TA Day 23, Wenderholm to Stillwater, 30 km

Cold, damp, sandflies – oh my! It rained through the night and I was warm nestled in the alicoop, but once up, the chill works into the bones.

This is a slower group I’m paired up with, but our path is slowed as we approach the city because of two tide-dependent crossings, over rocks and a river. I’ve put on my rain gear and found a spot in the sun to heat up and dig into my Puhoi cheese. My biggest expense on this adventure is fuel in the form of calories. Still, my pants are loose and I no longer have a bottom.

I begin my walk today in rain gear. Aspirational words on the stairs come as does the drops. – “Koe me he maunga teiti, Ki te tuoho, Whaia te iti Kahurangi.” Reach your goal, Be persistent, Aim high! And high I go above the Pacific all alone again.

A sign tells me about water collection and the family that settled here needing a lot for their tennis courts, lawns and gardens. Settlers put eel and crayfish in the tanks to eat the mosquito larvae and keep the water fresh. The sign quotes an American here: “All water has perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”

Do you know who wrote that?

Toni Morrison. I smile with pride.

Epiphytes! That was what I called orchids the other day. These perchers-of-the-canopy are called kowharawhara. The trippers-of-the-forest are called kareao, snaking up the ground to the heights. The rain dances on the canopy and I stay dry below.

The high point is a pa, a fortress from the 16th century when iwis fought one another for territory. They cleared forest and used trenches as traps, all must feeling justified politically or religiously for their land grab.

I forgot to mention that yesterday as I kayaked on the river and the hills swept up around me I sang the final movement of Brahms 1. For some reason in this blustery rain today, it’s Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro.

Someone sells ice cream before the rock walk and there are my friends! I buy an expired L&P (lemon and paeora) plus a Whitaker block of chocolate – thanks for the advice, Cheryl! I ask a local what is paeroa and she says that’s just where it’s made. Not bad, refreshing as we’re told to expect thunderstorms and two more hikers show up from Sweden.

And then, it’s the rock hop at low tide, a playground of shifted ancient molten layers, tide pools, seaweed and oysters clinging tightly. The rain stops and the sun gleams on the wind-rippled water. Tiny purple snails huddle in cracks and depressions like plump berries, my feet love the clingy feel of the drying rock. The sand is course, crushed shells, jagged edges, slabs of rock spit out in long tongues, whimsically eroded like sliced bread here, a dinosaur’s backbone there.

The trail provides as the rain returns right as I reach Otanarua Hatsfield beach, Orewa in view. A leafy promenade called Marine Parade takes me along the beach, unusual homes look out to sea.

I come to a sign explaining the significance of te ara tahina estuary, a safe anchorage for canoes, abundant with food and the people’s deep reverence for this natural setting. Part of the culture is about care for place and care for each other.

I’m carrying a wet tent and my clothes are dirty, but I am dry and this breeze is cool. I feel wonderful, everything on my back and in my pockets.

I’m in more of a city now reminding me of when I rode my bike Hank from Saint Paul to Canada and actually took delight in seeing the towns and oftentimes their shabbier sides. It felt real and somehow like I’d journeyed a long way. Also the special parts are even more-so, though I’m certain my friends will skip this. Suburbia with cows next to the roundabout, summer now and Christmas decorations up.

A nice Kiwi with bright red hair and a Roatan t-shirt helps me find the poorly signed underpass for a crowded four lane highway, offers me a ride but it’s still early so I tell her the rest are coming. But now I wish I’d accepted. There’s no verge and crazy fast driving. This sucks!

Really, at the very least the TA Association should create sidewalks on the road sections. It’s dangerous not to mention ugly. Unless this whole ‘long walk’ idea is a joke and the expectation is that we all hitch.

Though once I’m off the main road, it’s quiet and scenic; I don’t mind it at all. Oh no, I took a wrong turn! I was supposed to stay in that awful busy road. Damn it! Right now, just not liking New Zealand.

A whole string of bad words come out of my mouth as a lovely Kiwi pulls up to tell me I’m going the wrong way. No kidding. I’m on the verge of tears as he takes me the half k back to the main road telling me he has complained to the council that the trail really shouldn’t be on busy roads. All the steam comes out of me with his words and I burst out laughing when we pull up to the intersection and there’s Koen limping along with his giant stick. We walk the rest of the way to beautiful Stillwater where the others hitched. Another lovely Kiwi welcomes us to the totally chill caravan park, hands us tokens for five minutes of bliss in a hot shower and gives us the run of the game room, no charge. Lydie has the Animals cranked, Koen singing off key at the top of his lungs, Stefan is getting beer and we’re all relaxed in overstuffed chairs, the alicoop and my clean underwear drying in the sun.

And that’s just it with this trail; the most irritating, hair-pulling-out, f-bomb-dropping road walking contrasted with the most lovely and generous people you’ll ever meet.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world, even the road walking bit.

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