Friday, November 28, 2008

Half a Globe Away - Penultimate Day 7

After the stellar, cake-stealing, can’t-get-better-than-this Saturday I had, I couldn’t believe that Sunday would still hold surprises in store for me. But this was New Zealand. I should have known surprises waited around every corner. Pleasant surprises.

Sunday was my last day in French Pass, and I was more than melancholic. I’d come to love this rugged section of the southern island, its steep “hills”, teeming waters, bright bush, and gentle pace. I didn’t want to leave.

There was one glorious surprise left for me – the lighthouse. The French Pass lighthouse has had a long and colorful history. Today, it is a national landmark which isn’t privately owned, but lived in. I met the present occupants - Grace and Lawrence - at the French Pass Road book launch on Wednesday in Okiwi Bay. They are none other than Americans who’d moved to the Pass three years before via Australia. Stories abound in New Zealand. Everyone’s got one, even the people restoring the lighthouse.

Grace very, well, graciously offered to give me a tour, and let me down to the lighthouse. It’s off limits to the general public today thanks to the incredibly steep 101 stairs leading down the “hill” that the lighthouse sits snuggled against. Fortunately, I had the French Pass “connections”.

Oliver, Ulla and I took off after breakfast for the lighthouse. Grace had just made pancakes and their light aroma hung in the cool air around the house. It had gotten pretty run down during the prolonged tenure of the last actual lighthouse keeper, but Grace and Lawrence had begun the long and delicate process of stripping the building, restoring the foundation and breathing new life into the historic one-storey structure. It’s now painted light blue and white and reminded more than anything of a neat fisherman’s house somewhere in Scandinavia. Gorgeous and warm with broad windows looking out over the extreme drop off just in front of the house and across to the green bush of D’Urville Island. After a tour of the house, Grace unlocked the gate to the stairs and Oliver, Ulla and I began the steep descent.

There is no better view of the Pass. The lighthouse and the lighthouse beacon sit directly on the edge and in the middle of French Pass. The waters sweep by the white lighthouse, the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean raging against each other in an ageless nautical tug-of-war. But the waters were so calm when we got there. There was no foam or roar. For days now when I'd gone running in the morning, I'd heard the roar of the French Pass from the road hundreds of feet above it. Today it was so seemingly calm. How bad could it really be? I wondered, and was tempted to dip a foot into the eddying currents and find out how fast they really are.

Until a boat approached, and I watched how the current swept it through as if it were no bigger than a toy, listing to one side in its strong pull.

There was, of course, adventure – and lunch – waiting for us in the rocky coast surrounding the small lighthouse. Next thing I knew, Oliver was pulling up the famed green-lipped mussels I’d tried not four days ago in Havelock. He’d found lunch.

Only in New Zealand.

Honestly, how could I actually want to leave this place?

But the mussels - now safely secured in a makeshift bag that Oliver had created from his shirt - were far too tempting to leave hang about all day waiting for me. So, we took a few pictures. I breathed in as much of the Pass as I could, trying to register its might and prowess with all of my senses before beginning the steep ascent back to the white and blue home a hundred feet directly overhead.

While lunch was far from a somber affair, my heart was heavy. These generous people - Bill, Ngawai, Oliver and Ulla - had become like family to me, and I really didn’t want to leave. Yet research called. I had one last stop on this trip, Nelson.

Oliver and Ulla live in Nelson, which couldn’t have been more perfect. Nelson was the big sheep and wool market for French Pass farmers during the 1800s. I had to see it. It actually plays a role in my novel.

I wasn’t disappointed. Nelson has one of the few naturally occurring harbors. A boulder bank cuts off a long stretch of the coast from the Tasman Sea, creating a safe haven for ships. It was a cloudy day when we visited, but I got a few goods pictures, trying to imagine what it was like for cutters that traveled from French Pass loaded down with bulky wools bales or livestock to sell them at market. How that all must have looked.

Dinner was another fantastic meal of fresh fish, fresh bread and all things delicious. I curled up into bed - the rain now finally unleashing its wetness upon the low lying "hills" around Nelson - knowing I only had one day left in New Zealand. What would it hold in store?

In other incredible news, my book was reviewed by author/reviewer, Brianna Grant. What an amazing review. I am so honored, and thrilled that the story left such a positive impression on her: "Nyikos has a powerful gift for storytelling that comes to life in Dragon Wishes. She magically weaves together two stories to create one unified reading experience: the present-time story of a girl and her little sister coming to terms with their parents' tragic death, and an ancient story handed down through the generations about a girl who calls on the power of dragons to save her village. The transition between the two stories is seamless." To read the full review, click here

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