South America has, in my mind, always been a world separated by more than just the Atlantic Ocean. Stories from friends who have ventured to the ancient Incan ruins or the vast ecosystem that makes up the Amazon, have always seemed like tales and fantasies, Continue reading
You’ve probably never heard of my small island home of Tasmania. It is situated at the tail-end of Australia and is sometimes left off maps, although I can assure you, it really does exist.
To me, Tasmania is an almost magical place, an idyllic isle. It is where I was born, and where I plan to grow old. My love affair with this place has so far never left me. I come from the North West, living my life on a small hobby farm on the side of a valley, surrounded by trees, mountains and rolling hills.
We have no immediate neighbours, save the tall spindly spines of the plantation trees that up until recently surrounded our home. Occasionally, native wildlife such as possums and wallabies wander through our yard late at night. I can often go days without seeing anyone, if I choose.
Perhaps the most famous of Maori legends is the tale of New Zealand’s formation. The story goes that a young boy, Maui, and his brothers were due to venture out on a fishing expedition, although Maui was not welcome. For this reason, he hid in the canoe and once out at sea, he jumped out. Then too late for the brothers to turn back, Maui cast a fishing hook supposedly made from the jawbone of his beloved grandmother. As it fell deeper into the ocean, it made contact with an underwater home. This house once belonged to Tangaroa, the God of the Sea, and was then home to Tonganui, his grandson. With great effort, Maui managed to pull his catch to the surface. And so was born the North Island or TeIka-a-Maui — the fish of Maui. The South Island is said to represent Maui’s canoe, and southerly Stewart Island, the anchor. If the North Island is Maui’s fish, the Coromandel peninsula is the base of the tail and the East Cape is widely believed to be the fin.
I had heard much of this story during my stay in the Tamaki Maori village. There’s something really special about hearing the tales of the land from people who can really identify with them. It also gave a new dimension to the route of our travels; the next leg of the trip was essentially a quick tour around the fin of Maui’s fish. State Highway 35 traces this outline from Opotiki to Gisborne; we spread this trip over 3 days. The road itself has to be one of the most beautiful drives I completed during our New Zealand road trip, second only perhaps to the routes between Franz Josef, Wanaka and Queenstown.
Our first stop for the night was a homestay in Te Kaha, a small village not too far from Opotiki. This section of the trip itself was named ‘East As’, a cheeky amendment to the infamous kiwi utterance: ‘sweet as’. The trip itself is run by an ex Kiwi Experience bus driver, but it is actually his own business. The transition between travelling on an ‘overload’ bus, carrying 90+ Kiwi Ex passengers from Auckland to Rotorua, to sitting in the back of our guide’s car with two other girls was quite a leap, although not an unwelcome one after the mania of the previous weeks.
The East Coast of New Zealand hosts the first sunrise of the day due to its proximity to the International Date Line and so, however illogically, the sunrises and sunsets hold just a little more significance. The idea that you might be the very first person on the planet to see the first rays spill over the horizon is something special. On arrival, we set out on a brisk 10km walk around the Copenhagen track walk, scrambling behind our 6ft ex-rugby-player Maori guide like lost excitable puppies. Tired from the day’s exertions, we enjoyed a three-hour soak in the hot tub at the lodge with a crate of cider overlooking an empty beach. We got some beautiful photos, ate a delicious home cooked BBQ dinner and went to bed with pruney fingers and happy heads.
The next morning, we sat in the garden overlooking the bay, the billowing steam from the volcanic White Island visible on the horizon. The next leg of the route on State Highway 35 took us towards Rangitukia. We stopped on the way to climb the track up to the most easterly point in New Zealand, marked by an enormous lighthouse. Incredibly, the lighthouse had once stood out on a small rock formation off the coast but, due to erosion, had been moved by horse up the steep hill we had just taken forty sweaty minutes to ascend.
We arrived in Rangitukia at the Eastender backpacker resort, home to the Kiwi answer to The Horse Whisperer — a young WWOOFer and around forty horses. For any of those not in the know, WWOOFing is essentially working in exchange for food and board — an alternative way to keep your funds afloat on a working holiday. Riding horses along a misty beach and up into the hills at sunset was pretty special, even if I did manage to take some of the poorest GoPro footage in the short history of the device. The three of us enjoyed the trek so much that we opted to saddle up once more before breakfast the next day for an extra two-hour trek before we piled back into the car.
The last stop on our easterly adventure was Tatapouri beach, a tranquil beachside resort a few miles from Gisborne. After dumping our stuff in an 8-bed hostel room that we had to ourselves, we were plunged straight in to some waders that stretched up to our armpits. Then it was out onto the beach and into the ocean to feed wild stingrays. This was an unexpected highlight of the trip for me. Wading out into the ocean with a wooden pole to keep us upright, we walked around 30m out into the shallows in search of stingrays; we were not disappointed. Shuffling along in a close-knit line so as not to step on any stingrays or allow them to come between us, we had soon encountered nearly twenty of various types, including a couple of very large Short Tail rays. These beauties can weigh over 350kg and span two meters. I cannot deny the fact that I was a little apprehensive as I leant down to offer a wedge of raw barracuda to a mysterious mouth on the underside of a hefty Short Tail. Fingers thankfully all present and correct, we returned to the beach, stripped out of our waders and settled on the beach with a few ciders by the campfire. Taking the extra few days to explore New Zealand’s East Cape at a slower pace comes highly recommended by myself; a welcome window into the chilled approach to life that Kiwis are famous for.
All images courtesy of Emma Coleman
Looking back at my childhood, it’s really no surprise that I caught the travel bug. Although there were no sun-soaked holidays in the Med, no middle-class skiing trip in the February half-term, no money for much more than a leaky tent pitched in a half-empty field on the south coast of Cornwall (and what more, frankly, does a child need for a fantastic holiday?), I was always encouraged to be curious, to explore, to interrogate, to discover things for myself and to be open-minded.
I recently started to scrapbook my travels and I’ve made some amazing finds along the way. I thought my scrapbook material only went back as far as my trip to Cambodia four years ago but, in fact, recent sorting-out of all the paraphernalia in my parents’ garage has unearthed ticket stubs, brochures and boarding passes from a trip I took to New York aged seventeen. I even found thought-provoking souvenirs from a tour of the Belgian battlefields I went on with school, aged fourteen. But by far the most satisfying, most nostalgic, most heart-tugging discovery, was the account I wrote of the trip to London I took with my Dad at the tender age of seven. I remember writing it on the train home, and now I’m a ‘grown-up’, I can see in it the little tell-tale signs of the nomad I would grow up to be. And I’d like to share it with my readers, whoever and wherever you are, if anyone even reads this little offering. I’ve left the spelling mistakes in because, well, it was written by a seven-year-old. (And they’re cute).