North Island Overview:
The TA is a roughly 3000km (~1860m) long distance trail traversing the North and South Islands of New Zealand. I won’t give much more info on the trail as loads of resources are available on the internet.
I didn’t do much writing on this lengthy trek, although I started out loquacious with my fingers that expressed the words babbling from my emotive mind. The first couple weeks my fingers rambled on. Every night I tapped the keyboard until I decompressed into a stasis brought on by the urban setting. I was very happy being bored walking along paved roads and nonsensical routing until Auckland. I knew what to expect and I held an attitude of ‘why try and makes sense when there may be none.' I understood what I was getting into, and this mindset helped me be a bit numb to what I had heard others complain about. In addition, I had just come off a full-length traverse of the Grand Canyon, an incredibly challenging and immersive route where every step needed care and intent to stay safe. The ennui of the TA in the Northland completely reset that honing mechanism and the full-on concentration that the Grand Canyon blessed me with.
Then, from Auckland to Hamilton the TA lost its luster. The invisible tissue that binds us with nature evaporated and the ‘long pathway’ became the long slugging ‘what the hell am I doing’ way. The way became more of just a way through rather than a trail, a thoroughfare of sorts that resembled neither trail nor route. At least in the Northland the rural scenery was beautiful. The green land up there held a connection between the people and nature, a communion of sorts where the land held a special importance to the people living up there, a woolen thread that weaved interlaced between each plowed plot, forest, beach, and community. Out of Auckland, I tried a futile effort to fathom a connection with concrete, traffic, lack of culture, and uber-urban areas. I spiraled into frustration and spent an isolated day in a hotel room drinking beer in Hamilton. I wasn’t bored anymore. I wasn’t engaged at all.
I stopped writing then. Yet where the TA failed in a connection with nature in that stretch, things did get better again, although I wasn’t pleasantly bored this next time. I felt the pull of the South Island, the magnetic draw of less people, more wilderness, long hiking stretches, more freedom camping, just the total aspect of what long distance hiking is all about. Nonetheless, the way through did get better all the way until Wellington. Stands of nature became more prevalent again, the forests lush and deep, the streams and rivers wide and swift, the mountains volcanic and bigger. However, I wrote only one more entry in the time after Hamilton.
Overall, I truly did enjoy the North Island. The Māori of the Northland, the beach walking, the beautiful forest hiking, the rain—even walking in the warm rain was pleasant; Pirongia, the Timber Trail and the 42 Traverse, Tongariro and Round the Mountain track, the Tararuas until a cyclone arrived, the Escarpment Track, and the Skyline walk into a beautiful hilly Wellington, all of these places hold a firm happy memory in my head. I even rode a bike alternating from the Whanganui River canoe ride to a swift cycle trip down from Ruapehu to the coast that made me spin with glee. I pedaled with the air whipping through my normal hiking rhythms into joyful revolutions.
In Wellington the feeling of the whole long pathway of New Zealand shifted. The skies poured down rain as I walked in, and I knew I was leaving the North Island behind for good. I knew that I was in for something better on the South Island.
In Wellington, Heaps (a friend and a long-distance hiker) hosted me along with three other thru-hikers of similar ilk as me. We spoke the same lingo, swapped stories, sheltered from shitty weather, and drank heaps of coffee and pumped ourselves up with what we thought the South Island was going to be.
The brief North Island notes are below. The South Island will be even simpler to describe with hardly any words. Pictures will do my experience justice and the memories of feeling like actually thru-hiking will persevere.
