The morning opens with rain and wind. Floris and Marjolain leave early, but I am beyond exhausted. Brent makes me tea and it’s only a matter of time before I break down completely, simply overwhelmed by the mud on everything I own, a sopping wet tent and now, a steady drizzle.
This lovely trail angel helps grab all my stuff and place it in their ‘conservatory’ – a beautiful glass mud room – gets a pile of old towels to dry my tent, chucks my nasty, mud-soaked clothes in the wash and makes me a grilled cheese sandwich, actually two. He even scrubs the mud from my trail runners.
I’m better in no time.
He then proceeds to send me on my way by joining me to the estuary. We talk as we walk about every conceivable topic, with Max in the lead. Verdant green gives way to dancing golden grasses, sturdy flax and a curling ribbon of sand covered in drift wood, crashing waves in the distance.
‘Paraponting’ is what a binocular-wearing Kiwi thinks it’s called – people riding the water version of a snow board pulled by colorful sails high in the air jumping the waves. She also shares with me that it’s the first time in recorded history, dotterels have nested on this beach. When she shows a photo of a chick, I immediately exclaim my admiration in baby talk.
I love that it’s the fresh water from the Tararuas tumbling down here, a place my feet just walked mixing with the sea and creating a rich habitat of pukeko, dabchick, terns, pied stilts, godwit, wrybills, spoonbills and myriad oysters.
Back on the beach I see Chloe and Nathan and make new friends. Pipis litter the beach, tiny pools with sandy bottoms in their upturned shell. I pass a family playing beach cricket, loads of dogs and beachcombers, one child is willing to wade in on this chilly day.
As I walk on sand again – hard, compacted like concrete – and recall my first days, I realize I care less and less about what the other hikers are doing, if they like me, if I fit in. Becoming my own friend and guardian these last days was powerful, to learn when to push and when to stop, to delight in my own discoveries and share them with kindred souls, and to let people look after me when I need it and they are willing.
It’s high tide and I’m marooned on a sea wall of sand and crushed rock that’s hard to negotiate. Eventually I reach a kind of promenade and my sore legs get a rest as the waves crash against the stacked boulders to my right. More mountains – big hills really – loom ahead before Wellington.
It’s funny walking a long trail – everything changes. Just when you get comfortable in one tramping standard, things switch, views change, weather changes, the vibe is different. Like life, you can’t ever know exactly what’s ahead. Perhaps that’s the reason to walk in the first place, to challenge expectations and shake up the routine.
Brent tells me the story of his brother making a marmite sandwich for lunch every school day over six years straight, not once trying something else. While I find marmite pretty awful, I still wouldn’t make the exact same lunch every day, even with foods I do love because the best things in life need space and distance – sometimes comparisons – so we can savor them when we return.
As I approach Paekakariki, a family of five plays Kuub in the sand. I see my friends’ tents and meet Vera again. She’s very tan. Thinking I could get take-away on the beach, I discover I’d still have a few more kilometers to go to get to town, so I ask some Kiwis just starting cocktail hour in their Christmas lights-decorated region of tents and caravans if they wouldn’t mind popping me into town. Natasha volunteers and waits while I get a big sandwich, chips and chocolate.
I eat it at the picnic table back at camp and meet two American sisters walking the trail who gave up on the Tararuas because of weather. Devin and Bri are energetic and positive young women who generously offer advice on the coming days. A Canadian joins us and we laugh about mud and rain and muse on what’s to come.
I then hear from Julian who invites me to join him on a sunrise hike of Taranaki. It’s off route for the TA, but it’s New Year’s eve, and I say yes. I will be one of the first in the world to welcome in 2019 from one of the North Island’s most spectacular peaks. What serendipity!
It will be a long slog up in the dark, so I’m off to sleep. ‘Til next year!