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The Slopes of Te Aroha

`I haven't felt so relaxed in months,' said Dianne as we walked hand-in-hand along the dirt road. We had just spent most of the day paddling around in the Waiorongomai Stream, which runs out of the valley of the same name. Dianne was an Australian hosteller, now on her third day at the hostel. The hostel had been unusually busy the night before (eight people) and she wanted to spend her last day at Te Aroha away from people. I had suggested she try the Waiorongomai for a bit of skinny-dipping and soul-searching, but she didn't want to go alone. Since it was a warm March day and Dianne was well-spoken – and was tall, blonde, and attractively built, with a sweet face besides – I had gone along. (Well, what else could I do?)

  The Waiorongomai Valley lay about six kilometres south of the hostel. I

was wont to go there frequently, alone or in company. When I went alone, I generally cycled. When I went with hostellers, I generally walked. The walk this day – out of town along the road that hugs the feet of the Kaimais, then turn off and walk along a dirt road through farms until the car park near the site of the old gold battery –took about an hour. At the car park, we climbed over fallen rocks and forded the icy stream (a six-metre journey that washed away all the dust and sweat that the six-kilometre journey preceding it had coated on us) and struck off up the valley along one of the many paths that thread the area. Before long this brought us back to the stream, at the point where most local picnickers would stop. We did not stop, however, for my favourite spots were reachable only by people willing to wade upstream a considerable distance, and involved a bit of scrambling over rocks besides. This was not a drawback, for without these obstacles there would have been nowhere in the valley worth bathing nude. Too many casual passers-through would have spoiled it.

  Eventually we reached the nearer of my two preferred spots -- a swirl-pool

about ten metres across, with a wide area in the middle where the water was too deep to stand in. When I first came there it was much smaller, but I could see the ruins of a rock-dam at the downstream exit. With great labour I had rebuilt the dam, replacing the large boulders that some flood had washed away and filling the interstices with smaller rocks and gravel. Some boulders bigger than a bull had been so balanced that with just a little sapping I was able to topple their round bellies into the holes dug for them and so bring their flat tops into perfect position for sunning on. Although several paths ran along the valley walls on either side, I had satisfied myself that this spot, at least, was overlooked by none of them, unless someone cared to scramble down a muddy slope with no guarantee of getting back up again.

  Arrived, we stripped off and dived in. I was first out again, and was vastly

amused by Dianne's expression as she waded out after, goose-pimpled and puckered all over. The wading we had done on our way upstream had not prepared her for the coldness of the deep pool, and I had not warned her. But I grinned at her and dived back in to show that it wasn't that bad.

  That bad or no, despite vigourous swimming and paddling, ten minutes of

the water was more than enough, and we crawled out. I had arranged two rocks side-by-side, with a third facing them, all within easy distance for quiet conversation. After the water, the sensation of sun-warmed rock against my back and mild autumn sun on my face was bliss. And so we lay there, in the green-walled grey stone valley, baking slowly, talking in the relaxed way that the location allowed. There was something about the calls of the birds and the occasional crackles and louder rustling of the greenery, and the chuckling of the water as it flowed over rocks and falls, that denied the outside world access to the valley. Problems and worries washed away with the water, down and away, out of sight and out of mind.

  Dianne was in NZ on the first stopover of a trip that would take her to

the US and back via the Pacific Islands. She had just broken with her husband, and hoped to use the trip to regain her own identity and rest up preparatory to building a new life when she returned to Oz. She was strongly anti-male at this time. `I'm a man,' I said. `Yes,' she said, `And that's been worrying me.' `Then relax,' I said. `Think of me as a Boy Scout on a Bob-a- Job Day. My Job is to be cheerful company, and my Bob is the pleasure of your company. Today is for relaxing. I promise to be a good boy no matter what. Scout's Honour.' And I made the Scout salute with my toes, as nearly as I could, a position so foolish that she had to laugh. And after that she was open to the aura of the valley and we talked more and more freely and openly, while her cares fell off her and slithered dryly into the stream and were washed away.

  The afternoon wore on, pleasantly. She shifted to the facing-stone to

change the angle of the sun. We had been discussing the effects of travel on body and nerves, and she mentioned that before her separation she had been quite a bit overweight. Since beginning her trip, the excess weight had dissolved, and she now weighed less than she had for years. She did look good, with just a little looseness of the skin at waist and thigh and upper arm, and I said so. I wonder about the therapeutic effects of travel sometimes – for hostellers seem to me much healthier than the average person. Is it that the hostelling way of life attracts healthy people, or is it the way of life that attracts the health? From conversations with Dianne and other hostellers, I suspect the latter. And I certainly couldn't complain while facing this nude, golden woman with her bronzed skin and translucent yellow hair. Consideration of which led me to go for another swim to help me keep my Scout's Promise to her. (It's a tough life.) When I came out I rubbed her neck and scalp, stopping only when she fell asleep. Then I went back to my own rock.

  The sun fell below the valley rim, and the breeze blowing up the valley,

pleasant in the sunshine, became cool enough to encourage activity. So we gathered up our gear and waded downstream. At the first bend we stopped to dress, for we were no longer in that small spot which was safe from random eyes, and then continued downstream, hand in hand. We held hands, in fact, until we were out of the valley and partway down the dirt road. Then, shazoom! I felt myself become a hostel manager again, and Dianne remembered that she didn't like to be touched by men, and our hands fell apart.

  The next day Dianne moved on, and although I have a contact address for

her, I have never seen her again. Yet for that single day we were just two people, not a man and a woman (though we were aware of our natures), and I think that I would not have swapped the experience for a month of sex. I think that she felt the same.

  Before writing this account, I had many doubts. Not about the experience,

but about the retailing of it to others. It is a memory very close to my soul. Telling such to others can spoil the memory. But it is just one of many (well, a number), and rereading it now, it does not seem to me that it has lost any true value for having been put on paper. I only curse my clumsy way with words, that I have not been able to bring it to the same glowing life that the memory possesses within me.



Part Five

This is the fifth episode of `History', my autobiographical account of what I did during my gafia. To put the previous episodes in a nutshell: In mid-1983 I left New Zealand for Australia. At the end of 1983 I left Australia for New Zealand, having spent most of those 5 1/2 months in Melbourne. In NZ I went back to my old job with the PO in Wellington. At the end of 1984 I left the PO in order to trek NZ. In January and February I `did' the South Island. In March and April I `did' the North Island. In May I worked on the Kiwifruit. And on the 3rd of June 1985, I found myself the temporary custodian of the Youth Hostels Association of NZ hostel in the town of Whakatane (Fahk-ah-tah-nay) in the Bay of Plenty in the North Island. (There. Now you don't have to write and ask me for the earlier sections of this long-drawn-out scribble.)

This segment of `History' follows my career from 3rd June 1985 to 19th of September 1986, when I left New Zealand for Australia.


Guide To Names:

  In this `History', I am trying to render a pronunciation guide for each
  Maori (Mah-oh-ree) word as we reach it. These guides are as close as
  I can get to correct Maori. Kiwis (kee-weez) tend to mispronounce
  them, and the poor foreigner is completely lost. Take Paraparaumu, a
  perfectly respectable place near Wellington. The system I am using here
  would render this `pah-rah-pah-rah-oo-moo' (`ah' standing for long `a'
  as in `far'). The typical kiwi will rhyme the `a' with `sat' and say `pa-rah-
  pa-ram'; the locals will say `p'ram'. Te Aroha (Tay-ah-roh-hah) tends to
  dribble out of the locals' mouths, becoming something like `T'roah'. My
  home town of Wanganui (fahng-ah-noo-ee) is `wong-gan-new-ee' to
  most locals (and `wann-gan-noo-ee' to most foreigners). `F' and `wh' --
  the sound signified by `wh' in Maori is nearer `f' than `w'; hence my use
  of `f' in the guides to pronunciation. It's close enough. Finally, the
  combination `ng' is as in `twang', but with more bite to the `g' following
  the `ng' sound. I hope this info is useful.

Acting Like A Man:

Whakatane YHA hostel was supported by the Tauranga (Towr-rahng-ah) Branch of YHA. An official of the Branch ferried me down the coast and stayed a few days to show me the ropes, then left me in sole charge, to sink or swim.

  The hostel was located in King Street, a fair walk from the centre of town.

The building was an old two-storey wooden structure, long overdue for demolition. But the nature of YHA's tenancy on the site was such that if it attempted to replace the building, the land would revert to the local council – which was unlikely to grant a new lease on terms which would leave the hostel a financially viable proposition. Since the hostel was already losing money just about as fast as YHA could afford, Whakatane hostel drifted along from year to year while necessary work piled up because the Tauranga Branch preferred to put its effort into the local (and profitable) hostel.

  The hostel provided 24 beds, in six rooms, but rarely had more than half

a dozen travellers at any one time. Whakatane was regarded as a dead spot tourist-wise: a way-stop for travellers exiting or entering the scenic East Cape region, or benighted on their way from Gisborne/ Napier to Tauranga/ Rotorua (Roh-toh-roo-ah).

  This attitude that there was `nothing to see or do' at Whakatane was

mistaken. In fact, there was an excellent beach at nearby Ohope (Oh-Hope- ay) (a five-kilometre walk, unfortunately); there was a good walkway with several Maori sites along it; and Whakatane was a natural gateway for trampers wanting to get into areas not much frequented by other trampers. In addition to this, it was a good base for exploring the coastal side of Mt Tarawera (Tah-rah-weh-raa) and its little cousin Mt Edgecumbe, provided you had access to a car.

  Whakatane itself was the landing-place of one of the seven great canoes

of the legendary Great Fleet (circa 1325 AD). It took its name from an incident connected with that landing. It seems that when the canoe landed, all the men jumped out and rushed ashore, leaving the women and children aboard. The canoe, inadequately beached, started to drift offshore. But Maori tradition made it tapu (tah-poo – sacred or forbidden according to context) for women to paddle the canoe. Problem! But a chief's daugh-

ter grabbed a paddle and, crying `I will act like a man!', quickly brought the canoe back to shore. `Act like a man' in Maori is whakatane, and so the place was named. (This naming of places after events rather than people was usual Maori practice, leading to such intriguing names as `Kai Hau O Kupe' {kye-how-oh-koo-pay <Where Kupe Ate The Wind>}.) One of the Maori sites in the area, mentioned earlier, was almost the earliest pa (pah {fortified village}) site in NZ, and the whole Whakatane area is spotted with historic places.

  I remember relatively little about my time at Whakatane -- except for

details that are just as true for my next hostel and hence, perhaps, best left for now. Every attempt to dredge a single memory of everyday life at Whakatane also brings up several similar but better memories of the later hostel. On the other hand, a few distinct events do stand out.


Three Volcanoes

One day the hostel had a single visitor – a German, Kurt. I am unable to place the memory precisely in time: the YHA person who had brought me down to Whakatane was there, but it was probably a later visit for him. Anyway, we had been sitting round talking about exciting things to do the next day, and the suggestion was made that we should make an excursion to nearby Mt Edgecumbe, for Kurt's sake.

  Mt Edgecumbe is a solitary mountain, almost directly inland from

Whakatane and about 35 kilometres away by car (a trifle less by pigeon – if passenger pigeons were not extinct and therefore unavailable for taxi services). It is only 821 metres in height, but the absence of tall nearby peaks allows it to command the rolling hill-country that surrounds it. As is usually the case with such mountains in New Zealand (and in this area of New Zealand in particular) it is a volcano. A dormant one.

  In the morning, we all piled into a car and headed off. Down King Street

and left onto Highway 2. Six kilometres and right onto Highway 30. Twenty kilometres and we took the left turn to Kawerau (Kah-weh-row), a town mentioned briefly in the last `History' in relation to the temporary job I took while waiting for the Kiwifruit to start. It is a town of heavy industry, boasting two major pulp & paper mills – Caxton and Tasman. The former produces most of NZ's toilet paper; the second produces the bulk of NZ's newsprint. Both are hulking complexes of concrete buildings and mazes of noisy machinery, employing thousands of workers between them, and they are the main reason the town exists. Because of this, the town looks a bit different to most NZ country centres, with its grid of uniformly utilitarian company houses and its odd lack of other signs of personality.

  The town is set in -- or surrounded by, if you prefer a better term -- the

great pine forests that provide the paper for the great maws of the two mills. Hundreds of square kilometres of Pinus radiata. Dull, dull, dull to drive around in. The older plantings stand in rows and columns; more recent plantings straggle in a less boring randomness. Here and there, there are sudden areas containing trees of uniform height: legacies of clear-felling or fires. Elsewhere, sections of tall and short trees alternate – the result of strip-logging.

  We went through the town and took a side-road towards the mountain on

the far side. Somewhere around here we stopped to check in with the Forest HQ, since Mt Edgecumbe is located in the forest, most of which is privately owned by the mills. The mountain looms over Kawerau like an enormous pyramid, drawing the eye towards it as an escape from the endless rows of spiky trees.

  The forest road led us partway up the mountain, then ended in a parking

lot. A wide gravel road continued on the far side of a locked gate, and we walked up the road. The day was warmish, despite the increasing height and the fact that it was mid-winter. Kurt later sent me some photos he had taken at the top. They show me wearing T-shirt and thin trousers. Some clouds were scattered around, but not so many as to shut out the warmth of the sun.

  We eventually crossed the edge of the crater, but the highest point of the

mountain was across the crater from where we did so. So we got to walk around the small weed-grown lake that fills the lowest section of the crater. The entire interior of the crater was heavily overgrown, and it was hard to reconcile all this life with the aridity that must have prevailed in the days when the volcano was active. I said earlier that Edgecumbe is dormant. Extinct would probably be a correct description, but Kiwis have become wary of that word since the time `extinct' Mt Ruapehu (Roo-ah-pay-hoo) decided it had slept long enough, and proceeded to drop ash on towns hundreds of kilometres away.

