audio narrative

a chorus of birds from both sides (of the world) now

These things are ours for God creates within our soul a mystic sense of wonder that we may hear allegro tunes among tall swaying cattails.

Gwen Frostic

Before we get to birds, a small bit of business.

So many of you have asked me how to pronounce New Zealand’s “Te Araroa.” This is my hiking-partner-for-the-first-eight-days Irene’s dad’s longtime girlfriend, Vern with her gorgeous Kiwi accent setting us straight on this Maori word.

Te Araroa is pronounced teah ah-rah-ROH-uh and means “long pathway” in Maori

Johnny has a sweet job as caretaker of Dragonspell way up on the ridge.
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TA Day 18, Ruakaka to Dragon’s Spell – 26 km

Cloud and Blissful Hiker reflections on the Bream Bay walk near Ruakaka.
Cloud and Blissful Hiker reflections on the Bream Bay walk near Ruakaka.

Note to self: no more setting up on a slope. It was relatively wonderful at Betty’s but I couldn’t find a completely flat spot, so slid a bit and faffed with my mat until one strip of equilibrium materialized. Then an overly eager bird cranked it up at sunrise. Love the exotic, you bet, but this guy had a mic!

Yellow lupine frame the view back to the entire length of Bream Head with Mt. Lion reaching to the sky in the center.
Yellow lupine frame the view back to the entire length of Bream Head with Mt. Lion reaching to the sky in the center.
Shells crunch underfoot on the long beach walk.
Shells crunch underfoot on the long beach walk.

I share a cuppa with Betty and the sunrise before heading on. A hiker ahead of me speaks my language of low pack weight and walking every step. I have used boats three times – but that’s part of the fun of this ‘trail!’ – and twice accepted rides for short distances by Peter when we were walking together and Betty when she brought me to her home.

It’s not so much that I’m a purist, though I guess I am a bit, it’s more to do with taking the bad with the good, the boring with the thrilling. This thing I am doing, is a walk of the entire length of the country.

When I split off from the beach last night, I encountered a less affluent district, some houses unkempt. These were not the private gated communities, but the working class. And yet a woman helped me get oriented towards the stores and on my way. Her two little girls posed for my picture and we all shared a tiny slice of life. These moments resonate and remain long after the views blend into one.

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TA Day 17, Peach Cove to Ruakaka – 17 km + 11 km

Blissful Hiker has Peach Cove all to herself.

Blissful Hiker has Peach Cove all to herself.

I am a total dope. I followed a beach sign down to a rocky shore. But there is another beach sign just up the trail a few feet that goes straight to an actual beach. I get there with still a hot sun coaxing me under the gentle waves, huge scallop shells within reach.

I stay out on my private beach until the shadows get long then disappear altogether, roosting cormorants look like vases in the trees, their heads tucked all the way under their wings.

The perfect secluded beach at Peach Cove.

The perfect secluded beach at Peach Cove.

A big climb takes me to a spectacular view from the Te Whara summit.
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TA Day 16, Taiharuru River to Peach Cove – 25 km

The tree house faces east looking out over the estuary, pink streaks reflected in the receding water that I’ll walk in a few hours. My sleep here was quiet and deep, I hate to leave but feel prepared for what today brings even if my ankle is more ‘cankle’ at the moment.

Just like home, it’s not easy to get up out of a warm, snuggly nest especially since I stayed up late sewing up the rips in my trousers – and watching Australian Ninja with Hugh and a “cuppa.”

Ros hiked the Te Araroa last year at the age of 66. This morning, she carries Olive Oyl across the Taiharuru Estuary.
Ros hiked the Te Araroa last year at the age of 66. This morning, she carries Olive Oyl across the Taiharuru Estuary.

Full breakfast and lots of conversation around the table about Minnesota and ecology. Turns out the locals hate the mangroves, “They bring the mud and ruin my sand beach!” The fact is, draining the area for farming took out the native wetland, and the mangrove – with their spreading snorkels – are simply opportunists.

Millions of pipis and tuatuas give a lovely crunch to my step.
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TA Day 15, Nikau Bay to Taiharuru Estuary – 13 km

It’s been two weeks. I’ve gotten conjunctivitis and a minor sprain. Here’s hoping – hobbling? – the new week is full of health and safety.

