people, is a teeming metropolis compared to Franz.

The ride north from Franz to Hoki is divided into two parts.  Franz sits in the foothills of the Southern Alps – to get anywhere north is to drive through winding roads on Highway 6.  Winding really does not do the road justice.  The roads are winding in the sense that a hurricane is windy.  The road runs 200 meters in one direction, then reverses and runs 200 in the other direction, uphill all the time.

Once out of the mountains, the road levels out and runs fast and straight, with the short beach on the left, visible just after green fields, and farmland leading to mountains on the right.  For how mountainous the region is the road changes quickly and runs flat enough for a golf course to sit just off the road.  On this day, at the first hole, around 50 people and sets of clubs stood waiting.

Hokitika is a place of storms.  Many of the trees on the beach side of the road are bare of leaves on the seaborne side, growing slanted away from the ocean.   It’s also a place of gold – the original town was founded during the gold rush in 1864.

The town isn’t much – a few main streets centred on small clock tower.  The main street for any visitor runs parallel to the beach, which is just a few steps away from the road.  There are a few restaurants (Hoki is fancy enough for a cheese and deli bar), a place to buy clothing, and liquor store and a movie outlet, as well as a movie theater and two bookstores.

Hoki sits on the Tasman Sea.  Abel Tasman was the first European to sail these waters, discovering Tasmania and New Zealand.  And it was this sea which made the one day I escaped from Franz so enjoyable.

Because no matter how cold the water is, nor how it sneaks up your shorts and freezes your legs, nor how intimidating total submersion is, once you dive into the sea, the metaphors disappear and the reality of problems washing away – or becoming minuscule in comparison to the tide and the water and the sun – becomes reality.

To me, the Tasman Sea was a minor Mecca.  Studying and writing about the myth, legend, and discovery of the entire region made standing on the shore and viewing the sea much more potent.  Bodysurfing in the Tasman Sea, nearly losing one’s shorts to the tide, and throwing rocks into the sea is an enjoyable experience in any sense; in this it was a hell of a day to experience.

As I lay on the shore and dried off, and looked out at the sea and where the blue of the sea met the blue of the sky, and where the blue of the sky met the gray of the clouds, I realized this is both nothing and everything.  Really, any beach experience is similar.  There is sand and rocks, and the ocean looks immense and pretty, and the sky is threatening at times and peaceful others.

The only difference I faced was the country I was in.  A year of planning and saving and an 18 hour flight brought me to a small beach in Hokitika, New Zealand.

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