Over breakfast we strategize suitcase packing and review our route. Although shark diving monopolized all of Sunday, we complete our exploration of Bluff before Monday morning tea is served. Proximity and a short to do list make for fast sightseeing.
Monday morning is a contradiction of absolute darkness and the feeling of being completely awake. My fingers walk the night stand in obscurity searching for Paul’s iPhone. My index finger traces the ridge of the plastic case and glides across the screen, landing in the spherical indention near the base. Click, 7:08am illuminates the screen. I draw the curtains unleashing a blaze of ardent rays which sear my retinas with the sting of a thousand tiny white stars. Blindly pulling sunglasses from my cluttered purse I blink a few times in an attempt to extinguish the raging flames within. As the plumes of white dissipate, the landscape comes slowly into focus.
A white picket fence separates the Lands End B&B from the neighboring house. Just past the fence, a free standing clothesline. Towels and sheets once neatly hung, thrash violently about providing visual prospective of an intense wind. I rest my back against the warm glass soaking up the rays like dry ground receiving its first drops of rain. The slant of morning sun casts a cinematic hue on the contents of our room. Perfectly tailored to the censorship of the 1950’s, a pedestal nightstand separating bookend beds sits squarely in the middle of the opposing wall. Shards of light splay like cat whiskers across the lemony quilts adoring each bed. If only Paul were wearing pinstriped pajamas this Ward and June Cleaver moment would be complete. To be fair, the hotel does have an actual honeymoon suite with a king sized bed and ocean view; in fact, we booked it, just not for the right night.
With two hours to kill before breakfast we decide to start our “to-do-list” with a hike up Bluff Hill. A short trek through the parking lot, down a dirt path behind the neighboring restaurant leads to the base of the hill. Looking back we reflect on the previous night’s dinner. Besieged with praise from the Land’s End proprietor and conveniently located right next door, the Oyster Cove Café and Bar seems the perfect choice for two tourists famished from a long day at sea. Impressing us at this point will not be hard which makes the experience that follows all the more baffling.
Having unsuccessfully selected three different “mains” Paul finally closes his menu and asks what is actually available. Befuddled the waitress heads to the kitchen as we look at each other perplexed. Why not use a chalkboard? Guessing is for gameshows not romantic oceanfront restaurants. Happy to have finally picked two items in stock I head to the “free!” do it yourself water bar and retrieve our drinks. The single carafe with tap water and two slices of cucumber is not novel; especially since it’s positioned on the other side of the restaurant and accompanied by a stack of foggy 4 ounce glasses. Amid the debris of bread crumbs, crumpled napkins and empty glasses we wait for our elusive waitress to return, whilst taking turns trekking back and forth across the dining room trying to quench hunger with hydration. Maybe the distracted wait staff is intended to enhance the unceremonious ambiance? Seventy minutes and four cocktails later our fourth choice dinner entrees arrive, mine with an unusual sauce, and Paul’s with a fish clearly different from the one listed on the menu. Yes, apparently they are also out of blue cod so the chef substituted some random white fish. Final consensus, a spectacular view and captive audience is the perfect business model for an eating establishment void of good service and culinary fortitude.
I could digress on last night’s meal, for another ten paragraphs, but at Paul’s urging I’ve agreed to move on; hoping to regain readership interest on a more noteworthy topic – Bluff Hill and the southernmost hike of our trip. In the enclave of the forest the air blooms with the fragrance of leaves and loam. The path is dim, cast into shadow by wandering ferns and enormous trees. Hidden high above in the kaleidoscope of papery fronds a tiny bird sings in Pizzicato. Far from the honey smooth sound of the song bird, the unusual chirp is more like a disjointed call than a melodic tune; a series of four short notes, sporadically spaced spanning three octaves. Intrigued by the unusual timbre Paul attempts a rendition and soon man and bird crescendo into a duet of sorts which spans the first two legs of our hike.
The trail is dotted with military bunkers built in response to a perceived threat of invasion after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A radar tower was also installed at the top allowing for long range shooting at night. Shockingly, the Axis never considered this sparsely populated fishing town at the bottom of the known world a hot target for attack or invasion, however exploring these coastal fortifications provides a source of entertainment for tourists. Though battle never commenced on this sleepy hillside town, a war of sorts has been waged on its gentile inhabitants. For beneath the bush and native fern a malicious siege, a virtual minefield of condemnation encapsulated in shoebox sized guillotines. Cuteness does not provide penance for vast environmental destruction and irresponsible breeding. However, as a previous bunny parent myself I can’t help but cringe at the idea of eradicating these adorable little creatures. I reflect back on my time in Queenstown, window-shopping along the Lake Wakatipu shore. The plush down coats and woolen hats lined with fur, real fur. In an age where ethical living is applauded, and PETA is at the forefront advancing the animal cause, it’s surprising to see New Zealanders draped unapologically in the pelts of fuzzy woodland creatures. Maybe that’s because here fur is more of a byproduct than a political statement.
At the top of Bluff hill is an enormous cement cylinder. As we explore its circumference we find an opening and take our first steps inside. Following the slanted path we abandon the coil for our first unobstructed view of the Awarua Bay. I feel a keen cool bite and I clasp my hands to my head in an attempt to temper lose fronds of hair from lashing about. The howl of the wind makes my blood run cold. Belting the rim of this spiral behemoth is a granite map of sorts depicting the panoramic before us.
One final picture in front of the Sterling Point sign marks the southern most point of our trip and the start of Highway 1. Paul cranks the engine and I hop inside. Adventure looms in anticipation. Each hairpin turn and thicketed cove brings tingles of trepidation as we explore this unknown land. We are like a pair of unbridled horses escaping the doldrums of their carousel. Entranced in the projection of my rearview mirror schedules and obligations ebb into naught. The roadside fog of sheep evaporates into a single white line separating asphalt from earth and chronicling our here to there. With each passing mile a lamenting sadness for what has passed suffocates in joy and awe. This trip is all about the journey, the open road a destination in itself.