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Day 81, Top Wairoa Hut to Red Hills Hut, 29 km

I awake with a jolt from nightmares. I’d gone home trying to explain what I’m doing and then had one of those dreams where your house has extra rooms you didn’t know about. Those are always a challenge fir me as though I’m not tapping into my resources fully.

I also was stirred up seeing a weird note from Chloe in the DOC Intentions book – meant to keep track that people have paid for their hut stay and to know where they were and are headed should they go missing. It’s about escaping people who smell bad. Surely it’s a joke, but I found her so harsh and self centered, it strikes some chord in me and feels off-putting to read in this official book.

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Day 80, Rintoul Hut to Top Wairoa Hut, 22 km

I grab two bars, pack Olive Oyl and head up Purple Top before sunrise. A family of goats meets me as I come out of the trees, and low cloud like a bubble bath for row upon row of blue mountains.

The top is off trail, so I leave my pack below on a quest for views. The sun heats the valley, burning the cloud cover to small cottony drifters. I feel so energized after last night. Nice, interesting people. We laugh and share and commiserate. It is what I needed. I can see the hut from here and the long scree slog. Soon I’ll go down into the river valley and say goodbye to views for the rest of today.

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Day 79, Slaty Hut to Rintoul Hut, 13 km

The hut rattles and shakes in the wind, but when I step outside for the loo, it’s not cold. I sleep surprisingly well on my little bunk, pack up Olive Oyl and head up to the ridge along an eroded path.

The sky is crystal clear, the wind keeping me cool as I push up and over and back down into mossy, sun-dappled forest. I feel insecure after John’s bragging and relive the evening trying out new come-backs.

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Day 78, Hacket Track trailhead to Slay Hut, 18 km

Maggie brings me outside when I wake up to show me my good luck charm – a rainbow. Cary joins us for the walk to whispering falls. A serpentine seam glistens in the sun. Maggie loaded me up with one more bagel and lox, extra cream cheese naturally. I have the last piece of rhubarb cake saved for when I finally reach the mountain view.

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Day 77, sidetrip, Abel Tasman National Park

Today is my second side trip, to beautiful Abel Tasman park. Steve makes a plan and we head out with Mozart cranked through the Moutere valley and mile after mile of grape vines.

It has the feel of California, those wineries, plus golden hills, water restrictions and ocean awaiting my eyes and body.

How did I get so lucky? Steve is a classical music fan but tunes into the local station. But when opera comes on, he switched to his hometown station and saw the piece on the MPR website about my hiking the Te Araroa.

Of course he wrote and invited me to visit a place I long felt curious about. But who knew he and I – and Maggie – would hit it off so well. Like old friends, I’m already called Al.

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Day 76, zero day, Nelson

“It’s hard to be more perfect than right now,” says Steve as we sit on his beautiful deck overlooking a garden that flows right down the bank to the river.

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Day 75, Captain Creek Hut to Hacket Track car park, 29 km

I sleep well outside. It’s cooler and the stars come out, diamonds displayed on black velvet. There’s no relief from the swarming sandflies. Did I mention they bite? The painful, itchy welt shows up three days later so you have a hard time blaming any one fly.

It’s not long before I’m packed and off where the nasties stay far away from me. I cross a one-person-at-a-time suspension bridge over the Pelorus river then leave the river after Middy hut and go straight up the ridge through beech forest to Rock hut. It’s humid, the cicadas crackling like a live wires after a storm. Staying ‘under my breath’ my pace slows.

Time loses meaning on a thru-hike. An hour slips past, then another. I stop to take huge gulps of ‘pink’ – a bright electrolyte mixed with filtered river water. I like to hike early because it’s cooler and the whole day is in front of me to do whatever I want with it. Wind is gently blowing in the tree tops.

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Day 74, Kaiuma Bay Road to Captain Creek Hut, 32 km

Tui and Sam’s loud morning stretch greet the day, overcast, just how I like it. It’s a different world down here – sprinklers run all night and fire danger is ‘extreme.’

I get to Dalton’s Track where the notes say we must not walk on road, but the industrial sprinklers are running right on the path. I understand farmers don’t want to dodge hikers, but first thing on a long day I don’t want a mud fest. It will take me an hour to walk here and I’m hoping I can just move along without being seen. Not sure why a public road can be off limits.

Crap, that’s because it’s not a public road. Well, I’m already in too deep in. Loads of signs were ignored. Ugh. I really don’t want to be that ugly entitled American hiker.

