Saturday, November 23, 2013

Heaphy trip

Just back from walking the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park with Alan, a four day trek up over mountains and through pristine temperate rainforest down to the West Coast...beyond wonderful! The birdsong on the first day (ascending gradually from near Collingwood at the northwest corner of the South Island) was definitely the most beautiful music I've heard in a long time. Once we got up into the higher heights, it all turned into a bryophyte-pteridophyte wonderland. This brought back to mind a mountain walking experience we had together in West Cork years ago, Alan singing this otherwise forgettable reggae song in response to stopping and looking closely at a micro-world of moss and lichen:

He insisted that we carry instruments (my saz and his smallish djembe), which I was initially resistant to. We were to be staying in the basic but well set-up Department of Conservation huts along the route, and I didn't think other walkers would necessarily want to hear our music. But on all three nights, seeing the instruments, our cohabitants actively encouraged it. The first night (the full moon) was spent at the Perry Saddle Hut, below Mount Perry, named after a mysterious Mr. Perry — the information board informed us nothing was known about him, but suggested he was "probably a very memorable character" (which of course amused Alan!). We shared the hut with four older women from Auckland, doing the track in six days, a young American filmmakers and two giggly Japanese tourists. The experience of climbing the mountain had induced in me such a state of reverence to everything that my playing seemed to be of a much higher level of sensitivity and attunement than usual. The second night was spent in the James Mackay Hut entertaining Ben (the filmmaker from Chicago) and Craig the DOC ranger from Karamea who we passed on the track doing maintenance work ("So, showtime starts at 8pm?" he asked once he'd learned that we were staying at the Mackay hut!). The final night's stay was as the Heaphy Hut, where the Heaphy River enters the ocean, a bright moon over the sea, where we played to an extremely appreciative Argentinian extended family eating together, together with Ben (working away on a screenplay in his notebook) and an ultra-enthusiastic Alaskan plus her personal guide. I'm very glad Alan pushed me to carry my saz all that way.

Listen Here

Getting home from the end of the track was a bit of a mission. We got a shuttle with the Alaskan woman and guide to the outskirts of Karamea (somewhere I'd like to come back and check out one day), then a few lifts that got us as far as Murchison with a couple of hours of light left. Failing to get out of there (and being attacked by sandflies by the roadside), we wandered about after dark looking for some kind of overhanging structure we could sleep under, but were intercepted by a group of locals sitting outside a bar who insisted that the barmaid switch off the obligatory background Bob Marley and that we play them a tune. After a bit of music and some hilarious inebriated banter, one of the more sober characters present offered us a couple of sofas to crash on for the night (thanks Sonny!) — another good reason to carry an unusual looking instrument around...

We got to Motueka easily the next day, where Alan had arranged a recording session, putting down some backing vocals and percussion down for the new album by local reggae band Irie Vibes. After that we wandered across town to see Helen (who I met almost exactly twenty years ago, November '93 up in North Wales with some of the Dongas up there). She took us over to Marahau to visit the community up in the valley there, have a picnic on the beach and play at the open mic at the nearby Park Cafe. It's quite a nicely loose, jammed-out kind of open mic, rather than a succession of singer-songwriters. The musicians all know each other and play in various combinations. There's an in-house drummer (American Steve) and excellent acoustic bass player (AJ) to back things up. A couple of teenagers turned up and played some impressive tenor sax and electric guitar at one point. Alan, Helen and I did her reggae song "I Rise", a setting of a prayer attributed to St. Patrick (rather well, I thought), Gadjo's "Boots on Loan" (written by our dear mutual friend Fraggle), then a very chaotic muddle of Irish tunes with Helen switching to pennywhistle (I had drums and percussion right next to me and could hardly hear her in the monitors), and then an Amy Winehouse song (seemed familiar but I had no idea whose it was until she told me afterwards). Alan and I had ended up on stage as part of a reggae jam a bit earlier, too. A Beatles singalong on the drive home. Nice evening.

Helen and I played bit more (able to hear each other properly) and swapped tunes for a while the next day before walking her dog along the beach and catching up. Meanwhile Alan was on day two of the Irie Vibes sessions. I made my way back to Takaka, catching a lift with a couple of young British Columbian snowboard dudes who were really keen to see the saz, ended up filming me playing part of "Ambee Dagez" by the side of the road, so that's probably somewhere on Facebook by now (I didn't ask for a copy). I needed a journey like that, feeling a lot more rooted here in Aotearoa now.


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