2 August Early morning
Iron Gate hut
The Oroua has dropped somewhat dramatically overnight, though it is still overcast and drizzling slightly. It is pretty amazing to look at the river now, which has regained much of the clarity of normal flow, compared to the raging torrent of yesterday. The river is still high, and battling upstream, over the spur and then up river to Triangle hut does not seem an attractive option to either of us. Then there would also be the problematic possibility of the rain starting again and the river resuming her angry mood, and being stuck on the wrong side of the river is an interesting though perhaps not a very smart option. The safer play is to simply enjoy a day here, a walk in the forest, and enjoy our final full day in the mountains here whilst our wet and saturated gear gets a chance to dry. We are in no hurry to do anything at all, and have made no crucial decisions about what to do with the rest of our daylight hours. We can discuss it by the fire with a cup of tea.
John and I decided on a leisurely stroll back down the track through the forest and river flats. Just enough to stretch the legs and enjoy the lushness of the bush and the calmer but still temperamental river. I stepped outside the hut and walked to the edge of the bank to have a look while waiting for John. The bank sits perhaps 10 metres or so above the river, and I was standing there looking at the clearing water and pondering the flood of yesterday when I heard the beautiful, familiar, and haunting call of the Whio. That sound always fills me with joy. I looked up and saw him fly gracefully up the river almost at eye level and carry on down the straight out of sight. I was speechless and stunned, and even more so when he flew back and landed on a rock on the opposite bank straight across from me and started singing. I quietly called John and we stood there for I don't know how long just looking at and observing him, just as he seemed to be looking at and observing us.
For some reason very strong thoughts of my son Taylor came to me, a somewhat wistful and forlorn feeling, as we are struggling with each other currently. I have stood here at Iron Gate with Taylor, but that was a long time ago now, and maybe it was the ghosts of who we were then that swirled around me, a little boy and his father living simply. Or maybe it was the Whio. Before my last trip to Upper Makaroro I had not seen, heard, or interacted with them for almost two years, and each trip I seemed more desperate to connect with them and did not. I believe they represent the soul of these ranges, the wildness and purity, so to not see them for so long was very distressing to me in many ways. At Upper Makaroro I was finally blessed by not one but three. And now this amazing interaction, by far the longest and most pleasurable observation I have had of this beautiful and incredible mountain traveler. Maybe his song is telling me to never give up on either them nor my son. Perhaps he is telling me that which takes us apart can also bring us back together. I choked out a little karakia of Thanks to the Whio and of Hope and Aroha for my son. I hope one day I can stand here again with him, living simply.The Whio is in the middle of the photo standing a few feet into the river on the partly submerged rock. Over millions of years they have developed an uncanny likeness to the predominant grey wacke rock environment, and I wonder how many times in my period of absence from their graceful presence did I simply walk right by unaware. At one time in pre-colonial Aotearoa these unique fellows and ladies would have roamed far and wide beyond the mountains but have now been driven to these relatively pristine sanctuaries. They are the heart and soul of these mountains.
Just a reminder of what that very same stretch of river was like not long before. Where does the Whio go in such inclement weather?
My friend the Whio and I looking each other straight in the eye. He was in absolutely no hurry to fly off anywhere, or drift effortlessly back down river amongst the white water. I was in absolutely no hurry either. I like to think it may have been a moment of connection, in many ways.
Photo of Whio supplied by Pohangina Pete, a real photographer, and a pretty good writer as well, he can be found at http://pohanginapete.blogspot.com/ .
" In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and the wounds heal ere we are aware."
End of Part II. Thank you for bearing with me. Stay Tuned for the final episode.