Aha, a young Samoan heads over on a 4×4 and guides me away from the big herd coming my way. I’m saved! And the field walk is not too bad at all.

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Day 73, Onahua Lookout to Kaiuma Bay Road – 44 km

A couple of kids do arrive last night, just as the sun goes down behind a mountain. They bring good energy, give me a sip of beer and stay til the tiniest sliver of a moon appears in the western sky and I wish upon the first star.

I’ll tell you what I wish for – the strength, preparedness and resourcefulness it will take to complete this walk. I cuddle into the alicoop and think only on what’s needed for tomorrow and thank whoever’s in charge of granting me such an amazing day.

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Day 72, Camp Madsen to Onahau lookout, 37 km

Q: Why did the weka shriek before the sun came up?

A: Because he can.

To be fair there were plenty of other birds not using their indoor voices as the sky lightened over the sound and I slowly started my morning routine by opening the valve on the thermarest. What a cool spot on a terrace high above the water, big hills seemingly growing from the ocean floor, I later find are actually sinking, the only place in New Zealand this is happening.

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Day 71, Ship Cove to Madsen Camp, 17 km

I needed to get up before 5 am to catch the ferry, but what a treat for Raf to take me. Seas are advertised to as ‘calm’ – just one meter swells. I run into the Czechs and an American comparing shoe wear. Feeling stiff and secure in the new La Sportivas.

The ferry is enormous and I head right up to level six, wet in this gloomy morning. A sign alerts me to the rich bird life of Cook Strait – Sooty Shearwater that travel 64,000 km each year, three kinds of albatross that lock their giant wings in place and glide on the trade winds, gull, gannet, petrel, prion, tern, shag and penguin.

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Day 70, ‘slackpack’ Wellington, 15 km

Things begin a bit lazy on another unusually sunny, warm day in Wellington with waffles and delicious yogurt, golden kiwis and blueberries before we all head to the market and buy a cart load of groceries for the three separate packages of resupply I have to send to manage the first month of hiking on the South Island.

We cram tuna packets, ramen noodles, muesli bars, dehydrated soup, salami, lollies, and more into boxes with fingers crossed they arrive when I need them. And trying to ignore my annoyance with the TA association failing to make vital information like addresses and protocol for resupply easily available, while at the same time the TA facebook page administrator scolds when we don’t get it right. <sigh>

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Day 69, Wellington

I’m now dreaming constantly of walking, this time pushing through scree, trapped and not getting very far. I’m either a full-time pedestrian even while sleeping or I need a psychological break – or maybe more accurately, a revamping of my psychological approach.

All was fine yesterday until I did what I’ve often done – believe the hardest part was completed only to discover the trail wasn’t quite finished with me. After Kuakua, I nearly bonked needing to climb higher in the hot sunshine. I’m going to have to find a way to ensure I’m pacing myself or I’ll bonk while supine in bed.

Perhaps it’s because something momentous is happening in finishing the first island, but the magnitude of what I’ve completed coupled with the magnitude of what’s ahead is hard to comprehend and there’s a part of me that’s skeptical of my success, certain I was just lucky in making it all come together.

Maybe I need to remind myself that trail is walked one step at a time – and starting Monday, it will be in brand new La Sportivas and fresh pairs of socks.

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Day 68, Camp Elsdon to Wellington, 29 km

I get up early to catch the cool air. It’s steep stairs up and up through bush finally into open sky. I pass four overweight Maori, but glad they’re out puffing like me, as this is better than any stair-master.

Colonial Knob is in mist, but I’m happy to not be in the hot sun. At 459 meters, it’s no small hill rising high above the ocean. The traffic is still loud as sheep go about their business. Rubin camps at the top and I fly down with him on switchbacks in the forest sharing mud stories before he and his gal peal off. A little fluffy dog follows me down the road.

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Day 67, Paekakariki to Camp Elsdon, 28 km

I dreamed last night that I was walking, but would wake up and see the stained glass window in my bedroom at George and Rob’s, and realize I hadn’t moved. Stress, anyone? A bit.

And my pack is weighed down with food I’m too cheap to chunk. It’s funny how just a day away from walking coupled with the unknown, makes me wonder if I even remember how to walk.

But Rob has me giggling in no time as we squish in for a selfie, the camera set on ‘beauty face.’ We drive on the long stretch of highway I hiked, stopping at a Pa site and a gate they named for their first TA guest, Sandro. I see NOBO Chris from Mt. Crawford, head down, walking the narrow shoulder and I’m glad it’s in my past.

