On the way to the ferry I start feeling insecure. My backpack is heavy, it looks like rain. Should I really do this? Just go to the island and stay there overnight? As far as I know nobody lives there but I found out that there are 4 other bookings for the campsite tonight (I called the Department of Conservation). On the one hand it’s relieving, on the other hand – who knows who those people are? I and 4 freaks on an uninhabited island.
At least I chose my tent site carefully (the campsite is partitioned in small tent sites) and didn’t book the one called Sleepy Hollow (it’s a horror movie, isn’t it?!). I will stay at Nest & Fledglings – which is exactly how I feel. The campsite is at the East coast of Motutapu. As there is no ferry connection to the island (only Sundays every 2 weeks) I’ll take the ferry from Devonport to Rangitoto (uninhabited island as well) and hike from there to the campsite at Motutapu. I read that the two islands “are joined by a causeway” – whatever that means.
Not really knowing what to expect, that’s the exciting thing about travelling and it’s also the scary thing. I’m nervous even though it’s only a little island in New Zealand about 10 km away from where I’m living now. Actually I can see Rangitoto from our living room (looks nice, it’s a volcanic island, pretty bushy from afar) but I can’t see Motutapu because it’s the island behind. I wish I could reawaken my old travel spirit but I don’t know how. People smile at me while I’m walking towards the ferry station like they want to encourage me. They like travellers here. Except for the ferry ticket seller at the wharf in Devonport.
-Sorry, we’re sold out.
-But I called in advance and was told there are plenty left.
-Ah well, sorry. We’re sold out.
-Hm. It’s just me and can make myself very small. (smile)
-Yeah… nah. Really sorry. Sold out. (no smile)
-Mh. Okay, when does the next ferry leave?
I’m… annoyed. It means I might not have enough time for the hike (what do I do then, walk with my torch?) and it means that I need to go to the city first because the afternoon ferries to Rangitoto leave only from there (and all together it’ll cost $41 now). Maybe I should just go back home, but I’m too stubborn to give up.
On the ferry to the city I go on deck like always. There’s a young Chinese family trying to take selfies. I take a picture of them and they get so excited about it that afterwards I get a high five or actually a high… fist* from a stranger sitting on a bench nearby. He looks like a homeless magus. Felted raven black hair, dirty overalls, sun-baked skin and eyes which know about other worlds. He reminds me of Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty, just dirtier and oh lord, he’s so attractive. It’s a long time ago I met someone with such an aura.** He is reading a book, I’m just watching him. When we arrive 10 minutes later in Auckland city I’m alright with everything that will happen on the island.
I get lunch to take away at a restaurant and sit down on a bench at the wharf waiting for the ferry to Rangitoto. A few meters away there’s a guy my age failing at skateboarding. It’s strange, he seems to be so self-confident, tries his tricks again and again and fails all the time. I’m kinda impressed. He’s a beard- baseball cap- hipsterguy. Later on in the ferry queue he’s standing right behind me.
-Stayin’ overnight, aye?
-You’re stayin’ overnight? Motutapu?
He nods in the direction of my backpack, my tent is sticking out of the big pocket.
-Ah, oh, yes.
-Beauuutiful island, aye? Moved there 2 weeks ago.
-What, you live there?
-Yeah, cool, aye? Got work as a fencer. You need a ride to the campsite? Have a vehicle waiting at Rangitoto.
-Thanks, but I want to walk.
-Oh, yeah, long walk, aye.
It’s very, very hard to understand him. He has the weirdest accent I’ve ever heard. I first think it’s Australian but later it turns out that’s actually Kiwi. Really rural Kiwi. He hitchhiked through the whole of New Zealand for two years. I’m almost tempted to ask him And you weren’t scared?! which is the question we all get asked but then I just smile and keep quiet. “…People invited me to their homes, gave me food and all that and one day I was really lost but then…” It’s the kind of story I usually tell, it feels nice being the listener and looking at his happy face.
We sit next to each other on the ferry deck watching Rangitoto coming closer. It’s windy and shaky and I can smell the salty sea. Hey mystical island, I’m on my way. This skating fencer and his ride offer, that’s a sign, isn’t it? Hiking could take too long. But the plan was: I want to learn English (tricky language…), I want to overcome fears (also tricky), I want to walk slowly (with springy energy though) by lifting and setting down each foot in turn (sounds feasible). More time by and with myself in nature would be good. That’s where the fears show up. But then I’ve also learned that it’s good to accept offers.*** What would the auratic magus want me to do?
-Ehm, you said you have a car at Rangitoto?
-Yeah, wouldn’t call it a car though.
-So… what is it?
-Just wait. You’ll see.
When we arrive at the wharf I follow him and realise people are looking at us. He speaks loud, his gestures are big and he explains me (and all the other tourists who are listening) what we see.
-See that pool here? – He nods to an empty concrete pool directly by the sea – Historic swimming bath. Fills with water when’s high tide. Built 100 years ago.**** Cool, aye?
The tourists are taking pictures. We go around the corner and under a tree there’s the non-car waiting. It’s… definitely not a car. It is square shaped, has 4 small wheels, an incredibly dirty plastic front, two seats with a roof, no doors and an open space for the backpacks in the back. The fencer makes an English gentleman-like welcoming gesture and says:
-Take a seat.
