“You looking at the bird?” There’s a little black bird hopping around the grass. “He’s called B-fah. You see? B for bird!” T starts cracking up at his own joke. He’s an older Maori guy, thin and wiry, fluorescent camo bucket hat and little pink reading glasses. “I named him, he follows me everywhere. Poor little fellow was hurt, and I worked some of my Maori magic, fixed him up,” T says.
“He follows you around?” I’m not convinced that there’s a way to tell one black bird from another, but for all it matters I guess they can all be B-fah.
“Everywhere around the camp,” he says.
We’re in Wairoa, a little town of the curve of the Wairoa river right where it flows into the Pacific. The main street has a hardware store, grocery, bakery on one side, the other is a park along the water, lots of benches, seagulls and super fast free WiFi (very fancy). There’s a cool skatepark.
T and I are having some beers in the campground and listening to a classic rock station.
“Dragon. They’s a Kiwi band. Just got into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. You know them?” T says. I shake my head (later, I find out they were inducted into the Australian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
The radio is perched on the edge of a closed grill, antenna bent, angled just so to the left, then up and zigged to the right.
“Bro, I’m the only one in Wairoa gets this station. The only one.” He looks at me seriously, stares. He keeps doing that- you understand? You understand me bro?
“You have to get inside the wires, shift them about with a needle, get it lined up just so. It’s a very delicate thing. You understand?”
A German lady comes over to the grill.
“It is ok if I am using this?” she says. She starts to lift the lid, I try to say wait, the radio, but she’s too fast and nervous. She pops the grill open and the boombox bangs to the ground and dies.
She gasps, T jumps up, I cringe.
“That’s all right, that’s alright,” says T, more to the radio than the mortified German woman. He cradles it like a broken bird, smooths out the wires and the antenna.
A little later. The sun is setting, purple light on the brilliant lavender Jacaranda trees.
“You see, the Pakeha, and I mean you no disrespect by that,” (Pakeha are white New Zealanders, obviously not offensive to me) “they come to the Maori and they say ‘sell us this land, sell us this tree. Here, we’ll give em this one, give em that one.’ And the Maori says ok, this is pretty good brother. Because nobody owns the land, we did not conceive of that idea. And pretty soon, the pakeha cuts down all the trees, says all the land is his, and the Maori has nothing left. And he says wait a minute, but it’s too late You understand me?”
I should point out that this whole situation is contentious in New Zealand- there are still treaty negotiations going on between Maori and the NZ government, trying to settle disputes that started 180 years ago. Here’s a brief Treaty of Waitangi history, and one recent news story.
Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider, but nobody seems hesitant to lay out their feelings. Some white people (most often younger folks on the North Island that live in town) are sympathetic to the Iwi (tribes), and pronounce town names the Maori way with a “wh” pronounced as “f”.
Other folks, not as much. Attitudes range from apathy, to flat out douchey- one guy said “The best thing in this country is to be born a fat little Samoan, then you’ll never have to work a day and mommy government’ll take care of everything.” He also said that the world started going to shit when women were allowed to vote, so he was stand out asshole.
Most people are a little more subtle- we’re constantly told to stay away from Maori towns, because they’re supposedly dangerous (particularly Northland and the East Coast of the North Island). I haven’t found that to be true, at all. Some Maori dudes have pulled off the road and invited us to their barbeques though.
So that’s what I’ve seen and heard. I think New Zealand does do a better job of working through issues than most countries though (not that any of that is really my business).
“Bro,” T says “We’ve run out of beer.”
“I’ll go grab a six pack,” I say, and get up to head to the store.
“I’ll come with yous.”
We walk out onto the street, nobody’s around, the entrance to the grocery store is closed off by a 10 foot high spiked fence.
“That’s kinda weird,” I say, nodding toward the fence.
“It’s because of the kids going about in their gangs.”
We walk past a fish and chip shop, T sees somebody inside that he knows and scoots over to the door.
“Uncle!” he yells, and runs over to an older guy coming out of the shop. They press noses together. “Bro!” he says to a younger guy, and another nose press. He waves at me. “This is my bro Montana.”
“How’s it goin,” I hold out my hand like the awkward white guy I am, it seems a little overly intimate to jump into the nose press thing. And the one dude is really big so I probably would have to actually jump.
“Uncle we’re looking for a place to get beer,”
“Shops closed,” Uncle says. “I have a box though, over my place.”
“How much would you get for it?”
“No, nothing, don’t worry.”
“No Uncle, how much?”
“Just give me a pinch of some of your smoke then.”