North Island: Cape Reinga to Wellington
Rating of my enjoyment of the North Island: 6/10
Happy, happy to be away from the normal, away from everything. Happy to be in a place so very different than where I am from, from what I am accustomed to, and from where I could be. Maybe I needed to be halfway around the world to decompress fully what has been pent up for over a year now. Maybe I needed to be in a place where I know no one, not even the places, nor any names of the plants, trees, and flowers, even the names of birds and other critters. A blank slate, what is upcoming…rid the garbage I’ve been holding onto, the garbage I left in the Grand Canyon, in that enormous abyss of rock with a nurturing and powerful river. Just feels like a new start, a freedom of sorts, a release from the time I had been borrowing. Maybe the Grand Canyon had bestowed upon me some tantalizing feeling, some magical spell of joy and gratitude that life feels hopeful, again. Just arriving in a vastly different place than where I had come from had me kind of shaking with glee. I get to walk again. I get to find that rhythm with the natural world at the bottom of the world. I get to be me outside of the Grand Canyon.
Maybe this intro shouldn’t have started this way. This introduction reeks of sadness. Yet, it doesn’t, at least to me anyway. Truly, I am jotting down the expressions and the first words that come to mind. The canyon taught me something. You can keep digging in the deepest place imaginable, you can keep going and going, striving forward, clawing inwardly away, you can be slumping and lurching downward, something will always pull at you. You can try and deceive time; you can try and cheat it—but you can’t. All that and the canyon teaches you the wonder of learning, of curiosity and imagination. The canyon teaches you a deeper sense of those things, a deeper sense of time and place. I can always learn more. I can keep growing deeper. After all, nothing matters in nature, definitely not my own. We are insignificant to nature’s indifference. Yet, curiosity keeps the soul adrift in the current of the river. Ride the river and you can read the land. You can read the wrinkles of your skin and the eyes of the people. I am here in New Zealand on the raft of my curiosity to continue down that river of an unquenching life. The canyon left me thirsting for more knowledge that I know not what to learn; the spring is unending. There are wonders around us that we are blind to. We must go deeper. The Grand Canyon left me open and willing to go deeper. The big ditch taught me I will not be anything other than me. It ain’t the dig or the chase anymore; it’s the fulfillment.
The bus undulated through beaming green farmland, rolling hills as far as the eye could see, a dazzling spectacle of lushness. Grassland and pastures stuck out the most, then the dark forests with mixtures of giant ferns, palms, and the kauri. Soon enough the bus pulled into the turnabout and the end of the land shimmered just above the sea. The sea roiled in its vastness; an uncontrollable mass confined within itself with nothing else to do but crash into itself. The point of the cape hooked between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The sight to behold was spectacular. I ambled away slowly and tucked my gawking eyes back into my head. I was starstruck, dumbfounded, gob smacked. The lighthouse squatted on the point, short and stout, yet I am sure the edifice is proficient in its usefulness. The coast to the south spread out like the curve of an arcing back. I could trace my finger at the point of the breaks that traced the curvature of the backbone. I made my way down on a trailing path tracing the abrupt ridge line that fell away unto cliffs that had been battered by the joining of the seas. I fell away down the pathway crashing into myself.
The sandy beach and teal sea are smeared with platinum, that reflective gleam that transports you into a globe of foam, salt, and mist that disintegrates a being, an image, and into that sphere of drifts, dunes and grit that eliminate our trace of existence with the wind, the image. We are essentially ephemeral; our footprints tell us so. The imprints disappear with the blending of that sea of teal and turbulent water and the sea of toasted and drifting dunes.
The beach extends forever. Spindrift whips up in the air like eyeing a blizzard from afar. A long ways down the beach you think you may be walking into a whiteout. I find it difficult to meander on the beach. Nothing but straight line-walking, unless the tide pushes you up a bit. The dunes buffet the shore from the inland forest, as if the waves bulldozed the dunes into a bulwark of piled sand. A light green and tall grass sprouts atop the dunes, a unique ecosystem that when entangled in the hilly maze you may be transported to a desert. On the beach, one follows the demarcation of frothy water, of where the water line once was. One looks for the darker and damp sand for swifter and more efficient travel. Then, you walk with your head up as there is never a tripping hazard. You can see the curvature of the dunes and only then you notice and understand that the land has character. As much as the land is at the whim of the sea, the land fights back, stands erect in direct contradiction from the universe of flatness of the ocean.
