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Whaganui

South Island, northwest coast
cruising quietly down this deserted road
by dazzling pools strung between cliff and sea;
resting where the kissing waves
flirt with blazing sand
steak sizzling on the primus
sipping hot tea,
sleeping nights in the old car
out in the wild alone and free.

One of those casual New Zealand signs,
‘Knuckle Hill Lookout’
diverts me off the metalled road
onto a smoking gravel track
winding and spiralling
from hill to terrifying hill
wheels a fearsome slip
from a gasp high precipice.
On & on and up & up,
no turning place, no turning back,
until at last the bonnet drops
onto a car park
shelved in the mountainside.
A sigh and a pause
for the heart to regain its beat.

Another sign fingers a gap in the bush
beyond which the hill spires on
and a pathway cut by boots and rain
snakes impossibly up to a scalded sky.
Gasp to gasp I climb the laddered scree
dragging my bruised and aching legs,
reaching for breath in my rasping lungs,
scratching the stones with my fingernails
grasping at last, a bed-flat rock
on the petrifying peak.

The curving sky swoops down
to the earth’s trembling edge
and the swelling lungs of the sea
send salt-breath over the necklaced lakes
and peace scales the unsuspecting cliffs
floats easily up the towering hill
and settles silently on me.
Insignificant, I sit for hours
where no other animal stirs
absorbing the landscape’s immensity,
swelling with its silent power.

When the falling sun salmons
the crystal mountain tops
and long purple shadows
point eastwards over the bush,
fearlessly I stride back down the path
drive back down with careless confidence
to the sign that pointed me
to heaven.

 

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