The fun thing about long-term travel with your significant other is that there will undoubtedly be ups and down and mishaps and adventures all along the way. Today I want to share with you the tale of Manganui Bluff, a story about a couple who happened upon an adventure without meaning to.
It was a cold, stormy winter’s day in the far northland of New Zealand. Tyler and I had ruthlessly spent the morning hiking through the Waipou Forrest in order to see New Zealand’s largest Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta or “Lord of the Forest”; a site so magnificent, visitors stood in silence as they gazed upon its greatness.
Though we took photos, we can’t hardly capture the feelings of serenity that wash over your body as you stand in the presence of a tree who has planted its roots deep in the earth for somewhere around 2,000 years. This one, massive tree used to stand in a forest full of others like it. Perhaps it has seen dinosaurs or Jesus. At 126 feet tall and 45 feet wide, you can’t help but stare. The Maori legend says that Tane is the son of the sky father and the earth mother. Tane used his strength to separate his parents so that he could bring light, space and air between them. Because of this, he is known as the life-giver. All living things come from Tane. Whether you believe the Maori story or not, you can feel its majesty in your bones as you stand in awe at its base.
We went on to visit Te Matua Ngahere, or “Father of the Forest”, a tree 98 feet tall and 52 feet wide, making him the widest living Kauri tree. This big fella is estimated to be as old as he is large, allegedly 3000 years and still ticking! Father of the Forest was just as large and beautiful as you can imagine.
By this time, we were soaked through three layers deep and overdue for a lunch break. As we returned to VANita, the rain only poured harder, leaving us without a means to retrieve and use our cooking supplies at the back of the van. A peanut butter and honey sandwich held us over as we went back to the road heading towards a camp for the night.
I shouldn’t tell you this, but the trick with freedom camping is that they don’t really advertise the free spots so much. Most of the time we find a public restroom and if there are no signs posted that say “no camping”, we assume we are in for the win and call it home for the night.
This particular day, we happened to be a long ways from our destination public toilet camp, the rain hadn’t let up a bit, and our bladders were wearing thin. A roadside sign pointing to something of interest led Tyler to make a snap decision to follow it. A long, windy gravel road led us to the smallest of towns with not even a café. The small road ended at the beach, and though the sign said there was a restroom, it was nowhere in sight.
Instead I spotted a trailhead that sounded like a great hike if it weren’t super cold and super rainy. Tyler studied the trailhead and supposed that the bathroom might be just up the incline, on the other side of the hill. Ready to get out of the car and seeing the rain soften to a spitting, I decided to join him in a short tramp up the way.
A few hundred meters in and the view expanded quite nicely to show off the ocean hugging the rugged tropical coast we stood on. It really would have been a fantastic hike if it weren’t so muddy and rainy, we both thought aloud.
When there seemed to be no toilet, I suggested we turn back. Tyler said he wanted to look around one more corner and he’d be right back. I told him I’d wait right where I was; I didn’t want to get any muddier than I already was.
A few minutes passed and Tyler remained around the mystery corner in front of me. “Hmm…”, I thought as my curiosity grew. “Maybe I would see what he found. Must be good.”
Around the corner I went, slipping and sliding as I did. First the path opened, then narrowed to a beautiful waterfall, down the mountain and into the coast. Ahh!! I loved it! Tyler must have been as thrilled as I was when he found this. I didn’t blame him one bit for not turning back.
I continued forward to cross a little bride and wind around deeper into the mountain. I heard a ruffling ahead of me which I thought to be Tyler, but just as I snapped my head up, I saw the outline of a beast run away! I screamed with delight. Was that a goat? It was much larger than any goat I had seen. It was large and very muscular too.
Now I was on a mission. I scrambled up the muddy hill, keeping all eyes open for this incredible animal. I had to get a better look!
Up and up and up I went, searching for this mystery beast and also still wondering when I would run into Tyler. He must have been pretty far ahead of me at this point, maybe he made it to the top.
Another waterfall, and a steep hike upwards led me to two realizations: 1) I had been hiking a really long time and hadn’t seen nor heard from Tyler – maybe he wasn’t here and 2) the animal was probably long gone by this point. Suddenly a twinge of fear mixed with guilt panged my stomach. What if Tyler was hurt somewhere, or worse, what if he was looking for me? I turned the data on my phone and thankfully had just enough service to get a missed call notification from Tyler. My stomach sank a little further. Yup, he was looking for me. I thought the scenario had been the other way around and it had now been close to probably 45 minutes.
I made the decision to trek back down the mountain, towards the car park, though it was much more of a mudslide than it was a trek. My pants and boots were covered with mud at this point and my jacket was still soaking wet from earlier, never having a chance to dry out.
I scurried down the mountain, silently praying that Tyler was safe and also not worried about me. Then I heard a welcome sound, my partner’s voice boomed across the forest.
“I’m coming!!! I’m safe!! Are you okay?” I yelled back.
Slip. Slide. Scuurrrr on my boots, back around the corner, past the second waterfall and into the opening where I saw Tyler across the way, waving his hands wildly trying to catch my attention. Once we established each other, I continued slipping my way down toward him. Somehow, I felt like my elementary school self, approaching an adult who was about to scold me for wandering away from the group.
“Babe! There you are!” I said cheerfully, hoping my gut feeling would be wrong.
“Where the heck have you been!?”
I exhaled sharply and began to explain myself, but not without first asking where, in fact, had Tyler been. He disappeared first!
His argument was that I said I would wait right there and I didn’t.
My argument was that he never came back.
His response was, well I needed a bathroom, what do you think I was doing?
We stomped down the muddy mountain back to the carpark. When Tyler slid a few feet on one foot by accident, we both burst out in laughter and decided we were just happy to both be safe and together again.
We hopped in VANita, doffing our wet jackets and boots. I was driving this time. I went a few hundred feet up the road before Tyler pointed out a new finding – the public restrooms we had been looking for all along.