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Day 66, zero day

I suppose it’s a bit odd to snag a zero day when I’m just two days from finishing the North Island, but when Julian and I drove back from Taranaki on New Year’s day – passing through lovely Whanganui – I found I was still absolutely shattered from our spontaneous sunrise climb. So I just had to give my friends George and Rob a call to ask if I might crash at their place for the night.

They welcome me back and insist I sleep in late, feed me highly nutritious meals accompanied by a summery sparkling wine, talk and laugh with me, watch more awesome Maori TV together, and even offer me the Veet left here by a male French TA walker to melt the hair on my legs – obviously one of the subjects of so much laughter. I am restored in so many ways and tomorrow they’ll drop me right back at the very spot I left off.

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Day 64-65, Side trip! Mt. Taranaki

I hate to become repetitive, but this morning began with rain on the alicoop. I think I’m going to need to refine my relationship with precipitation by ditching my bad attitude for one of acceptance, maybe even embracing the rain as part of what makes this trail unique.

Nah, I’ll keep complaining, knowing that it does make the best days even better.

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Day 63, Waikanae to Paikakariki, 21 km

The morning opens with rain and wind. Floris and Marjelain leave early, but I am beat. Brent makes me tea and it’s only a matter of time before I break down, simply overwhelmed by the mud on everything, a sopping wet tent and drizzle.

This lovely trail angel helps grab all my stuff and place it in their ‘conservatory’ – a beautiful glass mud room – gets a pile of old towels to dry my tent, chucks my nasty, mud-soaked clothes in the wash and makes me a grilled cheese sandwich, actually two. He even scrubs the mud from my trail runners.

I’m better in no time.

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Day 62, Waitewaewae Hut to Waikanae, 34 km

I wake up early, pack and eat tuna for breakfast to avoid any more of that weird heartbeat issue. The weather is supposed to be awful tomorrow and Carol invites me to camp on her lawn – and sit in the hot tub! – so I decide to make a go of reaching Waikane tonight. After there, it’s coastal and city walk to finish the island.

I wait for Julian to finish his muesli and coffee, trusting he knows the shortcut across the river.

Which it turns out he doesn’t, so we climb high above through muddy blowdown and roots, me f-bombing for most of the start, but somehow that endears Julian and we become like long lost tramping pals, separated at birth. Julian doesn’t muscle the climbs like I do, stepping high and heaving the body. He jumps. It’s actually rather remarkable his skill at managing the clag – and with one pole since he snapped the other yesterday on that savage downhill.

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Day 61, Dracophyllum Hut to Waitewaewae Hut, 13 km

Just after 5, and the nervous Germans are up packing. I like getting up early and hearing a few wind gusts spurs me on. More climbing today with long exposed ridges, knobs and another slightly higher mountain. That’s why I need to be extra cognizant of the weather. It’s cold now, but looks clear.

The boys faff about for a bit while I pack away a sopping wet tent and put on my muddy socks and shoes. The walk takes us deep into mossy goblin forest, gently lit at an angle by the rising sun. Mist shape shifts before disappearing entirely. Darcy tells me the weather will be good today, though showers later, so I get cracking.

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Day 60, Makahika Outdoor Pursuits to Dracophyllum Hut, 25 km

When you go up in the Tauraruas, you want a forecast with no wind. The fact that it’s pouring rain as I wake up shouldn’t concern me one little bit.

But I must admit, I’m sick of rain. Although it’s said I’ll have views once I get up there, it is absolutely pouring right now. I pop open the thermarest with a ‘pssssssssss’ and that means game’s on and I pack.

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Day 59, Kahuterawa to Makahika Outdoor Pursuits, 40 km

Robb starts the trail with me for just a few feet before pealing off. Our drive into where I left off yesterday reveals the rain’s damage – big rocks in the road, swollen river, waterfalls pushing across our path.

We part and I walk up the Backtrack – which is exactly what I do when I hit a massive landslip. I try to climb over, but sink in wet, shifting mud. At first I feel done in and walk back to the car park hoping for a lift, but then calculate an alternate route and feel smart and tough carrying on. Which is no problem on this piece of bike trail, although I keep my eye out for possible campsites should I get stopped again.

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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.

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Day 55, Whanganui to Koitiata, 33 km

An absolutely beautiful rest in a beautiful room awakened by the smell of toast, eggs, bacon – a full English breakfast New Zealand style.

We speak of past lives with George CEO of the NZ kennel club, owning a bar, practicing law. Rob makes me laugh with an escapade of outrunning a possum trapped in the shed.

