Definitely a better night at Utea Park and I do feel a bit sheepish that I was so maudlin last night. I think we’re still sizing each other up. I even had a dream I was still back in Saint Paul planning and not actually doing the trail. I guess my psyche needs time to catch up.
Utea is lovely with cabins for hire, a large hang-out area including multiple stoves, sink, long communal table, and couches. I didn’t think I really needed a shower until I placed my sand encrusted face under warm water. Sure, it was a dual shower ‘room,’ but this is backpacking after-all!
Some bonding occurred as English Amelia, French Jean-Chrisoph, Kiwi Irene and I dug into planning for the upcoming forests. After tomorrow is quite a contrast from never-ending sand highway to steep and deep slip-n-slide mud.
I wonder if I’m breaking all rules by catching a ride past the re-route? Herikino Forest of native bush is closed due to Kauri Dieback and the Te Araroa hiker is asked to walk 28 kilometers on road – with five particularly dangerous, so hitching is advised.
I may have a ride planned, though 32 kilometers of beach have to be walked and I need to find a new strategy or recycle yesterday’s.
But thinking I might just use my walking to plan the next audio narrative. You do like them, don’t you? Playing with sound is my favorite thing, but does take time.
I feel like getting up now, so first I open the valve on the Therm-a-Rest and damn, if it doesn’t start raining. They are short bursts up north, but not exactly what I want to pack in.
Indeed, it was short, I’m packed and with pink touching heavy clouds. The sun sneaks up to my left as a few stray drops hit me, and a spectacular rainbow reaches from the Tasman Sea to Ninety Mile Beach.
Those sprinkles change to heavy downpour. It’s too late to put on rain pants and I’m sodden waist to toes.
But in no time, the wind picks up and sun blazes. I tie my silly Kavu fisherman’s hat – the one that receives so many comments – over the bill of my rain coat and press on. Yet again to the 10k mark.
I write it in the sand much to the delight of the crew following and take out the microphone to capture the roar of the waves, almost like a very loud white noise. I shiver in the shade.
Note to self: do not ever bring unsalted nuts on a hike again.
The rain pounds, then the wind changes – straight in the face. I get to Waipapakauri Ramp at 18 km and there’s a friend twice removed, Ange. She lives in this stunning house right behind the dunes. The wind whistles through the chimney as I relax on her wrap-around porch. Ange is just having breakfast and shares toast and banana, and then the coup de grâce…a beer! and before noon! There is a god and she loves me.
The wind is howling straight in my face for the last section, 14 km, to Ahipara. This beach is not through with me!
The waves pound in, frothy, foam bubbling before releasing tiny balls of dirty white tumbling across the sand. More rain ahead.
That walk. Holy smokes. 100kph headwind the last 14k. Peter, another glorious friend of a friend of a friend met me at the end of the final portion of Ninety Mile Beach, pointing out that I had sand in the corners of my eyes – and encrusted on my cheeks. No doubt, the wind is so violent and loud it drowned out the waves.
But before Peter, a Maori named Nathan offered me Rooibos milk tea out of the wind and shared his life story, how he loves his country mainly because of safety. Guns? Sure, for hunting, but animals, not people.
Kiwis hug you and kiss on the right cheek. They’re open, friendly, laid back. Peter is a retired transplant surgeon who lost his wife of forty-six years. She designed a paradise on a hill overlooking the beach I walked down. They left a few natural pines that sing in the wind and silhouette the bay of seaweed collectors cabins. He’s just picked fresh thyme from this glorious garden for our meal. My bare feet are resting in soft grass.
So tonight, a bed and a proper meal before tomorrow’s onslaught of muddy bush. A perfect day, one might even say, blissful.