It is a few days after New Years. I’m in the passenger seat driving North with a new friend. I barely know this boy, and somehow we’re going on a camping trip together. It’s bolder and more spontaneous than something I’d usually do.
As he drives we share stories and dreams. He tells me how he wants to start his own food truck and spend his days travelling around, chasing summer. I tell him of my upcoming plans to travel the Americas with my best friend. I like the way his eyes light up as he talks.
We’re quite far north now. Sand dunes rise like mighty mountains before us as we descend down into Opononi. It has been raining all day and suddenly the sun has fought it’s way through the clouds. It is as if this place has been waiting all day for us to arrive so it can finally show off it’s beauty. The landscape is bathed in the softest light and the harbour below is clear blue and twinkling. It is wonderful and I can’t help but smile.
We pull over to stretch our legs (we’ve spent almost the whole day driving) and amble on, drawn like magnets to the ocean. We’re up quite high and below us lies the most charming little beach of white sand and glistening water that gently rolls in to shore in perfectly formed waves. The landscape is rugged, yet so beautiful and pure. He runs ahead and stands on the rust coloured rock so I can snap a photo to capture this place forever.
The next morning we wake our sleepy bodies in the cool ocean. The sun is hiding behind a thick blanket of grey clouds and it feels like it may rain any moment. It’s freezing; I’m covered in goosebumps and shivering, but stubborn as I am I spend a while out there, trying to soak in the magic of the place. Afterwards we drink strong black coffee made over the gas cooker to warm us up, taking turns to drink it as we pass the mug between us.
And then he’s taking me on a walk to what he tells me is one of his favourite places. We walk through dense bush for what feels like hours and all of a sudden the landscape opens up into a clear valley. We follow a worn path beside a gentle flowing stream that cuts through overgrown grass. There are seed heads everywhere that fly around like fairy dust and it takes me back to when I was a child, running bare-bummed and free through fields of long grass with my sister, pretending we were fairies in our own secret world.
He points out our destination as we walk through the valley – a steep rock face far in the distance and I half smile half grimace because he’s seemed to gloss over how long this walk actually is – I don’t even think we’re halfway yet and I really wasn’t prepared for such a long trek. But there’s no turning back now so I just keep on walking.
Next we’re scrambling up steep a rockface until we finally reach the top. I’m exhausted and light-headed from the journey but oh, the view! It takes my breathe away. 360° views of the sapphire harbour that curves it’s way around perfect little golden-sand bays and then spreads its edges out to the horizon. It is worth every step. Behind his reserved demeanour I can see that he is happy to share the magic of this place with someone else.
The rock we’re standing on stands alone, with nothing but open space surrounding us and the valley and harbour far below. It feels otherworldly, like we’re standing on Pandora’s floating mountains straight from a scene in Avatar. I walk closer to the edge, eager to soak in the view. He follows me hesitantly, before he stops to say that he’s not going any further as he’s afraid of heights. I take my gaze away from behind my camera and look at him. All scruffy blonde hair and tanned skin and twinkling, enigmatic eyes. “Do you ever get the urge sometimes to just run and leap off the edge?” he asks me in this nonchalant way. I laugh and look at him like he’s mad – this curious boy who’s afraid of heights but has the impulse to fling his body from them.
We spend the next few days like that. Exploring new places by day, and spending each night tucked away in a different little corner of the North. We discover hidden beaches that take my breath away, we walk up golden mountains made of clay and sand that belong on Mars, we stand at the very top of New Zealand and watch the Tasman Sea meet the Pacific Ocean in a spectacular swirl of currents, and we drive and drive for miles. I can’t help but think how strange it is that we’ve only spent a few days in each other’s company but there is a surprising ease to our companionship and things feel so comfortable. At night time when we retreat to the warmth of our tent our thoughts flow freely as words and within the shapes of our bodies there is harmony. With reluctance I find myself growing fond of him and all the time there is an internal battle in my head of not wanting to risk getting hurt versus wanting to just surrender to the loveliness of it all.
Just as I am starting to stress about how I am going to find the money to fund my upcoming travels I find full time work in Whangarei. Life has been funny like that for me lately. Living out of a suitcase, staying with friends and family, finding work and money here and there. Just when I start to feel helpless about my situation the world turns something around for me and it all works out. It teaches me (the endless worrier) an important lesson about keeping faith.
