February 5, 2012
While in New Zealand, we have been struggling with a minor dilemma: do we try new things or return to our favorites from before?
Sometimes, the decision to return to the familiar is obvious. For example, we needed to go to Wellington to ride the ferry, so we visited the Te Papa and Botanical Gardens.
Other times, we find an obvious opportunity to be different: like our trek in Tongariro and the subsequent stay next to the river in our campervan.
For us, the challenge manifests most when we think about the special, unique moments of our previous trip. Let me give you an example.
When we came here 3 years ago, we wanted to take a hike on Christmas day. We needed to cross over a small mountain range to find the trailhead. As we drove, the fog came in. And in. The road was extremely narrow. It featured sheer drops of over 300 feet. As we ascended, the fog got so thick that I literally could not see the front of the campervan. I became deeply afraid that I would drive off the road before I even saw the edge of the lane.
I then did a three point turn to reverse our ascent and return down the mountain. I found the experience doubly frustrating. First, I was rattled from the harrowing drive. As a rule, I do not enjoy facing death – it is not one of my things. Second, I really wanted to hike. Once I get an idea in my head, I can be slow to switch gears.
As we came to the bottom of the road, we came upon a small beach city. [Note, I know it does not seem to make sense that a stunning beach could be a 30 minutes drive from a cloudy mountaintop, but here it is another day in New Zealand.]
The beach of Kaiteriteri featured white sand beaches, gorgeous rock formations and a high blue sky. A small tidal channel ran through the beach. Children were enjoying boogie boards, sand skimmers and the waves. Our children fell in love immediately. I was initially petulant (remember, I was rattled and annoyed), but soon fell under the spell of this special place. We soon saw that the low tide revealed a huge bed of wild mussels, that we spent time harvesting. We ended up with two buckets full and even used them to write “Merry Christmas” in the sand (forming one of our best family photos).
That night, we ate like kings with fantastically fresh seafood pasta.
This is the memory that we toyed with repeating. Should we return to Kaiteriteri or branch off to new locales?
I am delighted to report that we branched out and were rewarded instantly.
After we arrived in the south island, we went to the Mussel Pot, a lovely restaurant in a tiny backwater called Havelock.
(But known as the greenlip mussel capital of the world.) The owner, an avid camper, overheard us talk about our different options to stay the evening. She told us of a spot next to the ocean where we could stay for less than $5 for the family.
It had bathrooms, a barbeque and “tons of cockles” (essentially clams).
We found the spot she promised and enjoyed a fine evening. We tide was in, so we did not try to look for any seafood.
The next morning, the girls went searching with the tide lower.
The first sortie failed, producing only 4 or 5 cockles. Susie then joined the scouts, but with little success. 30 minutes produced almost nothing.
As we were ready to throw in the towel, Susie remembered her days in Cape Cod. One of her favorite activities is clamming. In New England clamming, you stand in water that is roughly chest-deep with a special rake with a basket attached. You drag the rake throw the silt below you until you feel something hard, like a rock. You work the rake below the object and pull it into your basket. When you pull your basket out of the sea, you (hopefully) have a clam or two there.
It does not sound like much fun, but it really is. We clam every time we visit her wonderful parents in Cape Cod.
Using her Cape Cod knowledge, she stopped looking for cockles in the water and instead started to rake her fingers below the silty sand.
Within 20 minutes, we had over 10 pounds of cockles . . . and a beaming Susie. She loves the ocean, her family and seafood. She also loves the unexpected serendipity. This was all four.
And when Susie is giddy, we are all happy too.
That night, we had a feast of cockle, wine and parsley pasta. It was fresh and exquisite.
You have to love the road less taken.