  We finally reached the top -- actually the highest point on the rim of the

crater. From here the mountainside dropped away in a grand sweep, down into the dwarfed foothills carpeted with their peculiar spiky green `grass'. Kawerau was a grey blot, details blurred by the steam and smoke from the mills. Spires of this smoke rose above it, some overtopping us where we stood atop the mountain.

  Looking up from the mountain's foot to the horizon, above and left to the

town, I saw a huge green lump. Mt Tarawera, 1111 metres tall, twenty-five kilometres off. Readers of SECANT 4 may remember my review of Alan Dean Foster's MAORI, a book which contains a description of the eruption of Tarawera in the late 1800's. Turning right and looking along the coastline of the Bay of Plenty, I thought I could see the distant pimple of Mt Maunganui (Mowng-gah-noo-ee), 232 metres, near Tauranga, but I may have been mistaken. Turning right and looking out into Bay of Plenty, I could see another mountain – this one low-lying and well up on the lip of the horizon. A pall of white cloud was rising from it. White Island is an active volcano about fifty kilometres offshore in the Bay. Once it was used as a quarry for sulphur, but increasing volcanism in the early years of this century rendered it too dangerous for anyone to reside and work there. Today it suffers occasional forays from planes and boats filled with curiosity- seekers. In 1985 the price for a boat-excursion was, if I remember rightly, NZ$55, with a $10 surcharge if you wanted to go ashore there. Turning right and looking towards East Cape, the land broke into a jumble of woolly green hills – the Ikawhenua (Ick-ah-fen-oo-ah) Ranges, covered by native bush. This green land was quite distinct from the `grassy' pine forest; NZ's native trees tend to the blobby, not the spearhead pine shape. Turning right again brought me full-circle.

  I found myself looking at a spine of rock extending from the mountaintop.

It rose a little higher than the rest of the summit. Not being afraid of heights, I immediately clambered out onto it and had my photo snapped, standing astride the end of the spur and pointing grandly in the direction of Whakatane. `There are some hostellers waiting on the front porch of the hostel!' I shouted back to the others, jokingly. Actually, although the town was quite distinct, it was too far away for me to make out more than a couple of the bigger buildings – and those only as minute patches of different colour. The hostel was quite invisible.


Ohope Beach:

Six kilometres from Whakatane, over a sizable hill, is the white-sand beach of Ohope. It is a long crescent in shape, about four kilometres long, washed by gentle waves and shelving quite slowly in many places, so that the water warms quickly on sunny days. Elsewhere it shelves more rapidly and provides good if rather insipid surf. Backing the beach is the resort town of Ohope Beach, and backing the town are high cliffs. These are bush-covered and dotted with cottages.

  My main memory of Ohope does not actually date from my hostel days,

but rather from a fortnight's holiday my family spent there many years ago. I still possess a small phial of water and another of sand, collected during that visit. (The water, by now, has lost enough substance through the small cork used to close the bottle so that it is brine rather than water. But who cares?) My father worked for the NZ Post Office and had managed to secure one of the PO's many holiday cottages for this vacation. Ohope in summer was paradisiacal for the younger me. I would spend the long days exploring the beach and the surrounding area, and paddling and swimming, and building huge sand castles with this strange pale sand. (The sand at Castlecliff Beach, which is the suburb of Wanganui my parents live in, is black (well, grey when dry) and heavy because of the presence of large quantities of iron. Remember the physics demonstration which involves a magnet and a handful of iron filings? We didn't need iron filings for that – just a pail of sand.) I was very sad when the time came to leave, back to school and homework and `Get up, you'll be late!' (I never have liked getting up early.)

  Perhaps that holiday has stayed in my memory so long because of a

gimmick my parents used to reduce the monotony of the homeward trip. We waited, car packed, until dawn lit the sky at the right-hand end of the bay. When the sun rose above the peaks of the East Cape, we all piled into the car and started the homeward trip. We drove across the island via Rotorua, Taupo (Tah-ow-poh), and National Park, arriving in Wanganui before sunset. Then we went down to Castlecliff beach and watched the sun go down into the sea. From water, to water.

  After a somewhat uncertain start -- I needed time to adjust my viewpoint

from that of the hosteller to that of the Manager – I got the hang of the job, and even began to feel that perhaps this job provided an interesting new slant on the Youth Hostels and the way that they operate. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself worrying over the future of the hostel, even though my own time there was likely to be short.

  All things end. At the end of July, the new permanent manager arrived

and I had to go. But where? I liked the life; I didn't want to stop being a hostel manager just yet. Fortunately, my work with Whakatane had found enough favour so that I was offered a chance at running another one, as a permanent position.


The Mountain of Love:

On 1st August I left Whakatane and hitched to Tauranga. I stayed a night in the hostel there, renewing my friendship with the managers. I also talked with the other hostellers staying that night – Kurt from Germany (already met at Whakatane) and Karen from England. (I have decided, after some thought, to use the true given names of the people I meet in this section. Privacy will be maintained by withholding the surnames of those who will not be known to fans.) The next day I travelled on by bus via Waihi (wye-hee) and Paeroa (Pye-roh-ah) to Te Aroha.

  Te Aroha is a small dairy-farming town, about 3,500 people and several

hundred thousand head of cattle. It perches on the knees of Mt Te Aroha at the eastern edge of the Hauraki Plains. (How-rah-kee) It is in an old gold-mining area of the North Island. There are hot mineral springs there, and many good tracks for tramping in the Kaimai (Kye-mye) Ranges behind it. The town was established in 1880.

  The mountain after which the town is named stands 953 metres (six tenths

of a mile) tall, and its peak is the site of a TV/radio retransmissions tower. The summit may be reached by either a long (10 km {6 mile}) winding dirt road, or a short (2km {1 1/2 mile}) bush track. From the summit the successful climber can see for hundreds of kilometres around: as far as East Cape and White Island out to sea, to Mts Ruapehu, Tarawera, and Edgecumbe south, to Mt Pirongia (Pih-rong-ee-ah) west, and to the Coromandel (Coh-roh-man-dell) Ranges and the Firth of Thames and Little Barrier Island north. (The view north is hindered somewhat because the Kaimai Range becomes the Coromandel Range that direction. Te Aroha being part of the Kaimai Range, vision is naturally blocked by the tall peaks in the distance.) Mt Te Aroha stands a little way out from the ranked ridges of the Range, and is a conspicuous landmark for anyone approaching the town. It is also, incidentally, the highest peak in the Kaimais. The nearest higher mountains are Pirongia (962 metres), 85 km away on the far side of Hamilton, and Tarawera (1111 metres), 100 km away, the far side of Rotorua.

  If you have trouble with the geography just named, refer to the map

(1994: or any map of NZ). All will become clearer. (Would I lie to you?)

  I came into Te Aroha from the north on a cloudy day. From my bus-seat

I was able to look out through the driver's window, craning for my first glimpse of the town that might become my new home. The weather south looked unpromising: there was a huge black cloud directly ahead, its base apparently resting on the ground. The wind being in the west, I guessed that the cloud-mass was squeezing its way through a gap in the Range. Never mind that my open map-book did not show any such gap. It was only as the bus approached the phenomenon that I realised my error; for suddenly I noticed a slender silver spire atop the cloud's height and realised that my `cloud' was a mountain – the very mountain, in fact, that the town took it's name from. A kilometre doesn't sound like a great height for a mountain, but New Zealand has a habit of starting mountains from near sea-level. The Hauraki Plains were low-lying swamps when the pakeha (pah-kay-hah) came to New Zealand, and so Te Aroha's modest kilometre of height represented something like 900 metres (1/2 mile) rise from the plain to the summit – a bulk many a `taller' mountain might envy!

  The size and prominence of the mountain, in fact, is largely responsible

for its name. A long time ago, a Maori chief named Mamoe (Mah-moy; add a twist to the `moy', half sounding both `o' and `e': mo-ay) left his home near Mt Maunganui to go and visit relatives near the modern site of Hamilton. But on the way home, he and his party became lost in the boggy plains. Winning through the swamps, they made their way instinctively to the highest mountain in sight in order to locate themselves in relation to their homes. From the summit of this mountain they could look over the ranges and into the Bay of Plenty. There they saw the unmistakable silhouette of Mt Maunganui. So happy was Mamoe at this sight of home that he named the mountain he was on `the great love of Mamoe', Te Arohanui a Mamoe (Tay- Ah-row-ha-noo-ee-ah-Mah-moy.) Nowadays this is shortened to `the love', making it `Te Aroha' (also known as `the Mountain of Love' – a beautiful name).

  Once off the bus, I followed my hostel handbook up the slope of the

mountain toward the hostel, approaching my new home as if I was just a newly-arriving hosteller.


The Hostel:

Te Aroha hostel, when I ran it, boasted a mere ten beds in two rooms. My accommodation consisted of a single room off the kitchen area & the run of the hostel during the day. Since Te Aroha was traditionally open all day, and I had no objection to the idea, I usually shared that day with any hostellers who were staying and who did not feel like going out to see the local sights.

  Staying in was not unpopular. To see much of the local area you needed

walk no further than the front door. The hostel was located on a knee of the mountain, on the northern outskirts of town. From the hostel's porch you enjoyed an almost uninterrupted view across the plains. Distant landmarks visible from the hostel included Mt Pirongia and the marching ranks of the Kaimai Ranges. Spectacular sunsets tended to be routine rather than unusual. One artistically-inclined visitor watercoloured a lovely picture in the visitor's book (see illo), and I photocopied it when I left. Sadly, the town had no colour photocopier; I had to satisfy myself with shades of grey and memories.

  The hostel was very homey. The local YHA Branch had put a lot of work

into making it so, with help from the fact that the building was originally a house anyway. NZ has what appears to be an unusual habit: often, instead of building a house on a site, they will load it on the back of a truck and bring it in from elsewhere. (Big houses may be cut in two or more pieces and transported severally.) The typical NZ house being a sturdy wooden structure supported on piles, rather than a brick structure or one built half into the ground, with a basement, this is quite a convenient way of avoiding spending on building costs what you save in land price by buying an out-of-the-way block of land. In the case of the Te Aroha hostel, the house was about sixty years old. But such is the nature of the town, I met a member of the family that once owned the building and whose parents built it. If memory will serve me again, the hostel building cost YHA #64 to buy and transport, back in the 60's. The land was a perpetual free lease from the town.

The Hostellers:

I got my first inkling of what Te Aroha hostel was all about the moment I walked in. There was a part-open door to my left. A dormitory, with three two-tiered bunks and another door visible in the facing wall. I poked my head in, looked around the door – and a head poked out of a huddle of blankets and looked blearily at me. `Oh,' it mumbled, `You must be Greg.' This was around noon.

  The head belonged to Peter, a regular visitor (being a Kiwi). He had been

told by Dannie (the relieving Manager) that I was coming. Dannie would be along that evening to book any new arrivals in and to tell me what was what; meantime I should make myself at home.

  Peter was a retired social worker -- retired on health grounds. He now

spent his time migrating around the North Island. His passion was chess and people; he habitually wore Irish green clothes, needing only the cap in order to resemble a leprechaun. We had a number of long debates during his various visits, covering a wide range of topics. Later on he came by less often; he had a project of some sort going on up in Northland that was taking up a lot of his time. I never found out what it was.

  This pattern of repeated visits lasting several days was quite common for

Te Aroha's visitors. The average stay was about two days, but this figure includes cases such as half a dozen people in a car stopping for the night, having been caught out half-way to Auckland. Ignoring these occurrences, the typical stay was three to four days. (The official limit of stay in a YHA hostel was three days; however, only the busiest hostels in the busiest seasons stuck to this.) The record stay during my time was fourteen days, for a young Japanese chap. Long stays and repeat visits made the difference between existence and nonexistence for the hostel: it was so out-of-the-way, and located so close to several other highly desirable places for long stays (Tauranga, Opoutere, Rotorua) that it had to make the most of anyone who came along. Fortunately, as I'll show later on, the area had enough interesting things to see and do that between these and the homey hostel, achieving these goals was relatively easy.



Skit Gubbe:

One card-game that hostellers had introduced me to at Whakatane proved very popular at Te Aroha on rainy days. This was a Swedish game known as `Skit Gubbe' (`Shit, Old Man'). See the diagram below. The game is played with a full deck, sans Jokers. The best sport is with four or more players. Each player receives four cards, laid out in a square on the table in front of them. Each player may look once at each of the two cards closest to them after the initial deal, and once at each new card they are dealt after the initial four.

  Most cards possess their face value, with the King and Queen worth ten

and the Jack zero. The object of the game is to achieve the lowest point- score from each deal. Hence Four Jacks (score zero) is unbeatable, while four picture cards and/or tens (score forty) is hopeless. The hands can be played individually, or else an overall score with upper/lower limit may be kept. (The normal limits are +100 and -100.)

  Cards after the initial four are dealt one to each player in turn. The player

looks at the card dealt them and decides whether to discard it immediately (face-up on a `discards' pile) or to replace one of their present four cards with it. (In this case the old card is first removed and placed face-up on the discards, and the new card is then placed in the vacant position.)

  Dealing continues until any player, after completing their turn but before

the next player has their turn, knocks twice on the table. After a player knocks, the other players each have one more deal. When the turn returns to the knocker, the knocker has no turn; instead all players face all their cards up in turn, starting with the knocker. The points are counted. The winner is the player with the lowest score. That person has their score subtracted from their points total (if an overall score is being kept). Joint winners neither gain nor lose, except as below. The other players have their score added to their points (if an overall score is being kept). If the knocker is the winner, the subtraction from their score is double their points on this hand; if the knocker is a joint winner, they neither gain nor lose, but the other winner(s) subtract their points from their score(s); if the knocker is a loser, the addition to their points is double their score. The cards are collected and a new hand dealt. Any player whose score gets too high (i.e. exceeds the {100?} limit) is `out'. The game continues in this way until either one player drops below the lower limit, or only one player is left. That player wins the game.

