Leg 7 – Joining the dots, days 1 and 2

We have a few gaps to fill in the northern section of the walk. Two of these have now been done.

Day 1

Saturday, 7 September
Omaha Valley Rd to Govan Smith Rd (12 km)

P1020134Today, we did the Matakana loop, P1020138from where we were picked up on 3 August, to the start of the Dome Valley walk, which we did on 8 August. We could take Zoë with us because we were not crossing any farmland or DOC areas. The tramp was all on the road margin, which had the advantage of allowing us to expand our quirky postbox pics. We found the heaviest butterfly in the world and a pukeko with a facial expression indicating it was unable to make its mind up concerning the position of its supporting post.

P1020140Highlight of the day was the public toilet. Since I raved about the Paihia toilet, it would be Inconsistent and also Very Wrong Indeed not to mention Matakana’s artistic public convenience. This photo doesn’t clearly show the doors, which are pointed like those in a gothic cathedral. The toilet has pride of place in the centre of the village at the traffic circle. It looks good enough to be a monument.

 

Day 2

Sunday, 29 September
Puhoi to Wenderholm (8 km)

This comprises the stretch of river between the Puhoi village and the seaside reserve north of Orewa. Puhoi was settled in 1863 by migrants from Bohemia, and the residents are proud of their heritage. When we arrived today, we saw three women looking flash and fabulous as flags in their traditional dress.

You may remember that on August 13, when we trudged through Puhoi, I considered drifting down the section to Wenderholm while clinging elegantly to a pink pool noodle. Only two things stopped me. 1) The river is slow moving and I would not so much have drifted as bobbed around in one spot; 2) My husband brutally vetoed the idea. I asked the family members what they thought of my noodle notion. Their responses are characteristic.
Etienne: (patting me kindly on the knee) Follow your dreams, Mom.
Hannah: Why the *%@# are we doing this walk for me when you’re the one who needs help?
Marius: I will disown you. In fact, I’ll push you under the surface with my paddle.

So Marius and Etienne shared a double canoe and Hannah and I shared another. The blokes launched first and managed to do things reasonably smoothly. Considering that Hannah and I are not “boaties” (New Zealandese for watercraft literate), we did well. By IMG171“well” I mean

  • we did not fall out of the hired canoe
  • we did not lose our paddles or sink the canoe
  • no-one had to be rescued or resuscitated or comforted in any way
  • we completed the 8 km in less than the prescribed two hours, without heavenly intervention
P1020441

The mangrove men paddle past

However, we did not score any points in the dignity stakes. Hannah sat in the front of the canoe, which meant that I had the horrid task of controlling the rudder. I am the shortest (read “endearingly fairy-like”) member of my family, and even with the foot pedals adjusted by the canoe hire staff to the position closest to the seat, I still had difficulty steering. We were asked to paddle upstream for 30 metres, turn and paddle down past the jetty, to check if we were managing the most basic flotation and aquatic locomotion techniques. Our first achievement was to ram the nose of our craft into the opposite bank. Using our oars as punting staffs, we reversed, turned and then rammed the other bank, causing some mirth to spectators and indignation to a family of ducks.

After that, things improved. We aimed vaguely for the sea, managing to zig-zag our way there with only 20 or so clashes of out-of-synch oars and no more than 12 vigorous intellectual disagreements.
Hannah: Mom, left. Steer left! Leeeeeeft!!!
Me: I am! My left foot is flat!
Hannah: Right! Steer right, Mom!
Me: I am!

IMG178The scenery starts in farmland and as you travel downstream, it includes mangroves. The water is olive green, but it is clean, and because we are out of Africa, there is no danger of bilharzia. As Africans, we truly appreciate the water being free of this potentially deadly parasite.

IMG183

Approaching the sea

When we arrived at Wenderholm, both kids, who had been reluctant at the start, agreed that the canoe trip was “not too bad”. I pointed out to Hannah that the Te Araroa trail includes a 41-km river section in Whanganui, as an alternative to walking. Was she prepared to paddle that bit too? She said nothing, but turned to look at me with her head slightly on one side. The lower half of her face was expressionless, but her eyelids dropped to half-mast. The southern hemispheres of her eyeballs looked like two lime segments. As a communications specialist, I can interpret the cross-cultural non-verbal cue here as “glee”.

