And that’s when things went a bit sideways.
You may be familiar with the old military maxim that a war plan never survives first contact with the enemy. The same might be said of vacation plans.
Once Carol and Sherry and I got to the south island and hooked up with Carol’s brother Graham and his daughter Jo, the plan was to get all our trekking gear together and backpack the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s famous Great Tracks. It was to be a four day trip, and all the details were arranged: overnight accommodations in the huts along the track; water taxis to transport the group’s extra gear; buses to get us to and from the endpoints of the track. Graham had prepared several days of food in advance, and Jo had even packed individual pouches of trail mix.
The night before we flew down from Auckland to the south island, I got almost no sleep; so after we landed in Nelson, when I felt freakishly tired and sleepy, I put it down to a lack of shuteye. That evening, after Graham and Jo arrived and we packed our gear, I studiously ignored the building wave of head- and body aches and stomach cramps. I went to bed early and told myself I’d be right as rain with a good night’s sleep. It was only in the middle of the night, when a spike of chills and fever heralded the arrival of some unspeakable intestinal symptoms, that I knew it was no use.
It was the flu, of course. It was also a disaster: Not only would it derail the carefully-planned backpacking trek for all concerned (with the concomitant loss of sunk costs); absent the overnight lodgings and transportation arrangements we would have to forego, it would leave the five of us, at the apex of the tourist season, with no place to go and no way to get there. So at 4 AM — two hours before we were supposed to be leaving the house to catch our bus — I gingerly woke Carol and broke the awful news.
And then followed one of those occasional moments where my wife goes beyond being merely wonderful and becomes positively post-human.
Telling me to hunker down and get some more rest (which I was desperate to do at that juncture), Carol set about working her particular brand of magic: so that by the time we were scheduled to check out of our airbnb that morning, she had apprised everyone else of the situation and formulated an alternate plan; located and booked a perfect airbnb for a reasonable price in nearby Golden Bay; hunted up a suitable rental car when even Kayak said there weren’t any to be found; set the process in motion to get us a refund for our bus fares; and got us ready to head out the door.
No, you can’t have her. I saw her first.
Anyway, that was two days ago. Yesterday, while I slept off the worst of the flu, the others went out for a long tramp in an all-day, cats-and-dogs rainstorm, and returned soaked and laughing. Personally, I kind of feel like I got the sweet end of that deal, though I am told that I will need to brave a similar meteorological challenge in the coming weeks if I am to be considered a True Kiwi. Until then, I suppose I’ll just have to muddle through as a dry Outworlder.
In the meantime, the grippe was sufficiently attenuated by this morning that I could once again venture out — and boy howdy, did I make up for lost time.
After breakfast, we drove out to a short walking trail to see Te Waikoropupu Springs — a crystal-clear spring sacred to the Maori people. It is forbidden to touch the waters; and indeed, the water is so pristine, and the submerged colors so otherworldly, that it would seem like defilement to touch. As it is, the sense of tranquility and beauty is enough to make you want to linger like Narcissus by the waterside forever.
After reluctantly taking leave of the spring, we drove about an hour west, past Puponga and Cape Farewell to Wharariki Beach. Walking from the car park over a ridge of emerald hills, we descended onto an enormous expanse of mostly deserted white sand stretching away to the ocean. A series of small rock islands stood out from the beach. On the nearest of the formations, moored partly on the strand, a group of seals loafed in the sun while a small audience of beachgoers vied like paparazzi to get photos.
We ranged far and wide along the beach as Phoebus’s chariot rolled through the stations of early afternoon, then we headed back to the car. The day’s highlight’s weren’t quite done, though. Once again passing by Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of New Zealand’s south island, we stopped to take the view from the cliffs.
And what a view!
Despite being mostly comatose as recently as yesterday, I was so energized by the green cliffs and the sun-washed sky that I was soon running from one overlook to the next like a hyperactive kid. (The others managed to keep their dignity somewhat more intact, like the proper descendents of British forbears they are.)
At length, we all piled back into the car and headed back to our unexpected lodging in Takaka. It wasn’t a day I would have anticipated when I boarded the plane from Auckland. But I’m definitely not giving it back.