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TA Day 56, Koitiata to Mount Lees Reserve, 37 km

Sunrise from the alicoop at Koitita Mtor Camp.
Sunrise from the alicoop at Koitita Mtor Camp.

A full moon looked in on my sleep followed by a glorious sunrise. I’m back on black-sand-as-trail down the beach this morning. Tide is out and my feet are on concrete-pack.

It takes me back to the beginning, walking a long, lonely beach by myself, finding beauty in simplicity – the reflections of clouds, the shape of the tide-carved sand, the trails left by beached shells.

I meet a woman with a thick Kiwi accent – “The black sand’s high iron content as.” – and her beautiful dog Elliot. She just looked up a spot to go for the holiday and came in a caravan as surprised as me it’s so lovely. A huge mountain range is in front off in the distance.

A peaceful morning walk at low tide.
A peaceful morning walk at low tide.
Morning glow.
Morning glow.
Tidal shapes.
Tidal shapes.
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TA Day 55, Whanganui to Koitiata, 33 km

The sunset lasted for hours on the beach at Koitiata.
The sunset lasted for hours on the beach at Koitiata.

An absolutely beautiful rest in a beautiful room awakened by the smell of toast, eggs, bacon – a full English breakfast New Zealand style.

We speak of past lives with George having been the CEO of the New Zealand kennel club, owning a bar, and practicing law. Rob makes me laugh with an escapade of outrunning a possum trapped in the shed.

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TA Day 54, Hipango Park to Whanganui, (30 km) + 7 km

I wake up to a five-note song, a slight variation on Gershwin’s first prelude. I answer with the second line, but I’m utterly ignored. The moon was bright as I slept on soft grassy comfort. We both awoke to a weird creaking in the shelter, but neither bothered to investigate.

Rain seems to be a thing of the past – for now. The dock has stairs, so loading is expected to be manageable. The question is if high tide might fight us as we paddle into town.

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TA Day 53, Flying Fox to Hipango Park, (34 km)

Clowning around at the beautiful Flying Fox Retreat. We were the only guests at this quirky spot.
Clowning around at the beautiful Flying Fox Retreat. We were the only guests at this quirky spot.

The moon comes out accompanied by wild night sounds and a few stray splats of raindrops shaking off the trees. Flying Fox is one of the best stays yet – lots of attention to detail and small luxuries like a plastic box with soap and shampoo, TP at the composting long drop and odds and ends of dishes to use at the covered picnic table, a place I enjoyed for hours in the pouring rain.

Andrew told me I am the engine of our boat. He’s kept us straight as we’ve entered the rapids, but I kept us moving. I feel so complimented by a young man thirty years my junior who treats me as an equal.

The smallest rooster was of course the loudest at Flying Fox.
The smallest rooster was of course the loudest at Flying Fox.
A giant spider that's not poisonous cuddled into to the dry underside of the alicoop for the night.
A giant spider that’s not poisonous cuddled into to the dry underside of the alicoop for the night.
The cool cable car is the only way to get to Flying Fox other than by boat. The owners would not agree to give us a ride, though.
The cool cable car is the only way to get to Flying Fox other than by boat. The owners would not agree to give us a ride, though.

The rain absolutely dumps through the night as I stay cozy in the alicoop. A very loud bird ever so slightly varying its song, positions itself in the manuka tree above my head at 5 am. Funny how once I’m packed, he decides to quiet down.

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TA Day 52, Tieke Kainga to Flying Fox, (52 km)

Andrew emptying 26 gallons of water from the canoe when we splashed through the 50/50 rapids, taking on water but not tipping.
Andrew emptying 26 gallons of water from the canoe when we splashed through the 50/50 rapids, taking on water but not tipping.

You know it’s a thru-hike – or at this point a thru-paddle – when you wake up in the middle of the night with all your regrets staring you in the face.

The good news is I had absolutely fantastic stars, a halo of milky way, just by looking up and it was warm enough to keep the tarp drawn.

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TA Day 51, John Coull to Tieke Kainga, (32 km)

Crossing the "Bridge to Nowhere" spanning the Mangapurua Stream in Whanganui National Park.
Crossing the “Bridge to Nowhere” spanning the Mangapurua Stream in Whanganui National Park.

Our tents are damp in this foggy morning, set on a staircase of carved terraces, Inca-style. Yesterday, Andrew and I spied rock formations that appeared made by hand, huge hewn blocks as if a wall around the river. His passion is science fiction, so it got us fantasizing of ancient alien civilizations here in this last inhabited patch of the world.

The morepork hooted through the still night until I was awakened by David’s excited descriptions of climbs to Alex and the Croatians, as well as advice to slow down the pace for the South Island, which he completed last year. I really wanted him to shut up and give me a few more moments sleep, but I will miss David and these guys. They go on further today to get to Wellington before the month is over.

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TA Day 50, Whakahoro to John Coull, (38 km)

Thru-canoer at the start of the Whanganui "Great Walk" at Wade's Landing in Wahahoro.
Thru-canoer at the start of the Whanganui “Great Walk” at Wade’s Landing in Wahahoro.

Waking up was with complaining sheep and the thwap-thwap of techno pop meaning only one thing – sheep sheering. It’s weird to have so much time before I have to move. The canoes will be here in an hour or so. My tent dries on a fence post.

My friends from Taumaranui canoe hire arrive and have us unpack our carefully packed gear and repack it in barrels. It’s all a bit of a drama as we hurriedly reorganize then get another briefing and small canoe lesson in the thick mud at the launch.

I paid for a bunk, but preferred the quiet and privacy of the alicoop in Whakahoro.
I paid for a bunk, but preferred the quiet and privacy of the alicoop in Whakahoro.
Wild boars were introduced to New Zealand by Europeans. They tear up the bush, but make for good hunting and eating.
Wild boars were introduced to New Zealand by Europeans. They tear up the bush, but make for good hunting and eating.
Packing our barrels and getting a briefing from our friends at Taumaranui Canoe Hire before setting off.
Packing our barrels and getting a briefing from our friends at Taumaranui Canoe Hire before setting off.

The Whaganui River is considered one of New Zealand’s ‘great walks.’ It is protected and filled with tourists, so a different feel for us long distance walkers used to isolated trails, not to mention how odd it feels sitting rather than walking.

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TA Day 49, Katieke War Moument to Whakahoro – 24 km

A curious calf comes to say hello near my camp spot at Whakahora.
A curious calf comes to say hello near my camp spot at Whakahoro.

The day opens with low hanging mist. I have to put on rain gear to pack the tent, studying the little coffin shaped dry spot in the grass that was my warm body a few moments ago. It’s a modest day’s walk, so I have plenty of time to dry my gear before packing it away on the canoe trip. I will stay in huts along the way. A small luxury, but if the day is dumping rain, it will be well worth it.

The path today is a country road doubling as a cycle path. You know you’re in farm country when you come across a jug in the middle of the road with ‘stock’ scrawled on it. I pass a barn and the shearing is on, hits of the ‘90s this time, backbeat pumping incongruously against the pastoral backdrop.

The mailbox says it all.
The mailbox says it all.
The road follows the Retaruke River all the way to where it joins with the Whanganui.
The road follows the Retaruke River all the way to where it joins with the Whanganui.
Likely the best way to slow down motorists on a farm road.
Likely the best way to slow down motorists on a farm road.

I look down a steep gorge to rapids on the Retaruke River just as a truck passes me with four red canoes, Johno, Karen’s son who made fun of me for being a “nudist,” at the wheel heading to Whakahoro. Those are ours!