  A very simple game to play, mechanically speaking, Skit Gubbe's skill lies

in tactics and strategy. Luck is minimal; deciding when to knock is vital. An element of uncertainty is added by not knowing the value of two of the initial cards dealt in each hand. When one of these cards is discarded and proves to be a Jack, the normal comment is `Oh shit, a Jack!'; hence the name of the game. (In English it is usually called `Oh, Shit'.) It is best to knock before your point score reaches zero because, after all, while zero is an unbeatable score it does not reduce your own overall score; and while you are trying to achieve it, someone else may knock and catch you with too many high cards! On the other hand, unless you have had time to ensure that you know all your cards are low, those two `unknown' cards can ruin you if they turn out to be high. And it is wise not to knock if you suspect someone else has a lower score – double subtractions and additions can change the strategic situation very quickly!

          ÛÛ ÛÛ
          ÛÛ ÛÛ


          ÛÛ ÛÛ
 ÜÜÜ ÜÜÜ         ÜÜÜ ÜÜÜ
 ÛÛÛ ÛÛÛ         ÛÛÛ ÛÛÛ

2 4

 ÛÛÛ ÛÛÛ         ÛÛÛ ÛÛÛ
 ßßß ßßß         ßßß ßßß
          ÛÛ ÛÛ
          ÛÛ ÛÛ          ÜÜÜ
                   stack ÛÛÛ
          ÛÛ ÛÛ
          ÛÛ ÛÛ  discard ÛÛÛ

In the above diagram, Player 1 deals. After the deal but before play begins, each player can look once at each of their own two cards closest to them (the player being represented above by the appropriate number). The other two cards may not be peeked at until they are placed on the `discards' pile. After a card is discarded it may be replaced by a new card from the face- down `stack'. The player may look at this card before placing it in the vacant spot before them; thereafter they may not peek at it until it, in turn is discarded.

  Have fun!

End Interlude

  The hostellers made the hostel, for me, and their endlessly cheerful -- or

troubled – or thoughtful – or annoying – nature completed the healing process that `History' has spent so many words documenting.

  When I came to Te Aroha, I had myself well sorted-out. If I hadn't, I

couldn't have handled the comings and goings of so many people. What remained to be done was to live my new ideas, to find out which were unworkable or needed adjustment and to become at-home with the philosophy detailed in SECANT 3. Over the next fourteen months I did so, gradually learning how to cope with the various tests that life threw at me.

  One thing that I held in abeyance during this period was sex. Not always

or entirely by choice – but it happened that the times when I was open to temptation rarely coincided with the times when the sort of person I would be attracted by, or who would be attracted by me, was present. Once I was attracted strongly enough by someone to speak to her about it. (She turned me down.) Once someone was attracted by me strongly enough to make a pass. (She chose the wrong time and place, and when we reached the right time and place for me, her interest had cooled.) Apart from these instances, and the sort of non- or half- serious flirting that is a routine part of adult life, however, I was celibate during my time as a hostel manager.

  The longer I was in contact with hostelling, the more one comparison

forced itself on me: the similarity between hostelling and fandom. Hostellers average above the average in intelligence, they see themselves as a group apart from the main stream of travellers, they congregate, and they participate in various group activities. Many parallels can be drawn between the two groups.

  But in fact this similarity is deceiving, for hostelling, even more than

fandom, is a way of life for those practicing it while they are practicing it. Whether fandom can be considered to be a way of life at all is open to doubt, for the number of fans who participate in fandom to the exclusion of almost all else is small. Career, family, other groups of friends, other interests, all lay claims on the time of most fans. No matter how serious the individual is about their fanac, fandom remains a part-time affair and therefore cannot be said to rank as more than a hobby – regardless of their claims to `FIAWOL'. But when you travel, you travel completely from the time you leave home to the time you return. I'm not talking about holidays touring, here, but about going off and living in another place for a time, with no intention of settling down and for no particular reason other than that it's what you want to do. This is an attitude that is particularly noticeable among hostellers.

  Of course, even hostelling can be seen as a part-time or temporary way of

life, for relatively few people choose to spend their whole lifetime travelling (probably about the same proportion as manage to spend all their waking hours on fandom). But travelling has a lot more in common with `true' countercultures such as the old hippies than does fandom. Even hippies rarely devoted their entire lifetime to their alternative way of life; but while they followed it, they lived it completely.

  After getting to know hostelling, I found that I could no longer see

`FIAWOL' as any more than a quaint and plaintive assertion, a squeak against the thunder of reality. I'm unsure whether this is a loss or a gain. At any rate, I am left to `live' fandom as best I can, unable any longer to see it as the great and Serious matter that it once seemed to me to be.

  Either way, I was preoccupied for a long time by my own internal

redevelopment and with observations such as this. I arrived at Te Aroha with my new ideas fully developed, but I still lacked confidence in them and in myself. The hostel and the hostellers at TE Aroha gave me that confidence.



There was plenty else to do at Te Aroha than sit around and chat in the hostel. The area had many attractions. Mountains and valleys, farms, hot springs. Most hostellers went to explore at least some of these things.

The Valley:

Six kilometres south of the hostel lay the Waiorongomai (Wy-oh-rong-go-my) Valley. This valley was the setting of the anecdote that opened this episode of `History'. That story is not entirely unique. Perhaps it was something in the Valley, but I noticed, time and again, that if I went up there with just one other person, male or female, all the barriers would drop away just for that day, and not return until we left the Valley.

  My other preferred spot in the Valley was further upstream, and the

swimming pool was very small – perhaps four metres across – but was very, very deep. It was the basin for a waterfall of sorts – perhaps a `sluice' is a better description, for the water flowed on the stone until it was about two feet above the pool, so the free-fall section wasn't much. But with a little scrambling it was possible to reach the top of the fall, and then slide down the smooth rock on your ass, to land in the middle of the pool with a huge splash. A path did overlook this spot, but it was not much used and I soon found that the typical hosteller who was willing to join me in nudity was, like me, not much bothered by the possibility of being overlooked.

  The stream is not the only attraction of the valley. There is a gold-bearing

quartz-seam running through the northern wall of the valley, and in the later years of last century and the early years of this, the town of Waiorongomai boasted 6000 people and dozens of gold companies. Few made money, for the ore was low-grade and required a lot of work to refine. Today the town is gone completely, though it is possible to find signs of where it once stood provided you know where it was. And there are still many tunnels around, so many that it is dangerous to wander off the beaten tracks in case you `find' a hidden shaft the hard way. But a favourite walk is to follow the pathway of the horse-powered railway line that was made to bring the ore to the crushing batteries. The construction of this link had been no mean feat – as the modern explorer learns when they try to follow the track up Butler's Incline. The rusted tracks make good hand-holds for the hardy person braving the slope. Unfortunately, there is rather a long length of track to traverse before you reach the top…

  For those willing to climb up out of the valley, there were stands of Kauri

trees, never milled, in the crinkles of the Kaimais; and the walking tracks that took you to those trees could take you on over the ranges to the coast, a stiff 25-kilometre hike. I explored the valley and the area around it throughout my period at the hostel, but when I left I had not exhausted the variety of the area.

The Easter Comet:

The cold wind blew up the mountainside and rattled the loose top of the billy. Birgit tapped the lid to reseat it. Fran‡ois measured instant coffee into the cups. I lay on my back nearby, peering up through Dannie's binoculars in search of the elusive fuzzy Comet.

  The return of Halley's comet was an event that I had been looking

forward to for many years, my anticipation rising with each year that passed and brought no comet worth the title into naked-eye sight. Kahoutek had been a null, and no other comet in my lifetime had lived up to the stories I read about the monsters of the past. So I had built my hopes on Halley's, which had a good track record.

  Easter 1986 had been listed as a good time to see the comet. Mountains

are good places to see comets from. Here I was with a major comet coming - - and me living on a mountainside. All I needed was a reason to get up at 1am to climb the mountain. A hostel-full of hostellers would surely yield a group interested in comet-watching? And so I scheduled a major weekend event for Easter at Te Aroha, including all the usual attractions of the area plus a barbecue, a walk around the Waiorongomai, etc. I arranged for overflow accommodation in the town in case more people turned up than could fit in the hostel. I bought enough food for a small army.

  In the event, there were never more than eight people staying at the hostel

on any given day over the weekend. They were: Birgit and Fran‡ois (Canada), Margaret and Michael and Andrew (US), Derek (England), Ina (Germany), Joerg and Madelene and Marilene (Australia). (That's ten people, but Madelene and Marilene stayed only one night.) However, two out of the three that arrived on Thursday were interested in the walk, so that worked out. And here we were, halfway up the road, brewing a cup of coffee against the cold.

  I finally spotted a fuzzy dot, more or less where the comet should be. So

far so good. The next step was more trouble, since I had to describe where it was to the others. By the time we were all agreed that each had seen the same (possibly cometal) object, the coffee water was about as warm as it was going to get and our hands were turning blue.

  The temperature was not surprising, since it was about 2:30 am of an

autumn morning and the weather was not clement. The major obstacle to finding the comet had not been its dimness and small size, but drifting high cloud – the forerunners of a rain mass. We were all wrapped up as warmly as possible, but no matter how we huddled into our coats, the wind slid icicles into the corners of our eyes and lapped a frigid tide around our ankles.

  We had paused for coffee and comet at a point where the road bent

around the back of the mountain and the wind was cut into eddies. Now, coffee downed and binoculars back in their case, we resumed our ascent of the mountain. The road was gravel, and existed to link the tower at the summit with the rest of the world. It started at the northern edge of the town and wound its way up and south around the back of the mountain before switchbacking northwards and winding al the way back again, to reach the summit just as it reached the front of the mountain. It was a ten- kilometre trudge, and the only reason we had chosen to climb the mountain this way was because the other way – straight up the track from the Domain – was too dangerous in the dark and, since it lay across the front side of the mountain, was liable to interference from the town's lights in any place suitable for comet watching, which would tend to dim the comet slightly.

Requiem -- Easter '86.  In case I'm not here
and anyone wonders, the final score was:
27/3 THURSDAY.  Three hostellers.  Hot tubs,
  early to bed.
28/3 FRIDAY.  Manager & 2  hardy  Hostellers
  arise  at  1am and climb the mountain for
  the sunrise.  Stop  partway  to view Hal-
  ley's Comet (success!).  Very cold at the
  top, but the beauty warmed our souls.  On
  the way back we walked the new Tui Domain
  track  --  excellent value!  A  short-cut
  back to the hostel from the old reservoir
  finished  it  all  off  with a good laugh
  (but only later). Rest of the day used to
  recover in. Six hostellers this night.
29/3 SATURDAY.  Rained morning but afternoon
  fine.  Manager and five foolhardy hostel-
  lers set off to explore part of the Waio-
  rongomai  --  Water Race Track,  Butler's
  Incline, Stables, Buck Rock, then down to
  Bulldozer Track and back, in time for the
  barbecue.  With locals,  seventeen people
  (Manager, 8 Hostellers, 8 locals) enjoyed
  this  everyone-join-in   feast.   A  high
  point. Blessings to everyone.  Last night
  5  people  crammed  into  a 4-person spa.
  Tonight we managed to get 9  into  the 8-
  person tub. Brilliant fun.
30/3 SUNDAY. After sundry changes of plan...
  a party of 10  (6 Hostellers plus Manager
  plus  driver's  children  plus  driver --
  thanks,  Helen!)  set  off  to  challenge
  Wairere Falls and  picnic  atop  the  de-
  feated  obstacle.  Probably the most suc-
  cessful event yet,  apart from the barbe-
  cue.  Must  repeat this some time soon --
  it can stand the repetition.  8 people in
  the 8-person tub  was neither as cozy nor
  as crowded as 9, come the hot spa time. 8
  Hostellers here tonight.
31/3 MONDAY.  The mass exodus left us with 4
  Hostellers to climb the mountain (threat-
  ening weather canned the hope of a sunset
  picnic).  The  main  party made it to the
  top in 1 hour 31 minutes, and the Manager
  was the first to  the  trig  point  after
  beating off  some  determined  challenges
  from American quarters. Excellent view --
  White Island, Mt Edgecumbe, Mt Karioi, Mt
  Pirongia,   Hamilton,  Thames,  Matamata.
  Back via  Tui Domain  track  (none of the
  present party had been there on Thursday)
  and  a  raucous,  laughing  visit  to the
                    -- from the Visitor's Book

  We climbed. Every so often we could look up and see the gleam of lights

in the blockhouse that served the tower. They seemed invitingly close, but approached with horrible sloth. Then they were cut off entirely as we approached the switchback, and thereafter we climbed in inky darkness until the final few metres, where the gravel turned to asphalt and the lights cast a faint gleam over the damp surface.

  By the time we had rounded the blockhouse and clambered up the small

fragment of original summit, atop which the trig point perched, the cloud had covered the sky and had lowered to brush the mountain. We debated going straight back down, then decided to wait for the dawn: sunrise on Te Aroha, with the red globe sizzling from the sea in a fury of pink clouds, was not a sight to be missed.

  We huddled together like seals, mingling what warmth we could and

draping ourselves in blankets brought with us from the hostel. We laughed and talked and told jokes and cursed the cold and shivered. We were more than half mad from fatigue. And the grey mist lightened and lightened, took on a rosy glow – and never did let us see the sun rise.


That easter gave me plenty of other memories, which – alas! – I simply can't fit even in the monstrously bloated space available here. See the sidebar at left for a concise account, taken from the account I wrote into the Visitor's Book later. Although the group was much smaller than hoped-for, everyone participated to the full, so that we got a good turnout for most events anyway.