Leg 6 – Auckland, day 6

Monday 23 September
Mangere to Manurewa (23.5 km)

P1020414Starting at the Oruarangi Road Bridge, we followed the last section of the trail along the beach towards the Otuataua Stonefields. The area is archaeologically significant as the site of an ancient Maori settlement. We did not know enough to appreciate the place fully; we needed a guided tour. When placing our hands on the volcanic stones, we noticed, to our surprise, that they were slightly warm. As this P1020420was early morning, we surmised the stones were still holding the heat from the previous day. Later, looking up details, I read that the Maori  extended the growing season of their vegetables by planting P1020419them here in stone-warmed sections. There is more than one way of creating a greenhouse.

Beyond the stone settlement, the connection trail veers eastwards again, traversing rather depressing areas and requiring road margin tramping for much of the way. Such dull stretches, including industrial sections, are inevitable when crossing a major city, so we simply tramped briskly and found what pleasure we could in whatever details arose during the day.

I discovered the 21st century’s answer to the Otuataua Stonefields: the Mangere Tyrefields. P1020425With the slow decomposition of this material, the mysterious rubber settlement may be here almost as long as the stone. Meanwhile, Hannah put in her earphones and listened to the deathcore group, Thy art is murder. A bit more of that and her entire cerebral cortex will be sizzled like a sausage. We’ll save thousands of dollars in tertiary education.

Near the airport, we had a good laugh. There is an entertainment centre called Butterfly Creek, which gets full marks for an imaginative mini-golf course. It has a pirate theme, and the water sections that wind around the greens are patrolled by a motorised shark fin. Aarrrrr!

On the Puhini Stream Track I had another creepy encounter with an electronic public toilet. My first experience was five years ago, at the airport, as an exhausted immigrant arrival. Given the choice between a proper flushing toilet and a bush, I prefer the toilet, of course. But when the toilet is automated and tells me what to do, the bush becomes very much more attractive. When we started this walk, I was a mere 50 years old. I am now 51. However, I am neither too puerile or too senile to ablute unaided. The scary thing is when the electronic voice tells you that the locked door will open again after you have washed your hands, and you can’t work out how to activate the electronic tap! Luckily, the toilet door opens automatically after 10 minutes. You have to cling to the hope that your bladder and/or bowels will have opened in that time. If your equipment is prone to stagefright….

Also when we started this walk, Marius began writing a song about it. Like most artists, he has a problem with deciding when the work is finished. There is always something more that can be tweaked in the lyrics, instrumentals, arrangement or production.  So here we are, a few hundred kilometres south in Manurewa, and the “90-Mile Beach” song is finally done. To listen to it, click below.

Leg 6 – Auckland, day 5

Sunday 22 September
Quay Street to Mangere (25.5 km)

Marius was meant to join us again today, but when the alarm bleeped at 6.30, his incoherent returning-to-consciousness mumblings and reluctant sub-duvet heavings indicated a state of weakness and frayed moral fibre. As human speech began to emerge it was clear that he had sufficient strength to provide transport for Hannah and me, but planned to shelter, in a very cowardly way, behind a pile of marking. Aha! The small print of our ante-nuptial contract specifies that such lapses have to be repaid by him with breakfast in bed on demand, six unsupervised and uncriticised shopping trips, and 25 “Yes P1020368dear” responses to entirely unreasonable wifely remarks. So I did not repine.

He dropped us at the wharf in Quay Street, where Hannah spotted these meat cleaver door handles which could be right off the set of a psycho killer movie. They made us laugh. Don’t you think they provide a nice thematic touch for a restaurant called the “Botswana Butchery”?