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Day 53, Flying Fox to Hipango Park, (34 km)

The moon comes out accompanied by wild night sounds and a few stray splats of raindrops shaking off the trees. Flying Fox is one of the best stays yet – lots of attention to detail and small luxuries like a plastic box with soap and shampoo, TP at the composting long drop and odds and ends of dishes to use at the covered picnic table, a place I enjoyed for hours in the pouring rain.

Andrew told me I am the engine of our boat. He’s kept us straight as we’ve entered the rapids, but I kept us moving. I feel so complimented by a young man thirty years my junior who treats me as an equal.

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Day 47, Mangatepopo track to National Park – 30 km

I often wondered where I’d end up on December 14th while walking the TA. So happy to wake up in the Tongariro National Park – and to be packed and moving right before the rain revved up again.

Last night’s spot was perfect to look up the valley and watch the thunderstorms. But I literally turn a corner and glacier-covered Ruapehu reveals herself in all her grandeur, a small trail of fog circling like a boa. I saw her flat top all the way from Mt. Puerora days and days ago. The snow is fresh, white, gleaming against the blue gray of her folds. She’s in my sights as I negotiate a severely eroded trail – an accident waiting to happen.

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Day 45, Whakapapa River to Te Porere Redoubt – 35 km

Gray and ominous this morning; foggy, but no rain. Obviously I’d like ideal weather for the crossing – and my birthday this Friday – but there is something cool walking overland to the national park and having it reveal itself.

Walking is such a metaphor for life. Unless it’s a race, you can’t really rush it. You have a pace, set it and then walk every step to where you’re going. It goes as it goes. David is gone when I’m up and then I’m next. I am not partucularly fast, but steady. And this is uphill for the first several hours.

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Day 44, Taumaruni to Whakapapa River – 25 km

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

– Søren Kierkegaard

The day starts in a familiar way – rain. Extra loud on the container that I share with Bojan, Marko, Alexis and David. Always good sleeping on a ‘bed’ – actually kiddie mattresses – and bonding with all our stuff spread about.

I forgot to mention that I at least attempted a surreptitious rinse in the river yesterday afternoon. Later, when one of the sons picked me up from a second attempt at resupply, he comments, “So you’re the nudist tourist, eh!” If seeing a glimpse of a middle aged lady is your big thrill, good on you.

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Day 42, Timber Trail to Ongarue campsite – 26 km

Good decision to sleep in the tent, so cozy and much less dew this morning. Tuis call each other over the fog-filled gorge.

This particular portion of the trail emphasizes how strange it is to wake up, pack all your belongings, throw them on your back and walk. It’s simple and focused, and I am a bit fanatical about each item packed in the same place, so I don’t leave anything behind. I need every single item I brought with me.

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Day 31, Hakamarita to Hamilton – 28 km

I got a note from a follower named Tom who says, “You and your hiking odysseys personify today’s word.”

The word is ‘actuate’ (AK-choo-ayt) verb tr.: To put into motion or action; to activate; to motivate. [to hike]

The message goes on to quote poet Lauris Edmond.

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.” Edmond lived in Wellington, NZ, but any place can be your own headquarters of the verb. It has to be. There’s no other choice — life is not about being a spectator but a participator. To be. To do. Do be do!

Auckland

Day 26, ‘slackpack’* Auckland – 9 km

*slackpacking is section backpacking while sleeping in the same place each night

I’m a tourist today, loosely walking the trail through Auckland on a bright sunny day. Back to the ferry building with the spectacular red lamps, popped into the DOC office to pick up my hut pass for the coming months, primarily in the south island.

I join a free walking tour and learn of a statue made in the 1960s to honor the Maori, and made by a woman – all sorts of impossible awarenesses converging. The sun burns, so I wear my hat and seek shade. At Queen and Customs, the signal stops all traffic and people casually pour into the street like a slow motion dance choreographed for some in choppy straight lines, others striding diagonally.

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Day 15, Nikau Bay to Taiharuru Estuary – 13 km

It’s been two weeks. I’ve gotten conjunctivitis and a minor sprain. Here’s hoping – hobbling? – the new week is full of health and safety.

I walk slowly and deliberately. Scrubby lowland here, lots if invasive prickly gorse so I’m glad the track is wide and they stay in their side.

I arrive at the Horahora River at its mouth into the Pacific. Tide is out and now I must walk up it. Tuatua shells, oyster catchers and a symphony of screeches greet my arrival on the wave scarred sand. The surf crashes at the bar as footsteps make a pleasing crunch. I follow Ondi’s sunken looping v-steps until they disappear.

