The morning comes full of birdsong. The first few nights – especially going this hard – are tough. My legs feel great now, but laying down, they seize up and I shift nearly all night. Woe to the neighboring tenter!
My eyes have their ordinary “check-on” bags, and this morning a bonus – wrinkles! But hey, in this humidity, my hair looks fabulous. At least I’ve got that going for me, though not sure if it’s these killer first days or my aged self, but I am going full on gray (at last!)
Looks like Andi – make that Ondi – and I will tackle the kayaking section together in the coming days. We both want a pause in Kerikeri and so will be well timed. I find her a bit prickly, but she did hunt down the best site here far from the ukulele strumming party hikers. Nice enough, but not quite my cup of tea.
We both pack fast and agree how much we like the little routines of thru-hiking. Funny we also use the same tent. Friends suggested to me before I left that the day-after-day of walking would be boring.
To revisit the topic, isn’t everything a little boring some of the time? The fact is, every day is different, around every bend is something new for the eyes. And isn’t that where attitude comes in?
The ranger comes ‘round to collect fees and assures me the next section isn’t ‘flash’ but you do get good views.
Well, ok then! Sadly, much of the forest walks are closed to thru-hikers because of dieback. I suppose we’d just carry the disease on us and infect the whole Northland. I feel sad to miss the long river walk and muddy kauri forests, but more awaits ahead.
I do feel a bit sad today. Irene goes home and it will be a different energy for sure. Oddly, I kind of miss the mud. But Bram said careful what you wish for. Loads are ahead, as are rivers.
But it’s the niggling fear of can I manage this on my own. Others seem to have it figured out and I feel overwhelmed with detail. I do tell myself I only need to have an idea of what’s ahead a few days out, but it still leaves me a bit insecure.
Hopefully I can stay a day with Vern in Kaeo and sort things out. Some of this unknown is like life. Planning takes you only so far, then the whim of fate takes over and you have to make fast decisions.
I ponder all this on a deserted gravel road heading towards the east coast. Farmland and electric fences ahead. It’s a more exotic Yorkshire as I hear sheep bleating in the distance.
Crossing a stile into rolling pasture that feels like velvet, especially the sheep poo.
A lot of lamb rump.
Back on a lonely, winding road. Irene shows me how to use messenger to call home. It’s really free?!? This completely changes the whole idea of thru-hiking and getting away from it all.
French ukulele player is on side of road fixing her feet. She looks like a giant bag with legs as she moves. Now she’s caught a lift.
Singing “Night in the City” at the top of my lungs. I knew there was a reason my adolescent self learned all of Joni’s words.
Over another stile and look! A whole bucket of oranges and apples. Delightful! Thank you trail angels!
Finally the views open to the Bay of Islands and I immediately get off route. “Assumptions,” my fellow Kiwi tramper tells me, “is the mother of all fuck ups.”
We meet Ondi holding a wild duckling separated from its family. You can tell she’s a bird biologist by the way she handles the little peeping creature. We leave her to sort out somewhere safe for it.
Wild turkeys huddle at the next gate. One leaps over and five shove under, running away, feet flying to the side in an ungainly gobbling.
Stopping by the Kerikeri River in a grove of pines. Birds, wind, soft needles and grass. Tomato soup and the last of the cheese. I hope I find a charity shop to buy a throw away blouse. Wool is awesome for no smells and feels soft, but in the sun I’m hot. Bram shows up and find himself a leaning tree. The river is lined with wild flowers. We eat sour loquats after the swinging bridge.
Totara, that looks a bit like cedar, lines the river which twists and turns its way to the sea. I stop briefly to rinse my hands and finger some coolness through my hair. I find rhythm of pulling out my hat from my hip belt, lowering my balaclava – which acts as a headband – back to my neck when out of sun, then reversing in the trees. I don’t break stride.
The beautiful river finds its way to a massive set of falls. Welcome to New Zealand! Come in, the water’s wonderful. Gorgeous bush walk with the locals, joggers, high schoolers, middle aged ladies like me walking briskly.
What a way to end this section at the Stone Store near Kemp House, the oldest building in New Zealand, and Happy Hour awaiting us. And tonight, fêted by Cam and Vicki, friends of Irene. A hot tub soak with one of the most extraordinary views of my life, plus wine, food, conversation and laundry. I feel very, very, well loved.