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.
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.
The tide is out so I can walk on the shore. A sign tells me to help protect shore birds by not letting dogs roam – also that the NZ dotterel is the largest dotterel in the world. The sand is more mud than sand, squishing under my feet. Dinghies rest at the water’s edge as heron’s stalk their prey on long stilts.
I walk on the beach at Sheltered Bay, no tracks in the sand but mine. The smell is so different from the pungency and almost menthol-like cleansing odor of bush. Here it’s briny, I can practically taste it.
I get off trail and try to cut overland. A man yells, “Hey, where do you think you’re going?!” I tell him I’m a bit lost and he shows me the gate, smiles when I thank him, apologize and say have a great day. “No one wants to get lost!” he says sending me off.
The next farm leaves bottles of water for TA walkers. Thank you!
The trail heads up on the hillside overlooking one bay after another, each a private beach. Gnarly trees look on, a few cows graze.
Gum trees spill down the gullies. Native to Australia, they take off here and created an entire industry – as well as an immigrant worker population from central Europe.
[Thanks Steven for correcting this information. The gum fields (as worked by the gumdiggers) were all (ancient) kauri gum – nothing to do with Australian eucalypts.]
I skip the Capitaine Bouganville monument to a shipwreck and the many saved souls by this community and press on to Matapouri. The Coastal Walk is wide and mowed. I’m utterly alone. I see the Poor Knight Islands in the distance.
A fantail dances in front of my path, opening and closing its feathers in a kind of bird form of twerking.
Cows block the path, one big black matriarch has a growly contralto. Others can’t be bothered leaving large pats as fast as they graze. Lots of private property, no beach access signs. This is how the rich live. They are not bothered by loud neighbors.
Big Blackie follows me up the road, her forehead furrowed. Guard Cow is sending a message to move on. A spectacular view where I stop for noodles, turquoise waves on white sand, bush growing on humpy headlands, leaning on my pack in the grass, happy for long sleeves and socks with sand flies lurking.
My friend Barry taught me to use insulating wrap to make a cozy for my pot. It speeds the cooking process and keeps food warm. It’s humid today, but I still love a cooked brunch.
A trio comes past for a day hike and asks if I’m doing the Te Araroa. “All of it?! Good on you. Enjoy each day then.” I promise I will.
I have a few chores, to tighten my hip-belt and to change to the lighter shirt. There’s something in backpacking that focuses things to the essentials – and to be being organized with your stuff, what little there is of it.
I pass a bay full of people on SUPs. Free camping here. What California used to be before getting so crowded.
Back walking on beach. Tide coming in over my squishy steps, the air silky cool.
I meet lovely Kiwis who take my picture and laugh at my endeavor, but invite me to stay with them far off trail. Who knows.
At Whale Bay signs ask if I have a plan in case of Tsunami. I consider it as I turn down the Morrison Track. I pass the pretty, boxy houses of Matapouri and swampland before heading back up into the bush full of birds.
The land is slashed here from clear cut, apparently the bush is rejuvenating. I can see out over it in the distance, green and bluish gray manuka.
I enter a kiwi sanctuary. Nocturnal, they’re all tucked in just now. Someone thoughtfully cut stairs into the clay bank down the ravine. Likewise back up into a forest of kauri. I’m sweating.
The forest is so dark and peaceful. I wonder why it lasted; perhaps too steep and poorly drained to clear for pasture. Now, it’s protected.
I hear rustling near a fallen tree ahead. It’s a TA walker from Hong Kong with a towering backpack. She toddles on as I work my way to a view.
I pull into Tane Moana. Hong Kong Tracy is also headed to a boat and I show her this amazing tree she almost walks past. So spiritual right here, these branches like arms giving me a blessing.
Oh no! Out of nowhere I trip over my left ankle my foot falling under with a huge crack. As a person who loves sound, that was a one superb, bone-crushing crack. Did I break it? I gently stand up and, although sore, I can walk. It seems a branch caught hold of my pants. The crack I hear was their ripping clean through. I keep on it and hope it won’t swell up.
Still a long way down but I can see the ocean. Foot just feels bruised, but kind of ready to end today’s walking.
Town wasn’t too far and I meet Tracy at the store, stock up in more very overpriced camping items like dried soup and these amazing tuna packets, then set off for the picnic table where we’ll meet James who will take us across the estuary.
My ankle has really swollen and I wonder if I should just stay in town. Right across the road is a place advertised in the trail notes so I go over to ask if I might camp. Lovely Kiwi Cheryl takes one look and says she’ll be right back. Out she comes with an ice pack, bandage and a jar of arnica. I feel so loved.
Soon James comes in his little boat. We walk pants rolled up out on the sand and pile ourselves and packs in for the short, fast ride. I choose a single room high up on the hill where you can’t hear the thumping bass from a party across the water and I can baby my ankle.
A super hot outdoor shower from a giant rain head does the trick and I am feeling better already. With the tides, I can only walk a short way because of two estuary crossings tomorrow, so things appear to be working out. I’ll lose my friends who will hitch around, but maybe I’ll catch up down the trail – or make new friends.
James’ place is so different from anything I’ve known. Like a camp with composting toilets – with special care to the space where you poo including old timey pictures, flowers in a funky angled building. No smell at all due to wood shavings. We wash our hands in an outside sink, several well placed nails make a bed for the soap.
James brings fresh vegetables and eggs for dinner in an open sided kitchen/dining area. He holds a ‘briefing’ for tomorrow as we gather around his map.
Now I’ll give some time to my audio narrative. I hope you enjoy the things I’ve heard. Catch you walking the estuaries tomorrow.