Solitude and Separation at Punakaiki Beach

Travel normally offers me an introspective time away – a break from everyday demands that allows me to do some reflecting on my life. For the most part, it is an inward journey through my thoughts, peppered with conversations with travel mates when the time is right. In addition to the joy and richness that comes from exploring new places, or challenging myself physically, this opportunity to reflect is one of the reasons I enjoy travelling, and make it a priority in my life.

On this trip, however, I have brought my everyday demands with me in the form of a little human who relies on me to provide for her needs, feed her, give her tons of love, a chance to laugh and run around, and reassurance when the world around her is changing daily, even hourly. I haven’t had much time to reflect, relax or take time for myself.

Discovering sand at Gillespies Beach. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Discovering sand at Gillespies Beach. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

The past few days have brought us through one of the most diverse landscapes I’ll ever witness. I read today that no matter where you are in New Zealand, you’re only 128 kilometres from the sea. Now I believe it. A few days ago, we began by winding our way through the forested valleys of the Southern Alps, gazing up at glaciated peaks, and within a few hours we emerged by the oceanside near Haast, with waves crashing on the shore and the smell of “fush ‘n chups” wafting from the windows of seaside eateries.

Driving by Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring National Park. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Driving by Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring National Park. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Another day of driving brought us back from the ocean into glacier country, where roads through a farmer’s field sheer kilometres from Gillespies Beach garnered incredible views of glaciers crumbling downwards, almost into the trees. And today took us from Franz Josef Glacier to the coastal village of Punakaiki, where perhaps the most stunning and surprising part of the drive wove us between imposing cliffs on one side and the rising tide on the other, sea-stacks braving the crashing waves.

It’s a lot to take in. By the time we arrived at Punakaiki Beach, Maya had strongly voiced she was done with the changing scenery. I don’t blame her. The drive – like all drives in windy, meandering New Zealand – took a heck of a lot longer than we thought it would. And then we took the time to explore the Pancake Rocks and blowholes of Paparoa National Park. When we got to our accommodations for the night, I played with Maya in the shade while Paul unpacked the car.

While I live for these playtimes, when Maya’s personality outgrows her tiny body, tonight I longed for some time for me, some solitude. Our cabin sits just a few hundred metres from the ocean. So, for a few minutes after Maya fell asleep, I went for a walk to the ocean to take a few breaths and listen to the waves crash on the shore. Maya has been waking a lot at night and wanting Mom, so I kept my time short on the beach. As I stood there watching the sun descend, I longed to watch it go all the way down, to see the changing colours in the sky. For a moment, I wanted to forget all responsibility, and sit in the sand until I felt like going back.

Watching the sun (almost) set on Punakaiki Beach. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Watching the sun (almost) set on Punakaiki Beach. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Then I reminded myself that the level of dependence Maya has on me right now is for just a short season of life, and will perhaps only be this intense for a portion of the trip. Even still, we have never been separated for any real length of time and often I forget where I end and she begins.

Something I didn’t anticipate about this trip, however, was how it would start the separation process. I’m learning so much about Maya while we are travelling and exposing her to new environments each day. Here on the other side of the world I don’t always know what to do, or how to cope, unlike our time at home when things are largely predictable. More and more I am able to see Maya as a little human being, separate from me. I am learning to tune into her in new ways, turning the dial ever so slightly for new frequencies when a bit of static – uncertainty – fills the air.

Enjoying the waves at Hokitika. Photo Meghan J. Ward collection.
Enjoying the waves at Hokitika. Photo Meghan J. Ward collection.

Tonight as I left Punakaiki Beach, I picked up a smooth black stone, and a few feet later, I picked up a white stone. I didn’t understand their significance at the time, but now I see them as a metaphor for that separation. Often Paul and I have spoken about how amidst all our moving around, we are Maya’s home. But at the same time, we are all individuals, separate entities, on this journey together.

I suppose I have been able to do some reflecting after all.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

9 thoughts

  1. And we are the ones benefiting from your reflection… 😉 Thanks, Meghan. It is beautiful.

  2. Fantastically written!
    Wow – the journey you are on Meghan is an incredibly ‘raw for the rest of your life’ type journey.
    You are so mindful of maya and her discoveries and needs.
    Looking forward to the next post!
    Love to all xo

  3. I’ve got a one year old and we are experiencing much of what you describe. We’re about to embark on a three week trip and I’ve been thinking a lot about how it’s going to be. You’ve summed it up beautifully, thank you for sharing.

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