We had spent most of the previous Saturday (this was Monday) drinking on a mini wine tour, then beers in the Hallertau brewery, followed by a couple of cans of Woodstock (a sickly sweet bourbon and coke mixture from A's adolescence), finishing off the night with a mix of different drinks - more beers, wine, and finally - ouch -whisky sours. The Woodstocks, I was told, had to be drunk outside, on the beach at Muriwai, and it was explained that this was West Auckland tradition: you couldn't have grown up as a "Westie" without having done that, so I chugged down the sweet alcopoppy thing, whilst realising I was on one of the most incredibly beautiful beaches I'd ever had the pleasure of watching a sunset upon. We started out full of chatter and laughter, but as the bright sun waned and we watched a million colours in the sky illuminated in the many rockpools on the ground, it seemed to quieten us, as if we had to pay reverent heed to what we were witnessing.
Actually, that was the second impressive beach I'd seen already in my first week in New Zealand. We had taken one of our first drives out a few days prior to Piha, a spectacular surfing beach on the Tasman Sea, with a permanent town population of 600. It's incredibly rugged, famous for a giant formation known as Lion Rock and the first ever NZ board-riding competition in 1958, and is surrounded by subtropical forest and various impressive hills and rock formations. It's one of the beaches where The Piano was filmed, and it lends itself well to melancholy art: a song, a poem, a piece of prose, a painting all might suggest themselves to someone so inclined, were they to have visited on a day like we did; overcast, windy, and brooding.
Driving through the countryside towards our first stop in Rotorua, I was reminded of Scotland's green peaks and burns shimmering in the low sunlight, but also of the great American landscapes I have only seen in films: the flat, wide roads, the tall pine forests, and the seemingly endless shapes of mountains forming on the horizon. We started out listening to Maori radio, and I felt inspired by the newness of this place, moved by its exoticness, its duality, its storytelling in two languages.
It was the same feeling I'd felt the evening before, as we had walked out of the house for the first time that hungover day just in time to see the sunset. We had walked to A's old primary school up the road, set on the side of a hill with a huge Macrocarpa tree, and looked out to views of the Waitekere ranges and prehistoric-looking forest. We noticed a Sunday church service taking place in the small school chapel, and the attendees were Pacific islanders, either Tongan or Samoans, speaking in a language we could not understand. Soon, however, as we started ascending the small footpath, we heard the strains of a haunting song sung by a choir of strong voices. It hung around us like the scent of flowers at dusk, and clung to us, silencing our chatter as we reached a magical little waterfall above the path, itself enclosed in a hushed cathedral of green.
I've spent much of the last three weeks feeling awed like that. Maybe the photos below will help to begin to explain it.