A light rain dappled the shore. A light rain dimpled my body. Throughout the day I was dappled and dimpled by a light rain that massaged my swarthy skin like the tawny sandy shoreline. Always angling in from the north I never had to put on any rain gear. Walking southerly with the rain on my back only let the rain feel refreshing. I could see the tendrils coming in arriving in a soft smear, a soft glow of gray and steel blue. The wind dried my skin and gear. I could feel the rain imminently arriving with the staggered drops dappling the damp sand with soft smacks, each drop a kiss given to the gritty earth.
Everyone stopped at Twilight Beach. I had nearly 20 miles of coastal walking to myself afterwards. The only souls I saw drove by in a pickup truck. They tooted their horn, waved and smiled, and zoomed off down the beach. All the afternoon I was squeezed by the sound of crashing waves and tinkling rain. I walked slowly and easily, disencumbered by any hanging thoughts. I just walked in my own snoring slumber of the sea and sand.
The tide extended low away from me about a hundred yards. The low clouds had crawled away and hid inland. Now, the higher clouds moved in with affirmation that the end of this day neared its time. The sunlight hung below clouds on the far horizon, the glare of the sun illuminating the wet shore in a brilliant white, as if a lair of frost had suddenly coated the sand. I had all this to myself. I slowed down a tad more knowing camp was near. I had to relish in this soft glow of an ending day. I was tired yet relaxed, less wrangled from the stressors of everyday life. In short, I was happy and felt fortunate.
The next morning a silvery light glowed on the beach. The radiance eschewed my being in a ball of tinsel where through my vision all I could see was this silvery light. All I could hear were the waves crashing and crashing the beach. The roar could not help me from feeling the pulse of sound that vibrated the silvery light to life. In my tinsel ball I rolled down the beach pulsing slowly with the booming waves. For hours, I languorously tumbled along in a straight vector. I almost felt possessed by some inward discipline to stay the line. Yet, the tumbling waves crashed so far off the beach I had no obstruction to force me off this vector. Other than the wind, of course, which would bring me to wiggling the roll vector I was on.
Then, a brawny wind came. At first the wind pushed me from behind, the sand pelting my legs. In the afternoon, the wind changed course and came directly from the sea. The side wind pushed the water and the oncoming high tide. The waves violently crashed in succession. I got sandblasted and wind thrashed. My eyes wanted to squint but the wind forced them open, my lids seemingly flapping. Sand clung to all my clothing and stuck to every skin cell and hair follicle. I became sticky. The fierce wind brought in the spindrift and sand through the air. This combination spackled to my skin. I fell into an embattled trance of the defeating roar of the wind and waves, the reverberations coupling in thick and moist air.
I tried to find a sheltered dune to break in. This was a hopeless endeavor. Any thought I would be bunkered away from the wind proved to be a dumb notion when I found myself in a wind tunnel that whipped sand violently around. I just pushed on and waited to find a stream inlet to find any relief. For hours this went on, hours of the deafening roar and the incessant whiplashing of sand, mist, and wind. The tide rolled in and pushed me up into softer sand. Nothing too soft, however, for I was still able to manage a straight and possessed vector.
I arrived at the holiday park and enjoyed the amenities of the community driven park. Before I even set up my shelter, I went to a bench that ended my capture within the wind. I was free for the moment of the grasp of the menacing wind. A motel, RV spots, backpackers, and car travelers all shared a communal space, showers and toilets, and the kitchen. The park felt lovingly friendly. The vibe, like all of New Zealand I have felt so far, was chill. Of course, the wind continued outside as I slurped up my pasta. And the wind continued to bash the coast throughout the night. I splayed out in my shelter, my own little bunker that afforded me a snugness in slumber. It was not long before I drifted off.
