12/22 The Flying Fox

Jerusalem to Downes Hut

28 k

The morning comes too early- I could sleep another 3 hours. I get up because I want to spend a few minutes looking in the church sanctuary. There is a huge blooming red tree, the New Zealand Christmas Tree, next to the front door. The interior is solemn and cheerily bright at the same time, not that different from the country churches I love back home, with a decidedly Māori ornamentation.

We top off all of our water bottles with the delicious spring water, repack the dry kegs, and push out onto the still mirror of the river. Breathtaking.

I am getting to know Jo a bit better, but I still don’t know the what the lesson from the trail is. Maybe to chill tf out and stop worrying so obsessively about everything.

There is an exciting strainer-lined bend, and everyone makes it through. There is a close moment where I am certain Bro and Ellie are about to have an entanglement, but their beginner’s luck or raw talent, whichever it is, holds true and they sail through without a hitch, and without much paddling. As we paddle the long side of an island which the map insists to go left around, there are several long legged dippers or sand pipers that have several tiny tiny chicks with them. Bro and Ellie announce it is 20 minutes to Snack O’Clock, and at the bottom of the island we see a calm sandy beach slightly back up the other side. It’s a picturesque little spot, just the type of campsite I had envisioned finding all along the river. Mario goes off in search of an alleged steamer wreck, and I keep watch for Jo to flag her down, as we haven’t seen her for a bit. Suddenly she appears from upstream! “How did you get here?” we pretty much ask each other at the same time. She had mis-identified the island on the map and come down the right-hand side, high centered on a rock, then received an early morning full submersion baptism in the river while trying to pry herself off of it. She continues paddling on to warm herself up.

No steamer found, we all follow suit. A few bends later, we see Jo below a rapid waving us to the left. The left looks spicy with some rebounding waves, but we assume she waited with good reason. We run down the tongue and turn away from the wall before a snag in the current, spinning hard in the eddy. Woo!! We paddle down to watch the other two canoes, both acing the run.

There’s an hour or more of unremarkable paddling, and then we see bright flags fluttering on the right hand bank. The Flying Fox. I had noticed the name on the map and was intrigued just from the name; the comments placed by other hikers were unanimous in the opinion of it being a must-stop even if not staying the night. I had been interested to check it out earlier in the day, but now that we are here it just seems like so much effort to stop again and go all the way up the hill to see…what? None of the notes have indicated why it is worth stopping. No one is curious enough to really advocate for the halt until we see a very whimsical building poking out of the trees above us. Jo brings up that we will be needing to stop for lunch soon anyway and it may as well be here. With that point made, we pull over, tie up and pull out our lunches. “Maybe they will have avocados to go in the tuna wraps! I really really hope so,” I wish out loud to Prana. “Mm, and maybe they’ll have ginger beer to go with it too!” is his request of the universe.

We trek up the hill toward the fanciful Victorian gables, and when we arrive at the top, we follow signs to the office. A man is working in the yard. “Are you the Flying Fox?” I ask him. “Uh…I guess I’m half of it?” he replies. He gives us a little tour of the grounds, shows us the cute, tiny, brilliantly stocked store that’s based on an honor system, and invites us to have lunch at the large table outside. We gratefully accept, and all go to select a few things from the store. Wouldn’t you know, there’s refrigerated spiced ginger beer, and avocados grown on the property. Yay!!! There’s also homemade ice cream/ gelato. I have one flavored with plums, as that seems an appropriately local fruit. It is icy and melty and plum full.

There is a skeleton of a folboat hanging in a tree by the picnic table, which is serendipitously coincidental as Prana has been reminiscing about the one he built with his dad when he was young.

A few pet chickens keep us company at lunch, clucking among our feet and trying to steal bites of cookies. They eventually content themselves with napping against our ankles.

The buildings are amazing- they are beautiful, obviously handmade, quirky, and well cared for. They are a warm palette of colors with stained glass windows and rustic porches and adornments. I wish it had lined up for us to overnight here, to enjoy the simple loveliness of the unexpected. “It would be worth doing the Whanganui again, just to be able to stay here,” observes Prana. To think we almost passed it by!While we are eating our lunch in such a civilized position (table and chairs!) a gong sounds deeply from across the river. BONGGGGGG! “Ah, that’d be the doorbell,” says the owner, hurrying by. A cable car starts to winch across from the other side. “Here comes the flying fox,” says Jo. “Oh, that’s called a Flying Fox?” It makes so much sense now! Including the strange reaction by the owner. Apparently the cable car is the only access to this idiosyncratic little place. Amazing!

Reluctantly, we finally pull ourselves back to the boats. It’s only 10k to the hut we are aiming for, but I am so tired for some reason that I could fall asleep in the canoe. I am grateful that, wind willing, we aren’t faced with a late evening again. We dispatch the distance in just over an hour, and arrive before 3:30. Victory! Celebration! It’s a long way uphill to the hut, but it is worth it. The tenting area is blanketed in soft grass, and the hut itself is quaint and freshly painted. We end up having it all to ourselves.

I work on some journaling, but it doesn’t take me long to get sucked into the group chatting and crossword game. Dinner is early, and around a big bench table in the hut. This is the most like family I have ever felt with a group on the trail. As much as I stress out when I don’t force myself to take my quiet time alone, (I basically fail at this 9 out of 10 days) I don’t want our travel time together to end. We laugh and joke until everyone turns into their tents for the night.

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