TA Day 3, Maunganui Bluff to Utea Park – 30 km

Early morning sunlight on clouds above Ninety Mile Beach.
Early morning sunlight on clouds above Ninety Mile Beach.

The alicoop crashed in the middle of the night.

First came torrential rain, then the wind.

Then rain and wind.

But I must say, the Te Araroa goddess was smiling – ok, she snickered when my side peg ripped out and my hiking pole fell on my face – but after, in her benevolence, she stopped the rain, cleared the sky so I could see the shining array of southern stars, and gave me just enough time to reorient the alicoop aiming into the wind.

The beach is exposed, relentless and monotonous, but I love it.
The beach is exposed, relentless and monotonous, but I love it.
Wild horses keeping watch at Maunganui Bluff.
Wild horses keeping watch at Maunganui Bluff.

I’m awakened by the snort and whinny of a horse. A small family lives here including a few sweet foals. I tried last night to sweet talk them into allowing a photo, but they were shy and their patriarch gave me a threatening look. I wonder if they know I’m in this tent?

A long day awaits as the kilometers ratchet up on this epic beach walk. I forgot to mention yesterday to my musical friends that Debussy’s La Mer chased me most of the walk.

Today could prove more difficult as it looks to be a clear – and hot? – day ahead. So I plan to actually watch kilometers and divide the ‘march’ in three. I’ll use each third to consider some ‘deep thoughts.’

We’ll see how that goes with these questions:

1. what causes a person to decide to walk for five months?

2. why does said person need a plan to get through a particularly long, hard day?

3. what must it feel like to be one of these wild horses?

The beach walk that starts the Te Aroroa left me lots of time to be reflective.
The beach walk that starts the Te Aroroa left me lots of time to be reflective.
And I learned to enjoy the small things like wave patterns in the sand.
And I learned to enjoy the small things like wave patterns in the sand.
I mostly walked alone on the Ninety Mile Beach with my shadow both literally and figuratively.
I mostly walked alone on the Ninety Mile Beach with my shadow both literally and figuratively.

I reach a shady spot somewhat out of the wind at 10km. Up against a 25 foot dune, I see evidence the tide reaches here and I know this stop needs to be brief.

My walking rhythm causes me to sing Palestrina’s Cicut Cervus, something Richard sang with me – and Cambridge Singers via YouTube – the night before I left.

So why walk? Years ago, I took a shot at walking up Aconcagua, the Western Hemisphere’s highest. I was fit enough, but not for the altitude, developed a life-threatening condition and was evacuated, near enough to the summit I could touch it as we passed in the helicopter.

I was sick for weeks after with bronchitis but still we visited my family, who barely asked what happened. I felt angry, sad, despondent, and Richard gave me some of the best advice of my life. “If you do this so other’s notice, you deserve to fail.”

Does seem a bit harsh and also a bit disingenuous since I invite followers to follow my adventure. But the truth is, all of this has to be my own gig. I do it for me in the end, simply for the challenge, because I’m born to perambulate, because I like the feeling of walking – even today on this endless beach with little variation.

It makes me feel alive. And in touch with myself. I hear my body when it says to fix my hot spot or have some water or take a photo. I hear my heart when it says to start when the sun comes up and meet your new gang of thru-hikers in Utea. I listen to my spirit which battles with boredom and expectation. Yeah, walking is sometimes boring, but isn’t life too? I’m walking on the giant sandbar that is the tippy tip top of New Zealand. That in itself is pretty cool and I’m shredded already with 20 km to go today, but in a few months time, I’ll remember these days at the start as precious.

Good enough answer? Ok, fix toes, eat some cashews and push on!

I found a place under the dunes out of the wind to have lunch sitting against my backpack.
I found a place under the dunes out of the wind to have lunch sitting against my backpack.
Spirula or Ram's horn shells.
Spirula or Ram’s horn shells.
A shag on the hunt at the edge of the surf.
A shag on the hunt at the edge of the surf.

20k and time for a pause. I get my food in through customs, no problem. Wish I’d brought more instead of playing it safe with over-salted Mountain House prepared meals. My one bag of dried Honey Crisp tastes amazing.

How do we balance planning and control with taking things as they come and allowing for serendipity?

I always used to hike with little safety net. That meant four weeks in the French Alps with Richard awaiting my finding wifi. Est-ce que vous avez wee-fee? Non!

For a while there he received lots of messages from strangers typed on a foreign keyboard saying I was ok. No wonder he is tracking me now via two-way GPS.

My brother plans his work life so much he likes to allow hiking to unfold, getting us nearly benighted on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail before snow came. But I too have just walked and walked until I went so far it was dangerous getting back with everyone worried and later angry that I ventured without plan.

This time round, I’m free to do as I please, though unless I want to camp in the blowing sand next to a seasonal seep, I need to walk 30 km today. Chopping it up, of course, gets me there and focuses the mind. But it also tests my legs. My Garmin tells me exactly where I’ve walked, no cheating letting just how I feel determine when I pause. I’m also discovering that a brisk pace on packed sand for 10k is about my limit before I need a rest. Nothing to feel proud or ashamed of – depending on your perspective – just facts that help me to slowly conquer the whole of this walk.

So a few cashews, all those tremendous dehydrated Honey Crisp apples, a swig of pink (electrolyte) water and on I go!

Driftwood set like concrete in the sand.
Driftwood set like concrete in the sand.
The dunes are cut and sculpted by constant wind.
The dunes are cut and sculpted by constant wind.
Utea Park was a lovely place to camp with a communal cooking and cabins for rent.  space
Utea Park was a lovely place to camp with a communal cooking and cabins for rent. space

Finally here at Utea Park, those final k’s challenging my psyche. But a hot shower and Tanya’s special blue shake awaited. I’m sore and tired, and had to pop one nasty blister, but overall feeling ok. To be free, then, the final question.

Don’t we all long to be unencumbered and enjoy anything we like at any moment.

But then we wouldn’t have family, friends, our vocation, our community. It’s all a balance, right? And maybe I wouldn’t feel this philosophical except that I don’t think I’m fitting in. I know it’s only day three, but I feel old and weird like I’m not such good company.

I love to hike and I’m going to walk this one way or another but I feel sad just now. Lonely is not when you’re alone. Rather it’s when you’re surrounded by people and can’t connect. Maybe it just takes time.

Well, we all have to hike our own hike and I’ll be doing that. Scratch that. I am doing that.

Tomorrow is a bit further still than today and a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend has invited me to spend the night in Ahipara.

A proud resident of the 9TMILE beach region.
A proud resident of the 9TMILE beach region.
Amelia, Jean-Christophe and I camp on the luxurious grass after a long day of sand.
Amelia, Jean-Christophe and I camp on the luxurious grass after a long day of sand.

After 100km on sand, in wind and rain and sun, I think I deserve a bed!

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Alison, just being where you are is connecting – listening and seeing. It may feel a world away and like another planet, but the connection is in and with the moment. We’re with you too! Sorry to hear about the blister! Awed at how you’re managing the distance and the terrain. Way to go!!

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