How many folk associate meat cleavers or similar implements with mental illness? The Shining offers an over-the-top image of an insane killer thrusting his horribly smiling face through an axe-wrecked door. This image remains fixed in the public mind more than 30 years later. And who can forget Hannibal Lecter in a muzzle? Some people think that at worst, a mental health patient is a maniac of the roaring, eye-rolling, knife-wielding Nicholsonian type. At best, they think a mental health patient is creepy, sticky, troublesome and best avoided.

In real life, there is a small percentage of mentally ill people who are dangerous, but mental illness encompasses a huge range of symptoms and behaviours that are not dangerous to others. The suffering of the mentally ill may be invisible even to those closest to them.

Also, it is not a handful of the population that suffers mental illness – it is more like an armful. Stigma prevents people being open about their illness in the way they might be about measles, hernias or cancer. Silence may shield them from anticipated rejection, but also isolates them from compassion and help.

As a child, I was told by an adult family member that even if someone recovered after a “nervous breakdown”, that person would “never be quite the same again”. The view was that the sufferer was forever tainted in some way: a tad peculiar. As with other medical conditions, some people with mental illness may not be able to lead normal lives and may not be healed. But, as with other medical conditions, most of us can be helped.

When I suffered major depression for two years in my twenties, I eventually got better. And I discovered that indeed, I would “never be quite the same again”. I had learned how quickly and easily an otherwise buoyant personality can be dragged down; how someone who formerly never would have imagined contemplating suicide, might find herself buying bottles of sleeping pills and hoping a car accident would kill her so she wouldn’t eventually have to take responsibility for that awful job herself. I had learned how someone who loved to run marathons and to laugh could stay in bed, hardly able to move for days, and cry continually – until her eyelids peeled. That person was me. I would never be the same again, because now I understood; I was less dismissive and intolerant.

We walked through the CBD and across the remarkably pretty university campus before entering the Auckland Domain. Here, someone had illegally pitched a blue, two-person tent. If the desperate trampers had wanted to remain undetected, they should not have overslept, but maybe they were counting on park officials being hypnotised by the screening of the America’s Cup.

The domain has a resident population of plump and happy geese. If this were South Africa, those birds would be gone overnight, and the same swift fate would befall the sheep in Cornwall Park. But this is New Zealand, where two women can walk the length of the country in reasonable safety, and park livestock numbers can remain relatively constant. Mind you… considering Hannibal Lecter and vulgar sheep jokes, if things went really very tragically wrong on a spring Sunday in Auckland, neighbours might sniff the air at midday, noting that the barbecue chez Lecter was cooking up a two-course bumper feast. (You can only hope that tramper steak makes tough chewing.)  Meanwhile, at P1020392Cornwall Park, a woolly passenger would beat with her little cloven front hooves on the inside of a car window, as a sinister bloke with immoral intentions drove her away.

At Mount Eden Domain, from the lip of the volcanic crater, we had a spectacular 360-degree view of Auckland. Although this grassy cup is comparatively small, it is still impressive when you’re on foot. If the crater were not protected (signage declares it “fragile and sacred”), it would be a superb place for cardboard box tobogganing.

Apart from the section through Epsom, the placing, frequency and appearance of trail signs continued to be an annoyance on the coast-to-coast walk and beyond. It was only with two maps and a GPS that we could keep going in the right direction.

P1020396P1020398Cornwall Park was lovely. It is hard to beat an ancient olive grove with its wonderful trunks and roots.

Although there are some inevitably dull and ugly places in the tramp across the city, the P1020406reward for keeping going after Cornwall is Ambury Park. There is nothing to hear but the gentle tearing sound of sheep grazing and an occasional, placid baa. The ground is flat but contains odd pleats of rock, some of which shelter pools of water. In the distance is the sea and the bluer hills beyond the far shore.

P1020411After Ambury, the tramp deteriorates substantially. The trail goes through a long stretch next to the sewage works and the city dump. The sewage works is ugly, but not odoriferous. The city dump stench is frightful, though, and you can’t escape it for ages. You just have to tie a handkerchief across your face, breathe lightly and march. We saw a sign at the end of the section, declaring that this track would be closed when a new, foreshore alternative is opened in October 2013. Maybe we are among the last trampers to endure the horrid section, but if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction I don’t think the folk on the new path will escape the smell.

