TA Day 56, Koitiata to Mount Lees Reserve, 37 km

A full moon looked in on my sleep, then a glorious sunrise. I’m back on black sand as my trail down the beach this morning. Tide is out and walking on concrete-pack.

It takes me back to the beginning, walking a long, lonely beach by myself, finding beauty in simplicity – the reflections of clouds, the shape of the tide-carved sand, the trails left by beached shells.

I meet a woman with a thick Kiwi accent – “The black sand’s high iron content as.” – and her beautiful dog Elliot. She just looked up a spot to go for the holiday and came in a caravan as surprised as me it’s so lovely. A huge mountain range is in front off in the distance.

A Kiwi section hiker is out driving and stops to compare notes. I tell him some of the trail is really shite and he responds, “But that’s the challenge!” with a big toothy grin. Indeed!

I cross a stream at its mouth waiting for the magic moment as the waves pull out and the fresh water is still pushed back. I land on a little island and only get a bit wet. No footprints this part of the beach.

I say goodbye to beach and head inland on a crunchy track through pine, full sun in my face with tiny raindrops falling in between.

A fledgling chick sits in the track having fallen out of the nest, her beak wide open revealing a bright yellow gullet. I’m sorry, baby, I’m not your mommy.

I take a shortcut to Bulls. Not on the map as trail, but there’s a TA marker on the post. Go figure. I move fast in a shattered landscape of young forest amidst sad stumps and overgrown gorse. Not NZ’s proudest effort.

I’m back on road and an SUV gives me no space. I am pretty aggressive with my sticks and waving to slow people down. She returns and asks if I am ok. I suggest she give more clearance. She’s nice and we wish each other a good Christmas. A huge mountain range looms even bigger in the distance.

A neat street of houses greet me in Bulls. I only see a singular bull at the fire station. Nope, two more in this sweet little city of boutiques and real estate agencies.

I’m grateful for a separated and protected bike path across the Rangitickei river, but then the ‘trail’ requires running across highway 1. Thanks for the ‘challenge,’ DOC. Kiwis will never stop for peds unless in a specifically designed cross walk I’ve only seen in Auckland.

But in an instant, I’m back in the country with the wind picking up and moaning in the wires. I finally arrive at beautiful Mount Lees Reserve and see the Croatians, Alex and Tom were here yesterday, even fast-walking Amelia from day one. So far, I’m absolutely alone set up next to the beautiful summer cottage – more of a shelter – and have already put my feet up with David Sedaris. Lots of touches like pictures hung on the walls, throw pillows, even a Christmas tree.

I take the bush walk on a stone path and still find my breath taken away by the native plants, coupled with other rare examples from around the world like Maidenhair from China and bamboo from Vietnam. The wind is loud in the canopy, changing its song from whispering to crackling to humming.

The warbler sings its trilled melody and I call it closer, joined by three more. I’m tired, but walk the grounds, returning to more campers – self-contained and tenters, one doing the length of the country by bike who shares ginger tea with me.

The night is cold but ends with a grand display of pinky orangey glow in the western sky, now in purple embers. Such a find to come to this perfect place as I say goodnight and look forward to Christmas eve with some new friends.

Reader Comments

  1. Your president has given us permission to say “Merry Christmas” again and so I wish you a Meey Christmas and happy, healthy new year filled, as I know it will be, with new adventures, i.e. every step on your journey. I’m off to Alexandria, then to Utah on Friday to ski. A storm’s a-comin’ our way so I hope all of us get to where we want to be-both physically and metaphorically.

  2. Christmas Blessings, Al. I truly love your blog and brag on it to everyone. The combination of your spectacular photos and vivid writing create a tale that is nothing short of poetry. Prayers for your safety continue. Dutton

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