In Defence of Camping

We went camping over New Years.

Our reasons were varied – it was cheaper than renting, we liked the outdoors, we wanted to avoid the get-drunk-and-go-to-a-club routine of previous years.

We ended up on Motuihe Island (pronounced moe-too-hee by most Aucklanders). It’s in the Hauraki Gulf, a small island between Motutapu and Waiheke. The Department of Conservation has set it up as a pest-free nature reserve for New Zealand wildlife, including kiwi and tuatara.

We arrived on a sweltering hot day, set up five tents and one gazebo between eight people (we’re engineers; redundancy is how we roll) and went for a swim just as the sun went behind a bank of clouds and the temperature dropped.

Motuihe is startlingly beautiful. From one side of the island you can see Auckland city, looking very small and insignificant; from the other, Waiheke, so close and yet so far. There are no showers or drinkable water on the island, and the only access is by small boat or a very long kayak trip.

The next day was hot and humid as we set out to walk across the island. We made it to Calypso Bay. It’s white sand and dark bush, a gently sloping beach contrasting with the rocks that edge the bay.

I swam out a good hundred metres or so (it’s hard to judge distance when swimming), just to try and see more of the gulf. As I was reaching the point where I could see around the edges of the bay, I hesitated in the face of that absurd fear that strikes when you get far away from the shore, and your friends. Of course I swam out another twenty metres just to prove I was being logical, but I was secretly relieved to turn back to shore and realize two of my friends had swum out after me to ask what the hell I was up to.

The hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve we spent on blankets in the middle of a field, sharing music speakers and chargers, lamps, drinks, stories, and jokes, with each other and with other campers. We stumbled over to the west side of Motuihe to watch the fireworks above the Sky Tower, as unimpressive as a sparkler from this distance.

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The rain started at 8 am on New Year’s Day. Our phones told us the weather was working up towards a storm. Aside from calling the water taxi services, there wasn’t much we could do but string up a tarp on two sides of the gazebo and get some bacon and eggs into everyone as they woke up.

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I went swimming that afternoon and returned to the campsite calm and clean. Those next hours were the closest I’ve come to a spiritual experience. We were damp and chilly and trapped on the island for at least another day. The wind was no longer an annoyance to be avoided, but a sound and a feeling larger than us, than the whole island. The rain was something that would be there no matter what I did. I suspect I wasn’t great company; all I really wanted to do was sit silently and walk silently and read silently.

The light pollution from the city is so bright on Motuihe that you don’t really need a torch before midnight. It was a shock, though, to make the 200 metre trek to the bathrooms in the storm that hit that night. I was muttering ‘I’m going to die’ to myself, but I didn’t really think I was going to. It’s more that I was aware that I should be worried – after all, it was a storm, and the ground was slippery, and I couldn’t see where I was going because my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness yet. And yet I wasn’t worried, I was awed.

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We made it back the next morning. That day was absurdly prosaic. We packed up the damp tents (it was a good thing we had spares, because one had leaked and was full of water by that point). We used up as much food as we could (accounting for the fact that we were about to embark a small boat on a big ocean). We took a water taxi to Okahu. We Ubered home (massive shout out to the drivers who picked up damp, smelly campers without a grimace).

I was happy to have a shower and crawl into a onesie, happier still to charge my phone up fully. But I won’t forget that trip.

 

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