Marius picked us up at the Oruarangi Road Bridge in Mangere. I asked him how the marking was going. He looked shifty. “I arranged it into two piles,” he said in a squeaky voice. Aha! So Hannah and I were still on the moral high ground, and what a gentle, aesthetically pleasing and delightfully fragrant path it provides!

Leg 6 – Auckland, day 4

Saturday 21 September
Long Bay to Devonport Wharf (23 km)

MOM gary 2We had a brilliant solidarity turnout, bigger than we had hoped. Not everyone is seen in this photo, but the full list of solidarity souls consists of Marius, Etienne, David, Margaret, Amelia, Tim, Luke, Gary, Sue, Tegan, Judy, Kate, Tracy, Leigh, Dave (another one), Chazel and Richard. Other people did not walk, but came to egg us on: Joy, Joe and Lana. And finally, the most important beings in the group: Bobby, Loquita, Malachi and Zoë, the four dogs. Zoë took her role as trail leader and pet therapy consultant very seriously.

Most of the people (and two of the dogs) did the full walk to the wharf, despite many not being accustomed to such a distance. The weather helped, though; it was cool and windy. Again, despite the weatherman’s ominous croakings, we had a comfortable day and were P1020311not rained upon. Occasionally the visibility was limited, but that didn’t spoil things; the walk was beautiful.

We tramped from 8.30 until 4.00, starting at high tide. Timing meant that the first half of the route had to be done on the all-tide track and the second half on the beach. A long track section can easily be completed on a concrete pathway at the foot of the cliffs.

P1020333Quaint view of the day was of this incongruous, life-sized giraffe sculpture in someone’s beachfront garden, and laugh of the day came from Hannah, who quoted one of her Internet finds. “If you play Jaws the movie backwards, you have a story about a shark which vomits up so many people that they had to open a beach.” P1020338After that, several of us took turns creatively applying the backwards playing narrative principle to other movies we’d seen.

The North Shore coastal walk is a really interesting route geologically, as you are reminded of Auckland’s volcanic base. In P1020343places, strange holes appear in the harsh, black rock, indicative of a Pompeii-like time, when the lava flowed over trees. Only the spaces are left now, to show the position of the original trunks or roots. There is more evidence of how the P1020341pohutukawa tree is relentless in grasping its living in what must initially have been a hostile environment for a small tree sprout after an eruption. This tree is long dead, but its roots are thrust through gaps in the rock.

P1020357In other places, P1020361the coastline comprises much softer material. Caves are easily carved and cliff erosion and rockfalls are an ongoing hazard.  We came across what is likely to be the remains of a cliff-top construction, which had fallen to the beach to rust.

From the wharf we could see the Auckland waterfront and CBD, where we would be starting our coast-to-coast walk the next day.

P1020364

 

 

Leg 6 – Auckland, day 3

Friday 20 September
Orewa to Weiti River jetty (11 km)

We were met at the Orewa Estuary Arts Centre by Margaret, Chazel and Fran, our three solidarity walkers for the day. We also connected briefly with the editor of Hibiscus Matters, the peninsula knock-and-drop newspaper. So far, this is the only news publication that has been interested in what Hannah is doing to increase awareness about mental health recovery. Oh… TV One and TV Three are going to be very, very sorry one day that they ignored Mind Over Miles! When they are each wearing a strait jacket and are incarcerated in a high security unit, we shall visit them and compassionately poke soggy little bits of currant bun under their cell doors. If they had been nice to us (as they will discover when it is too late), we would have slid pieces of biltong and freeze-dried mango DSCF3010strips to them instead.

