The bus driver said there is hardly any traffic. Lonely planet said it is the end of the road. It seemed almost futile to try to hitch hike. Karamea – the small town where most travelers chose to spend a night or two recovering from the Heaphy trail. The bus was going to be 30 dollars each to get to Westport, but money is running thin. We decided to try hitchhiking anyways.
Pizza for breakfast. It is like the post hiking ritual now. The pizza boxes make excellent cardboard choices for hitch hiking signs. I now compulsively scope out good cardboard, and routinely point them out to James. A sign perhaps of too many days on the road? At the edge of town we begin signing for Westport. The locals of Karamea are friendly enough and wave or signal that they are not going far as they pass us. It’s not too long actually before we are picked up.
A man named Tao and his dog pick us up. He is heading to Westport, but first he needs to stop at the site where he is building his own house. We are in no rush, so we accompany him. His land stretches out far into the thick bush, and he shows us where he has cleared the trees, the frame of his house and where he plans to put his garden. The house is an eco paradise. You have to be completely off the grid when you live this remote. Solar panels for electricity, wood stove for heating, composting toilet – these are all features of this house. The roof is late to arrive due to the earthquake in Christchurch.
After taking some measurements we made some coffee in the sheltered area that provides both a storage area as well as a kitchen. Snow fencing blocks off the structure in order to keep out the pesky Weka’s – a flightless endemic bird species, which is cheeky and unafraid. The weka pecks at the tub of dishes that need cleaning while the water boils for coffee.
Years ago, when I was living in Edinburgh, I bought a book called The Rough Guide to Eco Living. The book outlines all the ways to live more sustainably, from solar panel installation to fair trade shopping habits. I always thought that one day – when money came easier – I would do up my own little home to be sustainable. I always assumed it would take a large capital input. But after seeing Taos soon to be cosy home, I realized that it was an easier goal to reach than I though. According to Tao, building his house in the way that he is doing it, is cheaper than building it the conventional way.
Eventually we continued on to Westport where we were dropped off at the local i-site. Tenting is becoming less and less novel, and even though are cash is quickly diminishing we opt for a hostel bed. The Tipsy Inn offers relatively reasonable prices as well as free use of bikes, so we choose it over its competitor. The bikes will be useful, as the seal colony is 16 km’s away and there is no public transport out to it.
It’s been almost two years since I last rode a bike – in the vast flatness that is the Limburg province of Belgium, where even the most remote road has a wide and secure lane for cyclists. We rode to the edge of town and approached the motorway. With barely any shoulder and large semi trucks zooming past, and my inability to be completely confident that I could ride the bike in a straight line – we opted to cycle back to the hostel. Beaten, but not defeated.
If we can manage to hitch hike out of Karamea, then we can hitch hike to the seals. And hitchhike we did. It took no time at all, and soon we were on the “Cape Foulwind Walkway”, so named by James Cook. The other James Cook. The dead one.
After about 45 minutes walking, with a few hills thrown in, we reached the view point for the seals on the rocks below. We looked and looked and looked but saw nothing but a weka. As we turned to leave, something caught our eyes – baby seals! They blend in so well with the rocks, and we were at such a distance that they were hard to spot at first, but once we knew what we were looking for we saw many. Eventually we were tired and ready to leave. Thankful that we didn’t have to cycle another 16 km’s!
We hitched a ride back with three English girls who happened to be staying at the same hostel as us. Although they were not particularly chatty, we ended up watching the film Notting hill with them – about an American girl and a British man falling in love. How appropriate! Except that I am Canadian, and James’ accent does not sound at all like Hugh Grants. Shame.