After a hot breakfast I strode onto the beach. Instantly, the wind howled and crashed against my face. Nothing was soft anymore: the colors, the feel, the silvery globe. Nothing. Everything was abrasive and interruptive. The wind overpowered everything: the sand, the waves, the sea, the only human walking on the beach. Everything. Into the headwind I dove, head long and looking down, my neck craned, wrapped in the desert wind set-up. Since I had only a straight line to consider, I burrowed my chin into the crook of my neck and walked on in a blinding manner. My eyes trained on the color of sand beneath my feet, so that I knew how far I was from the crashing waves and the drier and blowing sand. The gnarly wind kept at the punching. I burrowed the chin in deeper. Countless of purple jellyfish had been deposited from the high tide onto the beach. I hopped over as many as I could see as the purple blobs came into my vision occurred abruptly. I slipped on a couple, nothing more, as I got better at the dodging of the stomping of jellyfish. The wind continued to batter me. As being the only thing to batter the wind did not let up. I think my trekking poles could have stood up on their own, no doubt, because the wind pounded so incessantly. I had 8 miles until the reprieve, a windbreak. I burrowed my chin even deeper. Three hours later, overstepping thousands of jellyfish, crunching hundreds of seashells, my core infiltrated with sand, even the soul felt violated, at long last, I finally made the town of Ahipara. I sought out some fish and chips and a wind block. I found both.
The birds sing. The names I know not, the birds tweet, chirp, chortle, cavort harmoniously, and belt out sweet timorous tunes. The birds sing and I do not know what the birds are called. All I understand is that the birdsong is a sweet melody to my ears. Maybe the names will be learned, maybe they won’t. I just want my learnings to come naturally within the flow of my exploration and curiosity. That way I will openly accept anything completely new and solidify an enduring memory. And, then I hear the squawk of a pheasant. I’m flashed back to Montana suddenly spotting the panicked bird as the colorful tail feathers flash before me on a rural gravel road. The pheasants do the same here: panic, squawk, alarmingly so, and either fly onward across an expanse or smack into an oncoming speedy vehicle. So many carcasses of this colorful and elegant bird line the roads. A malfunctioning defense mechanism, I guess.
The air smells so sweet. I am reminded of gardenias. Maybe the redolent aroma is gardenias. I see a shrub that resembles the flower, a small tree, as well. The aroma wafts in funnels through the humid air, so similar to sweet grass that leaves one intoxicated. I almost feel like I am floating in the evanescence of an aromatic glade. I traipse past and turn my head unwittingly to get that last sugary sniff in. Every single tree is almost as sweet smelling. Each tree, each unique shape of each tree, emits a soft charisma. The plants and trees are here to tantalize me. I stroll in this sweet honey haze, a smog of confection. I walk with my nose in the air reaching for the funnel of honey. The air is redolent of freshness. So potent with fecundity and softness, of a precious spring, of soft angelic hair, a heavenly fabric, this aroma leaves me craving more and instills a calmness in each step. I know I have developed a sweet tooth. I can feel it in every step pulsing from the nostrils to the nerve endings of my molars, pulsing all the way down to the balls of my feet, shooting out to my toes.
Notes from the road…I do not care that I am walking on roads. It is not that I do not care for walking on roads; I simply do not care that I am walking on these roads. The mundane and the boring feel fulfilling to me, at the moment. I am not working the crazy winter. I am not holding onto any baggage. So, what’s the difference. I truly feel that walking a country is the best way to learn about it. I have done it with my own countless of times and I have, since my first long hike many years ago, developed a deeper understanding of the landscape and the people associated and connected to that landscape. Being here enjoying the chill vibe, I mean, there is some special meaning in walking across a whole damn country. Shit, that just doesn’t get old. A tramp across a country, from one end to another, is absolutely special, simply valuable at its core.
In Kaitaia, I woke up early, early enough to be the only one about. I brewed a cup of coffee and sat down to read. A palomino tabby cat wandered over and looked at me with longing eyes. She wanted some attention. She hopped up in my lap, her orange and black and white spackled body nestled tightly. She looked up at me with these emerald green eyes, polished jewels from a river. I swooned at her and petted her while I whispered to her. I was reading The Emerald Mile, fittingly so. I drifted to a vision of me as an old man. Just me and a cat that I caress softly, sitting in a chair, a window open, or a front porch, in the Southwest somewhere. The palomino tabby nestled there in my lap for a couple of hours. Then, I had to go. I thanked her for the vision.
