Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jim and Lizzie

My first travel journal of any substance was an old hardback invoice notebook that I had lifted from one of the local farmers - from a pile of old stationery in one of his sheds. I must have assumed he had less need of it than I. It went with me to Stewart Island in 1976 when we spent a week or so walking what is a comparatively remote island. Located 25miles off the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. (Google Earth 46°55'0.25"S 168° 5'33.75"E) One of those freakish, glorious places with dense fern jungles and what in warmer climes would be nothing less than rain forest. Creeks you can drink out of as you go. In fact I recall drinking from puddles in the track – we were high on a perpetual false crest, having hauled ourselves up a hillside by the mossy roots of tall hardwoods. It was hot, we were on high ground, there were no streams, we were not in the habit of carrying water (it is not the Australian bush after all) and we were exhausted. It did not take long before those clear puddles were very attractive. Ironically, having made the top of that ridge we descended shortly thereafter into Patersons Inlet, a creek mouth, and all the fresh water we could drink.

We staggered into Patersons Inlet on dusk, to a hut that was decrepit and falling down. Old tin and timber, with a loose chimney and fireplace. And no lighting, which in itself was no problem. We had spent the day walking a track on which there was no other person. Indeed, one of the attractions of this island is its isolation and its small hiking population. Sorry, “tramping population” to those of you from NZ. As the sun fell, that sense of isolation was heightened by the calls the Whitetail deer were making. The stags bellowed out in the bush somewhere over my right shoulder as I picked my way down the bush track and I was confirmed in our remote and wild wilderness.

That pleasant sensation was bent a little when we entered the dim, no dark, hut. We had plans to light a fire and get comfortable. To get our sleeping bags up on the (three) tiered bunk structure that lined one end of the hut. (We would get a dozen people in there with no problem). You can imagine our surprise when in the darkness two people sat up and peered at us from the top tier. Very hippie like and dishevelled. Camped together in their grungy sleeping bag. Looking over the edge like a couple of surprised but dozy possums. (Years later I thought of them when the British “Young Ones” was on TV. Neal had an uncanny likeness of demeanour to them). Jim and Lizzie. Probably playing doctors and nurses up there to their hearts content thinking they had this place to themselves and only the wild deer out there bellowing their heads off to worry about. Enjoying their wilderness until we crashed in. We crashed out again the next day and they were still up on the top beds looking down at us from out of the dimness, by now pinpricked by light filtering through the leaky roof. I wonder where they ended up.

My first journal entry, in green ink, titled “Jim and Lizzie” contained an account of Jim and Lizzie. And a cartoon sketch of their camp up near the roof. They did wander around a bit getting dinner and all that, but they were quick to repair to their little lair just as soon as they could. That journal hung around for years but I am not sure where it ended up. Probably just as well it is compost – I dread to think what I might have reflected on Jim and Lizzie. Probably something judgemental from an immature head and hand. In hindsight there are moments when I think back to the solitude of Patersons Inlet and think Jim and Lizzie had it right!

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