It was as if the gods of fate were smiling on me my whole trip to New Zealand, and on Wednesday, they really outdid themselves (or so I thought. I hadn’t gotten to Saturday yet and what a day that was!)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and provide some background to why Wednesday was such a stellar day.
French Pass was, until 1956, completely cut off from the rest of New Zealand as far as roads go. Quite simply, there were none. The only way to or from the Pass and Admiralty Bay was by ship. Then, in 1956, the Transportation Dept began the French Pass Road. And 51 years later, on November 5, 2008, the debut book about the road was released.
And guess who was there????
What are the chances?
The book was launched in a little town, Okiwi Bay, that is near French Pass. Oliver, Ulla, Bill and Ngawai took me there the next morning. The author was unable to attend, but it wasn't such a huge loss because the people who put the work into the road did. And did they have stories to tell! One man got up and told a short tale about a guy working on the road. It had to bull-dozed through the bush, then leveled, and finally, graveled. The guy accidentally cut his finger one day. He looked down at the dangling tip of his finger and said, “That will just get in the way.” And then chopped it off!!
The room roared with laughter. They said the story completely fit the man in question.
I could only shake my head in awe and the knowledge that I’d never have the nerve to do that, no matter how annoying the cut might have been. I’m such a city slicker, I realized.
After the speeches and the stories, second tea was served. I thought Tolkien was only joking about second tea in the Lord of the Rings with the hobbits. But there is such a thing! And what a delight that is. Meat pies, pastries, cookies, finger sandwiches, tea – of course – and coffee. After my second meat pie, which, by the way, was entirely scrumptious, I was really beginning to wonder about that whole “calories don’t count” in New Zealand thing. But then I shook my head, dismissing the worry, and reached for a pastry instead. It was in the name of research after all.
It would have been a red letter day right there, but Oliver and Ulla had way more in store for me. We were going through the Pass.
I could hardly believe it. After all of the shipwrecks in the Pass that I’d read about, I have to admit, I was a wee bit nervous. But this was why I was here. I had to go through the Pass. How could I send my character through it, if I wasn’t even willing to try it out.
We drove back to Bill & Ngawai’s, changed, grabbed some lunch, and then headed out to the beach. We reached the launch vie rubber boat, and I managed not to fall into the Pacific Ocean, which is saying something. I think I’m a bit of a klutz on ships.
The trip to the Pass took maybe ten minutes. Today was an easy day. The water wasn’t roaring.
“It’s not the foam you have to worry about,” Ulla told me as Oliver guided the boat into the narrow Pass between the lighthouse and a beacon attached to a bit of reef in the middle of the strait of water. “It’s those.”
She was pointing at really calm sections of water that looked flat – no waves, no foam, no anything.
“Why?” I asked.
“That’s where whirlpools occur."
My somtach dropped. "Whirlpools."
"Oh, yes," Ulla assured me. "Whirlpools. They spin the boat around. It can be very dangerous.”
I was really really really glad Oliver was so familiar with the Pass. Needless to say, we swerved left and right around some of the bigger placid bits of water, and within seconds emerged on the other side.
“Have you ever fished for blue cod?” Oliver asked. He’d stopped the boat over something called Jacob’s Hole, which turned out to be a super deep hole in the ocean floor where blue cod liked to live.
“What are they?” I asked.
He only smiled and handed me a fishing pole with the biggest hook I’d ever seen on it. Granted, as a kid, my parents took me and my brother fishing on a small lake in Michigan called Christie Lake, so I wasn’t a novice. But I’d never used a hook that big for anything other than – oh, I don’t know – building a house or something.
But I wasn’t about to admit it. So, dutifully, I took my pole. Oliver showed me how to let out the line. There is no casting. And then how to wait for the fish to bite. He generously baited the mega hook for me too.
And so we began.
I nervously let my line out, waiting until it touched bottom, then set the line and waited, hoping I’d at least catch something and not look like the city kid I am.
Apparently, I’m not as bad as all that. Within ten minutes I’d hooked two blue cod. You’re only allowed to catch three. Of course, that third one was actually the very last fish we hooked about an hour later, but still. I think I won a little respect from my New Zealand guides ☺
Fishing finished, we visited the shores of D’Urville Island, which is a bird preserve, ran the Pass a few times, and then headed home, where I ate the best blue cod I’ve ever eaten. I think catching it sort of helped, but even if I hadn't, it really was out of this world delicious.
It couldn’t get any better than this, I thought as I enjoyed the spoils of my hard work that day.
Then again...I hadn’t mustered sheep yet. Not to worry. Bill and Oliver were already planning my sheep mustering initiation for the very enxt day. How would this city slicker do? Tune in on Friday!
In other news...Cynthia Leitich Smith featured me on her cynsations blog about most important lessons in writing that I've learned so far. If you get a chance, please stop by and check it out! Click here