I walk slowly and deliberately. Scrubby lowland here, lots if invasive prickly gorse so I’m glad the track is wide and they stay in their side.

Millions of pipis and tuatuas give a lovely crunch to my step.
Millions of pipis and tuatuas give a lovely crunch to my step.
The sign to James' Nikau Bay Camp.
The sign to James’ Nikau Bay Camp.

I arrive at the mouth of the Horahora River as it spills into the Pacific. The tide is out and now I must walk up it. Tuatua and pipi shells, oyster catchers and a symphony of screeches greet my arrival on the wave scarred sand. The surf crashes at the bar as footsteps make a pleasing crunch. I follow Ondi’s sunken looping v-steps until they disappear.

The water is cold and fresh up to my crotch, the tide pulls me upstream. Bram and the kayak boys catch up to me. I’m surprised how timid they are picking their way across, seemingly afraid to get wet or yanked under by the current.

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TA Day 14, Whananaki to Nikau Bay Camp – 28 km + 2 km

It’s quiet and cool this morning by the estuary. The wind died and the party heated up until the wee hours. I didn’t sleep so well, but up anyway because I love walking in the freshness of the morning.

I’m not the fastest walker. I move well and set goals, but I like to see things, think, take breaks – and photos – and write too.

Morning light on the estuary at Whananaki, pronounced fah-nah-NAH-kee).
Morning light on the estuary at Whananaki, pronounced fah-nah-NAH-kee).
The longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere.
The longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere.
The blissful Hiker crosses the estuary on a cool morning and is visited by Oyster Catchers and terns.
The blissful Hiker crosses the estuary on a cool morning and is visited by Oyster Catchers and terns.

And I need the quiet. Even with earplugs, I can’t seem to relax with lots of noise. It’s not just the sound itself, it’s this feeling that people are purposely being noisy. I mean, why have the muffler removed in a Harley except for the sole purpose of giving the middle finger to everyone else’s tranquility?

Now it’s completely silent except for those who like mornings as much as I do – the birds.

I cross the bridge in low tide from Whananaki North to Whananaki South. Gulls screech and waves break around the head.

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TA Day 13, Helena Bay to Whananaki – 25 km

The walk out of Helena Bay is straight up.
The walk out of Helena Bay is straight up.

Walking straight uphill this early morning onto a flower-covered hillside above the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing below. My pants are already soaked because the deep grass is drenched from last night’s torrential rain.

Just as I left the beach last evening and wandered back to the alicoop, a woman about my age wandered by, smiled and said hello. I followed her and asked if she might sell me a beer. She looked dumbfounded, “You need one?”

Yes, in fact I do after all those hot kilometers.

Turns out she doesn’t like beer at all. And and would much rather I share sparkling wine.

Monterrey Pines were imported to New Zealand and adapt well to the rain and fog.
Monterrey Pines were imported to New Zealand and adapt well to the rain and fog.

The next thing I know, I am included with husband, dad and cousin for cocktail hour. Tracy is a midwife, Ben, a carpenter. We natter for hours, and I learn much better Maori pronunciation – like wh is a ‘f’ sound, and that their home on the beach is called a bach, pronounced  “batch.”

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TA Day 12, Waikare to Helena Bay – 28 km

I get an early start. It’s overcast just as I like it. Someone else is up with a weed wacker. I wonder if he’s the same guy with the music. Soon I’ll use the river as a trail.

A big bull leaves loud patties in a screen of trees. I’m already a bit lost. Not exactly, I have GPS but nothing is marked and it’s a weedy, wet, barbed wire nightmare. Is it too much to put up a few signs?

This area is Maori and off the grid. Cars, garbage, rusting metal implements lay about. Poverty? Sure, but it’s a community too. I was told I’d meet trail angels. I’d like that.

Junked cars along the Te Araroa.
Junked cars along the Te Araroa.
The Papakauti stream is the official trail through the Russell Forest.
The Papakauti stream is the official trail through the Russell Forest.
A caravan as a guest room is typical in New Zealand.
A caravan as a guest room is typical in New Zealand.

Finally signs appear to tell me I’ve entered the Russell Forest.