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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.

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TA 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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TA Day 54, Hipango Park to Whanganui, (30 km) + 7 km

I wake up to a five-note song, a slight variation on Gershwin’s first prelude. I answer with the second line, but I’m utterly ignored. The moon was bright as I slept on soft grassy comfort. We both awoke to a weird creaking in the shelter, but neither bothered to investigate.

Rain seems to be a thing of the past – for now. The dock has stairs, so loading is expected to be manageable. The question is if high tide might fight us as we paddle into town.

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TA 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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TA Day 52, Tieke Kainga to Flying Fox, (52 km)

You know it’s a thru-hike – or at this point a thru-paddle – when you wake up in the middle of the night with all your regrets staring you in the face.

The good news is I had absolutely fantastic stars, a halo of milky way, just by looking up and it was warm enough to keep the tarp drawn.

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TA Day 51, John Coull to Tieke Kainga, (32 km)

Our tents are damp in this foggy morning, set on a staircase of carved terraces, Inca-style. Yesterday, Andrew and I spied rock formations that appeared made by hand, huge hewn blocks as if a wall around the river. His passion is science fiction, so it got us fantasizing of ancient alien civilizations here in this last inhabited patch of the world.

The morepork hooted through the still night until I was awakened by David’s excited descriptions of climbs to Alex and the Croatians, as well as advice to slow down the pace for the South Island, which he completed last year. I really wanted him to shut up and give me a few more moments sleep, but I will miss David and these guys. They go on further today to get to Wellington before the month is over.

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TA Day 50, Whakahoro to John Coull, (38 km)

Waking up was with complaining sheep and the thwap-thwap of techno pop meaning only one thing – sheep sheering. It’s weird to have so much time before I have to move. The canoes will be here in an hour or so. My tent dries on a fence post.

My friends from Taumaranui canoe hire arrive and have us unpack out carefully packed gear and repack it in barrels. It’s all a bit of a drama as we hurriedly reorganize then get another briefing and small canoe lesson in the thick mud at the launch.

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TA Day 49, Katieke War Memorial to Whakahora – 24 km

The day opens with low hanging mist. I have to put on rain gear to pack the tent, studying the little coffin shaped dry spot in the grass that was my warm body a few moments ago. It’s a modest day, so plenty of time to dry my gear before packing it away on the canoe trip. I will stay in huts. A small luxury, but if the day is dumping rain will be well worth it.

The walk today is a country road doubling as a cycle path. You know you’re in farm country when you come across a jug in the middle of the road with ‘stock’ scrawled on it.

I pass a barn and the shearing is on, hits of the ‘90s this time, backbeat pumping incongruously against the pastoral backdrop.

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TA Day 48, National Park to Katieke War Monument – 27 km

I’m having trouble sleeping as my birthday winds down. So many gifts of good weather, astonishing scenery, strong legs and decent track. But I feel lonely just now – and maybe a bit foolish, this woman now in her mid-fifties all on her own trying to recapture her youth.

Tom said something yesterday about missing love while hiking this trail. He has his eye on a certain female walker, but what he’s referring to in this case is the deep connection of his family and friends. I too miss the solid and tender person I married who always keeps me balanced and focused. Out here on my own, I’m a little bit lost.

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TA 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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TA Day 46, Te Porere Redoubt to Mangatepopo track – 27 km

I’m up and packing at 3 am. Friends, there are stars out. Glory Hallelujah. Fingers crossed we make the crossing before the storms come. Dark gives way to gray splashed with orange, a long road walk and it begins.

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