Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Day 3

I wanted to post this earlier, but have been away in California to speak at the CLA convention, and just got back last night. So, here it is, Day 3 of my adventures in New Zealand:

Wednesday was the day. THE DAY. The big kahuna. The one I’d been waiting for almost a year. This was the day I would go to French Pass and finally see where my character, George Grey, and the real Pelorus Jack, lived.
For once, I had no trouble getting out of bed.
And I was on time for the ferry.
It was a red letter day already.
The Interislander ferry travels between Wellington, on the North Island, to Picton, on the south. It was a gorgeous trip. The ride takes about three hours, during which, the boat plows along the shores of both islands. Once it hits the south coast, the scenery is even more astounding that on the north island. The south island is far less populated, and there is more New Zealand au naturale – lush with towering mountains, opal blue sounds, and cozy mussel farms tucked into between the towering hills and narrow bays.
I took pictures and pictures, which is saying something for me. I’m horrible at picture-taking, but this was the most amazing landscape I’ve ever seen. Hills – which in any other country would definitely merit the title, mountain – covered with native bush – ferns, palms, white pines, and a lot of other trees I don’t know. Sheep farms dotted with so many fluffy white bundles of wool, from a distance, they look like rocks. Mussel farms dotting the deep blue and opal green waters and air so crisp and clean, it was nothing short of breathtaking.

Nervously, I debarked from the ferry in Picton. It was here that I was to meet my New Zealand guru and virtual guide from the last year of my life, Oliver Sutherland, and his wife, Ulla.
In retrospect, why I was nervous, I don’t know. Oliver and Ulla treated me like another of their children. I was instantly family, and at the same time, got nothing short of the red carpet treatment. Like I said a few days ago, Kiwis are nice to the factor of ten. What’s more, it’s twenty-four carat genuine. I was in more than good hands.
We started our journey to French with a side stop in Havelock, the green-lipped mussel capitol of the world. Where, of course, we had green-lipped mussels. I’ll never look at a mussel the same way again. I love seafood. LOVE IT. And these mussels were just out of the bay and into the boiling water fresh. Top that off with a little New Zealand white wine, and I could have stayed right there and eaten my way through the rest of the week.

But French Pass called.
So we hopped back in the car and made our way out to the remote and rugged Pass between D’Urville Island and the northern tip of the southern island.
It was a fantastic drive through dense bush on a partially paved, partially graveled road that hadn’t been built until 1956. Until then, the only way from French Pass to anywhere in New Zealand was by boat, or a narrow track that led through the dense bush.
We passed through tiny bays, inlet waterways, towering views, and palm upong fern upon white pine native bush. I was captivated.
But as amazing as it was, it paled in comparison to the moment we came crested the rugged hills/mountains and came upon the marker for Anaru Farm, French Pass. This was where I’d set my story. This was where everything had happened in my mind. This was it.
I held my breath as we came round the last bend in the road…And then there it was, French Pass. The narrow strait of water spread out before me like a page in my book opening up and revealing itself in colors and textures I could never have imagined – blue, rushing waters, white capped waves, brown coral reefs sticking up between the bubbling foam, and the roar of two oceans locked in battle over the Pass. I…WAS…HERE.
I was really here!

It was a short minute’s drive from the Pass to Elmslie Bay, where I stayed. The bay is home to the Anaru station house where Bill and Ngawai Webber live. Every bit as friendly and genuine and wonderful and Oliver and Ulla, Bill and Ngawai immediately welcomed me like long lost American cousin.
We lost little time settling in and setting to making dinner. And drinking wine. It the day wasn’t amazing enough, it also happened to be election day in the U.S., and I was eager to follow the results. New Zealand had numerous correspondents stateside, so I got to watch all candidates’ speeches, and, even better, my hosts were as eager to hear them and follow the results as I was.
It was an amazing day.
When I settled into bed that night, actually where I’d imagined my character to be for so many months, I realized, being here myself, was even better. I could hadly wait for the next day to start.

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