Walking straight uphill this early morning onto a flower-covered hillside above the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing below. My pants are already soaked because the deep grass is drenched from last night’s torrential rain.
Just as I left the beach last evening and wandered back to the alicoop, a woman about my age wandered by, smiled and said hello. I followed her and asked if she might sell me a beer. She looked dumbfounded, “You need one?”
Yes, in fact I do after all those hot kilometers.
Turns out she doesn’t like beer at all. And and would much rather I share sparkling wine.
The next thing I know, I am included with husband, dad and cousin for cocktail hour. Tracy is a midwife, Ben, a carpenter. We natter for hours, and I learn much better Maori pronunciation – like wh is a ‘f’ sound, and that their home on the beach is called a bach, pronounced “batch.”
What a delight to spend the evening at Peter’s overlooking Ahipara Bay. Wine under the olive trees, alicoop drying in between rain showers, pork belly dinner with a lovely Pinot Grigio, lots of conversation and finally singing for one another.
I’m hardly surprised he sets aside one of his ten pairs of crocks, laces up the boots and decides to join us for the first three k.
I cheat – a bit – and ‘betray the mission.’ We drive past green pastures, cows lining up to cross the street, and a Maori Marae, or meeting place, to the giant Pak’nSav in Kaitaia, then pick up Irene up a steep farm road. Fair is fair driving around the awful detour, but then we drive as far up the Takahue Saddle Road as possible before cracking up the track into the Raetea Forest past stunning Nikau Palm, Kahikatia, Remu, Manuka, and Black Trunk Fern with fiddleheads larger than a man’s fist. Peter comes a long way before kissing us goodbye as we turn up the ‘real’ track, directly into ankle-deep. shoe-disappearing mud.
But I love it.
My pictures hardly tell the story of the sweet pungency, the dappled light pulsing in a gentle breeze and the insistent, slightly obscene sucking on the trail. The Kiwis call it Bush. You and me might say jungle.
Thank goodness for the Lekis which save me from a muddy bum, though I walk with an animal gait, reaching forward to sort of crawl through.
Straight through is the best. You’ll get muddy anyway, so don’t bother balancing on slippy roots, just plunge right into the soft muck.
Irene reminds me of HikerB on the Border Route Trail nattering the entire way. I love that we’re sharing these days. Bonding over squishiness, rather refreshing squishiness to be honest, as the water inside my trail runners is cool.
Finally we’re at the Mangamuke Saddle. Slip-n-slide is all fun and games until you’re hauling up a fully re-supplied pack straight up-hill in it.
One minute cut off to the radio towers and a sunny meadow. Tomato soup + Hungarian salami + cheese = heaven.
Back on the mud path longing for 10 meters of joy and usually getting about two. The day is waning and camping by a river – and a chance to rinse – is a long way off.
The trail plays tricks on me. Blue sky opens up and a summit appears near, but the the orange triangles point down and around. I carry three liters of water in this clag as camping will likely happen near the summit and not out of the forest. No rinsing tonight.
As we get closer to what was purported to be a grassy spot big enough – and flat enough – for tents, Irene says, “It’s getting easier.” But next is the biggest turn-you-around-on-trail blow down, the deepest suck-off-your-shoe mud patch and the widest obscure-the-tripping-hazards giant ferns you’d ever seen.
I tell her I want my money back.
Kidding, of course, but this has got to be the hardest trail I’ve done. It’s the Vilcabamba and Torres del Paine and Pennines on steroids. It doesn’t get easier and my trail app ‘Guthook’ offers the helpful suggestion that the grassy flat spot is between kilometer mark 148 and 150. Considering we’re moving about 1 k/hour in some spots, that is a long distance to go not knowing.
Of course we find it, a wide patch in the trail. Tents up fast. I use nearly every wipie to take the mud off my feet. Praise the goddess for my camp shoes! It’s cold and a Tui – and other birds exotic to my ears – pipe in the bush. All my clothes are on, and dinner is served.