Monday, September 7, 2009

Pupu Off the Beaten Path

Not that kind of pupu, sorry!

Let me first say that I am not an extreme tourist. It is not necessary for me to “feel alive” by breaking bread with the native tribes of Papua New Guinea, backpacking barefoot across the sand dunes of the Namib Desert or climbing K2 wearing only cleated sandals and a thermal thong. Not yet, anyway. Still, I am good for stopping along the road to somewhere else just to smell the roses or explore some otherwise overlooked landmark simply because I happen to be in the neighborhood with little chance of being in the vicinity again anytime soon.

Rhys and I were exploring the Golden Bay region of New Zealand at the northwestern tip of the South Island. He doesn’t like scheduling every moment of a vacation, preferring instead to simply follow the undiscovered road until nightfall. This very nearly caused an overnight stay on the beach as we failed to account for traveling at the height of the Summer season and had booked no advance accommodation that morning.

On our drive at 11:30 that evening back to Paton's Rock Beach we spotted a vacancy sign at the very comfortable and well appointed Garden Retreat Bed & Breakfast. We screeched a “U-ie” in the road and woke up the proprietress, Diane McIntosh, who informed us there was indeed one room left. A last minute full house for them and a bed for us – good for all creatures, great and small!

The next morning at communal breakfast we discussed our tour of the island and onward plans to make Picton. From there we would take the Interislander across to Wellington for the night as our next stop.

“You have to stop at Pupu Springs and then Wainui Falls” the owner’s daughter sang out. “They're both a bit out of the way and somewhat of a walk into the bush but well worth it if you do.”

To visit a natural spring we’d never heard of in some isolated part of an out of the way corner of an island only the locals knew about and all the while eating up time we needed to catch a sailing? Done. There were other sailings and hotels in Picton if we didn’t make it to “Welly” that night. We hoped.

Te Waikoropupu,” or “Pupu Springs” for short, is simply gorgeous. The waters are extremely sacred to the native Maori people, which holds this spring as the home of Huriawa, one of the three primary water spirits of their culture and a legend that is not at all difficult to understand. They sit in a grove of natural forest edged by rushes that provides contrast to the completely colorless water. Thanks to light refraction the 12-foot depth seemed more like 12 inches.

Diving so one can view the “Dancing Sands” above the bottom vents where new waters enter the pools is allowed but strictly controlled. Casual wading or even throwing stones, though, might easily get you tossed from the country. Science, of course, has debunked the myth of the waters’ origin but at Pupu Springs the spirit of the place easily commands respect for its natural beauty which is completely, hypnotically in the eye of the beholder.

Wainui Falls next time.

Gotta go!

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