He passes me some big ear muffs.
-Take’em, will be loud. And say hello to Barbara.
He nods to the back. I turn and look directly in the black eye holes of a sheep skull fixed on a pole behind the seats.
Then he starts the engine. Ear-piercing noise. With one hand he steers and with the other one he is holding a handle in the middle front. We’re more shaking than driving on the gravel road. I get a private sightseeing tour around Rangitoto which is New Zealand’s youngest volcano and about 600 years old. It consists of dark lava rocks and reminds me of the Spanish island Lanzarote. Rangitoto is Maori language, Rangi means sky and toto means blood. There was a human footpring found in ash (here you can see a picture of it) from the time the vulcano errupted.
After a while we pass “THE SMALLEST BRIDGE BETWEEN TWO ISLANDS I GUESS.” (the fencer shouts in my ear muff covered ear). Then we’re at Motutapu and there’s immediately a landscape change. Green hills. Motutapu is New Zealand’s oldest landmass. I learn that it’s not total uninhabited, a handful of people are living here and a few hundred sheep and cows. Hill up, hill down, we’re shaking around and I try to take a picture for my father who likes strange old vehicles but I fail and laugh and have the best non-hike I can imagine.
The campsite is like a lot of campsites in New Zealand – effectively invisible. All I can see is grass, a couple of trees, a beach, and the sea. The fencer discovers a toilet and changing shelter on the right hand side. There’s no electricity but several taps, which is very good because I wasn’t totally sure if there’d be water. You need to boil or treat it but that’s fine.
-Want a beer? The fencer asks and takes two beers out of his backpack. He went grocery shopping in Auckland as there are no shops on the island (two eggs got broken during the not-car ride).
Then a desperate tourist couple coming down the hill asks for help. They thought there’d be a ferry going to Auckland from here. The fencer shake-drives them back to Rangitoto to catch the last ferry there (without the eggs, I took them out) and I walk around on the grass to check out the best place for my tent. It must be a good place, in case I stay here by myself. It’s pretty unlikely that there’ll arrive more people, isn’t it? We would have passed them with the non-car I guess. I set the tent up between two trees and ask them to protect me tonight. (At the header picture you can see a white dot between the trees in the middle. Thats my tent.)
As the fencer gets back, we drink the beers and go for an evening walk up the hill, he shows me eatable plants, we say hello to the sheep and cows and he tells me about his past which is the opposite of mine. Radical, dangerous, violent. He shows me creepy bunkers from World War II and we’re both glad about not being alone in them. In the twilight we walk back down on a beautiful forest track. At the campsite are a few other tents now. It’s a mid-twenties adventure guide girl with a bunch of teenagers who invites me to have dinner together and an older man with another bunch of teenagers. Apparently there are different tracks leading to the campsite.
It gets quickly and also very dark. The fencer and I get closer and watch the Milky Way together. I show him the Southern Cross, Scorpion and Mars. He shows me his constellation app and I’m stumbling around with his phone in the total darkness, discovering constellations, completely amazed. Seeing the Milky Way makes me feel so small and unimportant. I’m a grain of dust in this universe. Together with the grain next to me we share a long, warm goodnight hug.
He leaves and I walk over to the other tents with my cooker and food. I’m sitting on the grass with the adventure guide girl, sharing some stories and laughter and trying to keep warm in the freezing cold. I’m so glad I brought my beanie and the hot water bottle I can prepare with the camping cooker. The girl walked the Te Araroa hike which means she hiked through the whole country and I’m deeply impressed.
-Do it! she says, it’s amazing. If you have any questions just ask me. I’ll give you my number.
The fencer fed my adventurous travel soul and she encourages my hiking desires. When I go to sleep I realise I haven’t spent a minute by myself today but it was all perfect.
* In German it’s known as Ghetto fist. In English it seems to be called a fist bump and there’s even an article about it’s history on the occacion of Barack and Michelle Obama bumping fists in 2008.
** I think I met twice someone with such an aura. The first one was an ageless woman in a Yoga meditation centre in Germany’s Allgäu region. I felt at the same time attracted to and scared of her. I had the impression she could look through all my masks and covers directly to my insecure core. The other one was Mykola. I met Mykola in a hostel room in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Long greasy hair, black clothes, barefoot, not talking to anyone. It was my first and his last day in the land of the angry winds° and somehow°° we ended up making a ritual on a holy place on a hill.
° That’s not my expression. It’s from Galsan Tschinag, a Mongolian shaman I met in Ulaanbaatar one year after I met Mykola.
°° After trying a few languages I found out that we both speak Spanish and Mykola said: “Voy a despedirme al espíritu” and I – for whatever reason – said: “Puedo acompañarte?”. Later in the evening it turned out that Mykola was a shaman apprentice.
*** That was in Tübingen, Germany in the improvisation theatre class. Trust yourself and accept all offers. That’s the big rule and then everything flows. (The classes are free for University students. I got a social phobia attack every Tuesday but most of the time I went there anyway and I learned a lot about being scared, being brave and happy failing. Go there if you get the chance: http://www.improakademie.de/)
**** You can see a picture of it from 1935 here. Today it looks like this: