I’m up and out early. Exotic birds becoming friends wake me, but I slept fitfully. It would be a big day to Puhoi, but if I get a burger after this mountain, I think I can do it.
The tent is damp – I’m damp – but feel relatively clean, the feet still managing to move well. Not fast, but fast enough.
Why is it that a kind act, like sharing a beer, gets me all panicky? All the upset of my life is bubbling out of my pores. This walk was hardly an escape, more a coming to terms.
I leave before the others, knowing they’ll catch me as I walk slow savoring the morning sun fuzzy in the mist.
It’s this moment I know why I’m here even as a kind of depression threatens to overtake. I’m surprised by the compactness of all I need on my back and that my legs keep taking me where I want to go. I’m entranced by the morning.
It’s especially wonderful because I’m in a kauri forest – young, but still tall and straight, a jigsaw puzzle of gray/brown bark, opaque green lichen and vines creeping to the canopy.
Two Finnish pass cold as ice; are they enjoying this, I wonder. Trail runners bound by in bright colors, bright smiles. I spy the dome ahead and the highway, raucous even on an early Sunday morning.
A wooden platform is set up to keep walkers off the roots of the kauri giants. I say a greeting to these lovelies from our California redwoods.
I can’t help but think of Bill Bryson and his own long walk when I get to the summit, hill after hill of forest opening in front of me, no variation, just green wave upon green wave that I’ll have to walk through eventually. I finally break into the jerky I made in Saint Paul, spicy, delicious.
A lovely Dutch couple leads the way to the ‘real’ view as the track changes to easy tramping on stairs, signs point out the names of trees, remu, kanuka, kiekie, kohekoe, miri, hinau, makaka, poporokaiwhiri.
We run down to get our burger and ‘thick’ shake. Oh the bliss to take long strides.
Mine is the deluxe lamb burger, egg, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and beet root. Breakfast of champions.
Looks like I won’t be able to ‘walk’ the official trail up the Puhoi river tomorrow. One kayak rental company listed in the trail notes is out of business, one busy and one closed. I send a few requests to NZ friends for beta, post on the TA facebook page, then suddenly get a text from the kayak folks to plan on meeting tomorrow, Puhoi car park, 4:30 sharp.
Stefan and Lydie arrive and it’s a reservation for five. I’m beginning to make friends and a half day off before paddling gives us time to visit the cheese factory.
Floris gives me good advice he received from another Dutch TA walker, to simply enjoy each day, no rush – and not to worry as things do tend to come together. More life lessons from the trail.
Up and over and back in farmland. I whistle a bit of Scriabin for the cows and they come right to me. Who knew? Another field seems to prefer the Act 3 trio from Der Rosenkavalier. A man pops his head over the fence to offer more water before we walk through a Get Smart series of gates.
The weather changes as clouds move in. I can see rain off in the distance but nothing on me yet. A NOBO (northbound walker) passes me all smiles.
Over this top, the view opens back to the sea, then right back into bush, huge ferns layering the path.
I come to an area controlled not only for die-back, but also for goats, though I see none so they must be well in hand.
I go down and down between farm fields which break out into homes, but nowhere near town. Instead, after 20 miles walking, it’s back up – and up – stairs, thankfully, but my thighs are burning, my feet ready to give up, though these stairs take me into some of the finest bush yet, an easy tramping track through well tended palms, kauri and all I’ve come to know up close.
It’s not the mud of the Raetea forest, not the winding up and down tripping hazard of every other forest I’ve walked this far for k’s on end, rather it’s a soft landing to this wonderful day just to breathe in. Me – the blissful hiker – tramping in New Zealand bush.
My new friends are all here having hitched the last part, but there’s loads of time for them to see it tomorrow. I have audio to sort out so I take a tiny room in the 1879 Puhoi Pub and Hotel.
I soak in a big old tub til I prune, put on a fluffy terrycloth robe, order a beautiful tart, effervescent local brew and homemade clam chowder and listen to hits of the ‘60s – all American.
Time to play with all the audio I’ve collected this last week. No surprise, the story is about being alone with my thoughts until suddenly I wasn’t anymore. Sweet dreams, friends, til tomorrow’s adventure navigating the river.