Anyway, if we make it through the editorial process and competing news items to feature in Hibiscus Matters in two weeks’ time, that will be lovely. This photo of the editor taking a photo of us was snapped by Chazel, who claims I was standing very pretentiously, with my legs arranged in the Rachel Hunter Position. Oh yes! If I were not a quinquagenarian waddling across New Zealand in a state of largely unwashed dishevelment, I would certainly be a supermodel.Chazel and Hannah

It was much noisier and much more fun to walk in a crowd and we had lots of laughs. Despite the gloomy forecast, the weather was good. There was light drizzle for a few short periods, but nothing too dampening. Due to the tide being high, we were unable to walk on Red Beach, so we tramped a stretch on the road, rejoining the trail at Glenelg Rd, where the track goes along the cliff top.

And now for a tutorial on tramping equipment…. In this photo you can see Margaret’s marvellous pink paisley brolly (which broke after two minutes) and Fran’s flask of coffee, which only one brollylasted all the way to the Weiti River. Yes, Fran carried that flask for three-and-a-half hours. She is a delicate sipper and knows how to make a beverage last. The item strapped to my left arm is my cell phone in a waterproof case. The cell phone is for calling the rescue helicopter in case we break bones in inaccessible locations. By this I mean geographical locations, not physiological ones. So far, The Lancet has not published an article on an inaccessible human bone. The cell phone can also be used, while waiting for the helicopter to arrive, to make salon appointments for supermodel upper lip waxing and foot callus removal. The cell phone cover is (according to the blurb on the packaging) fully waterproof to a depth of 15 metres. I do not know if this is true. No-one has yet been able to hold me under the water until the bubbles stopped coming up. Meanwhile, the cover makes me look like I am important and know where we’re going. I don’t, of course, as Hannah will testify, but appearances are everything in the world of modelling.P1020270

We mobbed another walker, called Jan, in the D’Oyly Reserve. Like the cytoplasm of an amoeba, we sort of engulfed her and streamed along with her, the poor soul only just managing to give us the slip at Brightside Rd.

We found a quirky postbox to add to the gallery and after an easy Weiti fran's picmorning’s tramp we were all pretty chipper when we arrived at the Weiti River. There, we were welcomed by an official committee of very newly hatched and fluffy ducklings. Aww!P1020279

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leg 6 – Auckland, days 1 and 2

Aucklanders interested in walking with us for days 3 to 6, September 20 to 23, find details in “Join us”  and “City solidarity walks”. Meanwhile, read about days 1 and 2.

Day 1

Wednesday 14 August

Wenderholm to Orewa (11.5 km)

P1010982This was a short and brisk walk, enlivened at the start near P1010980Cowdray House by the most daytime birdsong we’d heard so far (although tuis were in the ascendant). On the path through native bush over the cliff I indulged myself again with ferns, lichen and moss and we found a tree trunk so gnarled that we could almost hear it snarling.P1010983

On reaching Waiwera, we had a stint on the road margin due to the tide, but we walked on the beach at Hatfield and again at Orewa. Here, in the silvery overcast light we came across a seagull parliament. There’s nothing quite like reflection to double your party membership.

 

Day 2

Friday 6 September

Stillwater to Long Bay (10 km)

Because there are two water sections (the Weiti and Okura Rivers) in close proximity, making it difficult for groups of walkers to make transport arrangements either across or around these, we did the Stillwater to Long Bay section in advance of the Auckland solidarity walk.

image (9)The path began in a muddy mangrove area. Seeing Hannah again in this photo, you may have a question you have been afraid, heretofore, to ask: Does Hannah ever remove that grey and charcoal-striped tracksuit top? The answer, dear reader, is “No”. Either that, or we drove on the same day to all the places we have been pretending to walk through, and took all the photos with her wearing the same clothes.

We climbed to a cliff-top through native bush, before descending to the Okura River estuary. We had timed our arrival for low tide, when the crossing would be hip deep, according to the trail notes.

For most of this wide estuary, the water barely wets your shoes at low tide. The deep section is confined to a channel close to the south side. The channel is about 40 metres wide and in the middle, the water was above my waist. We had decided to wade across without changing, and simply walk ourselves dry afterwards, but I had to carry the day pack on my head so as not to saturate our book. Yes, even on this day trip, we had Adrian image (6)Mole and the weapons of mass destruction with us. I hope Sue Townsend is gratified.

