It's not always Tom's fault. What I have discovered in the enlightenment that often comes with additional years as a planetary citizen is that the flaw may lie in my following Tom. There we are, moseying up and down volcanic hills and native bush on a single file trail and I knock myself out with an overhanging rock. Life lessons learned from travel don't always come easily.
My lovely and long suffering spouse loves maps. All maps. He pores over them on winter nights, studies them closely before venturing out and keeps them to himself as we trek whichever trail he guides us to wherever in the world we happen to be. This is a win-win for me as I am of the persuasion that says start here, walk for a while and when in doubt bear left. We do not now nor will we ever own a Global Positioning Satellite Receiver for much the same reasons that some people prefer raw food.
So back to this 'following' business. Imagine the day. We have spent the morning kayaking and then shuttled by aquataxi from Kaiteriteri to Tonga Quarry over the azure sea that laps the shores of New Zealand's South Island Abel Tasman National Park. The sun shines, the sky is blue, the water warm. We hop over the side of the catamaran as we reach Kaiteriteri and wade ashore. Tom takes out his map. "This way" he says, although the large brown sign saying 'this way' is visible to both of us.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Path is perfect. No -really. Ferns, palms, waterfalls, native bush, fine sand and sweeping views from the top of each winding rise, it's easy to daydream. This is the thing about following Tom. When there are two people walking and Walker One is in front and that person has the map, all Walker Two has to do is to keep Walker One in sight. Pleasant daydreams. No worries.
The last little rise of the first leg of this lovely tramp leads to a blue lagoon at Bark Bay. When the tide is out you can walk across the lagoon. When it is in, you stick to the shore. I do not have an enormous backlog of experience with blue lagoons and find them riveting. Gentle swells of peaceful water laze under offerings of flower petals and leaves. Foot follows foot, eyes follow water. Bang, the overhanging rock lying in wait just around the next bend runs me over. Tom, who has of course noted both the height, distance and perimeter of the rock and carefully bent under it clearly expects I will do the same. Hearing my thud, Tom turns back as I rise to stand and-- hit my head again. Bam, down I go. Tom makes the huge and advisably avoidable mistake of laughing. I crawl under the rock, check my head for gaping holes, grab my hiking stick and we trudge along the idyllic seaside, me pouting and Tom keeping a healthy distance still ahead, still sputtering.
When we finally stop to throw ourselves down on the soft sand beach fronting this aqua heaven I announce that I plan to return to this spot and this place tomorrow. By Myself. And I do. The next day I ride the water taxi-drawn-by-tractor from Marahua's main street to its harbor l aunch to Bark Bay. I spend an hour diving into the lagoon's far side as the tide sweeps out and carries me and the other ten year olds back to shore. I alternate reading my book on the comforting sand with floating lazily in the Tasman Sea. I idly watch hikers attempt to swim across the lagoon with backpacks on their heads either in an effort to avoid the longer walk or as protection against overhanging rocks.
Recovering, restored and rock-head free, the water-taxi carries me back to Marahua where I say yes to a mea culpa dinner at Hooked on Marahua and we spend it talking about the Next Walk. We get to the point we always reach after these little setbacks and remark for the millionth time that our 'what not to do ' list is getting to be a lot longer than the 'to-do's'. This is what we came up with for a top five tips to walking in Abel Tasman:
- Do watch where you're going stupid, as there may be overhanging rocks.
- Don't laugh so hard your tonsils hurt when your walking companion knocks herself out on an overhanging rock.
- Don't continue to indulge in what you annoyingly call 'chuckling' for the next fifteen minutes even if it did look pretty funny.
- Don't escalate the situation by 'accidentally' poking your walking companion's sandal with your walking stick no matter how much your head and feelings hurt.
- Do seek solace in a blue lagoon. If one is not immediately available try a blue margarita.
- And a bonus: Do have the seafood chowder at the Hooked on Marahua Cafe.
Once we have wandered back to our hillside chalet I sit on the deck in the gathering dusk with the roaring cicadas, watching the kind of sunset that makes you think in color. Tom lights careful candles, spreads maps over the floor and makes plans.