Ancient History was waiting for me, and the disparate threads of my journey were beginning to weave together.
It had been a long journey. It had been a hard journey, full of dark nights and crossing cold storm-driven, snow-furled winter passes. I had travelled across the centuries, across many lifetimes to this point. And I was here. Finally, for a time, here.
The Inner Guide, who had proved increasingly reliable as I had come to trust him, had insisted I take the back road from Dargaville through the mysterious and ancient Waipoua Forest, where the ghosts of the past and the desiccated crones of old narratives lay in wait for the pride-blinded and ego-encrusted.
Slowed down by its specific demands, I wove my way along the twisted roads, threading the green needle of the way through the forest, at times blinded by the sun, which would suddenly thrust its insistent presence onto my windscreen and smear it with impenetrable light, just as I was about to pick my way across a one-way bridge. The patupaiarehe wanted to cast their eye upon me, just as they did with all the travellers who passed through their domain. The turns became tighter, the corners more surprisingly deceptive until I felt myself lost in a green nightmare. Then just as I was about to surrender, they nodded in agreement and let me off the hook. The road widened, the corners straightened, and road signs reappeared. Then, before I knew it, I was out of the forest. The road picked up speed and I began the long green surf past Waimamaku up onto the summit above Omapere.
I had been coming here for a long time and so, when I crested the rise above Omapere, I pulled onto the shoulder and allowed the motor to rest. I climbed out and limped across the road. My shoulders ached and my body creaked in protest. I was tired, so very tired. I stood for a time and watched, and allowed the peace hanging in the air to drain the fatigue from me. Away across the harbour the magical dunes shimmered softly in the light, silent and yet present. To the East the low cloud covered the mountains in a korowai of grey and mystery. The long reach of the harbour drifted away to the right and out of sight. All around me the silence beckoned, holding out its welcoming arms, enfolding me. The lovely and lonely call of yet-unknown birds drifted down the soft silence and the gentle breathing of the wind.
And I have miles to go before I sleep, and promises to keep. Robert Frost’s words appeared from the silence. Emotion overcame me, and the tears rolled down my face. It was at once cold, at once warm. Not the draining heat of Africa, not the searching and pitiless cold of my beloved Maniototo. This was the gentle openhearted touch of a beautiful woman’s soft cheek. Here you are at last. Nau mai haere mai. Welcome.
But there were still a few miles left to travel before I could find my inn for the night, before I could brush off the road and find fire, wine and candlelight. I drove on, following the harbours edge to the turnoff to Rawene. My truck was tired as well. The chassis was creaking, as a vehicle used to long straight gallops across wide plains protested at the interminable tight bends. I understood. She was exhausted too. The road skirted the spur down to the ferry and my accommodation for the night.
I knocked on the door and waited. Then it opened.
There was a fire and there was a welcome and there was music and conversation, and there was wine and food. My hosts, John and Dorothy, remembered me from the last time I had stayed there. It was one of those wonderful conversations which picks up where it left off some years ago. When you are a stranger in a strange land, such things are taonga, are gifts.
I excused myself early and made my way to my bedroom. There is a real joy to sleeping in a freshly-made bed you haven’t had to make yourself. I turned down the covers, and prepared to climb in. My body was collapsing inwards. However there was still something to be done.
I stepped out onto the balcony for a time of karakia and thanks. It had taken a lifetime, but I had finally made it. I stood there in the darkness, feeling the wairua, sensing the multiple currents of the harbour, seeing the faint shimmering outline of the church at Motukaraka across the water, where Archbishop Pompallier was buried, and listening to the soft sigh of the water against the wharf piles and the haunting call of ruru in the darkness.
And in the night, as the deep call of frogs rumbled in the pond beneath me, as the bejewelled call of yet-unknown insects clung to the soft blanket of the night, and as I stood beneath a slowly-swirling canopy of unknown stars, I gave thanks.