TA Day 72, Camp Madsen to Onahau lookout, 37 km

Q: Why did the weka shriek before the sun came up?

A: Because he can.

To be fair there were plenty of other birds not using their indoor voices as the sky lightened over the sound and I slowly started my morning routine by opening the valve on the thermarest. What a cool spot on a terrace high above the water, big hills seemingly growing from the ocean floor, I later find are actually sinking, the only place in New Zealand this is happening.

When I go to pull out the stakes, one won’t budge. I definitely pounded it in too far after the tent blew over on ninety-mile beach, but because of my zeal, it won’t come out. I try to wedge it with another stake, move it laterally with a big rock – which breaks the rock – and thread my shoe lace through the eye – which ends up popping the top off the stake, leaving a hollow tube deep in the ground.

I am packed very light with no spare. I need this stake. Jakob comes by and gives it a try, coming up with the brilliant idea of digging it out with a trowel – actually John’s who says he hasn’t used it yet on the trail.

And voila, it pops out!

I get started before the sun starts to scorch on this wide, gently rising super highway of a trail, far different from most of the TA. The views are spectacular only improving as the sun accents the deep azure and Navajo-turquoise water sparkling in the light, the coffee-stained rocky edges meeting patches of beach angling down to clear-to-the-bottom pastels.

Numerous private accommodations spring up along the way, as well as a huge number of tourists mostly walking from resort to resort with day packs. They’re all very clean.

Each viewpoint takes my breath away and is situated with a picnic table. At one I meet folks from Hamilton, the matriarch pointing out she’s unimpressed by her own city. They are not sure what to make of my hiking the entire country asking for my highlights – and lowlights.

Another group asks if I’m camping. I imagine my pack looks small compared to more part-time backpackers.

The day is chamber-of-commerce perfect – sunny, warm, clear, only a few clouds for texture. I arrive too early where I’d thought to camp and besides, a man is working on the shelter with heavy metal absolutely cranked on his boom box. I decide to load up on water and push forward to one of the random picnic table views. Most of these tourists will stop before me.

I come to a lookout where you can see both the Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte sounds, Picton peaking around a mountain far off to the left on bright blue water, to my right, lighter and chalkier. There’s nowhere to set up here so I decide to press on as John and the Czechs round the corner. They’re off another 10 km and I consider heading all the way back down to the ocean after another climb above 400 meters. The camp is a bit expensive and the road is a long way down, so just as I get close to the junction, I notice a track heading to the lookout atop Onahau. It’s another km uphill, but I heft myself and the nearly full water bottle up to a spectacular 360 degree view of the Marlborough Sounds. There’s a picnic table and a reasonably flat, grassy spot for the alicoop, so I stay wondering how many more people will come up to see the sunset.

Dinner has been cooked and eaten and still no visitors, though I feel a sailboat show is being put on below at Bay of Many Coves, just for me. Big white sails parade out and now in a loose circle, dancing in these protected waters. The sun lowers behind me creating long shadows on the bush-covered mountains.

A weka – or faux kiwi – eyes my Countdown bag of food. If I stand on top of the table, he’s a bit intimidated, and I see the entire view in the changing light.

Why did I stop here? It would have been a haul to the campsite on the water below, and likely too late for swimming and it’s accessible by road, so visited by all kinds of tourists. I did talk to a few walkers who seem very nice, but there is something soulful – blissful? – about throwing down the pack and setting up the gear anywhere. The likelihood someone will come here tonight is probably nil as it’s far from the road, which is also far from everything.

I walked a long way today, and even though I took in the views, stopping here gives me time to truly savor them. The wind is up enough to keep away the sandflies, but I don’t think it will build or cause a problem. The alicoop is set, the smile shirt is on. Imagine flossing with this view.

Sometimes it takes me a while to relax into a stealth site I’ve chosen, but eventually the smell, feel, look and sound of a place enter my being. I’ll take loads of pictures, of course, but the hours I look around allow the experience to seep into me and take up residence forever.

Published by alison young

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

Reader Comments

  1. This is an exceptionally beautiful set of pictures! I think the lure of setting up just anywhere would be huge. What an amazing place to be.

  2. My favorite phrasing from 72 days of reporting: “They’re all very clean.” Just about caused a coffee-snorfle, had I been drinking coffee. But instead, the best I could come up was that “They’re all very clean” would be a great working title for a novella, the structure of which would be a journey and the characters within would do a [Maori] haka dance to start the action. Hey, it could work! As always, thanks for sharing.

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