South of the estuary, we took the cliff path with wide green paddocks on our right, before descending again to the sand. The trail notes warned us that Pohutukawa Beach is for nudists. The public signs at the beach say nothing of this, but they don’t forbid naturism either. There is a cross through an icon of a image_6tent and a fire, but no icon (crossed out or otherwise) of mammary glands and genitalia. I wonder if the local council hopes the happy nudists will go away if they are ignored? Apparently, until a few years ago, there was a sign euphemistically indicating that Pohutukawa Beach is a “clothing optional” area.

My eyesight is not what it used to be, but it is possibly insufficiently blurry to maintain my visual purity and honour should a generously fleshly sight pop up. However, imagenothing was put to the test today, because we saw only two males on the beach and both were distressingly satisfactorily clothed.

At Long Bay, we climbed onto public transport. It had taken us just under two hours to do the whole walk, and it took three buses and just over three hours to get home. This was where Adrian Mole entered [stage left]. We read aloud to each other at the bus shelters and on the bus. And now for some social psychology. It is apparently OK to

  • have loud conversations, including plenty of four-letter words
  • speak loudly on a cell phone, anywhere in public, making an auditory gift of your boring life to everyone within a radius of 15 metres
  • fail to acknowledge, even by eye contact, the presence of others, and sit sealed in by ipod earphones, or texting other folk when your friends are right next to you

However, it is apparently not OK to read aloud at a normal volume to someone. We get some odd looks and even some stares in public when we perform this civilised sharing activity.

At our second bus shelter in Albany, at 2.35 pm, a senior citizen broke the mould. It was Hannah’s turn to read. After leading a financially indiscreet but sexually blameless life for 111 pages, Adrian Mole is suddenly propositioned by the vapid Marigold: “I now feel that I am ready to put my heart, my soul, my body into your care,” she says. The senior citizen spoke. “Is that homework?” she asked. “We never got homework like that in my day.” Laughing, we acknowledged that it wasn’t homework but reassured her that Sue Townsend’s books are available in every public library. On page 114, Marigold informs Adrian that her parents approve of his relationship with her and adds: “Mummy gave me a box of organic condoms.”  “Oh goodness, what will they think of next?” interjected the old lady. “Organic condoms! I wonder if they’re any use? I hope they don’t pop!” I love this old lady. She can share a bus shelter or a trans-Pacific flight with me any day.

Leg 5 – Ngunguru to Whangarei

Note: Click on “Gallery” above if you wish to see all the photos. Only some of them are in the blog itself. Click on “Follow” in the lower right hand corner of the screen if you wish to receive e-mail notification of blog updates.

Leg 5 – Ngunguru to Whangarei, day 1

Monday, 9 September

Ngunguru Ford Rd to Pataua North Rd (14 km)

Sometimes, half an hour or so after you’ve exited a toilet, a kind person will inform you that you’ve inadvertently tucked your skirt into the back of your panties. The things you find out long after you’ve embarrassed yourself! There I was, pronouncing “Ngunguru” like an African: “Nnn-goon-goo-roo”, only to discover that it is pronounced “Noonguroo” with the same syllabic emphases as “kangaroo”. No wonder I got so many funny looks when I spoke about where we were going.

P1020142We began walking near where we were picked up on the long estuary bypass road on 27 August. The Mackerel Forest Track starts and finishes in pine logging areas. Much of it is bleak; the pines have been cut. However, the sections of indigenous forest have some fine native trees.

The track crosses two rivers, the Waitangi and the Taheke. The trail notes warn that the water could be thigh deep, but today we got wet only to our knees. Despite being shallow, the Taheke River had a bossy current which did its best to shove us off balance, so we crossed slowly, facing upstream.

A light rain switched on and off like disco lights for several hours and Hannah’s ankles bothered her, so we were glad to stop on the roadside a few kilometres short of Pataua North. Since much of the roadside comprises mangrove swamp, we were fortunate to find a dry and grassy spot to camp on a farm verge beside a grove of mature trees.