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Day 14, Whananaki to Nikau Bay Camp – 28 km + 2 km

Quiet and cool this morning by the estuary. The wind died and the party heated up until the wee hours. I didn’t sleep so well, but up anyway because I love walking in the freshness of the morning.

I’m not the fastest walker. I move well and set goals, but I like to see things, think, take breaks – and photos – and write too.

And I need the quiet. Even with earplugs, I can’t seem to relax with lots of noise. It’s not just the sound itself, it’s this feeling that people are purposely being noisy. I mean, why have the muffler removed in a Harley than to give the middle finger to everyone else’s tranquility?

Now it’s completely silent except for those who like mornings as much as I do – the birds.

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Day 6, Umaumokaroo to Apple Dam – 26 km

Just putting my things up to face a few more hours of mud til a road walk and – you guessed it, more mud! Plus a walk through a long stream-as-trail.

I must say here as birdsong fills alicoop, my quilt is perfect. It got down to 8 celsius and I was snug and warm.

My gps is a huge power suck but I would never go in that muddy accident-waiting-to-happen area without SOS capability.

Oh, and camp shoes. So many ultra-lighters say don’t bother. This middle-aged wannabe asks how good y’all felt in the NZ bush without ‘em?

But now I’m packed, fed, heeded nature’s call and have to contend with my trail runners and socks. ‘Just do it’ runs through my mind. And you thought I was having a nice walk in the forest? ha!

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Day 5, Takahue Saddle Road to below Umaumakaroo – 16 km

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 set aside one of his ten pairs of crocks, laced up boots and decided to join us for the first three k.

I did cheat – a bit – and ‘betrayed the mission.’ We drove past green pastures, cows lining up crossing the street, and a Maori Marae or meeting place to the giant PaknSav in Kaitaia, then picked up Irene up a steep farm road. Fair is fair driving around the awful detour, but then we drove as far up the Takahue Saddle Road as possible before cracking up the track into the Raetea Forest past stunning Nikau Palm, Kaihikatia, Remu, Mamuka, and Black Trunk Fern with fiddleheads larger than a man’s fist. Peter came a long way before kissing us goodbye as wev turned up the ‘real’ track, directly into ankle-deep sucking mud.

But I loved 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 saved me from a muddy bum, though I walk with an animal gait, reaching forward and sort of crawling through.

Straight through is the best. You’ll get muddy anyway, so don’t bother balancing on slippy roots, just plunge right in 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 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 carried 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 got closer to what was purported to be a grassy spot big enough – and flat enough – for tents, Irene said, “It’s getting easier.” But next was 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 didn’t get easier and my trail app ‘Guthook’ had the helpful suggestion that the grassy flat spot was between km marker 148 and 150. Considering we were moving about 1 k/hour in some spots, that is a long distance to go not knowing.

Of course we found it, a wide patch in the trail. Tents went up fast. I used nearly every wipie to take the mud off my feet. Praise the goddess for my camp shoes! It’s cold as a Tue – and other birds exotic to my ears – pipe in the bush. All my clothes are on, and dinner is served.

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Day 3, Maunganui Bluff to Utea Park – 30 km

The alicoop crashed in the middle of the night.

First came torrential rain, then the wind.

Then rain and wind.

But I must say, the Te Araroa goddess was smiling – ok, she snickered when my side peg ripped out and the pole fell on my face – but after, in her benevolence, she stopped the rain, cleared the sky so I could see the shining array of southern stars, and gave me just enough time to reorient alicoop aiming into the wind.

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Day 2, Twilight to Maunganui Bluff – 28 km

I woke up early. Really early.

To be expected after not feeling any effects of jet lag on yesterday’s mission.

The moon has risen and guided me to the well-stocked privy, likely the last for a while.

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Day 1, Cape Reinga to Twilight – 12 km

It’s pitch dark, the waves are crashing and the other six at Twilight are asleep, nestled in their tents. This will be brief, but suffice-to-say, an extraordinary start.

I arrived in Auckland chased by a gibbous waning moon over the Pacific earlier than planned, the plane flying low over water before touching down on a drizzly paradise.

All went smoothly, even with a sprint of nearly half a mile to customs, then a long wait for my tent (tient) to be inspected – be sure to clean everything, including the pegs! – but while my pegs underwent inspection, I had time to snag my new SIM card and pile on data before the line got too long.

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