  Perhaps I should amplify on some points mentioned in the sidebar,

though. Helen, the driver on the trip to Wairere Falls, was Dannie's wife. The Falls themselves are about 25 kilometres south of Te Aroha, and drop about a hundred metres in one step. The water level was low when we went there, but the volume of water was still quite impressive – especially con- sidering the fact that the stream responsible ran only a few kilometres before leaving the Kaimais via the Falls. The area is covered by particularly good forest, and is very beautiful. Most hostellers did not go there, however, because of the distance involved.

  The `tubs' and `Pools' refer to Te Aroha's major tourist attraction other

than the mountain, and that is the exceptionally fine hot mineral waters that rise in the town's park, the Domain. In one place, close to the start of the track up the mountain, there is a soda-water geyser that spouts about every half hour. Water is siphoned from below the geyser and elsewhere to fill the tubs in a set of bath houses. There are six tubs in use: one old, large, rectangular one and five newer, circular ones, each in its own private room. Two are designed for two people, two for four, and the central one for eight people. The price in 1986 was $2.00 per person per half-hour period. The price was very reasonable. The water was cleaner and much less sulphureous than that at Rotorua. Meningitis amoebae had never been detected (though it is routine precaution not to duck your head in any hot pool in NZ). Visitors could warm or cool the water by manipulating a pair of taps. Pumps forced air through leaky tubes, so that visitors could enjoy a spa or a soak at the flick of a switch. Louvre windows allowed control of ventilation. Each pool had a cold shower adjacent to it, for those wanting to rinse off (strong hearts required!).

  The pools were visited by pretty nearly everyone who came through the

hostel, and it was common practice to collect as many hostellers as possible and go as a group. No two groups were identical, and the experience was different every time. Sometimes people would be modest and wear swimsuits; more often everyone would strip off; occasionally some would do one thing and others the other. Sometimes the groups were all-male, sometimes all- female, most often mixed. The nationalities were the most mixed of all, though after a time some national traits did stand out. For one thing, a mixed group never had two Japanese of opposite sex (though Japanese couples would go together). Many US men clung grimly to their trunks, even if the rest of the party was nude; others would hang back until they saw what the rest of the group was doing. US women were less hesitant, and tended either to cling to their swimsuits no matter what, or be the first to throw them aside. Few European men thought twice about stripping down, while European women would usually go topless but less frequently nude. The men were more likely to use the cold showers (and to do so more than once in a visit). The groups would usually arrange themselves around the tub in alternating male-female-male order. Sometimes the group would sprawl, legs and arms mingling in a snaky mass in the middle of the tub and over the sides of it; other times people would sit primly, arms and legs tucked in, as if avoiding contact with their neighbours. Topics of conversation depended on the makeup of the group, but conversation tended to dwindle after the first fifteen minutes, as everyone relaxed. Sometimes the cold tap would be on, sometimes the hot, depending on the preferences of the most temperature-affected people in the group. Whatever the group, the walk back to the hostel afterwards always took much longer and was much more sociable than the outward trip. The hot water performed miracles of barrier- breaking between the participants.

  Te Aroha's hot pools have a long history. They fertilised the town's

settlement in 1880, providing not only better water than Rotorua, but being closer to Auckland as well. People travelled long distances to enjoy the `therapeutic' waters. I came across a reproduction of an old poster advertising the spas, which labelled them the `southern Bethesda' and illustrated itself with various semi-clad bodies floating in bliss in the steaming pools. The gold-mining period must have been a boom-time for the pools, which, alas, barely make their expenses today.

  A final item that deserves mention here is the farm run by a couple of

local YHA members. They welcomed hostellers interested in seeing a day on a NZ dairy farm. Sometimes they would invite the hosteller to stay for dinner, too, though by no means always. NZ and Australian hostellers weren't too interested in this trip, but most other visitors who did it came back rosy-eyed and singing its praises.



Around the beginning of 1986, I bought a second-hand bicycle. I used it for local (i.e. within a five to ten kilometre radius of Te Aroha) travel for a while before I bought a set of pannier bags and other accessories and converted it for cycle-touring. Now I could begin the exploration of the nearer North island that I had been looking forward to for so long!

  One pleasant aspect of the job of managing Te Aroha was that my relief

manager – Dannie –was always keen to take over the job for a while. (As mentioned, he had long contended that a resident manager was an unnecessary expense on the hostel's slim funds.) He was quite happy to have whoever was resident at any time go away for a few days and let his family and the local Branch run things. In fact, he encouraged this. It fitted in with my own plans, so I was only too pleased to do so.

  My pattern was to work seven days a week for a month or so, then take

several days off at once – joining the `saved' weekends together. Whereas a mere two-day weekend could never have allowed me to go very far away, a four- or six-day one would.

  In sitting down to check dates and places for this section of `History' I

discovered that I had been on rather a lot of trips on my bike. To talk about all of them would require more space than even SECANT makes available. Besides which, some of them tend to blur together in my memory. So I've decided to talk about a few of the major ones, and drag in occasional refer- ences to events that happened in the ones that I'm not reporting. In the case of my Opoutere visits in particular there is a certain element of `reconstruction' in the tale told here. Everything I report, I did; but I don't guarantee it happened on that particular trip! Memory is a wonderful process.


My very first tour was quite cautious in terms of daily distances; but given the shape of the land I intended to explore, an ambitious milage would be asking for trouble.

  The Coromandel Peninsula is the northern end of the group of fold-

mountains that Mt Te Aroha figures so prominently in. It projects from the body of the North Island like the dorsal fin of a shark; eighty kilometres north to south and from twenty to forty kilometres east to west. The spine of the peninsula reaches forested peaks of three-quarters of a kilometre, and except for small pockets of alluvial plain where streams and rivers come down to the sea, the spine makes up the entire area of the peninsula. On the east it is beaten by the Pacific Ocean; on the west washes the tranquil Firth of thames. The Firth is gradually shortening as the rivers running down from the Hapuakohe (Hah-poo-ah-koh-hee) & Ruahine/Coromandel Ranges silt it up and add the new land to the Hauraki Plains.

  There are five main towns on the Peninsula, which is rather more densely

populated than the Marlborough Sounds I talked about in `History' Part Four. Thames, the largest, has about 6000 people year-round. Whangamata (Fahng-gah-m'-tah), next largest, has a variable population of about 2000 in winter and 25000 in summer (yes, a twelve-fold difference between seasons). Whitianga (Fitt-ee-ahng-gah) is about the same size as Whangamata is in winter. Coromandel and Pauanui (Pow-wah-noo-ee) are both around or below the thousand mark. Apart from, and scattered around, these towns, there is a large but variable number of people who cannot be said to live in any – retired, holidaymakers, the rich and the poor, the dropouts and the hermits.

  Travel on the peninsula is hindered not only by the landform (the shortest

route from Thames to Whitianga involves cresting a 448-metre pass just eight kilometres inland) but by the condition of the roads. Despite mammoth efforts by the Ministry of Works, most roads – including sections of State Highway 25 – are not yet paved. Dirt roads are bad enough in a car; on a bike they cause agony!

  I set out from Te Aroha on the 3rd of february, two days after my 28th

birthday. I whizzed down the hill from the hostel, made a tricky speed-turn onto Highway 26, and headed north. I was quite pleased with a 55-minute run to Paeroa (21 km from Te Aroha), and started to feel that perhaps this cycle-touring business was not as hard as the hostellers made it out to be. I had a drink and pushed on, following the highway along the base of the Coromandels. I was in new territory, now. I had been through Paeroa many times in the past, but always via State Highway 2.

  My second hour was not quite so easy, and I was glad to stop for a rest

at the hamlet of Puriri (Poo-rih-ree): a petrol station, a small store, and a handful of houses. Forty kilometres from Te Aroha, two hours fifteen minutes used. Not so good, and the day was getting very warm. But on average there was a slight seaward slope to the land. That helped a lot. When I moved on from Puriri I dropped down a gear from five in high ratio to four in high ratio (or ninth to seventh out of ten gears). The land was starting to fall and rise a little and I needed the help that the lower gear offered. Shortly I crossed Highway 25 at Kopu (Koh-poo). The map says I was close to the Waihou (wye-hoo) River, but I don't remember seeing that. But even without looking at the map, I could tell that I was nearing Thames: there was a rapid increase in the density of houses, and I was passing occasional factories.

  It took me three and a half hours to cover the 55 kilometres from Te

Aroha to Thames – a miserable average! But I felt quite good as I filtered through lunchtime traffic to Sunkist Lodge, a private hostel where I planned to stay the night. My modest first step in cycle-touring had proved successful.

  I remember little of this particular stopover at Sunkist; I ate, worked on

my bike, went downtown to look around, and then went to bed. If anything else happened, my memory has not bothered to record it.

  Thames cramps itself into the narrow stretch of flattish land that separates

the mountains from the water. I was able to walk the width of the town in five minutes. But it rambles along the shore for several kilometres, as I noticed the next day when I cycled on. _

  The morning was cloudy, but that later cleared and the day became very

hot and cloudless. The road undulated along the shoreline: there was only a narrow strip of `flat' land between the water and the slopes of the mountains. The first 30 kilometres went quite smoothly, though my legs (and my bum!) were sore from the effort the day before. A painful derriere is the price a cyclist pays when setting out after a break of more than a few days. I don't remember how long the first section of this day's ride took, but I do remember a break at Tapu (Tah-poo) for a drink.

  This `honeymoon' 30 km ended at the base of a hill. The road swerved

inland and climbed (it seemed, looking up from the base) vertically into the sky. Hot, sweaty, and not at all eager to face this ogre, I wheeled my bike down onto a nearby beach and went for a swim. The water was in icy contrast to the steam my body had been exuding. Ten minutes left me refreshed and ready to tackle the hill.

  I had a speedometer on my bike. So I know that the first grade was 2

kilometres of grueling climb. I walked my bike most of it: the first hundred metres convinced me that either (a) I needed a finer first gear for the bike or (b) I needed to fitten up before attempting hills with the insouciance of the experienced cyclists I'd seen while hitching around…

  Half a kilometre of glorious downhill travel, then another 2 km climb. I

had to stop half way up this one and rest: I overexerted myself and felt quite faint from the heat. But I had my reward – a four kilometre freewheel down to the flats around Manaia (Mah-nye-ah) Harbour. Then a short stretch of level riding before a three-kilometre hill (three up, three down). (A side note: on the downgrades I hit 60 kph, and thought this noteworthy. If someone had told me that within a couple of months I would be coasting at up to 95 kph I'd have told them they were nuts. But it happened, and why I am still alive to tell about it I don't know!)

  I cruised into Coromandel feeling tired but exultant. I had handled some

hills! Following a set of signposts I took the `Long Bay' road at a crossroads and found myself a tent site and all the salt water I wanted in a motorcamp, for the very reasonable sum of $3.50 per night. Ten cents in a slot gave me a very good shower, and after resting up on the stony beach till after sundown (the sunset was beautiful – brilliantly coloured, with a few wisps of high cloud to add contrast) I went to my tent and fell asleep.

  The next day I declared to be a `rest day'. My bum was too sore to let me

ride far. Instead I went into Coromandel and had a look around. There is a small museum devoted to the gold and kauri days. I enjoyed the three hours I spent wandering and looking. I bought a few small fragments of gum as keepsakes. Then I went back to the camp and had a laze on the beach. The holiday season was well-advanced but there were still many families staying in tents and caravans at the camp. I spent a while talking to a young couple from Auckland, but the details of the conversation have slipped away. All small talk, I suppose; but it passed the afternoon pleasantly. Another good sunset, and again to bed and sleep early.

  So far the road had been good -- well maintained and, more importantly,

topped with asphalt. My next day's effort showed me the other face of the Coromandel. I had been hoping to cycle north to Cape Colville, but had foolishly set out from Te Aroha with no spare tyre. Since all my gear was stored in a pair of rear panniers and an overnight back secured above them, my back tire was carrying quite a load. If it became irreparably damaged north of Coromandel, I faced an inconvenient delay and a humiliating dependence on hitching back to Coromandel for a new one. (Why I didn't just buy a new one before going north, I can't remember. I wasn't particularly short of cash, as I proved later on when the back tire did die under me. It's a mystery to me today.) So I decided to go to Whitianga. Hearing that there were extensive patches of gravel on Highway 25 between Coromandel and Whitianga, I said `whatthehell' and took the scenic route - - the secondary road which follows the courses of the Waiau (Wye-ow) and Mahakirau (Mah-ha-kee-rah-ow) Rivers. More fool me. Instead of isolated gravel, I found myself on almost twenty kilometres of almost continuous dirt! What's more, the road climbed much higher than Highway 25 would have demanded of me. I lost almost an hour on the far side of the pass, repairing a punctured tire (I'd hit too large a stone too hard while enjoying the freewheeling downgrade). But I did enjoy the sensation of isolation and independence. There were many beautiful views as the road crawled along the face of the mountain with deep, green, forested valleys and deep, sun- faded sky.

  When I met Highway 25 on the other side of the peninsula, I turned left

and made my way into Whitianga to look around and have a rest. The place was dead, so I hailed a taxi and – well, actually I did hail a taxi of sorts: to get me across a very narrow gap of water I used a ferry. 90c/ to cover 200 metres of water. But it cut more than 10 kilometres off the distance I still had to travel that day. I followed a set of winding dirt roads through moderately-well-settled holiday area, that finally brought me to Hot Water Beach.