For the first time, Hannah used Coban to support her ankles. This is a kind of elastic bandage that adheres to itself. It is a real win: cheap, strong and disposable.

The night was turbulent with bird cries. Familiar were the voices of pukeko, morepork, plover and paradise duck. New to us was a call that went “hurr hurr hurr peeyew peeyew peeyew”. Another strange bird simply shrieked madly, sounding as if it were in the midst of a psychotic episode. I wanted to offer it a pat and a few words of consolation: “There, there dear. Been there, done that, got the plumage and all.”

 

Leg 5 – Ngunguru to Whangarei, day 2

Tuesday, 10 September

Pataua North Rd to Ocean Beach (21 km – 20.6 km on road and track, 400 m on water)

P1020145

It took two hours for Hannah to get going this morning; she was tired and felt weighed down. Her medication makes her drowsy, so sometimes getting up and walking involves considerable effort.

We headed to Pataua, passing more farms, where we saw three cheerful piggies snouting around in a field. This is how domestic pigs ought to live, rather than being crammed into batteries. They looked clean, healthy and peaceful. When we stopped to admire them, they ran, joyfully grunting, towards us. We laughed until we realised the fence was broken and they could escape onto the road. We departed, with a piglet following for a short distance before losing interest in us. Thank goodness. We didn’t want to be responsible for a Pataua North version of Pigling Bland.P1020147

At the settlement, the road ends and a footbridge joins it to Pataua South. The Taiharuru Estuary is mighty pretty, but once over the footbridge you can only resume the Te Araroa trail at low tide. The track goes through the mangrove mudflats before heading back to the shore and up to farmland and Kauri Mountain.

We had arrived about six hours ahead of the lowest point of low tide. A decision had to be made: to wait until the tide was out, cross on foot and then struggle to find a place to camp as darkness fell, or to make the crossing now, with help. We phoned Ros and Hugh of Tidesong, and these dear souls picked us up, provided coffee and an entire batch of scones, and then took us across the water in their boat, so we didn’t even get our feet wet. Hannah started cheering up at once. It is amazing what food can do for a depressed and exhausted teen.

I was thrilled when Ros pointed out the B&B resident flounder under the walkway to the jetty. I had never seen one in the wild before. They know it is the same one each time, because it has an identifying nick in its tail. It lay almost invisible while its sides fluttered gently, before it twitched away through a puff of mangrove silt.

P1020149Crossing early was the right thing to do because we found nowhere suitable to camp until hours later. We’ll have to go back another time and fill in those 3 km of trail we had to bypass in Pataua South.

The day continued to be cheerful. Two horses on Kauri Mountain gratified Hannah by vying for her attention at their pasture gate. Shortly thereafter, we came across a flock of turkeys on the hillside, profiled against the sky. The males were in display mode, fanning their tails.P1020167 Does anyone take turkeys seriously? I made gobbling noises and immediately all the birds stuck out their inflamed-looking necks at 45 degrees and chorused a reply. After laughing a lot, Hannah said, “I bet I can evoke that response too!” and made a turkey noise. The flock was silent, but as soon as I repeated my noises, the whole lot of them shouted back superbly. I have just the right touch, you know. Noble horses may seek Hannah out with their soft natures and sweet grassy breath, but turkeys actually confide in me. Watch this space for details of my searing new novel about the New Zealand frontier: Gobbles with turkeys.

P1020178On Kauri mountain we had another disorienting trail sign moment. On this post, the black chevron indicates one direction and the orange triangle another. We initially obeyed the orange triangle, but the GPS and then a resident informed us that the black chevron was the correct indicator.

From Kauri mountain we descended to the Ocean Beach track. I have yet to see a beach in this country that is not beautiful. We had 6 km of calendar views and fantastic shells. We found tiny red ones which we had not seen on any other beach. We collected some of P1020264these for our mermaid’s mirror.

