I jump into water that is only about 14 degrees Celsius and am told to go swim, hoping that some of those seals sitting on the rocks over there might get curious and come to check me out. They don’t. They take one lazy glance at me and stay contentedly on their rocky perches, where I am not allowed to venture.
The Punakaiki – Pororari Loop track is spectacular; the water is so clear you can see the rocks at the bottom of the river and the logs that have fallen in. The dramatic limestone cliffs are towering above you and the sunlight is filtering through the palm leaves, turning them an incredible shade of green.
“We all have different taste in women!” the girl exclaimed. Of the three swimsuit lanterns we’d each chosen a different one as our favourite. From nearby we heard the band start up, and we went off to check out the live music, complete with swirling lasers and smoke machine. This was the Illume Festival of Light, when on two of the cold, long nights of winter, the normally quiet Coromandel Town came to life, with lights, lanterns, music, dancing and food.
High above the river, the narrow path snaked along the rim of the gorge. The turbulent waters far below were an improbable shade of milky aquamarine, having come straight from glaciers. Trees clung precariously to the steep side of the cliff I was on, while on the opposite bank they lined the winding river, providing a barrier to the bright green fields lined with vibrant yellow flowers.
So you’re in Beijing, and you’ve seen all the highlights. Now what? Easy: go to Dongyue Temple. At first it looks like any other, but once you start exploring the 76 departments of Taoist justice you’ll be captivated, bewildered, and terrified at what might happen when your own judgment day comes.
I had a visitor while I was on the Coromandel Peninsula, and while I tend to do things slowly, this particular friend and I go really slowly. Opera Point was supposed to be a quick walk, 15 minutes each way. We somehow turned it into two and a half hours. How did we do this?
“Go, go!” my guide urged me, “join in, take pictures!” “But it’s a funeral” I said, hesitating, “I can’t take pictures at a funeral!” And yet I did. You just don’t go crashing funerals where I come from. In my culture funerals are generally sad, serious affairs and while the general public is usually able to attend, you normally wouldn’t go to the ceremony for a complete stranger. And if you did, you would never take pictures like a gawking tourist.
“After a tedious climb, we at last saw the head of the gorge, a wonderful sight on which not many eyes have gazed. It is closed by a semi-circle of cliffs, precipitous and black. And wedged, as it were, between three mountain peaks, lies an enormous glacier. Not a long river of ice but a mighty mass of ice, breaking off sharp at the top of the stupendous peaks.”
-A. Maud Moreland, 1911
I had arrived in Shaxi the previous evening, and my timing was impeccable. Today was Friday, market day. Shaxi has not only its main market in the centre of town, but also just across the river you’ll find the animal market, where locals buy and sell their horses, pigs, cows, and goats.
I put a protective hand over my camera and grimaced as the wind whipped up the sand again, flinging it once more against my bare feet, my face, and in fact all my exposed skin with the agony of a million tiny pinpricks. Too late I ducked behind a rock and as the wind died…