  Hot Water beach is an otherwise ordinary beach that has as its sole

distinction a couple of springs of thermal water which trickle their boiling liquid up through the sand near the bases of some boulders. The springs are covered by the sea at high tide, but when the sea withdraws the area is rapidly covered by an alternative tide: one of people busily digging the pools in which they hope to enjoy a relaxing salty wallow. By the time the sea returns, the area near the springs resembles a relief map of Venice with the intricate network of little sandy canals that have been dug to divert the water (hot from the springs, cool from the sea to keep the temperature bearable) where it is wanted. On occasion latecomers, desperate to fend off the advancing waves as long as possible, rear massive dikes of sand on their seawards side. I'm sure we're all familiar with what one small child can do to sand between one tide and the next; imagine fifteen or twenty adults, equipped with full-size shovels and spades, cooperating frantically in a similar endeavour, egged on by their bonelessly relaxed friends. And all their efforts in vain: the sea rises inexorably and crashes through the barrier, flushing the bathers from their holes and erasing all signs of human works – until the next low tide.

  Here I stayed two nights. Nights -- ah, yes, that brings to mind the after-

dark frolics. For by day the population of the wallows would be families, in full bathing attire; but by night the young adults would make the area their own. Torches were forbidden, and the typical attire was the skin one was born with. Not that much happened that Mrs Grundy could have called `promiscuous'; sand and hot seawater worked together to discourage that! But in the anonymity of the darkness, hands and feet found their way into very strange places, even if you were perfectly motionless and in a wallow you'd thought you had all to yourself.

  The beach itself is set in a beautiful semicircular bay, surrounded by green

hills and open to the Pacific. I can't remember what I paid for the tent site I used, but I believe it was about $5.00 per night, which in NZ at that time, especially considering the 20c/ showers, was quite a high tariff. On the other hand, the cost of supplying the amenities in such a remote location must have been quite high – perhaps this balances the equation somewhat. Certainly, it was nice to be able to rinse away the salt with a hot shower.

  Rested and thoroughly refreshed, I rode away on the 8th of february. My

first three sections of cycling – 55 km to Thames and 54 to Coromandel, then 48 rough ones to Hot Water Beach, had hardened my muscles. I now intended to try another small 48-kilometre stage, but this one involved features from all three earlier stages: flat, undulating, hilly, and dirt road. An interesting challenge.

  I'll pass over most of that ride -- you've read similar passages already. The

only incident that stands out in memory is discovering, while coasting down a long slope near Tairua (Tye-roo-ah), that my back tire was going `flat'. I'd hit 60 kph a couple of times and assumed that in one of those peaks I'd pinched the tyre on a stone. You can imagine my horror when I got off the bike at the bottom of the hill, only to discover that the reason it had gone flat was that the tire had worn through in places, and in one such place contact with the road had finally worn through the inner tube as well! I am here today to bore you with my adventures only because the air escaped slowly. If it had `blown out' while I was doing 60 on a turn, I'd have reached the base of the hill the fast way – over the edge.

  But my luck held, and a man stopped and gave me a lift in to Tairua,

where I managed to find a garage that stocked both tires and tubes. My only loss was the $30 that these necessary replacements cost me. (An indication of the wear that cycle-touring adds to a bike can be gained by considering that the tire had been new when I bought the bike, and that when I left Te Aroha it still looked practically unworn. About 175 km of Coromandel roads had simply destroyed it.)

  Towards sundown I turned off Highway 25 to take a familiar road to my

day's destination: the YHA Hostel at Opoutere (Oh-poo-teh-ree). It felt like coming home; for if the hostel at Pittwater (north of Sydney) is my favourite Australian hostel, that at Opoutere is my favourite in New Zealand.


Opoutere YHA is located by the Wharekawa Harbour, a tidal estuary of the river of the same name. It is quite popular, registering four to five times the usage of Te Aroha, which puts it into the small-medium range for NZ hostels (which range from less than 1000 hosteller-nights (`overnights') to more than 22000). Even more than Te Aroha, however, Opoutere survives because those who come there stay several days; the hostel is somewhat difficult of access for those without wheels, since the bus service is infrequent and the hostel is several kilometres off the main road.

  The hostel comprises three dormitory buildings, a house for the Manager,

and a fairly large set of grounds. It is rated at 32 beds but can fit quite a few more people at need. It snuggles beneath a moderately high cliff, from which some good views of the area can be obtained, and is set in native bush. (One interesting feature of the grounds is the two young kauri trees planted by the manager in around 1981 and 1983. In 1986 the latter was a slender sapling a bit taller than a man, and the former was a solid young tree about four metres high. Kauris are slow to grow but are enormously long-lived. These may outlast the hostel.)

  Walk left out of the main gate and down the road a hundred metres or so,

then turn right past the public outhouses. Down a track to a car park, cross a bridge slung over a branch the estuary, walk through the pines – and you emerge on my favourite NZ beach. Opoutere Beach: four and a half kilometres of golden sand backed by dunes and trees and cliffs, one end the mouth of the estuary, the other a rocky prominence.

  There is a bird sanctuary at the estuary end, facing onto the estuary. The

estuary itself is a cornucopia of edible shellfish. The waves on the outer beach are gentle or rough as the mood and the tides take them, but on the estuary side the surface laps gently on only slightly muddy banks. The hostel boasts a couple of kayaks (usually out of commission) with which the estuary's corners can be explored. (But watch out for the rip at the mouth on the ebb!) An afternoon with a pair of binoculars will prove rewarding for the birdwatcher.

  The surf-lashed outer beach is often almost deserted on weekdays (at

weekends, particularly on Sundays, families move in), maybe four people in the whole length. As a bonus, by tacit agreement of most of the locals, clothing on the beach is optional. The pursuit of the all-over tan is thus simplified.

  Towards the north end, a small stream comes down to the sea. Cross the

stream and the remaining sand, and suddenly cliffs draw in close to the shoreline. Follow the cliffs around and you will find a quiet retreat, built partly into a cave, where you might spend a night or two if you're short of money or just want to be away from civilisation for a while. (Definitely slum quarters, unfortunately, but you can always sleep outside if you don't trust the filthy sponge-rubber mattress.)

  The sunsets are pretty, too, to me, who was raised to watch the sun

descend into the sea. At Opoutere the sunset is behind anyone gazing out to sea, but the constantly changing play of the light as the night creeps up the eastern horizon is endlessly fascinating. The subtle golds and greens and blues in the sky, reflected by the water and merging with the water's own darker swirling and the fading pink sea-foam, framed by the gold sand and the heavy green trees, are very lovely.

  Several islands are visible from the dunes. The closest is a group of three:

in order of proximity Rabbit, Penguin, and Slipper. The largest and farthest is Slipper, and this island figured in world news a couple of years back when possible graveyards for the Rainbow Warrior were being considered. At one time it looked as if the ship would be scuttled in shallow water near Slipper island, where people could come and see it, a perpetual reminder of an infamous deed by a country `friendly' to NZ.

A Walk in the Dark

The night was sultry. After tossing for several hours in my little room in the corner of the big building, I gave up. I pulled on my togs and scuffed into my jandals; stuffed towel, t-shirt and shorts into a bag, along with a torch, and stepped out.

  I paused, listening, a moment on the planking of the covered walkway that

joins the hostel buildings together. The night-sounds were muted, stifled by the heavy air. A faint wind-sigh, a rustle of leaves. Somewhere an opossum grunted. Through the open door of the dormitory behind I could hear the snores of hostellers not cursed by an attack of insomnia.

  Leaving the door open to allow the almost nonexistent breeze what

circulation it could, I stepped forward, off the walkway, towards the main gate. The cloud overhead blocked off the stars, the moon was elsewhere, flirting with the sun, and except for the hostel lights the darkness was nearly absolute. I didn't have any particular place to go, but there was a half- formed idea of walking down to the beach. In this dark, I preferred the open gape of the gate to the overgrown short-cut past the Manager's house that was my usual, daytime, route.

  I crossed the area of lawn that lies in the shallow triangle formed by the

hostel buildings. My left foot came down on a protruding foot of a wooden table, and I stopped to rub it. I remembered sitting in this very spot this afternoon, chatting with the others and sharing travel stories with them. I had recounted my own recent experiences at Hot Water Beach, and the moment of shock when I discovered my worn-through tire. Others added stories about hitching, about driving, and about the odd goings-on when they had camped for the night in a field full of heifers. (This last item involved dim light and a beast that decided the tent ropes made a good place to scratch. Seeing the small horns and the absence of an udder's silhouette, the two incautious Canadians had sprinted ingloriously for the fence for fear that the `bull' might decide to rub up against them. The heifer, startled by the eruption of two noisy and unexpected humans from the tent, ran hastily in the opposite direction.)

  My foot was still sore, but I hadn't left my bed in order to squat at a

picnic table. I suffer these attacks of sleeplessness from time to time, and have learned through experience that the only way to deal with them – short of slugging myself with an unhealthy dose of aspirin – is activity, since otherwise I fret and toss and get up in the morning with aching muscles and a pounding headache.

  Leaving the table, I walked carefully into the dark until my toe brushed

one of the logs that mark off the driveway from the lawn. Previous Managers had nurtured a bamboo hedge on the grounds. This hedge, left to itself for a long time, had spread its children across the hostel grounds. Ken, the present Manager, was gradually reducing the upstart growth, but here and there in the lawn there remained sharp spikes of bamboo, tips shorn off by the mower. By day it was safe enough to wander around in jandals, or even barefoot, but I was not game to risk a needle in the dark.

  I drifted down the driveway, past half-sensed trees and bushes. At the

younger kauri seedling I paused, to stroke its trunk and leaves a while, wandering how long it will live after I am gone and forgotten. Or will it be cut down in its prime by some as-yet unknown agency? I hope not!

  Down the slight slope to the gate, left open by some late-arriving hosteller.

Cross the road and carefully clamber down the rude track to the graveyard made by generations of hostellers disposing of the attire of their latest meal by dumping the empty shells into the estuary at this closest point to the hostel. I sat on a hummock of grass by the edge of the water, listening to the gentle waves and sniffing the pungent odour of that mud not presently covered by water. I could see a couple of lights gleaming on the far bank. One of them was moving – another mid-night walker, perhaps, or a possum- hunter.

  The breeze felt cooler here, perhaps because it had lost heat in its passage

over the cool water. I would have liked to stay here a while, thinking, in the dark, but after the muggy hostel this cool tingle was almost unpleasantly cold. Rather than pull on a t-shirt I pulled out the torch, using it to light my way back up the tricky bank. At the road I put the torch away again: my mood was still for darkness and the privacy of the night.

  On impulse, I pulled the idea of a walk along the beach out of the

forgotten corner of my attention where it had been festering. The breeze would be cooler still down there, and maybe stronger, but the activity of walking would counteract that, and – well, I did have some clothes to pull on if required.

  So I walked down the road, moving faster and straighter now that I had

a destination in mind. Everything was changed in the dark, and only familiarity with the route stopped me from getting hopelessly lost. Through the picnic area near the toilets (there was a caravan there, and the sound of snoring). Down through the car park and onto the small footbridge that arched so picturesquely over the tidal waters.

  There was a ritual to crossing the bridge, for when I was young I had been

exposed to the game of poohsticks. In crossing this bridge, I would drop a small twig over the edge and see which way the tide was running. Habit led me to drop a twig, now. I couldn't see it fall, and the sound of its impact on the water was lost in the whispering night. A pointless exercise, really, and I laughed at myself. But I suppressed the impulse to get out the torch and relocate my emissary twig. Instead I stumbled on over the bridge and down onto the sand on the far side, entering the trees.

  Until now I had thought that the night was dark.  Under  the pines lay a

shadow that defied penetration. I suddenly realised how dependent I was on what faint visual cues there had been: the white road-edges, the white sand, a half-sensed sheen from the light of those stars that occasionally managed to send a glitter around a corner of the clouds. Now the last trace was gone, and I was truly blind. But I pushed on for several minutes, stubbornly refusing to push back the dark by recourse to my torch.

  The darkness lay around me, but I found my ears, my nose, and my

questing limbs were able to pour into me such a volume of information that I was unable to process it all: a whole world of sensation that my normal dependence on sight blocked away. Trees sprang into existence before me and faded away behind, each a breath of echoing stillness, an area of dead air. My toes felt after the sand of the track, testing the texture for twigs and grass-clumps, shuffling cautiously along the true route. My out-stretched hands encountered bushes and tree branches, warning me when I strayed to one side of the path or another. Through the trees ahead of me came the sound of the surf. Stretching my hearing, I could hear the calls of the night life: the `more pork!' of an owl, the grunt of a hedgehog, a distant crashing of tree-branches that was probably opossums at play. Once a dog barked.

  The belt of trees that backed the beach had long fascinated me. Although

in places there was a healthy native undergrowth, elsewhere the trees rose from ground clothed only in fallen needles. This in itself was not so wonderful, but the nature of the trees made it so: for I am used to the bulbous silhouette of the native NZ forest. To walk through these stands of tall pine was an eerie thing, and where the pines stood alone was strangest of all. By day it reminded me of a cathedral, all tall spaces and arches, carrying a stillness and time of its own. I would walk on the fallen needles and fantasise about sleds fleeing through the European forest, wolves slinking around the trunks, a young love walking to meet me. The birds would sing and the wind would blow, and the trees would hold this place apart from the rest of the world, my imagination expanding the forest across half a continent and populating it with ents and elves (and hobbits). Science fiction cannot entirely free us from the fantasies of our youth, particularly in such an alien place.

  I did not take the track that would carry me to those long open avenues.

By night, even with the torch to help, I could not do other than get hopelessly lost. In my present mood, I would soon be fantasising dangers creeping towards me from behind, dropping from above, or waiting beside the track for me to come past them. In younger days, I was deathly afraid of the dark. I can remember that when I was a Sea Scout, the only routes to or from the scout den from my parents house would take me through lightless streets. One route took me along a houseless street, lupin-lined and spooky; another took me past a junkyard which had a particularly nasty watchdog that sometimes got out and once chased my bike, snapping at my heels; and the third was the route I took, through an industrial area, deserted and silent but the best route left to me. It was a long time before I outgrew this fear, and to this day it can be invoked by the right circumstances. So I stuck to the thread of sandy track that led through banked undergrowth to the sea by the shortest route.