As we pitched Samson on a dune in the late afternoon, we noticed a helicopter droning around Bream Head. What was it doing? Two possibilities came to mind: 1) Some unlucky trampers were lost or hurt on the mountain, and the rescue team was out looking for P1020213them; 2) News of our undimmed glamour, celebrity status and geographical location had leaked out, and the helicopter was crammed with international paparazzi looking for us, hoping for shots of Hannah foaming at the mouth with toothpaste, or of my shapeless trail nightie tucked into the back of my panties.

 

Leg 5 – Ngunguru to Whangarei, day 3

Wednesday, 11 September

Ocean Beach to Little Munroe Bay, Whangarei (12 km)

There are two places where one can start the Bream Head Track. One is from the beach (and this is marked on the TA online map), and the other is from a short distance SW P1020215down Ocean Beach Rd, where the track to Peach Cove heads south. (This is the one described in Geoff Chapple’s guide to the TA route.)  Fortunately, we bumped into a DOC official in the car park at Ocean Beach and he said: “The first part of the track is closed at the moment, due to upgrading. You must have seen the helicopter? It’s carrying materials up to the maintenance sites. You could be turned back if you take the trail from the beach, but you’ll be fine joining the Bream Head Track from the Peach Cove route.” So now we knew!

At the start of the Peach Cove Track, there is a field where the upgrade materials are stockpiled. We saw the helicopter coming in to land there, bang on cue as we turned P1020222south. There we found a plaque on a rock: “You are about to follow the sacred footprints of Manaia and all of his descendents”. It is a pity about the spelling error. Something which has cultural significance and a financial cost should be proofread before production. However, full marks go to the DOC for the beautifully executed upgrade on the western section of the Bream Head Track. The steepest parts had well-carpentered stairs with gravel and plastic webbing for traction in wet weather.

P1020235The track was very steep and thickly vegetated, so there were only occasional glimpses of the views. We kept our heads down and slogged it out. We saw some of my favourite greenery at knee height. Aren’t these tiny, round leaves sweet?

Where we did get a chance along the jagged ridgeline to look back where we had come and ahead to where we were going, we felt mighty impressed with ourselves. I don’t think these photos appropriately illustrate the effort needed for this trail P1020237section.

We saw and heard a new bird on this mountain. It was flitting between branches in thick foliage, so we couldn’t get a clear view. It was about the size of a blackbird, had stripes on its sides and had a little feather hanging over its face (a bit like an avian version of a lantern fish). It said “Bwit”. This is not exactly a distinctive identifying call in the way “No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition” identifies Monty Python. I looked it up P1020246when we got home. Turns out it is a common, introduced species: the California quail. It likes open country and riversides, so in fact the only unusual thing about it was its location today.

As we descended with trembling leg muscles to Urquhart’s Bay, we could see in the distance the oil refinery at Marsden Point, where we began our trial walk, Leg 0, on July 7. That was only eight weeks ago, but it seems like a previous incarnation now.P1020254

Urquhart’s Bay, like much of the coast, has fantastic pohutukawa trees. For readers not well acquainted with New Zealand, these trees have roots which writhe over rocks and find toeholds on cliffs like heroes in action dramas. The curved trunks of those close to the water kneel in the surf at high tide. Their canopies can reach a 30-metre diameter and red flowers appear in summer, making them an even more spectacular sight. In the right conditions, these trees can live up to 1000 years, so they are associated with endurance. They also have spiritual significance for the Maori.

P1020259In Urquharts’ Bay we found public toilets with a “living roof” of vegetation (seriously serious) and also this outboard motor postbox (seriously funny).

Trampers crossing to Marsden Point by boat can do so at any stage along the route from Urquhart’s Bay to Whangarei Heads. Since we had already done the Marsden section, we stopped walking today near Little Munroe Bay.

Well, on this leg we have covered either 47 km (according to the TA online map) or 59 km (according to the 3D map in Chapple’s book). I’ve recorded the online version of the distance here, to err on the side of caution, but my aching calves tell me Chapple is the one who is correct.