Since When Do Ducks Have Noses?

Once the anchor bites into the mud in Rere Bay it is just shortly after three thirty, which in New Zealand’s mid-summer latitudes means there is still a good five hours of daylight left. Plenty time to try out my new flip-flops, or jandals as they are called in Kiwispeak, and go exploring this magic landscape. I had finally grown tired of the useless rubbish you buy at the Chinese Gold Coin stores, which once again is a Kiwi localization for the notorious Dollar stores of the US. There you buy a pair of flimsy footwork, designed to be so desperately cheap, that after only four days of average bipedal activity the soles under your heel are compressed to a paper-thin substrate and you might as well, as by the way Kiwis love to, walk around barefoot. What goes through those desperate Chinese brains of the guys who design these things? Do they really think that by making them so outrageously bad, they can make us buy a new pair every week? No way, says I, and instead of paying the bargain of five bucks for my new pair of footwear, I shelved out twenty and got a pair of Kiwi designed and produced massage jandals supposedly made from recycled materials.

You have to forgive my rambling about such trivial thing as flip-flops, and consider that this is the only footwear I have been wearing for the last couple years. The two pair of actual shoes are silently collecting mold stored away deep in Aluna’s bilges. In the rare occasion when I do have to extract them from there, like when rolling a good hundred rounds of tree logs uphill with a rusty wheelbarrow a couple weeks ago, my freedom-loving feet sprout blisters like a terminal stage leper. When it comes to hiking, my jandals are just what I need. And even those are sometimes too much, when I want to better feel my path, stand my ground and connect to Mother Earth. Then you can find me Kiwi-style with jandals in hand hopping gingerly over rocky paths. But I’m once again leading you astray, we’re getting literally off the hiking trail.

To my South the bay narrows into a gorge between the colossal stone sculptures up high through which a river comes meandering down. I lower the inflatable canoe, which since it has been expertly repaired by a specialist in Kerikeri became once again the personal transportation vehicle of choice for brining me ashore. I let it slide down the stern ramp into the green and turbid water, the paddle and my new flip-flops are always stowed ready in its rumpled belly. The tranquil river is lined with oyster beds, their sharp, serrated edges exposed at low tide. As many a time in life, the short cut I had carefully plotted on the available maps turns out to be miniature nightmare that sees me drag the canoe through knee-deep mud, squeeze my thin set of bones through towering switch grass and finally stalk up a stretch of thick bush until ending up finally on the proper walking trail. But once on it, it is all easy going, up and over a little promontory from where a good view over Aluna’s anchorage opens up through the twigs and branches of the vegetation.

Camera

Once down in the neighboring bay, where the New Zealand Department of Conservation maintains a little hut for hire along the beach, the path tees out into a wider track bordered by a very informative sign that states in no uncertain terms that the last portion of the path up to the Duck’s Nose is rather steep and requires basic climbing techniques. I look down at my brand new, but already muddy and dusty footwear, and am just being swept away wondering if they are up for the task, when it strikes me as truly odd for a mountaintop to be called Duck’s Nose. Those feathery friends usually have their nostrils built into their beaks and possess no noses worthy of mentioning, much less do they provide sustenance for naming a rugged and rocky peak after such an insignificant body part of theirs. The occupants of the hut on the beach are also strolling along the same path and I ask them if they had already explored themselves the trail to the top of… When I look at the sign once more I quickly realize the blunder. It was no duck, but a bloody duke, who inspired the labeling of the geographical feature I am about to conquer!

After snaking through a humid bush for a little while the track starts ascending and I get the cardio workout I had been longing for. At each turn the turquoise waters of the Bay fall further and further down below and before I know it I find myself standing still at the bottom of an almost vertical rock wall with a menacing piece of chain anchored to it that seems to lead straight up into the heavens.

chain

This is definitely way beyond the traction designed into my flip-flops, as high-tech as their product literature might have sung songs of virtue on the sales rack at the store. Considering furthermore that since I had returned to being a denizen of the watery world, where your inner ear is always in different degrees of upheaval and disarray, I had grown weary of heights to the point of suffering from mild attacks of vertigo when having to look down into voids of space below where my sea legs happened to be anchored. I duck slightly and a little cowardly at this threshold of reaching the Duke’s Nose’s summit, quietly think I might have reached the end of the line for my physicality and start to get myself used to the sad fact that the mighty view from up on the top will have to happen without my humble presence. But my ingrained self-doubt stirs a persistent thirst for adventure. From somewhere deep in the nooks and crannies of a remembered Emmental-like landscape with tender sheets of early and very sublime morning mist, and extracted from one particular stratus of my non-collective subconscious, emerges the rebel with the ultimate cause. Based on his innate knowledge that as a principle you should never give in easily to fear, he drily and rather stoically states that the moment has arrived to leave behind the flip-flops. With the utmost caution, but also very focused on the facts, I slide the little plastic ribbons out of the groove between the big and the index toe, being fully aware that the latter might be a slight misnomer, and deposit the pair of minimalistic footwear ceremonially at the foot of the wall. Gingerly at first I pull myself up on the chain and off the last remaining horizontal hold, looking for safe footholds for my bare feet one at a time. Little by little my determination flowers into confidence and once I get down to it and up the wall, the technique turns out to be a very simple matter. As I heave my body upwards the wall’s inclination becomes less and less, imagine yourself climbing up the temple of Mr. Duke, using the upper rim of his left ear as a foothold, and then slowly making your way up to the apex of his bolding skull.

All of a sudden the chain comes to a sudden end on a flat expanse. A supreme panorama has opened itself up in full circle all the way around me. The peak consists of an almost flat area of about the size of an average tennis court, partially overgrown with brushy tea trees to about waist height. Little paths crisscross this bush and rocky platforms open up at every corner. Previous visitors have etched their names into the dry dirt that has hardened in the shallow indentures of the rocks, but these efforts of public recognition pale and fade into the realm of the petty if not outright ridiculous compared to the splendid disk of planetary surface that stretches out towards the endless horizon line as far as the eye can see. A lofty light-headedness invades my self-esteem while I let my visual cortex bath in the soothing, organic shapes and forms, which each with their own specific texture and coloring reflect the hard brilliance of the late afternoon sun. The sharp contrast between the shadows and lit areas defines very neatly the topographic relief. The thin white lines of froth, where the ocean swells spill their well-travelled momentum onto dark, wet and crumbling rock, delineate like rows of scribbled poetry where one element speaks intimately but insistently with its corresponding other, each generously giving, each eagerly taking, one persistently transforming into the other. You will most certainly have to judge for yourself, but to me it seems that I have arrived at nothing less than the top of the world!

dukespan

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One Response to “Since When Do Ducks Have Noses?”

  1. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    Que belleza!!!! Beautiful place.I guess you were on heaven.

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