Sunday 7 July
Marsden Point to an embarrassingly inexact spot in farmland near Ruakaka campsite (9 km)
The point of this three-day tramp was to see how well we would cope before we set off on an epic, awareness- and fund-raising journey. So we chose what we thought would be a reasonable route in an area that is not remote, thus allowing family to rescue us with ease if something went dramatically wrong. You never know if you’re going to break a nail, for example, or if your head is going to fall off, roll down the beach and bob away on the tide like a coconut. Marius and Etienne left us at Marsden Point then scooted round to Ruakaka and set up our tent. Walking without the backpacks on the first day would break us in gently and give the blokes a chance to mollycoddle us.
The sea and beachscapes around Marsden Point are mighty pretty, but the smell of the oil refinery made us wrinkle our snouts. Unbroken shells lie thickly on the sand; I am still unused to this, having spent some of my youth on South African beaches where shells are thoroughly pounded by the surf.
Hannah and I walked south, carrying only our water, with our destination being the Ruakaka campsite, just beyond the estuary. After a couple of hours, we consulted our map. Surely we were nearly there? All we needed to do was walk along the beach until we hit the campsite. However, to avoid crossing the estuary at a time when the tide made it too deep for safe wading, we could go inland, following the road across the bridge, then turn back to the beach. The map lacked sufficient detail and was a little confusing. Where the hell were we? We enquired at a gas station. The helpful manager put a blue X on our map. Horrors. We were way way way short of the right road and the estuary. He advised us to cut through private land back to the beach, thoroughly recommending a property belonging to his friend “Tim”, who, he warned, is very good natured but might be naked. We decided to give Tim a miss, paying for our unusual delicacy by taking another wrong turning that sent us for a long walk on the tar. There was a series of decreasingly affectionate texts back and forth between Marius and us (We’re on the tar somewhere – Where? – We’ve just passed a sign saying we’re heading towards the SH1 – On which road? All roads lead to the SH1 – If we knew which one, we wouldn’t be lost! – *#@*).
He eventually found us. Etienne was placidly eating a muffin on the front seat. We ripped open the back doors and climbed in. “What are you doing?” asked the shocked husband and father. “Take us to the camp!” I demanded. “Skattie, you can’t cheat like this.” “We are not cheating. We are lost and we are knackered and we are disheartened and we want to lie down. We’ll go back one day and fill in those few missing kilometres of beach.” Marius rested his head on the steering wheel. “I don’t think you’re going to manage this,” he murmured.
Feeling a bit mournful, we slept the rest of the afternoon. The blokes left us at 5.00 to go home. We both wanted to go with them. We spent the early evening eating a freeze-dried pasta meal, which was surprisingly tasty, and reading Adrian Mole aloud to one another. The headlamps are a real win!! Bedtime was 7.00 pm.
Monday 8 July
Ruakaka campsite to a desperate spot on Cove Road (18 km)
I awoke, with “Oh no!” bulging out all over my body. It took two hours for us to strike camp and repack our backpacks. Everything had obviously swollen during the night. Some would call us inept but I prefer to think of us as touchingly innocent. Quite a few items that were formerly inside the packs became refugees strapped on outside. Staggering a bit, we set off for Waipu Cove.
We walked for about seven hours. There was a long stretch of beach followed by some much more interesting farmland, including exceptionally early snowdrops and a fabulously horned Scottish highland bull.
In the little village of Waipu, where the road sign welcomes you in Gaelic, we got water at a lovely shop, where the manageress took a photo of us. The shop’s name provides a caption. Which one of us is the antique and which the curio? There is a special prize of an autographed used toothbrush if you get the answer right.
There was a very long stretch of tarred road, which made walking a bit painful; Hannah complained of burning soles. I told her that as she is an atheist, a burning soul was part and parcel of her deal.
We sat down frequently and this was how we discovered the Tortoise Manoeuvre. When you subside to the ground with your pack still attached, it is very difficult to stand up again. Your legs jerk feebly off the ground and you look like an overturned tortoise. Rocking does not help; the momentum is insufficient to achieve perpendicularity. You have to roll over onto hands and knees and get up that way, while your daughter laughs at you. She then has the cheek to ask you to give her a hand up. We devised a solution. We now sit down facing each other. With Hannah’s toes over mine and with us holding hands, we now stand up together while bracing one another. In this way, ignominy is averted.
Hannah wanted to pee, but the roadside offered very little cover and cars were frequent, so she just had to clench. I wonder how long it will be before we discard modesty? Do hardened trampers moon motorists every morning? Watch this space.
People were really friendly and some even offered us lifts. It took considerable moral fibre to refuse these. We thought there was a DOC campsite just beyond the village, but if there was, we missed it. By 5.15 we saw a neatly mowed verge outside some rural houses and decided this would just have to be “it”. So we set up the tent and were asleep within an hour. We didn’t even change clothes or brush teeth. Hannah didn’t get to pee.
Tuesday 9 July
Desperate spot on Cove Road to Mangawhai Surf Club (12 km)
This time, breaking camp took only one hour: a 50% improvement, but we have to learn more about balancing our packs properly. Much more stuff clung to the outside of the backpacks than before. Hannah finally got a chance to pee. As about a third of my waking life is spent appeasing my bladder, I am in awe of her 24-hour clenchathon.
Because we had walked further than we meant to the previous day, we only had four hours’ tramp ahead of us to reach Mangawhai. Sight of the day was a postbox which was a recycled microwave oven. I wonder how many hopefuls thought it had been put out for hard waste collection and discovered their error only when straining to lift it off the stake to which it was screwed.
There was a rather difficult section through farmland; we crossed some very steep and muddy paddocks, containing bullocks who showed an unnerving interest in us. Hannah got effluent in her shoes; she found this cooled down the burning soles somewhat.
It was with enormous relief that we reached the cliff path that led to Mangawhai. It was beautiful. It was flat. It was short. There were lovely, manicured steps for descent at the end, and it was wonderful to see dear Margaret waiting for us. She tenderly removed our packs and put them in the back of her car. Then she treated us to a steak egg and wedges lunch at the local pub.
For a few hours, Hannah and I walked like whores after a hard night’s work, but it is amazing what a hot shower and comfort food can do for your deportment.