A couple of kids do arrive last night, just as the sun goes down behind a mountain. They bring good energy, give me a sip of beer and stay til the tiniest sliver of a moon appears in the western sky and I wish upon the first star.
I’ll tell you what I wish for – the strength, preparedness and resourcefulness it will take to complete this walk. I cuddle into the alicoop and think only on what’s needed for tomorrow and thank whoever’s in charge for granting me such an amazing day.
I wake with dawn and watch the miracle of a sunrise from my private hilltop. Down and down I go to the road then on to new views. The Iwituaroa Reserve is the finest preserved lowland, sub-tropical forest in the world. In the South Island, I get beech trees with black, charred looking bark and teeny-tiny, serrated leaves, roots like long fingers reaching down the slope for purchase.
I reach Anikiwa and feel happy about my choice to stay on the mountain top, allowing the water to feel more mystical and out of reach. It’s beginning to get very hot, and passersby tell me ‘Good on you!’ when I say I’m walking the whole country. It’s road now for a long way, but starts with a separated trail – even a warning to motorists that walkers are on the road – most of the way to Linkwater, where I buy chips and eat them in the shade. I see my first South Island cows and moo to them. One white face follows me as I walk by.
I catch up a Czech woman walking just the South Island, overloaded, hot and not in shape yet, but nice as can be as I move past. Two very tan and very young walkers hitch a ride. I guess I’d be too embarrassed to hitch a ride unless I was injured. Walking is what I do.
The trail skirts around Mahakipawa Arm stretching into the Pelorus Sound and a driver offers me a ride. I drink all his water instead as he points me to the bits of trail off the road. Such a relief. Clouds make purple shadows on the turquoise sea.
It seems to take ages before I finally round a corner to a lookout for Havelock far below with all its beds for green shell mussels laid out in grids or more scientifically known as green lipped mussel, perna canalicula. After a quick stop at the iSite to ask for information on a possible side trip to Abel Tasman park and its golden seashore, I hit the Mussel Pot for a huge serving of some of the most delicious sea food I’ve ever tasted – and I eat them simply steamed.
While there, I learn the babies are called spat and most of them are collected way back at 90 mile beach where I started this hike. Also that it’s actually a myth that if mussels don’t open when steamed, to toss them.
I leave sated and happy and am directed next door to the hardware for a fuel canister. I just happen to mention to Michele at the register that I’d like to go a bit further to perhaps stage making the first hut on the Pelorus River by tomorrow night, but have no idea where to camp as the campground is too far to walk this late. She calls a friend on the way and arranges for me to camp on their lawn. So New Zealand and so perfect for me.
So I head out onto the highway, cross a bridge for a country lane amidst scarred hills from lumbering, the wind picking up and dark clouds beginning to gather.
In a few hours I arrive at Heidi and Sam’s, a new life for them after Auckland and looking for better – drier – weather and a place for their menagerie of animals. They’ve lived here five months, a house and grounds that was allowed to go to seed by a couple becoming too old to manage it. The house has “good bones” – and the view is out of this world – but pink and purple shag has to go, birds get trapped and die in the chimneys and cupboards are coming apart.
It’s just right for a horse, a pony, a pair of pigs and goats, numerous cats, one dog and twenty chickens. Sam gives me plums, apricots and a lemon, then we take a pile of them indoors to make the best lemonade I’ve ever tasted. Sam is an engineer for the salmon farms and brought home a fish we devour. Stories are shared, lots of laughter and an absolutely wonderful and completely unexpected evening.
The wind is blowing wildly, but trees keep it from shaking the alicoop so I’m tucked in out here and hoping tomorrow will bring good walking conditions and a strong body.
I am again amazed at the gifts this trail bestows on me. As I walked alone most of the day, I realized this too is a gift – to learn to manage my fear and anxiety, to make a plan and execute it and to listen to what my body and heart tell me. For all these things, I need to be achieving this walk by myself.
But of course, I’m not alone. I have my cheering squad at home and in you, reading now. And I have generous people like Michele and Heidi and Sam. And I have the other hikers who give me ideas as far as gear or where to stay or what to see. And I also have something inexplicable, the spirit, perhaps, that seems to guide me on my way and helps me make it come together.
I feel very lucky, indeed.