At the intersection I have to remind myself to look centre of road and keep my body there. Drive on the left. I repeat it in my head continuously down these narrow roads. Drive left. Drive left. Right turns are the most confusing – the left-turning traffic yields to you – at least until the law changes on March 25th, the day after I leave. I suppose too many tourists didn’t understand the law. Maybe there have been too many accidents. Whatever the reasons, I kind of liked the rule. It portrayed a common sense and kindness – something I adore about the Kiwi way of life. But I mustn’t get too distracted. There are crosswalks and jay-walkers everywhere. The sun is out, which has been rare during this summer. It’s been brisk and wet. But on the hot days like today the town is usually dead. Usually everyone is in the park or at the beach. And the beach is precisely where I’m headed.
There’s a shortcut down Swamp Road. That way I don’t have to drive through Riwaka where the speed limit cuts down to 50 km/h and where the cops lurk behind many of the tall trees that line the orchards. It’s nearly apple-picking season and the orchards are abuzz with workers. The trees are covered with large mesh tarpaulins , just enough to let in the sun and yet too small for hail to get through and destroy the delicate crops. It adds a weird abstract art-form to the landscape. I have no clue when the hops are ready, but there are acres upon acres of them down this road.
The valley into the mountains approaches and the distant pines blanketing the hillsides create a green I’ve seen no where else. Wild flowers fill the paddocks and for a moment I think this is paradise. I get to another intersection and I repeat my mantra. Stay left. You must be in the centre of the road. Stay left.
The road to the beach is windy and narrow. Washouts dot the curves through the mountainous shoreline where excess water spilled down the slopes. There are slips to avoid. There are other drivers crossing the white line to avoid. But it’s difficult to think of this tricky driving as an issue. It’s just the way it is. Kiwi’s love their natural land and they will build the most precarious roads over and around mountains to get there. The road cuts to within inches of the edge of the mountain in some places and I wonder if it’s an engineering feat or a dare-if-you-will scenario. One wrong move and there’s nothing to stop you from going over. But soon the thrill of the windy road begins to ease in my fingertips. I see water. I’m here. I get out of the car and find a place to rest.
The ocean breeze feels cool as it dries the sweat on my skin. Yet the summer sun is blistering hot. It is shockingly hot and deadly. But I don’t care. I am basking in the warmth of our fiery sky-orb. And the cold Tasman Sea is mere meters away should I become overwhelmed. Yellow grains of sand sporadically land on me chancing to distract me from the sedation of my rest, but I’m not bothered. The cicadas hum, their eternal whirling just a buzz in the background of the lapping water and echoless ocean noise. There’s a boat motor, a water taxi. Someone is trying stand-up paddling. A person in a kayak keeps rowing from one end of the bay to the other. Probably just learning. Probably just happy to be on the water. Not at work. At the beach. Occasionally I peak at the children playing in the shallow pool left by the low tide. I smile and close my eyes. How can it get any better? But soon it’s time to leave and as I collect my towel and dress, the beach clings to me without regard. Sand – it just gets in everywhere. I walk to the car, and I know it’s going to be an oven inside. I pause in front of it and repeat my mantra. Get in on the right side. Drive on the left side. Stay in the centre of the road. Stay left.