Monday, 17 April 2017

Night in a sea cave with a ghost ...

Last week I hiked out to the wild west coast and spent the night in my one-man tent, perched above the Tasman Sea in an ancient sea cave. Throughout the night, a sou'wester howled around the site, and big swells from the ocean rolled in and dashed themselves on the rocks below.

I drove out to Piha Beach at dusk, hiked an hour and a half up the Hillary Trail and made camp at Paikea Bay just north of Sir Edmund Hillary's former home high up on the cliffs. Paikea was a turehu, or supernatural being of Maori folk-lore, who rode the hump-backed whale and in local myth would ferry people up and down this rugged coast. Paikea Bay is a wind-blasted and remote spot, devoid of settlement, although ancient Maori (and Paikea himself no doubt) used the cave for shelter, and below the entrance lie heaped up shell-fish middens, and the remnants of camp fires.

After pegging out my tent as securely as I could, I lit my propane burner, cooked myself a Kathmandu instant meal titled hilariously Venison and Vegetables. Choking it down, I wondering why campers ever fall for the enticing photos on these bags. A cup of hot chocolate on the other hand, tasted several times more delicious than it would at home.

Paikea Bay
I had taken a book, 'Solitude and Loneliness' by the BBC radio writer Alistair Jessiman, who argues for spending time alone in wild places, and read this by the light of a failing LED head-lamp. Jessiman tells us that urban life tames the mind; reduces it to habitual and constricted ways of thinking and only by regular contact with the wilderness can we reconnect with the intrinsic and natural wildness of our minds, the untamed nature of our souls.

I didn't sleep much, as the wind threatened to tear my tent loose from the mouth of the cave and send it out over the Tasman like a demented kite ... but at times, in the dead of night, with the ghost of Paikea cackling in the high reaches of the cave, I felt a primal joy that came from the utter loneliness of the place, and the raw power of the elements around me.

In the morning it was raining, so I carefully packed up my possessions, and hiked back across several headlands to Piha Beach, a feeling of rare exhilaration dogging my path. I knew the effects of this experience would only last a few days, but I had supped at the table of the infinite, and that I would not forget.

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