Having arrived on the west coast we decide to head south again. My craving for places left to themselves has still not been quenched. A ramrod-straight road right along the sea. The forest is less dense here than in the mountains, there are more ferns. A number of trees display a strangely conflicting nature. At their tops they are green, reaching out widely; the spaces between, behind which darker green or the pale of the sky shimmer through, are as finely woven as lace. At their bottoms there is a part just as large, which is rotting away: densely overlapping, limply drooping leaves, pale brown to grey. The tree drags its own decay around with it, during its lifetime. I’m reminded of a report on the native inhabitants of another continent, which I read a few years ago. I think it was about Indios. Their understanding of death called for a special form of burial. They had no graveyard for their dead and nor did they cremate them, instead burying them under the floors of their own huts. They cooked and slept and lived in a room that was simultaneously a grave.
Now and then, a human habitation appears at the side of the road. Spacious properties, usually with small wooden houses on them that could use a lick of paint, with a myriad of sheds and garages. After 50 kilometres the road tails out in a dead end. As the name suggests, the small fishing village of Jackson Bay lies in a bay. A rather aged pier used as a quay, a few houses and a fish wholesaler’s depot – that’s all there is here. We stand outside a small cold-storage house with a veranda. Dented pink plastic tubs are piled up in front of it, still wet from the ice for the last catch. The whole atmosphere of the place is stagnant, windless. Next to the pier is a caravan converted to a snack bar. Sharing a table with two workers and some large seagulls, we eat the most delicious fish and chips of our entire trip so far.
A short hiking path, beyond it a second beach. My guidebook says there are penguins here. Large and small stones, unmoving water, humid air, sandflies. We quickly pull something on over our already richly bitten arms, blinking over at a couple of small rocks. Wasn’t there something black and white moving over there? We pull ourselves together, cast off our lethargic mood and climb briskly over large stones, our eyes fixed on the rock. The way feels longer and longer. The movement repeats itself in a monotonous way but not one that we might decipher. We break out in a sweat. For a while yet, we struggle onwards – and eventually stop, collapsing laughing onto the sand. What we’ve been chasing after was a hole in the rock, washed over by the tide.
On our way back a sign leads us to a cemetery for early immigrants. Some four hundred are said to have settled here in around 1870. The scheme, planned and executed from a desk in London, ended in disaster. The settlers couldn’t cope here for long, the area was too swampy, the rain preyed upon them. We park and walk a little way into the forest. In the middle of the path, interrupting it, is a square of cast-iron fence. Ornately decorated, eaten away by the elements. A few steps onwards we find more squares of fence. Some of them have roughly hewn wooden crosses, and all of them are so small and narrow that they look like bars on a child’s cot. On a broken black stone, I make out the name of a man from Hamburg. He didn’t grow old here.