The weather forecast is for more rain – and thunderstorms – but not until later today. The mist is down and the morning is alive with birds. Is that blue sky I see beyond the mist?
I eat a quick breakfast, pack up and chat a bit more with Jon. He is, in a word, awesome. Rolling a cigarette and chilling in his bathrobe with us on the porch, he obviously loves taking in the hikers. I sign his book and leave a nice koha (or donation) He tells me not to do anything stupid, and I’m off.
It’s humid and warmer than the mountaintop. I still need to ascend some before descending and I’m carrying water for the day, so sweating already.
A friend writes me and repeatedly tells me that I’m fit. I can’t understand why the comment annoys me. It seems to miss the point, miss the essence of what I’m doing. It feels objectifying and condescending, even if meant to compliment. Yes, it takes some level of fitness to engage in a long walk, but it’s mental and spiritual too, and actually being ‘fit’ has nothing at all to do with what I’m experiencing. The comments place space in our friendship and I feel sad, misunderstood.
Birds surround me in this foggy bush walk. I learn that NZ has a warbler, a near constant companion.
The sun peaks out for ten seconds over a hilly area of soft grass, nibbled low by sheep who watch me warily. The hills sweep away terraced by many hooves. It’s clear below the cloud in the distance. Small windows of fields in bright green folds open up just as I reach mud – so far, manageable.
I head back into bush, the trail a slow moving stream. I recall how I managed the mud yesterday telling myself that I’m warm and moving ok and this won’t last, all just to get through.
I realize that I do all this not to be fit – or prove anything – but to feel alive; alive in this moment whatever it brings me. A tui sings a broken cuckoo clock tune right next to me as droplets tap at the ground from wet palms.
The rain returns and I hurriedly put on all the rain gear. Real mud returns and I hurriedly put on a good attitude and plow through.
The trail notes tell me the part getting out of here on a downhill slope can be quite awful when wet. I try not to think about it too much as I’m not there yet.
Momentarily the slip-n-slide mud disappears and I walk on grass with long strides. I think about what a wise woman told me years ago. She said to enjoy and savor the good days, the delightful moments. Not every one is a joy, but when you notice those good ones, they balance the bad.
I exit the bush into farmland and stunning beauty. The hills dotted with palms and rimu rise one after another towards Pirongia, poking its shy face out of shifting cloud. The rain stops long enough for me to find the least sheep poo laden grass and break for an early lunch.
There’s more to what my wise friend said. We delight in the special moments so we build trust that we’ll have more. This trail illustrates that fundamental idea even now rising up out of a mud path to this incredible view.
Though it’s not designed to last as the rain comes quickly and I pack up. A lovely Kiwi with no front teeth is being driven on a four wheeler by a young boy, working dog on board. He offers me a cuppa. I thank him for his kindness but want to move on before the really bad weather comes. I can always change my mind as I approach his home.
I pass a sign to tell me the mud nightmare bush with all the cool waterfalls I just walked through is the Oamaru Reserve. Eleven-year-old Reilly comes by now driving a car.
I hop the fence and it’s cross-country with the very vocal sheep. The land is a rollercoaster of steep ups and downs along the fenceline. I’m below the cloud and can see into the valley far away just as another squall heads towards me.
A farmer places an electric fence right in the trail. A big contrast to the kind farmer a few k back. I cross over with millimeters to spare.
Then it’s a huge, long, magnificent crack of thunder. I’m going down and in the forest now but that storm built fast, the electricity crackling on and on.
I get way off trail. Seems there’s an old TA trail through here. I try to contour and meet the correct trail, but it’s deep in bush. So I find the old path – no markers – by using my GPS. The clouds build and more thunder crackles but it’s far to the west, and this countryside looks like Middle Earth. The rock is pressed in odd layers as if made by hand.
It’s a bit hard to find the trail and at one point I can simply walk a long way down a major path to another town. But I keep looking and glad I did because it was way cooler in the bush and on the sheep meadows. Sun is out in full now, though a few stray sprinkles find me. Two Kiwis in matching dreds with the softest dog tell me it’s all downhill now.
I check out the cool Hamilton Tomo group hut just as a gang of spelunkers from Kaitaia College show up. Dave offers to watch my stuff and drop me the 1 k down the road to enter the famous Waitomo caves to see glowworms! Even the Queen came here, so I’m in good company.
It’s a huge group of Chinese tourists who don’t get most of the guide’s groan-worthy jokes. At first I feel a familiar claustrophobic tension in my throat as I descend into the gloom, but this cave is well-lit with handrails and stairs.
Thirty-five million year old limestone stalagmites and -tites in obscene shapes, but what I come to see are the little constellations – in fact, maggot poo – that attracts hatching flies believing the light they emit is the exit when in fact, it’s a sticky fishing line. When we finally take a boat ride in the absolute silence, my neck cranes back like viewing the Sistine chapel to marvel at the Christmas lights of bugs.
Earlier, the guide took us to the ‘cathedral,’ a large space where concerts are held, even weddings. He asked if any of us sang and my hand shoots up followed by an a cappella rendition of ‘Hark, the herald.’ No one knows quite what to do, so simply clap in time to the chorus.
Afterwards, I hitch a ride with a Kiwi named Rocky who immediately offers me a beer. Someone answering my prayer!
It was again a truly extraordinary day as another hiker arrives but prefers a bunk to his tent. I am so happy that I decided to take a chance and walk today when the weather report left me uncertain. What a fantastic day.