T pulls out his little container of weed and shakes some out.
“Too much, too much,” says Uncle.
Then we’re off on our adventure to Uncle’s house to grab the beers. A few minutes later the box of DB Brown is grabbed, we say good night to Uncle and head back to the campground.
“And you get a tour of Wairoa bro,” T says.
I nod. The place seems deserted.
We walk a few more minutes down the quiet streets.
“I shouldn’t have give Uncle so much smoke for this box bro. Too much.”
Later that night, I’ve emptied one or two of my DB Browns into the bushes instead of into my stomach, I think I’ve had my fill of DB Browns for the rest of forever. We’re in T’s little camper.
“Bro, here in Wairoa there used to be 10 rugby clubs. It was a big thing. I’d be wearing my colors, see you on the street wearing your club’s colors, I come up to you. You understand?”
“Now it’s just these gangs. Nothing good, these gangs and these parties, I hear the music all the way here. Have to tune it out, listen to my own sound. John Fogerty.”
I nod again. We’d discussed our mutual enthusiasm for John Fogerty earlier in the evening.
“That’s too bad,” I say. Some people think sports don’t matter, but they’re wrong. If you’re competitive, you’ve gotta have an outlet.
A while later, not sure what time it is, but I know Colleen wants to ride tomorrow, so I should try to get at least a couple hours of sleep.
I stand up. “Alright man, I’m gonna hit it, it’s been good hanging out,” I say.
“Come here bro,” T grabs my head and pulls my nose into his nose, forehead to forehead, breathing into each other. He holds us there, his face hot on my face. “We call this a hongi. We share the breath of life.”
We ride out of Wairoa the next morning, and I feel surprisingly fine. It was a good couple days there, skating, hanging out in the sun under the purple trees. Colleen even found a really good set of brand new mountain bike trails.
I want try riding the disused railroad tracks instead of the highway out of town, and Colleen grudgingly agrees.
I turn onto the rusty tracks and start cruising along. Pretty soon Colleen is way back, this is one thing a 29×3.0 tire does much much better than a 27.5×2.8. The giant wheels on my bike don’t get hung up in the space between railroad ties.
After a while I stop and wait. Colleen is sprinting down the tracks, seat bag slamming up and down into her tire.
“I’m not fucking doing this!” she yells.
“Oh. Alright.” Nobody ever wants to ride railroad ballast with me.
In Napier we get a room at a hostel on the outskirts of town, which turns out to be a flophouse for working holiday kids.
The place is filthy, flies and dead food everywhere, run by this skeezy greazy unfriendly dude. Cheap tents sagging in the backyard.
The kids there are all European, picking fruit on some orchard outside of town. I’m not sure if they’re actually getting paid, or if the privilege of living in this super shitty dump is their payment.
These kids are also charged $10 a day to ride a few miles in the hostel van to work, and if that’s any indication of their compensation they don’t have an awesome deal. I didn’t ask, because I just didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to think about it. Unfortunately we’d booked the place online, so we were stuck.
The next morning we leave and ride into town, it’s pretty and sunny, a big flowery park.
A beer can explodes on the pavement a few yards away.
“I said piss off bru!” a dude in the park is screaming at another guy. A mid-day drunk fight is about to break out. We move along.
Over on the beach, I bust out a hole punch and some Fancy Feast cans we bought yesterday and make a couple of new stoves. We’ve been using alcohol stoves for years, first a penny stove (which I found very fiddly to light), then my friend Andy turned me onto the Supercat design, which is much better- easy to light, and doesn’t require a pot stand. And it has the best name. Supercat!
But this trip I figured we should try a real stove, thinking that it would be even faster and easier to use. So we bought a very expensive Primus Omnifuel Ti.
And hated it. It was always clogging, a pain in the ass to prime, hard to get up to pressure. Everytime I unscrewed the stove it squirted gas all over my hands. And we were using good quality white gas (called shellite here) I can’t imagine how bad it would suck if you had to burn diesel.
Alcohol (sold as purple meths in the grocery store) is super easy to find. And even if it wasn’t, I’d rather build a fire than spend anymore time screwing around with that Primus stove.
While I’m making the new stoves, Colleen gets in touch with Brendon (bikingpheasant.com) via Warmshowers, who’s a fellow bikepacking enthusiast, and he graciously put us up for the night even though it’s really late notice.
We ride up to his place, Colleen chefs up some veggie pasta, we talk about long bike races, and is well and fine.
The next morning we head down the coastal bike path, then turn inland on Route 50.