The moon comes out accompanied by wild night sounds and a few stray splats of raindrops shaking off the trees. Flying Fox is one of the best stays yet – lots of attention to detail and small luxuries like a plastic box with soap and shampoo, TP at the composting long drop and odds and ends of dishes to use at the covered picnic table, a place I enjoyed for hours in the pouring rain.
Andrew told me I am the engine of our boat. He’s kept us straight as we’ve entered the rapids, but I kept us moving. I feel so complimented by a young man thirty years my junior who treats me as an equal.
The rain absolutely dumps through the night as I stay cozy in the alicoop. A very loud bird ever so slightly varying its song, positions itself in the manuka tree above my head at 5 am. Funny how once I’m packed, he decides to quiet down.
Now the weird mini-roosters are in on it. Crowing like rusty wind-up toys. They have all the accoutrements of their big rooster brethren but with minuscule bodies and the voice – and temperament – of a first tenor.
The owner can’t be bothered to take us on a spin in his cable car, so we pack the barrels, hoist them through a fence, over a stile and down zigzags of the last flood’s sandy bench where we balance on huge, half buried drift logs over ankle deep mud and begin to load.
As it begins to rain.
I regret I take no photos, but I have one hand on the tie-line, one hand for balance and one hand passing Andrew a barrel at a time which he expertly ties down before bailing the canoe and launching. All hands plus one on deck, one might say.
To call it a misery is putting it mildly. Hard rain splashes our faces and leaks down our cuffs. My shoes and socks are soaked through, my rain gear taking on the challenge like a champ.
I’m not cold as I paddle, and actually enjoy the views which become softer, less Sideshow Bob and more Dr. Seuss. We still pass massive walls of exposed stone, etched into quirky shapes by the ever-present water. Ferns, flowers, and creepers work their way into crevices as though a skillful designer placed them in position.
Farms appear and disappear, cows and sheep lazily look on as we pass; wild goats momentarily panic. The rain doesn’t bother me much though I worry we’ll get too cold. Andrew did not bring rain pants and he’s canoeing barefoot.
At one point, when the rain appears to never let up, he stops paddling and asks, “How about some sour patch kids?” Ah, the progeny of sour patch, sour patch’s spawn, the beautiful little gummy candies made in New Zealand, a thru-hiker’s guilty pleasure.
Mine were killed before the Tongariro crossing and Andrew has been carefully doling out his available sugar rush to last all the way until Whanganui. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this walk, I am terrible at rationing.
I take a small handful and suck out the sour, chew up the sweet and paddle some more until the rain in fact does stop, revealing beautiful reflections on the muddy water.
We come to a section of the river that bends back on itself in a spastic squiggle. At first, the obvious access to our planned camping is a set of slippery clay stairs, but upon closer inspection we float down to an old jetty that looks almost to be stadium seating in miniature, roughened up by a monster flood. We unload in stages and again hoist our barrels uphill to a stunning clearing.
Once a fort or pa, then gifted to the city, used as a summer getaway and now, the Rotarians maintain a beautiful shelter, scattered no-smell long drops and a soft, grassy camping field.
People are jerks when it comes to removing rubbish, but one group left behind two decent bottles of Shiraz with just enough to accompany lunch.
So our tents dry in the cool air, rain gear and socks hang on the line and I think back on this unusual part of the Te Araroa, where the only walking is a strenuous up and down with gear, but locomotion is for many kilometers in a river, one that is precious and spiritual to the people of this part of the world, a wild place, a ‘great walk,’ and nearly a week of my thru-hike that completely changes the mood of my journey.
For one thing, it can’t be done alone, it’s simply not allowed. So it was my very good fortune to end up with a skilled paddler and easy going person in Andrew. It also surprises me the campsites, their history and quirkiness, their beauty and interest.
Andrew and I sit on the jetty after retying the canoe as the high tide pushes it into an awkward spot. The clouds turn pink and I think of what’s ahead. Still a few weeks to Wellington with a hard and dangerous mountain range in between. He’ll head off to meet his girlfriend and restart the trail in a few weeks. I likely will never see him again and I hope I meet more amazing people.
If these last ten days are any indication, amazing people are waiting for me to come ‘round.