03/09/11 - Coromandel Peninsula
After a quick bite in Matamata, we continued heading up, up, up the Coromandel Peninsula. Along the way, to our great dismay, we found our car radio was suddenly not in working order. As in, not working at all. Button pressing became frantic button pounding. We pulled over in an attempt to resuscitate the old chap to no avail. Our trip still had a week and half left! The idea of living without "This American Life" broadening my mind across the countryside was eating away at me. How could we survive without our entire music library at the touch of our fingertips? It was unthinkable! Unnatural! Inhuman! No, no, no, this would not, this could not stand!!!
Katie punched the radio in rage and blammo – it powered up! Problem solved! Erm…not quite. Thus began our love/hate relationship with the car radio. There we'd be, rolling along, bopping our heads to a familiar tune, when it would cut out flat, forcing me to punch it in the face. Don’t worry. These were just moderate jabs and forceful nudges. Friendly persuasion. Nothing to call the cops about.
Our plans on the Coromandel Peninsula were extremely loose. It was one of those places where we hadn’t booked lodging ahead of time with only a few notes on what we wanted to do. But, seeing as this was nearing the end of our trip, we were getting a bit tired of being on the move. What sounded appealing was a nice spot to settle down for a few days. So we took all our vague plans and threw them out the window, choosing not to seek out hot spots or extreme adventures, but instead to relax for a spell on a sweet little sheep farm, far away from anyone or anything.
We’d read that Colville Farm was a hostel of sorts, and sure enough they had lodging for us. No rooms were available in or around the farmhouse, though, as they were booked for an upcoming bike race that weekend. We had two alternatives: Set up our tent near the main house right off the road OR drive 2 kilometers into the farm and stay in our own private cabin. Hmmmm….let me think…that’s a tough one…what to choose, what to choose…? Of course we booked the cabin!
Gorgeously green, the land looked lush in the dimming sunlight as we bounced our way over the unpaved road. We passed through fences and alongside grazing sheep before entering the woods and crossing a stream. Scottie, despite his diminutive size, made it through the rocky waterway unscathed. And before we knew it, there we were, standing in front of our very own cabin for three days of spontaneous relaxation.
The name posted on the front of our humble lodging was “The Dutchman 2,” and inside this little chalet were six bunk beds. Neither one of us could imagine six people (with six people’s worth of stuff) shoved inside this box-like dwelling. But for two people? Paradise. Plenty of room for two hobbit-sized guests with their Hobbit-sized stuff. We had a sweet little kitchen, a clean bathroom, and a wood burning stove to keep us warm at night. Wonderful. There were a couple of drawbacks, however. One: No bedding. We had to sleep in our sleeping bags on separate bunks every night. Two: The shower. Or should I say the “shower,” which resided outside in a shed and…well…more on that later.
After looking through the “What To Do” book resting on the table we decided to go for a hike in the morning. Someone had drawn out maps of several trails crisscrossing the property. We settled on heading to Misty Falls come sunrise.
The next morning we ate a nice oatmeal breakfast before scooting out the door. Behind our cabin we found a babbling river wending its way through the forest. We quick-footed it across the water and found ourselves scampering up a steep incline. The farm owners had created the trail but hadn’t considered gravity in its construction. There were no switchbacks, it simply went up. Some areas were easier to walk than others, but for the most part we found ourselves latching onto tree trunks every few feet, fearful of tumbling back down the slope. We both knew we’d come back this way at some point, but chose not dwell on it. We’d cross that bridge when we came to it, or rather, fall down that mountain…
Eventually we reached the top of the ridge. Shaded under tree tops, we trudged onward until we found a sign pointing toward Misty Falls. That’s when we got our first taste of downward travel. This section of trail had a lot to grab on to, thankfully. We let gravity do most of the work as we clung to trees and gripped hanging limbs for support. It wasn’t too long before we approached the small but pretty Misty Falls. It poured down the hillside into a little stream that fed into a river. An enormous boulder sat alongside the water; an ancient mass covered in green. We sat and ate a snack next to the falls. The gentle trill of water and distant birds lulled us into a sense of peace. I balanced across a thick broken branch while Katie sized herself up against the gigantic boulder. She touched its stone surface softened with emerald fur.
We left the tranquility of Misty Falls to climb upward once more. Back on the main path we continued along the ridge until we realized our path was becoming increasingly rugged. The trail maintenance had hit an end. Limbs scratched at our bodies, ferns fanned in our faces, and we found ourselves so engulfed in shrubbery that we could hardly see our feet! Considering we were on a ridge, it didn’t seem like the best idea to continue forward. We turned back and ended up at a stunning lookout that presented a view of the surrounding hilltops stretching out to sea. From there we could see the entire farm as well as our miniature cabin resting below, cradled in the palm of the forest.
As suspected, we scrambled our way back down the mountain path, gripping and clawing at the surrounding foliage every few feet. Luckily, our cat-like reflexes kept us safe. Or should I say sheer luck? Either way, we ate our dinner by fireside that night with our limbs intact and nothing but pleasant memories of the day.
For some bizarre reason I got it in my head that I wanted to farm cockles from the surrounding coastline. I think it was because we’d had cockles for dinner in Nelson and they were delicious. That, and the “What To Do” guide in our cabin said there was an excellent place to dig for cockles at a nearby beach. Well, hot damn! Let’s do this thing!
