Papamoa Beach, looking north-west
The world is too much with us...
That may seem like a tritely unoriginal thought - and indeed it is. William Wordsworth thought it as long ago as 1806. And if he found fit to bemoan all the ‘getting and spending’ in 1806, it’s difficult to imagine what he would have made of the world that is with us even more over 200 years later.
The notion that we’re all far too busy doing things to ‘stop and stare’ applies specially, I think, to those who spend their lives in cities - people like me. Urban dwellers live in an environment of permanently available - or at least desirable - acquisitions and tend to be helplessly enticed into believing that having things is not a means but an end.
But the 21st-century has added a new, regrettable and even ominous twist to the cycle of urban ‘busy-ness’: most of us are now in a position to be permanently in touch with each other. The final part of David Attenborough’s Life on Earth - the part about human beings - was called The Compulsive Communicator and, as in all things, he managed to hit the evolutionary nail on the head.
If towns and cities represent the finest flowering of human culture and civilisation, then the now constant babble of endless communication should be the accompanying sound-effect. We have forgotten what it means not just to be silent but to be incommunicado - even for a while. And I’m as much a part of this foreground noise as anyone else. After all, until recently, I worked in a business - radio - where silence was regarded dangerously as ‘empty air’. As if there’s something inherently wrong with empty air.
Mobile phones and their ilk have transformed our daily lives to such an extent that we are now able to be in contact with almost everyone we know - and many other people we don’t know - all the time, wherever we are. Which is comforting and reassuring and makes us feel less insecure and alone.
At least, that’s the theory. On my journey round New Zealand in my isolated, lonely little campervan - holed up in remote campsites for which the phrase ‘off the beaten track’ could have been invented - I was able to put this theory to the test. For there, far away from my natural and customary urban environment, I dared to (wait for it) ....switch off my phone.
There was often no point in leaving it on - there was often no signal. And there were many times when my laptop computer was next to useless, too - there was no wifi worth the name. Over the course of my two-week meander, I became not only used to being out of touch; I actually, and quite seriously, grew to relish it. I found myself deciding to switch off my phone even where there was a usable signal (which is in most of New Zealand, amazingly). I didn’t bother to look for campsites with wifi. I wallowed in the pleasure of nobody knowing exactly where I was - me included - and of knowing that nobody could get in touch with me to find out.
I re-acquainted myself with the concept of ‘aloneness’ and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For most of the time, I had no-one to talk to so I talked to myself. I loudly reassured myself that I was on the right road; confirmed with myself that the view off to the left was spectacular; reminded myself to fill the diesel tank; and - in the evening - conversed with myself over a coffee about what a splendid day it had been.
And I didn’t even notice all this was happening until I arrived in Auckland at the end of my time in New Zealand. Having been away from towns and cities of any size for (only) two weeks, the hurry and the bustle - and the constant babbling into mobile phones - was like being taken from a world that wasn’t quite with us a lot of the time to one that was with us far, far too much.
All these people compulsively communicating. But with who? About what, exactly?
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My last two nights in the campervan had been truly and beautifully lonely. I’d spent the penultimate night at Papamoa Beach - or rather, on Papamoa Beach. The campsite edge was just feet away from the high-tide mark and the wonderful Julie - yes, another Julie - had given me the prime plot; atop the dunes with an endless view over sand and rocks and headlands to a distant island called Motiti, which appeared as a thin, grey-blue, strip on the sunset horizon.
In just a few steps from my dune-top, campsite plot, I was wandering along the foreshore - quite alone - thinking deep, unworldly, thoughts and regretting that I had only one more night in my mobile nest; my cocoon that kept the world away.
Papamoa Beach was awesomely beautiful and there was, quite genuinely, nowhere else on Earth I’d rather have been. Nowhere else could possibly match that darkling, oceanic majesty. I was still outside looking at it long after the sun had set and the unfamiliar southern stars were shining down on me.
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New Zealand’s longest river is the Waikato. I had seen the river at the Huka Falls, where it leaves Lake Taupo to begin its journey to the sea. (Incidentally, someone called Aiko visited the same spot the following day...)
I decided that it would be poetic and romantic to end my kiwi journey where the river enters the sea, 200 miles away at Port Waikato.
The River Waikato, near its jouney's end
It’s a lonely, lost and quite forgotten little village at the end of a ‘road to nowhere’. A few scraps of houses huddle under a headland and envelope the campsite, where I was almost the only inhabitant. It was so lost and lonely that, the following morning, I couldn’t even remember arriving there.
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Distance travelled from Newcastle: 16,648m / 26,792km
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