And expected all day – with lightning on the side.
But I have good rain gear and I’ll slackpack a bigger chunk today, a day I learn of a tramper dying on the Tongariro crossing, a place I’ll come to in another month.
He wasn’t a Te Araroa hiker, rather he was unprepared, poorly dressed and split up from his party when the weather turned ugly. Dumb decisions for sure, but we’re all capable of making dumb decisions. I feel sorrow for his family and remind myself to be smart on this solo walk.
Today is all urban, but it will be wet and chilly, so I consider it good practice. Two Kiwis, Paula and Mike join me for the walk on the infamous underpass – or mugger’s way – whitewashed and empty now Seems the sinking Mangere bridge has one more day of hikers and bicyclists in its life. The path winds past the estuary, steel and glass structures next to broken-down baches.
The area is built on ancient lava flow, the rock brown, metallic and full of holes. I see the waves of drizzly rain coming. Ambury Park is a sheep oasis eventually leading to a sewage treatment plant. A tiny bug garden displays chunks of clay filled with bug larvae and a deadly variety of stinging nettle – plus a sign to keep children in hand. The Watercare Coastal Walk is full of birds and quiet on this changeable Sunday morning, so humid I’m developing big hair.
The death of the tourist has me spooked. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the enormity of this walk. I do find once I start taking steps, it feels different, manageable and focused. A lesson here for many things, to break projects, for instance, down into steps.
Brooding, anticipating, worrying oftentimes accomplishes nothing and can even contribute to poor planning. As I walk now I think of how I prepared for this trail – by walking, a lot. By making walking a way of life. Yes, I’m tired and sore, but I know what my body can do.
It smells really bad here. Thankfully I’m almost past it. I like to think that I made a small contribution to this place when flushing this morning, the treated water crowded with black swans and their goslings, swallows diving, new ducks to me honk crankily.
The rain stopped and the wind gently dries me. Some birds tuck in their feet as they fly, others use them as ballast, long sticks with webs sailing through the air.
I stop for lunch looking out to Manakau harbor, a place devastated by pollution, sewage and farm run-off until a massive undertaking to restore its natural balance. Birds come here from the arctic, its shallow protected waters filled with sea creatures. I love being here with my lunch.
The black sand/oyster shell beach is thick with pale pink morning glories and a tiny orange creeper, the long grass, pressed in a field of combovers.
I run into cool “the-trail-will-provide” Nathan at Ihumatoa and the virtual occupation. Talk about timing. It’s fun walking the road together. We chat about hiking and why we’re here, then approach the most arbitrary sign placements yet – two TA signs, opposite sides of the road facing each other. That’s helpful!
Back at the airport, the sky is black. I seek refuge at Butterfly Creek party venue just as an evil breeze presses in. And here comes the lightning! with the absolute, full-on, no holds barred downpour. I am totally safe with about thirty screaming children.
The rain stops and I walk on a busy road with a huge shoulder right under the incoming flight path. Jets power in, prop planes float slowly by.
I enter the Puhinui reserve with public toilets, a helpful recorded voice giving me ten minutes alone and if it’s too hard to figure the time, some jazzy Burt Bacharach counts down for me while I pee.
And then it’s a muddy field, frisky cattle breathing down my neck. I walk through industrial parks and wind around business parks. A woman stops to ask if I’m ok and offers me a ride. I thank her, but decline even if she’s shocked I still have five more kilometers to walk.
After this, though, I feel less guilty driving around tomorrow’s long suburban detour. Praise Jesus, a sidewalk. All of this awfulness is doable when protected by a curb.
Manurewa is a bit rough, garbage collects in the ponds and rivers, the houses abutting the park are shabby, but people say hello when they pass me.
And finally, the beautiful botanic gardens, just a large park with fabulous trees, and mostly mine right now in the gloaming. Totara park follows of more splendid trees and I await a ride back to town for one last night of home-stay before heading south with full pack.
And funny, today turned out to be one fine day of walking.