Sunday, January 9, 2011

Empires of dust and steel, A new beginning

It's been a little hectic, this last fortnight.
For the last few months, we have been trying to support ourselves in New Zealand, working hard and spending very little. Not that this hasn't been a rich seam of experiences - working through agencies, I found myself in some extraordinary jobs in the industrial sector, from stacking frozen fish to operating 80-ton steel presses and guillotines unsupervised. One of my favourites was the night shift in a fertillizer plant, which was like being inside the belly of mechanical fish. The great conveyor belt that was fed orange dust by a constant stream of trucks runs like a cross-section of the fish's gullet, just under the apex of the gigantic a-frame shed. Perched on the rickety gangways that accompany it, you can peer down over dust dunes that stretch away in all directions. Nothing but the belt in that shed exists without a thick accumulation of dust, caked on tough. the motors and fans that power arcane machines, the switches, plugs, bulbs and handrails all gather dust faster than the traffic of human hands can clear them. The belt is festooned with walkways, which here and there knot themselves into a tangle of grey ladders, stairs, cables and cages. At the very end, a door in the wall accesses a fire escape, where I, my workmate, and some guy sat for the last hour of the shift, looking out over Mount Maunganui.
Later, I worked in a palm kernel shed, which was very much like being in the Fire Temple from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, right down to the eerie moans and whistles of machinery. Here, overtired at the end of a 13 hour shift, I closed the sprung latch of a dump truck incorrectly, and it flew open and hit me in the face and flicking me off my feet, leaving me very dizzy and bleedy. It spread my nose out a bit, but it turned out I was lucky, as I could easily have lost a few teeth or even an eye.
I finally got a job as a stevedore at Mount Maunganui wharf, which was probably the best job I've ever had. Dangerous as hell, what with the heights, the manhandling 35 tonne containers, and keeping an eye on the spreader, which is always creeping up on you to ruin your day, but it was certainly dramatic.

Anyway, that's not why we're here. We came here to walk, and to be in the outdoors, and on New Years day, we just said bollocks to it, and we bolted for Cape Reinga, to kick things off properly.
We stayed a night at the Spirits Bay Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite, which is a (very) remote and basic, but absolutely stunning location, sandwiched between the sweeping ridge which makes up the eastern end of Spirits Bay, and gorgeous bush to the west. The atmosphere is one of a more relaxed and tidy festival, and the campsite manager offered to watch our van for free while we walked. On the 2nd of January we hiked out with our packs full of tinned food and camping gear, but no gas for the stove, and no cutlery to eat our (cold) beans with. The hike along Spirits Bay is draining but worth it - the beach is a pure white crescent stripe, dividing the very blue sea and the sweeping dunes. I got nipped by a crab very hard and it hurt and my little toe was bleeding a bit. After a hottest-part-of-the-day uphill and ridge leg, we camped at Tapotupotu bay, and decided to turn back, having no way to afford the pricy transport from Cape Reinga to Spirits Bay, walking back via an alternative route through the dunes.

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