  Finally I did resort to my torch, at a fork in the path. Once the light was

present the sounds and sensations of the darkness receded, and I became timid, clinging to sight like a castaway to a broom handle. I did not turn the torch off again until I came out of the trees and started up the shoreward side of the dunes.

  So I came over the last crest with my night-sight weak and my other senses

only slowly picking up the slack. In front of me was a vast, continuous roar, taking up half of my world. A coldness that had nothing to do with the breeze was coming to me from out of that sound: perhaps a psychological feeling, perhaps a phenomenon connected with the heat-sink represented by the Pacific Ocean.

  The clouds were breaking up slowly, and there were more stars out now.

As I walked down to the edge of the tide and scuffed my jandals through stranded sea-froth, I watched out of the corners of my eyes, gradually picking out the pale glimmer of the overlapping arcs of foam left by the waves. Then the sea itself came up, a darkness that heaved and shuddered beneath a frail lace garment.

  I took off my togs and jandals, putting them carefully into my bag. Naked,

I saluted the sea, lover to loved.

  I stepped on a stick of driftwood. On impulse, I picked it up and began

writing in the invisible sand with it. My name, first, then sentences half- intended for whoever might walk here in the morning before the tide banished the scratches with an offhand wave. Banal phrases, worthy of neither recollection nor record here. Then, bored already, I trailed the stick behind me, an unseen plow, as I walked north along the shoreline. Finally, half an hour later, I climbed a dune and stuck the stick into the sand beside me when I sat down, claiming the beach for my own with an imaginary flag.

  Seated, I pulled on my t-shirt to avoid a chill; the temperature had fallen

several degrees since I started my walk, and even in the lee of an enfolding dune I felt a bit chilled. But it was an automatic action; my mind was out in the darkness, musing, playing with ideas. People I had known, places I had been, people I had not known, places I had never been, people I could never know and places I could never go. My life had been a pilgrimage; I was never satisfied with wherever I was; I always wished to be beyond whatever horizon I might walk within; and I did not know my destination.

  One close friend confided once that I had always seemed to her to be

someone who was pretty sure of what he wanted to do. I found it hard to explain the difference between the series of plans that I worked on from moment to moment and the long-term blankness that lay beyond them. Once I envied those who planned out their life in adolescence, and spent the next thirty or forty years working out that plan. But I must confess that by the time I found myself sitting on a sand dune above this lovely night-time beach, that envy had turned to pity. Those people had security, and options were open to them with their high-paying jobs and special skills that were not available to me. But few of them ever used those options! They'd chug along in their career, perhaps even marry and raise a family, and then one day they'd wake up and find that they had run off the end of their track. It's called `mid-life crisis'. But my whole life had been a mid-life crisis. I was used to it, and resigned to the comparatively wretched old age that faced me unless I Did Something to mitigate it. A good part of my internal search, 1985–86, was spent in thinking through just how I could accomplish the things I wanted to do and yet set up a lifestyle that would help me when I got too old to travel.

  I jerked myself out of my reverie. The clouds were gone, and a cold wind

had sprung up. The sky over the eastern horizon was lightening to the coming of the sun, still hours away. And now I felt sleepy. Whatever had been going on in the back of my head to keep me awake all night had resolved itself during this walk. My next step was obvious – to return to Australia and, this time, make a success of transplanting myself to a new country; then use Australia as springboard to travel on around the world. How to go about the later stages of this plan, and what I would do after the five years or so allocated to its accomplishment had expired, I still did not know. But I would think of something.

  Rising, I turned my back on the beach and the sea and walked through the

dunes into the forest; needing no torch in the growing light that trickled in through the ranked trunks behind me, turning everything into a cut-out shadow-play; feeling no imaginary dangers in the darker reaches of the forest.


Home Again:

The morning came when the last of my hoarded weekends for this trip ran out and I had to go back to Te Aroha to be a hostel manager again. I was not unwilling: I loved the job, and I loved Te Aroha, and even Opoutere was best taken in carefully-rationed doses. So I loaded up my panniers and stuffed my sleeping bag into the overnight bag, piled the load on my hapless bike, said goodbye to Ken and Karen Griffin and the various Griffinlets, and set out. This leg would be some 86 kilometres, my longest day's ride yet. But I was confident: for I would be retracing my normal bus/hitching route between Te Aroha and Opoutere, and I knew the terrain well. Hah! Now was the time to discover that a section of road that looks fine from a car or a bus can be a horror to a cyclist.

  The lesson was not long in starting: a few kilometres down the highway,

I found myself in an undulating section of road. Somehow the downgrades never seemed so long nor so steep as the upgrades; and what was more, a breeze had come out of nowhere to blast itself into my face – strengthening if I went downhill, dying out entirely on the slow uphill slogs when I most needed the ventilation. I was learning one of the oldest cycle-touring maxims: the wind always comes from ahead. The cyclists hail – `May the wind blow up your arse!' – took on true life and meaning to me for the first time.

  Down to Whangamata, through the new bypass, then on to Waihi, where

I turned right onto Highway 2. This brought me into the beautiful Karangahake (Kah-rang-gah-hak-kee) Gorge, which divides the Coromandel from the Kaimai Ranges. It is an old gold-mining area, and in recent times steps have been taken to help preserve that heritage. But more immediately important: the river that runs through the gorge provides good swimming for overheated cyclists!

  Paeroa...left over the bridge and slog 21 kilometres uphill...left and up the

mountain to the hostel. 6 1/2 hours from Opoutere. Home.



Friendship Bands:

`No,' said Rosemarie, `Push it up through the loop of the "4". Then pull it tight.'

  We were sitting on the porch of the hostel on a sunny February day.

There were a few clouds scattered around the corners of the sky, chasing their shadows across the slopes of the distant ridge-lines. We were the only people around the hostel, unless Rosemarie's friend Esther was back from town. Duncan, I think, was up the mountain, while the two Australians had set out for the next hostel.

  Rosemarie had promised to show me how to do a special form of

macram'e. I had seen many hostellers wearing cotton bracelets made of hundreds of tiny knots. When several colours were used, the result was often beautiful. Ever since I saw the first wristband and learnt that the making of them was a simple skill, quickly learned, I had wanted to learn how to make them myself. But all my plans had fallen through: I never seemed to find the time and place to pump the technique out of a skilled knotter.This was Rosemarie's third and final day here, and while we were chatting in the hostel common-room the night before she had offered to show me the trick. And she was as good as her word – but then, the Swiss often are.

  The trick of the bands is repetition. The same knot is used, over and over,

the pattern being formed by the sequence of strings tied together. Start with about half a dozen strands of embroidery cotton, each as long as your arm. Tie them in a tight single knot close to one end. Tie another knot about a centimetre further up the length. slip a safety-pin through the threads between the knots and attach the pin to a firm anchor – such as the leg of your jeans. (I use a wire device which I slip over my big toe, working with ankle crossed over knee. This increases my control over the amount of tension I put in the tightening of the knots.)

  Now. Spread the strands out, fanwise, towards you across your thigh. Pick

up the second one from the left in your left hand. Reach over your left hand and pick up the left-hand thread with your right hand. (*) Still holding the thread, use a spare finger of your left hand to push the midsection of the thread held in your right hand to the left. Move your right hand right so that the right hand's thread crosses over the left hand's thread, creating a `4' shape. Loop the right hand's thread around the left hand thread and bring it up through the middle of the `4'. Shift your hold so that you can pull the knot tight by pulling on the loose end of the right hand's thread while keeping the left hand's thread taut. Use a firm pressure – too tight or too loose makes a bad knot. Now repeat from the (*) above.

  Drop the left hand's thread and pick up the leftmost thread of those still

on your thigh. Keep the right hand's thread and go through the motions from the (*) above again. Repeat this process of knotting twice and picking up a new thread until you have held every thread in your left hand except the one you originally picked up (and should still have) in your right hand.

  You have now completed the first row of the wristband. If you have been

neat with your threads, you will still have the ends fanned across your thigh. The thread that was on the left edge is now on the right, and has been tied around all the others in sequence. The pattern of the wristband is now set: from now on you simply repeat the above instructions, making sure that you take each leftmost strand in turn and tie it around the others in sequence until it is at the right end.

  I find that between 60 and 70 rows will do for a band to fit a female wrist,

while 70 to 80 will fit a male wrist. This is a generalised measure based on the size of my knots – the best way to find your own measure is to keep a count of the number of rows of knots you have done and frequently hold the band around your own wrist. Once you know your own wrist's size, you can easily gauge the wrists of others and adjust your measures accordingly.

  Rosemarie was a good teacher. She pinned the thread to a leg of her jeans

and did some rows to show me how to do it. Then she let me continue, correcting me as seemed necessary. Within half an hour, oblivious of the beauty of the day, I had mastered the basic technique and had already discovered a couple of twists to the art that Rosemarie hadn't shown me.

  This small art, so quickly learned, has stood me in good stead ever after.I

have always had a problem knowing what to do with my hands while my mouth and mind are occupied elsewhere. One solution was to learn several massage techniques. This is useful only in limited circumstances. The bands are more generally useful, since once the basic technique is mastered, the portion of my mind required to keep track of one is not the portion of my mind required for conversation.

End Interlude

                                    `All is quiet ... motionless.
                                          A blanket stirs,
                                          A head peeps out,
                                        Everything is crazy!
                                    Sheets are ripped from beds,
                                   Clothes are crammed into packs,
                                     Sound explodes all around.
                               Vacuum cleaners, brooms, running water,
                              The clanking of utensils, cups, & plates,
                                Every now and then the toaster pops.
                                 This busy scurrying continues until
                                          All is spotless,
                                             One by one,
                                           Packs on backs,
                                             They leave.
                                    All is quiet ... motionless.'
  1. - `Sarah P.'


At Norcon `84 I had fun. I had plenty of money and plenty of time and I spent the 1984 NZ National SF Con having a Real Good Time. Somehow, very early one morning late in the con, I found myself walking the streets of sleeping Auckland with a blonde woman of compact build and round, impish face. I think that we had happened to leave a late room-party at the same time for a breath of air, and had started talking. I cannot now remember anything much of what we said, except that it was all pleasant and entertaining and that conversation was all that passed between us. Her name was Maree, and she had come to the con from a place called Waiuku. We talked about our respective hometowns, and somewhere along the way she mentioned that I must come and see Waiuku some time. Naturally I said that I would do just that – but I must admit that I didn't expect to go through with this promise. The con ended and I went back to Wellington and then I quit my job and started the wandering which has filled so much of `History'. I thought of Maree every now & then, but there didn't seem much hope of getting around to visiting. Waiuku is quite isolated on one of the peninsulas that bound Manukau Harbour, and I saw no easy way to get there.

  But then I bought the bike, and started cycle-touring. And one day I

looked at the map and realised that I was now fit enough so that the distance from Te Aroha to Waiuku by road – some 127 kilometres – represented no more than a single hard day's ride to me. So I wrote Maree a letter and told her what I planned and when I planned to do it, and she wrote back and gave me exact directions on finding her place, and one day I loaded up the bike and set out to cycle to visit Maree.

  I'll gloss over the standard details. What started out as a long but not-too-

hard-looking jaunt became a nightmare. I had left Te Aroha at 8am, but with rest stops and hills that demanded I stop and walk, night fell about the time I was passing through Waiuku. (If I could remember exactly when this happened I could place this trip more precisely in time, but I can't.) Maree lived about 10 kilometres out on the far side, and I perforce pushed on into the darkness with the aid of a torch. (I had no lights on the bike, since I hadn't envisaged doing any night riding.) Fortunately there was little traffic. But it was with some relief that I finally picked out – having gone past it once and having a moment of panic when I suspected I was lost (suspected? I was certain!) – the box-thorn hedge that marked the turnoff to the farm where Maree lived with her mother (I think it was her mother – an older relative, anyway. Sorry, another memory glitch). My state of mind – and exhaustion – can be gauged by the fact that try as I might, I cannot bring a single memory into focus to help me with retelling my arrival. As I wheeled my bike around the back of the house, did a door open and spill warm yellow light onto the grass? Or did I prop the bike against something and knock? I have half-images of doing both these things, and they are mutually exclusive.

  About other events I can be more circumstantial. Maree had just returned

from an overseas trip (another reason it had taken me so long to get around to dropping in) during which she toured parts of north America and Europe. At a moment when conversation was flagging a bit, her mother suggested that she should get out her photo albums and tell me about her trip. `Ah!' I said, `this is one of the reasons why I came here!' And so Maree brought out several huge volumes packed with photos.

  Looking at photos of someone else's trip is the sort of thing that I

normally do as much as a duty as because I am particularly keen to see one more shot of my friend standing self-consciously in some spot that I would prefer to have been standing in myself. When Maree shows you her photos, however, the experience is something as far above that as STAR WARS is above a still shot of a tomato. Normally somewhat placid, suddenly she lights up. Although you can participate in a conversation with her if you like, you can equally well make nothing save the standard encouraging sounds and let her enthusiasm carry you away for an hour or two. This is not a trip report, a travelogue, or a recounting of events; this is a story – a coherent narrative illustrated by the photos, having beginning, middle, and end, dotted with plot twists and surprise guests and odd characters. It was easy for me to recall now how it was that I should forget what we talked about in 1984 but remember how pleasant it all was. Then to my sleeping-bag on the floor, and a deep sleep.

  The next day passed in very lazy fashion. I was stiff and sore after the

ordeal the day before, so we spent the day wandering around the farm in leisurely fashion, meeting the sheep, the chickens, and the other resident critters. We wandered down to the beach that looks out onto an arm of the Manukau. Mud, grey and slimy, dotted here and there with mangroves migrating onto the property from a neighbour's attempt at land reclamation. Maree found the presence of these self-sown seedlings offensive, and as she walked along she would bend down and pluck out any that came within reach. This activity proved infectious, and soon we were both hunting back and forth across the beach, pulling out the invading plants like birds after worms. Then we stopped, flushed and laughing, and sat down on a driftwood log for a while to rest, and Maree talked a bit about the area while she put her shoes back on.