An hour later we found ourselves ankle-deep in ocean sludge rooting around for cockles. Did we have buckets? No. Did we have trowels? No. Did we know what the hell we were doing? Not by a long shot.
Oh, we found cockles alright. They were the size of a penny rounding up to a nickel. A small chunk of change when you’re hunting for a meal. Not to mention we had no idea how to cook them other than boiling. Then there was the sudden concern that this endeavor could lead to shellfish poisoning. These realizations were dawning on us while wrestling our legs free from chunky black mud, laughing through each suction-cup step. Despite our lack of success, we were actually having a lot of fun. Inevitably, our hunger won out, so we tossed our pathetic bounty back into the sea and rinsed off in salty water before climbing in the car with every intention of acquiring large, fat, mouth-watering cockles the way God intended – from a store!
An hour later we found ourselves ankle-deep in civilization but still completely cockle-less. Apparently being on a peninsula, mere inches from the ocean, was not enough to secure some decent shellfish. By this point we were ravenous, so we opted for plan B and went with pasta and roasted vegetables. It was a good meal and was, in fact, a wonderful day, even if we failed in our quest. Next time I’ll be more prepared…and wear galoshes.
One thing I told Katie before leaving on our trip was that at some point I wanted to walk around a farm. Just walk. No overriding intention other than enjoying the scenery and beauty of the land. A simple request, but one we had yet to fulfill. This was our day.
We packed up a lunch and headed out. Our only goal: A leisurely stroll and quiet picnic. The rolling hills mirrored clouds above, whose shadows raced along the ground and dipped downward, like rabbits to their holes. A shade tree swayed to our right, and just below its limbs were rows of sheep sleeping silently in the grass. Their fluffy white bodies had crafted perfectly shaped beds molded by persistence and time. The image was truly a painter’s dream.
We worked our way up a hill and through tall grass until we entered a pine forest. This was no ordinary forest. Visibility went deep. Each tree was strategically placed and separated into endless rows. It held a man-made design of equal height, distance, and symmetry, all of which resulted in an eerie feeling. We strolled across the thick bed of pine needles, hand-in-hand, listening to the distinct call of tui birds in the tree tops.
When we broke free from dim light of the wood, we made our way across a hilltop, finally choosing to spread our picnic below the shade of a single, gnarled tree. The pasture was empty and free. Not a person could be seen in any direction. The place was entirely our own.
Katie pointed out a baby bunny before it dashed underground. Then the sun became hidden by clouds, causing a chill in the air. Katie took offence to this, demanding the sunlight return, but she was only rewarded in fits and starts. The clouds taunted her. She paced the hillside until the sun finally made its escape, and then she basked in the warmth once more. I snapped a picture of her glowing victory.
I imagine you’re all thinking this sounds too idyllic to be true, and I’d agree with you, but I assure you it was real. Exactly what I’d dreamt of and everything I’d hoped for. A day of togetherness in the tranquility of nature. Nothing but the song of the wind and sweet scents on the air. It was one of our favorite days of the trip.
From The Sublime To The Surreal: Tales Of Our Misadventures On Colville Farms
Our tale of farm life wouldn’t be complete without disclosing a few agonizing moments, now would it? Our time at Colville Farms was like a vacation within a vacation, and during this time we got to settle in and escape from everything, including modern conveniences…
One day we were forced to do some hand-washing, as we were fresh out of clean underwear. We hung out our wet socks and underwear on a convenient clothesline dangling between two trees outside of our cabin. On return, we found our clothes covered in strange, miniature, alien-like insects. These tiny pink bugs were roaming all over our unmentionables and I, for one, am not partial to having creepy crawlies in my underwear. We spent a good amount of time extracting those disturbing creatures.
While at our cabin, we also decided to wash our generous stash of rocks that we’d collected during our travels. We needed these puppies spic and span for the trip home, and the cabin had a hose and plastic tub available for the task. I’m telling ya, there’s nothing like scrubbing rocks on a porch to make you feel cultured. Once the deed was done I couldn’t for the life of me get the hose to completely turn off. Later that night, under a thick veil of stars, I woke up and decided to step outside to enjoy a serene moment. It was silent but for the nearby river. Very calm, which is how I felt until being scared to death when that hose suddenly spewed water everywhere. One minute tranquility, the next Niagara Falls. It was short-lived, but unnerving. Perhaps The Dutchman 2 has a permanent resident?
On our last day Katie decided to take a shower. This was for good reason, of course, as we were three days funky. I opted to hold out until that evening when we would reach a real shower. I had seen the option at our disposal, and it looked as inviting as a scrub under a leaky faucet, which is precisely what it turned out to be. It was, quite simply, a rubber hose attached to a bathtub nozzle, which should allegedly supply enough pressure to pump water out of the shower head. Ehhh…not so much. An hour of struggle later, Katie managed to wash herself in lukewarm water one drip at a time. We both got a good laugh as she described her showering tale of woe. It only reinforced my resolve to wait a few more hours until we reached normal water pressure.
The moral of these stories seems to be: Don’t wash anything when you’re living in a backcountry cabin.
Stay dirty. Be happy.