Again stars were working overtime, but in the grassy dip set aside for Te Araroa tents, dew built up on the alicoop and I felt a chill overnight. Packing up is always interesting with a sopping wet tent so I retreat to the game room/kitchen for tea until the sun makes an appearance.
The Swedish boys smoke and relive the most recent muddiness while we organize at the picnic table. I realize they have no idea what real mud is having not walked the North Island. Friends, I survived New Zealand mud and blissfully happy it’s in my past now. Or is it? On the heels of the finish in Bluff tomorrow, I’ll head to Stewart Island after one of the wettest summers in some time. Maybe I haven’t had my fill.
I walk back down the road to the estuary, tide slowly rolling in, and immediately walk into the sweet town missing the turn for the beach. All good, I like Riverton. It’s back and then a walk through wet sports fields out to the breaking waves to join a few dog walkers. I’m walking east now, so the sun is really blasting. I cock the hat at a jaunty angle and look down as I walk. Sure, I miss the beautiful color of the south ocean, the island coming into focus but I can study the wave memory in the sand, shore bird tracks large and small, and my own tracks that will be underwater in an hour or two like I was never here.
Shells line my path, clam dishes holding watery sand reminding me of my childhood crafts project to turn shells into ashtrays. I never actually witnessed anyone using one of my creations.
Sand dollars are sliced into pie pieces. Tuatuas like open mouths call up from the sand, “Go ahead, crunch me.” Enormous mussels nestle in next to teeny poau (thanks spellcheck George) A long line of snails is deposited by last night’s retreating waves. Purple seaweed clings to very small rocks. Ice cream cone shaped snails show track evidence of their demise by tiny prey creatures. Black eyes in fixed gaze look out from paper thin crab torsos.
My dialogue – props to Debussy – is with the roar of waves in my right ear and the peep of oyster catchers eying me warily before deciding if it’s worth it to rally the troops and make a break for it.
The waves creep closer, so I plug along the concrete sand towards what’s said to be a tricky crossing of a river, especially at high tide. It’s less tricky than deep, a mini throwback to day 15 or so when I had to carefully watch the tide tables. I’m wet to my pockets.
Today is all flat. Not even a staircase. The dune grass sparkles like it’s made of plastic. The sun is not making me sparkle, though. The beach is awesome but 20+ k and I’m ready to get off my feet.
Motorcycles fly by me now as I get closer to town, no mufflers of course. One guy pops wheelies. Everyone is out, brought here in cars parked in the sand. I sit for a moment and kids throw bread in my direction for the seagulls, conjuring a Hitchcock moment.
After the beach, it’s road all the way to Invercargill, though thankfully mostly on bike trail. It’s hot and I cross a side street, only to have a driver take a right turn stopping centimeters from me and making hand gestures. Not sure the rules here if pedestrians are supposed to be mind readers and jump out of the way of cars that have yet to arrive or if he’s just being a jerk.
My mood is going downhill on the eve of the finish, a huge downer on road to the end. I cross an estuary and there’s my friend Ian waiting for me, immediately raising my spirits.
Ian teases me about crying in the street in Mossburn and how he couldn’t leave me there, all forlorn. I dry the alicoop on his lawn and wash my clothes. We make dinner and drink way too much, watching music videos to all hours and singing loudly. He offers me a pile of tomatoes from his tunnel house plus honey, a few cans of salmon and mash. I should survive the next few days.
He tells me I wear my heart on my sleeve, as though I don’t already know. And also that I should have called him the other day. I could have ridden shotgun on his sales calls and cried on cue. I’m just glad to be here now having fun with a friend who’s not a tramper.
Brother Stan visits and talks a mile a minute about the evils of 1080 and a need to charge a hefty user fee for foreigners entering New Zealand. I find him engaging rather than threatening even if he finds the TA problematic for his country. I ask this man who’s happy tramping in the bush without map or hut how to manage the coming days though not sure I’ve yet developed the ease to take things as they come, even if that’s what the trail – and aprés trail – will provide.
Tomorrow on March 4th, I’ll march forth and bring this hike to an end. And that’s my opportunity to apply all I’ve experienced and learned into the next adventure.
I hope it’s a strong finish and also that I don’t get squashed by a logging truck.