  One of our shared interests is Leslie Charteris' `Saint' books. That night

we rediscovered this mutual interest, and spent much of the evening discussing the books, the Saint, Charteris, and the club that is named after the character (set up after WW II to help build and support a hospital in blitzed London). (I have a recent card from Maree which has her new address in Auckland and also a note to say that she is now a member of the Saint Club. *Green* I never got myself that far together – but maybe while travelling in 1989 –) Winnie-the-Pooh and other abiding loves got dragged in, and we dug out the various Saint and Pooh books and started quoting favourite passages at each other. All very silly, perhaps, but it was fun. I didn't get to my sleeping bag until after 2am.

  The next day I started home. Maree, wearing a straw hat, saw me to the

gate, and my last view of her was a slouched country yokel leaning on a wooden stock-gate, chewing on a stalk of grass. All carefully posed, of course. She works as a librarian and is doing quite well at it, and if she is any less at-home in the city as in the country, she conceals it well.

  I decided not to tempt fate by trying to cycle all the way back to Te Aroha

that day. I'd only reached Waiuku in a day because I had the broad flat Hauraki Plains to speed across while my legs were fresh. Going back I would reach the plains tired, and still with the legacy of the outward trip hanging on me. But I had heard of a motor-camp at a place called Miranda Hot Springs, over on the western shore of the Firth of Thames. It was about 65 kilometres from Maree's place and about 75 from Te Aroha, a perfect two- stage journey since the short stage was hilly and the long stage flat. So I retraced part of my outward route, then struck left up a side-road as I descended the hills towards the plains. This took me into more hills, but the views from the peaks were wonderful! I stopped at one point when I saw a movement in a tree beside the road. A possum, blinking at me with sleepy day-time eyes.

  Most of the route was in bush, but towards the end I came out onto naked

summits and rutted farm-tracks. Then the final peak, and suddenly I could see the Firth of Thames below me, with the long green-grey dragon-back of the Coromandels beyond. It amused me to think that I might be standing on one of the very spots that I had looked at with so much curiosity during my Coromandel excursions. The scene inspired me and I sketched it on a card, which I addressed and later posted to Maree. I wonder if she got it? I'd like a copy of that card – I recall that the drawing was, by my standards, quite good, and I added notes commenting on the various shades and colours.

  Down a twisting road and onto a narrow stretch of flat land that divided

the Firth from the hills. I had taken the wrong road and found myself about six kilometres north of where I wanted to be. Turn and ride until I found the signpost, then up a stone-strewn road to the Miranda Hot Springs Motor Camp.

  The tent site cost me $5 for the night, but I paid it cheerfully, for that

price included access to the hot pool that was the camp's main attraction – entry to which was normally $3.50 anyway!

  The pool turned out to be a huge rectangular basin with a number of steps

leading bathers from the shallow edges to the deeper centre. It was an open- air affair, which proved amusing when it rained (as it did, just after dark). In one corner was a huge tv-repeater-screen. The hot water (not really hot, just warmer than tepid) came up through many small vents in the concrete that sheathed the pool. Apparently there was not one major spring, but rather hundreds of small seepings through cracks in the underlying rock. The pool-builders had tracked down the larger cracks and channelled them into the pool.

  I made the acquaintance of the camp's owners, and we got on quite well.

I told them about Te Aroha and they told me about the relatives they had in the area. I admired the T-shirts advertising the camp that were selling for $15 from the camp store. `You like them? Have one! – all you have to do is promise to wear it every now and then!' I told them that I planned to go back to Te Aroha the next day. `But it's going to rain tomorrow. You'll get soaked!' Well, yes, but I had to be getting back. `Well, we're going shopping in Paeroa tomorrow. If you can wait until midday, we'll give you a lift that far.' And so it happened. Very nice people and a very nice camp.


Through The Heart:

I went and worked on the Kiwifruit again in May, using my annual leave for the purpose. Nothing like being paid twice for my time, huh? But unfortunately the story of the kiwifruit will just have to wait for the solicitation of some material-less faned; I have no room for it.

  I did not, however, spend the whole month of my leave picking fruit.

Towards the end, I got pissed-off with the way my employer was running his teams of pickers, and decided that enough was enough!, and cycled off into the sunset. Well, not the sunset exactly, but in the same general direction. I had been working near Te Puke (actually some distance out on the far side from Tauranga). When I left the orchard I went back to Tauranga for a few days. So I decided to make my first day's staging the approximately 85 km from Tauranga to Rotorua.

  The first part was relatively easy -- cross the small peninsula that central

Tauranga squats on, cross the harbour via a railbridge (shorter than using the main road), up a connecting road to Highway 2, then along to the Rotorua turnoff at Highway 33. But then things turned difficult.

  I found myself dropping gears for no obvious reason. I was used enough

to cycle-touring by now that I could judge my progress fairly well even without looking at the speedometer and doing mental calculations of time versus distance. It soon became plain that I was not making as much distance for effort as I thought that I should be. It took a longer period of observation before the reason came to me: I was climbing up from sea level onto a vast plate of volcanic debris, vomit of ancient activity by the volcanic zone that reaches from Rotorua to Ruapehu. This `Volcanic Plateau' (as it was called in my schoolboy geography lessons) surrounds the mountains and stretches east to the sea, forming the coastline of the bay of Plenty. But the layer of debris thins very gradually as you leave the volcanoes behind. There is no noticeable slope by very reason of the gradual nature of the change: the land is tilted. The horizon matches it. Lacking the means of comparison, the eye assumes that the landscape is horizontal – but it isn't.

  I persevered. The vegetation gradually changed from the lush green of the

coast to the darker green of inland forest. Then I passed between two lakes and entered the region of thermal activity that surrounds Rotorua. I cheered to myself as I passed through Te Ngae (Tay-ngye), the turnoff to `Hell's Gate' at Tikitere (Tih-kee-teh-ree) – the milestone that told me I was almost there. To my right lay Lake Rotorua, with a green island set in it – Mokoia, setting of a famous Maori love story. At my left, tall pillars of white steam marked thermal areas.

  Rotorua is a city of about 58,000 people, built on the shores of a volcanic

lake. If the reader is familiar with any part of NZ at all, that part is probably Rotorua. (The next most likely places are the Bay of Islands and Queens- town.) So I won't go into much detail here. The place is a tourist trap – prices high, and everything of honest culture sacrificed for the Tourist Dollar. The air reeks of sulphur. The inhabitants are very proud of their geysers and mud pools, but are also addicted to having their own private hot pools in their back yards, with the result that the water table is dropping disastrously, killing off the geysers and mud pools. Sad (but all too human).

  I had been here before, of course. The trip after this (and my final visit

before leaving NZ) yields me very pleasant memories, for I met up with a German hosteller, Inge, and we spent three happy (and quite platonic) days exploring the place together. Inge is bright and is one of those people who can walk into a strange place and, in ten minutes, strike up a friendship with someone. (She visited me in Melbourne in 1988, before setting out on a month's bus-back exploration of the country. The day she went to Adelaide, I left her at the bus terminal cheerfully – and sure enough, in the twenty minutes or so between the time we parted and the time the bus left, she met up with an interesting German couple living in Adelaide. The man had a passionate belief in the evil of Supermarket waste, and had gotten into trouble several times for his habit of salvaging goods from supermarket rubbish and giving the still-edible or usable items to poor people who couldn't afford to buy them new.) She made the perfect foil to my own reserve, given that I was in travelling mode at the time and so somewhat less staid than normal. So we went to the fisheries at Rainbow springs and soaked at the Polynesian Pools and visited Whakarewarewa (Fahka-ray-wah- ray-wah), the major thermal area closest to the city, and which also has a Maori Arts Centre.

  This trip I only stayed two nights before pressing on the 82-kilometres to

Lake Taupo (Tow-poh). Rugged countryside, red soil (an unusual colour for NZ, though common in Australia), climbing into the centre of the island, then a swift descent to the shores of Taupo. Taupo, filling the blasted-out roots of ancient volcanoes, is the largest lake in NZ, and it is famous for its trout fishing. On the way into Taupo city I stopped at the Honey Village, a complex dealing with various varieties of honey and the odd combinations resulting from adding such things as fruits and nuts. Samples are laid out on tables, with wooden spatulas supplied in jars nearby. Take a spatula and dip it in whatever honey takes your fancy, lick the specimen, dispose of the stick. Not a place for gluttons! Some hostellers I've spoken to went there and made themselves quite sick by pigging out on the free tasting. (Similar to getting drunk on wine-tasting expeditions, I suppose.) If you want to, you can finish the expedition by purchasing jars of your favourite flavours when leaving.

  At Taupo I stayed in Rainbow Lodge, a private hostel built and run by a

couple who once ran hostels for YHA. In 1986, the two best non-YHA hostels in NZ were run by ex-YHA Managers. (The other was in Christchurch.) Rainbow Lodge was very new when I was there; the interior was not completely finished (it had opened in order to get some cash coming in).

`Thanks Greg  --  thank you for the music in
Rainbow Lodge  -- I  enjoyed!  Thank you for
advising me to go to Te Aroha. It's really a
comfortable and  nice  hostel.  GOOD  MUSIC.
Friendly  people -- only two Australians and
I are here this night. Great.
  1. - Only in silence the word

Only in darkness the light

                                         Only in dying life
                                      Bright the hawk's flight
                                         On the empty sky --
                                                        (Ursula LeGuin)  
  1. - Christa (Denmark)' (Te Aroha V. B.)

  It started raining, so I stayed two nights at Rainbow Lodge. By the time

the rain eased, the visitors had formed a tight-knit little community, and everyone was sorry when it came time to move on. (Several of these people later came through Te Aroha, some while I was away, a couple while I was `in residence'; which made for several pleasant nights of story-telling and comparison of notes.) Of course, like any group, not everyone liked everyone else, and there was the inevitable untidy element who would leave dirty dishes lying around, not bathe for days, or come noisily back from the pub in the early hours and throw up on the floor, leaving the mess to others to clean up if they themselves weren't caught and firmly made to clean it up themselves. (Such creatures are found less in YHA hostels than `private' ones – the YHA system polices and eventually purges itself of persistently offensive characters, before these individuals can do real damage. In the private area, supposedly `mature' `adult' people will do the most amazingly antisocial deeds before the community bands together to get rid of them – and even then, the offenders will often turn up again and again elsewhere.)

  Now came the day of folly: I set off into the drizzle, determined to try the

137-kilometre leg from Taupo to Ohakune (Oh-hah-koo-nay). I should have known better: 137 kilometres is a long day's cycle at the best of times, but now it was approaching the shortest day of the year, I wanted to pass the highest mountains in the North Island, and I compounded it by setting out late in the morning. (I was not totally bereft of wit – I did intend to leave Highway 1 at Turangi (Too-rahng-gee) rather than follow the main highway down the desolate Desert Road on the east side of the mountains to Waiouru (Wye-ooh-roo). That area has a reputation for being dangerous to benighted travellers.)

  I cruised easily along Highway 1, following the rolling shoreline of Lake

Taupo, admiring the beauty of the lake in the rare moments of sunshine. The far shore (or rather, the hills behind it) was barely visible on the horizon, and the waves that came in were larger than you might expect from a lake. I made good time for the first 50 kilometres – just over two hours. But then I decided to take the scenic route, Highway 47a instead of Highway 47, to pass by the western slopes of the mountains. I had forgotten just how high the first step of the mountain-base was: when I passed through Tokaanu (Toh-kah-noo) and saw what was waiting for me, I quailed. The road climbs to 745 metres to cross the Te Poninga (Tay-poh-ning-gah) saddle. (Of course, the land was something like half a kilometre high already, so I had only a few hundred metres to climb, but most of the extra height comes in a single winding slope about four or five kilometres long.)

  Nothing for it. I pushed my bike up. Took me three hours, which put me

past 2 pm, with perhaps three hours of usable day left and almost seventy kilometres of hostile up-and-down to cover if I wanted to reach Ohakune that day. Couldn't be done.

  Well, having reached the saddle, at least I had a couple of kilometres of

coasting ahead of me. I climbed back onto my bike and pushed off, the peaks on either side (1160 and 1325 metres) acting as starting posts. I bent low over the handlebars, holding the lower grips fiercely, flicking occasional amazed glances at the speedometer as it swung around and around, finally quivering on 95 kph – terminal velocity, I guess. The wind was vicious, even with sunglasses protecting my eyeballs from the worst blast. I swung wide on the curves and prayed that I didn't meet a car at the wrong moment. Gentle tests with the brakes assured me that there was no way I could stop other than catastrophically before I reached the bottom. What slowing I had to do from time to time was sufficient to overheat the pads, leaving a thin black circle of rubber on the wheel-rims, even though I tried to alternate between front and back to minimise the friction. I certainly had no desire to pull back with full force: I have a vivid memory of my childhood, when I tried that on a hillside in Wanganui. The rubber shoes popped out, leaving me to accelerate horribly and finally crash through a corral-type fence at the bottom, knocking myself out but – by some fluke – collecting only a few bruises and scratches otherwise. I could hope for no such happy ending here!

  Even so I had time to watch the scenery and to note the green waters of

tiny Lake Rotopounamu (Roh-toh-poo-nah-moo) as I passed high above it.

  I made it down safely, and stopped to pee at the roadside, feeling shaky

at the knees, when I finally halted my mad career on the flats near Lake Rotoaira (Roh-toh-eye-rah).

  I pushed on, but the road was crossing the long ridge-lines that radiate

from the mountains. Already tired from mounting the saddle, I found myself walking more and more. Then dusk fell, and I finally found a small flat area well off the road to use as a camp.

