I have been asked many times about the strange story of being on a remote island in New Zealand when my dad died. I am still trying to fathom this story myself, so it helps to write it down. Plus it makes it easier to tell the story to others.
Last year a plan was made between myself, and Robbyne, that we would travel together ‘one day’ to a place called Great Barrier Island; which lies in the Ocean off Auckland, NZ. We were both interested to see the island, because it seemed to beckon to us from across the waves, and neither of us had been there before.
It wasn’t an urgent plan, and we had no particular date in mind.
Subsequently it transpired that this particular date in February suited well and there was a really cheap airfare and package deal for the island-stay, and it all came together seamlessly and affordably.
Robbyne had her daughter visiting so it worked out beautifully for her to join us.
I have travelled a lot in past years, but have always remained contactable and available for work. This has taken a physical toll on me because I have been busy during the days with travel and activities, and then up late at night, sitting in my hotel room with a laptop dealing with emails from Australia. No real time for recovery from jetlag and constant cramming of schedules to ensure that work requirements and deadlines were still met. It is in this manner that I have been able to maintain my responsibilities but still fulfil my need to travel.
It is technology that has made this possible.
Many people have expressed concern, warning me about burning the candle at both ends, and the toll it takes on the body. When you work for yourself you rarely get a rest.
Robbyne knows this. The nature of her work is the same.
Technology is draining, and whilst it is useful and essential, our human bodies still need a rest from it at times.
So an integral part of this plan was that both Robbyne and I would escape technology by going to Great Barrier Island, without phone reception, or wifi, for three days.
There we planned to rest, walk on the beach, swim in the pure ocean water, and be still.
The weather changed in the days prior to my departure from Brisbane and I ended up leaving my home at 2.30am on Saturday morning to drive ahead of a cyclonic system that was due to hit at about 3.00am. The fear was that if I was not ahead of the storm I would not be able to get through to the airport. I arrived at the airport at 3.33am and sat around waiting for my flight which departed just before 9.00am, secure in the knowledge that I was there, I was safe, and my car was under cover. At about 10.30pm the prior evening I was still running around preparing my home for the onslaught of the weather, so I had precious little sleep. The last few days had been very chaotic with me trying to fulfil all commitments in order to be able to get away while around me people were panicking and preparing for the storm. I was receiving loving, but conflicting, advice from all directions about my intended departure in a plane, and I was trying not to panic myself. I kept coming back to my own place of stillness and every time I did, the consistent message was that I must go. The cyclonic system was a great cleansing for our area, but it was not to prevent me from going to Great Barrier Island.
I flew to NZ and stayed two nights with Robbyne at her home on Waiheke Island. I slept there on Sunday night, the 22nd.
On Monday morning, the 23rd, we left early and went to the ‘aerodrome’ on Waiheke Island. It is a little grass airstrip on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and forests and vineyards, and very close to the coastline from where the sea stretches to the horizon. It was a beautiful clear, blue and sunny morning, and we were all in good spirits.
Our pilot arrived to collect us in an adorable little 4 seater plane. There was only room for us and the pilot. No other seats.
The little plane taxied smoothly along the grass airstrip and all of a sudden I realised that we had left the ground and were soaring gently into the sky. It was a seamless takeoff. Effortless. Light and soft. I felt weightless. Below the landscape was beautiful. Above the sky was immense. Within was peace and happiness and a sense of gentle sunshine flowing out of the heart through the body.
I had never experienced such a takeoff before. I understand this is how it is, in tiny planes, rather than large jets.
I remember suddenly asking Robbyne if this was how it felt when the soul left the body. This feeling of beauty and weightlessness. She said yes.
Half an hour later we landed, seamlessly again, on the even tinier little grass airstrip on Great Barrier Island. We stepped out of the plane and noticed a double rainbow in the sky. It was beautiful. The sky was smiling at us.
We made our way to our little beachhouse and settled in.
The place was called “The Boathouse” and was perched on the hillside, tucked beneath Pohutakawa trees, with its own little track running straight down the hill through the shrubs to the beach below where the ocean was gentle, shallow, and crystal clear.
The Pohutakawa tree is considered by some to be symbolic of the “tree of life”.
It is a tree of great beauty and majesty and it likes to live along the NZ coastlines.
I remember noticing that we were sheltered under its branches and I remember feeling pleased by that.
We had bought supplies and planned to stay in that night with a cheese and crackers and fine NZ wine.
Then Robbyne became restless, and even though we weren’t very hungry she said why don’t we just go out to the little local restaurant and have a look and see.
As the three of us drove off in the car, her phone beeped, and it was a text message. We must have hit a random wifi spot. It was her husband (who had stayed back on Waiheke Island) telling her that my family urgently needed to speak to me.
Meanwhile in Australia my family had been frantically trying to call me and had managed to contact Robbyne’s husband who then spent all that intervening period of time trying and trying to call Robbyne and to text her, because I had not taken my phone with me. Out of many attempts, only one text miraculously got through. We were truly off the grid.
We pulled over by the beach and thought we would ‘try’ and see if we could call internationally on Robbyne’s mobile which miraculously worked.
And so I heard the news sitting in a little rental car on a beachside road on Great Barrier Island, with two friends. And on Great Barrier Island the three of us cried and cried and cried together, even Robbyne’s daughter who had not met my dad. It was tragic, and for those moments time stood still.
Then Robbyne noticed that the sun was setting, and we all got out and sat at a little beachside park bench and watched the sun set, in a beautiful sky over a beautiful calm sea.
Later that evening I sat rather numbly while Robbyne and her husband between them made all the arrangements for my soonest possible departure, and her daughter tidied up the little beachhouse, and made it shipshape and ready for us to leave.
The pilot returned the next morning in our little plane and flew us back to Waiheke Island, where Robbyne’s husband was waiting with a sad face and a tray of coffees. They drove me straight to the ferry and waited with me until it departed for Auckland harbour, from where I caught the bus to the airport. There was only one remaining seat on the next flight to Brisbane, from where I drove straight from the airport to my dad’s house. I think the total travel time from start to finish was perhaps 15 or 16 hours. On the flight a small child screamed hysterically and I wished that adults could do that too.
And so that is how I was miles away and more or less uncontactable on the very day that I was destined to receive a piece of news that was actually important.
The irony of this has not escaped me, and I will take some time to understand.
But all I can say for now is that I see it as a gift, that I was in an exquisitely beautiful place, with very dear friends.
There are some other beautiful things I want to mention.
As Robbyne and her husband worked to defy communication problems and get me home a sudden shower of rain poured down onto the roof and a wind from nowhere blew open the door, which was strange because the door was latched shut. I was sitting right next to the door, and despite the wind, the door then stayed ajar and motionless, beckoning me out onto the verandah. I knew it was my dad, so I stepped outside into the wind and the rain and the night, and I stood under the Pohutakawa tree, and said goodbye.
Amusingly her husband said the next day that he could have sworn that he heard someone stomping around in their kitchen that night on Waiheke Island. He mentioned this in a different context and he has never met my dad. But I laughed because I thought if his spirit was following my itinerary then he would have passed through their wonderfully designed kitchen and stopped to admire it.
postscript – being unable to put thoughts together enough to write a euilogy for my dad, and meanwhile being asked (what seemed like every 5 minutes) to tell the story of where I was – because word had spread about how I couldn’t be found – I decided to read this at the funeral. Well first of all, I decided to start typing and see if something came together, which it did as above, and when I finished I could have sworn I felt my dad standing behind my chair, reading over my shoulder, and nodding his approval to say ‘very good’.