The rest of the month rushes by. I travel a lot between Whangarei and Mount Maunganui, where I am shooting weddings most weekends with Rambo. It is a lot of driving and I am already tired after working full time during the week so there are times when I curse myself for taking on such a heavy workload. But after every day spent behind the camera I am left energised and inspired and feeling more and more like the person I ought to be, and I am learning so much. And then Rambo offers me paid second shooting work for this summer and next and it is as if a piece of the puzzle has come together – shooting for one of my favourite photographers and getting paid to do so? I don’t know whether to pinch myself or hug myself, I am over the moon.
At times I am so brimming with joy at my life and my new found sense of independence that I feel indestructible, like I can conquer anything. And other times I feel so defeated by the overbearing weight of heartbreak that my composure breaks and I fall to pieces when I’m talking to my Ma on the phone and she asks me something as simple as how my day was.
I see him a few times after our trip and it becomes clear that whatever thing we had those few days together is no longer, and then he speaks the words to confirm that and they sting more than I predicted. It makes me feel a bit foolish – for wearing my heart on my sleeve and falling too easily, only to end up hurt. But when I look back now I wonder if maybe I needed him to walk into my life right at that moment, even if it was just a fleeting thing. To help turn my heart’s gaze away from the boy who for so long occupied it.
Summer becomes my drug and I spend almost every spare moment I have under the sun and in the ocean. In these moments I am a child again; carefree and at peace with sun-kissed skin and salty hair. I swim until the ocean washes away the niggling worries and doubts in the back of my mind and I stretch out in the sun until all that occupies my mind is the deliciousness of the sun’s kiss on my skin. I don’t know much about meditation but for me this sure feels like brushing with that all elusive state of bliss.
For the long Easter weekend a group of friends and I go camping up North. There is no phone reception so I spend the weekend unplugged, immersed in good company and the sun and the ocean and it is lovely. I write in my journal about the weekend:
“We spent the long weekend camping in the most perfect little corner of the North. Just a stone’s throw away from a coral-sand beach with calm waters that broke heavy on the shore.
Time took on that lovely fluid state, where days and nights and moments melted together, dreamlike, and detached from reality.
Every morning we woke slowly to light flooding our tents from the sun peeking over the mountain behind us and we would wake our sleepy bodies in the morning chill of the ocean.
Our days were spent devotedly under the sun and in the ocean, trying to soak in every last drop of summer before it left us for another year.
Nights were spent hazy from the alcohol we’d drunk. We ran wild along the beach and swum naked under the twinkling stars and the water was so warm it was like a bath.
One sunset I walked alone to the beach. I was caught in a funk of nostalgia, of what was, and I missed you. The sky burned with intensity. I threw my heavy thoughts into the burning sunset fire. I watched them ignite the sky in glorious colour, and then fade to grey, and I felt sad no longer.
The weekend came to an end but I wished it could go on forever, happily lost in the ocean and the sunshine and my friends’ company… Like the most perfect dream I didn’t want to wake from.”
I call J to tie a few last loose ends of belongings of mine that need to be sent home. His voice is familiar and warm and it doesn’t cut me in two like it did before. We fill each other in on the happenings in our life and it feels good to connect with him again. How strange, to be able to come to this point where we can talk as friends after all that has happened.
Time has given me perspective and clarity and I can see now that our separation was the best for us both. We couldn’t give each other all we needed, couldn’t teach each other the lessons we still hadn’t learnt ourselves. We needed to belong to the world for a while. To grow. One day he sends me a message, “When we ended I thought we had grown apart but now I think we just hadn’t grown into the people we were meant to be.” and it so spookily echoes the thoughts I’d been thinking that I get goosebumps when I read it.
Living with my sister and my close friend these past few months has been a blessing, and we have so much fun. I know that I can get so caught up in the idea of love being this romantic thing, but they remind me that love exists just as plain and true in these friendships also. You can find it in the shared bad jokes that leave you in stitches, in their always honest advice that you need (but may not want) to hear, and in the warmth that comes from knowing that they hold your best interests at heart no matter what. It is an unconditional and unassuming kind of love, and one that uplifts and nurtures.
And so life moves along in that pleasant and comfortable way it does when days have a routine and purpose, with the weeks passing by so quickly. I work, I photograph, I write, I savour the time spent with my sister and friends and through all the daily ups and downs of life I can say that I am happy.