  Snug in my thick sleeping bag and windproof tent, I slept well. Next

morning I stepped out into -4 degrees of heavy frost… When I rode on, I was so well-wrapped against the cold that I looked like a ball.

  The land was wide, covered with brown tussock, plunging in one direction

into a distant complex of hills, rising in the other into an intricately- patterned and snow-capped wall of stone: the three volcanoes at the heart of the North Island – Tongariro (Tong-gah-rare-oh), 1968 metres; Ngaurohoe (Ngarra-hoh-ee), 2291 metres; and Ruapehu, 2797 metres. The latter two are classified as `active', but this day only a slight steam from Ngaurohoe showed it.

  Although there are three major mountains in the group, only about three

kilometres separates the peaks of Tongariro and Ngaurohoe, with a wide, relatively low saddle between them and Ruapehu. (The higher of the two peaks flanking the Te Poninga saddle is called Pihanga (Pih-hahng-gah), and Maori legend claims the mountain is female – the wife of Tongariro. It seems that a third mountain, Taranaki, once stood nearby, and he coveted his neighbour's wife. Angered, Tongariro fought with Taranaki and finally drove him away with fire and rocks. Taranaki fled to the sea, wounded foot digging the valley now filled by the Wanganui River; then he waded up the coast and finally settled down in the centre of the western `fin' of Maui's `fish'. Today, after many years of being known as `Mt Egmont' (so-named by the white man) he is again ruling his wide domains under his own name.)

  After a while my eyes adjusted to the scale of the countryside -- I thought

– and I suddenly noticed a child's toy house standing on a hillside some way off the road. It had obviously been patterned after a European manor-house. It was blocky, multi-storied, and slope-roofed. I was surprised that such a beautiful and detailed toy should be left out in this desolate place –and then I realised my error. I should have realised earlier: I was looking up the long flank of Ruapehu at the Chateau Tongariro. What looked small and close was really more than fifteen kilometres away, and was the only man-made element in the landscape capable of making itself noticed against the grandeur of the mountains.

  I slogged away until I met the turnoff to the Chateau. On impulse, I

essayed the six-kilometre uphill climb and spent a couple of hours looking around the ski village that has grown up around the imposing building (which is a ski-hotel run by the Tourist Hotel Corporation). Someday I shall stay there. The family went there once on holiday, but I was too young to remember it very clearly.

   My back tire had gone flat, so I fixed it. I left my pocket-knife lying on

a step beside where I fixed my bike. Didn't realise it until I wanted to use it to shave some kindling for the fireplace at the Ohakune YHA.

  The return trip to Highway 47 flew by, and I laughed into the wind. This

random side-trip was proof to me that my long nights and days of introspection and self-analysis were not going to waste – the person I had been in 1984 would not have turned aside from their pre-planned route to snoop around the Chateau! Now I could settle down to killing the 44 kilometres that separated me from Ohakune.

  The YHA hostel at Ohakune is an older structure, somewhat run-down,

and relies on the ski travellers in winter to keep it profitable. When I was there this trip, it was being run by Tomoko, a Japanese hosteller who had been supplementing her NZ trip by relieving at various hostels. I'd heard about her through the internal communication of YHA and by reputation from hostellers, and was very pleased to meet her at last. She had a very sweet, somewhat `lost' personality that was very appealing. Not surprisingly, she was very popular with the visitors at the various hostels she ran. We spent quite a while talking about our various adventures. (Some time later, in her final days in NZ, she came to Te Aroha. We still keep in touch. Someday I shall get to Japan and visit her in her own country.)

  Two nights at Ohakune, and it was time to attempt the final leg: Ohakune

to Wanganui via `the Parapara' (Pah-rah-pah-rah) and Highway 4. 100 kilometres of winding hill-road, with the three great hills of the Parapara looming at the gates of my home town. It was hell, though I made it through as planned. I was in familiar territory and so couldn't lose myself in the scenery the way I had elsewhere, but some interest was provided by playing leap-frog with a Japanese traveller (Joichi? His name slips my mind) riding a 50 cc motor-scooter. He would pass me as I walked or cycled upgrade; then I would catch and pass him on the far side. He didn't finally leave me behind until we reached the willow-covered banks of the Wanganui River.

  Although I took no particular notice of the scenery, Highway 4 is

nevertheless one of the prettier roads in NZ, with its steep hillsides and many rows of stately poplars.

  Wanganui. I cycled in along the riverbank, relaxing as the suburb Aramoho

(Ah-rah-moh-ho) appeared on the far bank. The River is about fifty metres wide, filled with very muddy brown water. When the tide is on the ebb it flows placidly to the sea. When the tide is on the flood it flows placidly from the sea! I came in through Wanganui East and crossed at the City Bridge, cycled up Victoria Avenue (main street) and made the final easy section to my parents' home in the seaside suburb of Castlecliff.

  I stayed a few days, then, not having time to cycle north before an

important appointment, bussed to Hamilton, cycling from there to Te Aroha in the early hours of the morning, arriving home to an empty hostel. Sigh. But My satisfaction at having completed this odyssey was enough. Now I was a real cycle-tourist.


The three trips I've talked about here were three of the four main cycle- tours I went on. The one not recounted was the Rotorua trip, in August, mentioned briefly above, in which I met Inge. Now that was a hard-luck trip if ever I had one. Before I even got out of Te Aroha I discovered that two of the struts supporting my rear wheel (the two diagonal ones that meet the frame near the seat) had come loose, requiring a quick stop at a local garage to get them welded back into place. Then I'd left my cheque-book in Te Aroha and had with me only my Post Office Savings Bank passbook – with almost nothing in it. If I hadn't been able to arrange with Dannie and Helen to telegraph some money through to me, I would have been forced to make an ignominious return to Te Aroha. (Inge had offered to lend me money, but I didn't want to ruin my trip by worrying about getting it back to her later. Better to cancel the trip and try again later.) Other things went wrong on the way from Rotorua to Tauranga, and the final section, back to Te Aroha via the Karangahake Gorge, saw me: (1) hit a stone and destroy a tire (as well as denting the metal rim, leaving the bike with a permanent `bump- bump-bump' sensation when in motion); (2) try to turn too sharply, resulting in the bike stopping dead while I cruised on to skin my palms on the road; (3) swerve too wide on a turn and come within a few centimetres of going under a truck. In short, if it hadn't been for those three idyllic days in Rotorua, I'd have come out in worse condition than I entered the trip.

  Apart from these four main trips, there were a number of lesser ones,

mainly into the Coromandel and starting or ending at Opoutere.

  I think that discovering the pleasures of touring by bike was one of the

best discoveries I made at Te Aroha. With my bike, and with the extended weekends made possible by the setup at Te Aroha, I was able to get the feeling of travelling, even though I never really went anywhere. The environment – surrounded by travellers from all over the world – was pretty much what I could have expected had I been travelling myself, yet if I'd been confined to the hostel area all the time it might soon have palled somewhat. But whenever things started to feel closed-in, I could load up the wheels and take a spin someplace else.

  The cycle-touring idea was helped along by the nature of the area. The

region covered by the maps on pages 8 & 15 is one of the most scenic in the North Island, packing in more goodies per square kilometre than almost any other area of comparable size in the world – so the various visitors from all over told me. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity Te Aroha's location offered me.


`Well  folks,   two  of  the  NZYHA National
Executive  came  for  a  visit  yesterday to
discuss the future of  this  hostel.  Essen-
tially  the  YHA  wants  to close uneconomic
hostels such as Te Aroha and  8  others,  or
at  least make arrangements so that they are
not an economic drain  on  YHA  finance.  It
seemed  to me that they would be going ahead
with this decision even though many  of  the
National  Executive  are  supporters  of the
small hostel. It appears that the YHA may be
willing to  allow  the  smaller  hostels  to
operate  outside the present Warden's Agree-
ment  (which sets wages and conditions)  and
arrange their own local employment  contract
and supervision arrangements.  In this sense
Te Aroha should  continue  as  it  has  good
local  support,  but  where  this is not the
case you can expect closures  such as Whaka-
tane.  I believe it is essential to maintain
the smaller  hostels  as  they  provide  the
character  and  local flavour of the system,
unlike the large accommodation  centres  type
hostels.  To  maintain  these  small hostels
they must receive a regular flow  of  people
so  that  means we should try and visit some
of the other  smaller  hostels  around  this
country  and  extol  the  virtues of them in
other day books.
     Enough for the news bulletin.  Te Aroha
is a great  place  to  rest,  relax,  or  be
active  in a great countryside  --  all  the
comforts of home except a  TV  (an essential
item with the World Cup at the moment), even
sheep outside the bathroom windows.

– Kevin (Australia) 3/6/86' (Te Aroha Visitor's Book)

Auckland and Out:

As I've already said once in this long, long chapter, all things end. There is a great deal yet unsaid about my time at Te Aroha – the Kiwifruit, the Managers conference in Christchurch in early June; all sorts of odd occurrences and observations. But to tell it all would double the length of this episode. I especially regret putting aside the story of my fortnight's training at Kerikeri YH in August 1985, since that provided plenty of adventures and also would provide an insight on the operation of a relatively busy hostel.

  Another thing I especially regret is the necessity of leaving out anecdotes

about other hostellers; such as Klaus from Germany, who had a penchant for interminable sentences which would go on and on for several dozen words, all constructed with excellent grammar except for such characteristically German features as `I have still to go to…' and `I am taking six months so far…', using multisyllabic words and ordinary words in novel ways, and all spoken with a machinelike precision and rhythm that sometimes made the actual meaning of the sentence impervious to the listener, who would find themselves nodding in time to the syllables and listening to the sound rather than the meaning. The sentence you have just read is an attempt to recreate a sample.

  Wayne came from Canada. He was a regular feature at the hostel, six

months of the year. Alas, he was not allowed permanent residence in the country he loved most, and so would have to spend the other six months of the year in North America. He drove around in a yellow mini, which he would leave with someone in Auckland during the interregnums. His obliging nature extended to such features as taxiing a concerned hostel manager thirty kilometres in the dusk once in order to track down a missing hosteller (who turned up back at the hostel while we were out searching the roadside for him). (He took note of my interest in seeing Canada and, when he went back there in 1986, he posted me a copy of a booklet about Canadian National Parks – including one of my particular dream-places, Lake of the Woods. Now maybe in 1989…)

  But I haven't space to tell a story about everyone I met and liked. I need

to leave someone out somewhere. Let it stand…

  I've also said less about the actual mechanics of being a hostel manager

than I might. The job itself is quite simple – book people in, book people out; keep track of the money and account for it to Head Office with a monthly report; keep the hostel clean and safe from fire and other disaster; be a host to the hostellers – give them a shoulder to cry on if they need it, point them at the best places to go and the best things to do. It's challenging, not in the sense of being complex, but in the variety and nature of the things you are called upon to do in the course of executing the above- mentioned simple duties.

  One thing I could never quite escape was the feeling of impending doom

that hung over Te Aroha and a number of other small hostels. YHANZ was the battleground of several conflicting factions. Some wanted to cut off all unprofitable hostels; others thought all should be kept, and as many `private' hostels as possible should be persuaded to affiliate; still others thought the employment of professional managers a mistake and that YHANZ should return to the more casual system of years gone by. All these plans had inherent problems. A major spanner existed in the form of the new Mt Cook YHA project, which was expected to cost upwards of $750,000. To raise this sum – and nobody disputed that the new hostel was necessary and that the money must therefore be made available – budgets for several years had been slashed, maintenance programs on smaller hostels held up, and fund- raising ventures had been embarked-on.

  Te Aroha really couldn't afford a permanent manager's salary, even a

salary as small as mine. I did my best to push the usage of the hostel up, but even at 100% capacity all the time, the hostel would lose money. Yet it was accepted as a legal requirement that the hostel could not operate without a resident manager. By mid-1986, however, ways had been found around this obstacle. Larger hostels would continue much as before, but medium-range hostels would go over to a `leasing' arrangement between the managers and YHA, an arrangement designed to stop YHA bleeding into money-losing hostels and give the managers an incentive to make them profitable. Smaller hostels would either close or (where possible) find ways to provide live-in supervision without paying salaries. This meant that hostels supported by local YHA Branches would probably survive, especially with the help of local fundraising for repairs, etc.

  This did not mean I would lose my job. There were enough hostels around

whose managers were unwilling to operate under the new conditions so that I would be able to transfer to one of them if I liked. I thought very seriously about taking up this option, for I enjoyed the job very much.

  But in the end, travel won out. I realised that whatever new hostel I went

to would be busier than Te Aroha and would necessitate a more structured approach towards weekends. I would be working harder but the recreation I enjoyed so much would be cramped into a series of two-day segments. At least until I got my round-the-world ideas out of my system, I would probably be better off getting out of the job while it was a pleasure, thereby `saving' it as an option for years to come rather than burning up my interest now.

  Since a dark night on Opoutere Beach in February, my vague ideas

regarding travel had taken on shape and structure. Serendipity stepped in, and I acquired a cheap air ticket to Australia. On the 19th of September 1986 I again boarded a plane to Australia. How this came about, what I planned to do there, and what actually happened between then and 1st January 1987 is the subject for `History' Part Six. It will bring the tale up to the publication of SECANT 1, which, as endings, beginnings, and returns go, has a nice Ouroboros ring to it. See you then.

  1. - Greg Hills, 1/89

`This is my morning, my day begins: rise up now, rise up, great noontide!'


I appended the following to this article in SECANT 5:

SECANT 6: `The Happy Return'

THE next issue of SECANT will bring the conclusion to `History'. (`And not before time!' I hear you cry.) Since it is concerned with my return to Australia, and what I found there, I have given it the title `The Happy Return'. After some thought, I have decided that will be the theme of that issue of SECANT, too.


That chapter was never written.

  1. - Greg Hills, 20jun94


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