Hours went by and I saw two dogs running towards me. On the road, they took up both shoulders with one of the dogs taking a side. I pulled out a trekking pole and got ready. They lumbered over goofily, like juveniles. The boys wiggled over and scooted through my legs, whining and moaning, just begging for some affection. I obliged and cooed the boys before I shooed them off. I chased them into a yard to get them off the road as I saw a couple of cars coming in each direction. So much for the angry dogs I have heard horror stories about.
Another couple hours later, I passed a pasture with a quarter horse grazing about. The horse rose one leg and stomped it down. I clicked at the horse and the other front rose and stamped the ground. In a playful manner, the horse moved obsequiously and invitingly towards me. He followed me along the fence line as I clicked back. He trotted a bit and caught up with me and snorted. I grabbed a handful of grass and went to him, his long nose excitingly jabbing the air. His snout wrapped around the strands of grass and I caressed his cheek and the bridge of his nose. I softly petted his forehead and he snorted and turned quickly around and darted off. I watched him smoothly move through the grassy pasture before he stopped and turned around one last time, his eyes big and wide.
I woke up with the birds chirping in a forested park with a large stream running around. I clambered up out of my tarp in the thick damp air. I could feel the moisture drizzling on my skin, all the while the sun hazily shone through the low hanging clouds. After a road walk through stunning and vibrantly green farmland I stumbled onto a community cook out. I walked on over and ordered a couple of burgers. I sat down at a table with two locals, one a Māori elder, the other a retired South African who lives on a farm close by. The best burgers I have eaten in very many a year sat on my plate. I drooled, the men laughed, and they could tell I was voracious. The sweet kawakawa bread, similar to ciabatta, sandwiched the tender beef laced with cabbage. A large red leaf lettuce leaf splayed across the patties. Atop the canopy spread some sweet red relish crunchy with pickle and peppers. To top it all off, the icing on the beef cake, an over medium fried egg, the yolk so creamy to take the place of cheese. Along side all of this goodness rolled out a roasted sweet corn cob. Ugh, I was in heaven. The combination of such freshness in such a savory and lavish array of flavors just melted my taste buds. The locals laughed. I don’t think they’ve seen a hiker eat that much that early on in a trail. They probably haven’t heard the moans of pleasure in relishing their burgers either. Here’s the thing too. I didn’t feel gluttonous at all, or to be eating unhealthy. The cultivated food had been grown and raised in the farmland I sat in between, right in the intersection of where the valleys met. The food was organic and cultivated with love. The burgers felt fresh and healthy. The burgers felt nourishing. I felt literally like I was eating a burger for the first time. That’s right, that type of freshness. Although I understood I was eating a burger, I understood that I was not eating a burger, at the same time.
Once I scooped my tongue back into my mouth, we chatted about the plants and crops of the farms, about the cattle and the beer, and, of course, taking care of the land they use and love. This sense of connection to the land, individually and communally, felt so genuine and welcoming, so dislike the American version of defensiveness, lone individualism, and large landowners. With the farms out here being managed by so many people the land is loved. The land is groomed with the heart of the people. The land is respected, and, in turn, the people respect each other, love each other. The land here is not a possession one holds. The land here ties the spirit of the people together. We are severely lacking that aspect in the States.
Pushing on…I found myself, for a brief spell, walking in a meandering creek enclosed in a curvy gorge. The coolness of the water, the shagginess of the hillsides, the clear water, I became mentally fogged in in a chasm. I forgot where I was. I was so far away from everything. No one around but me and the current of the stream. I crossed the main river and hiked along a strip of trail undulating over roots, up and down muddy hillsides, and in thick tropical forests. With the fragrance of the flowery perfume, I pictured myself as a root entwining within the spongy ground. I felt my woodiness damp and punchy, smothered in a profound ambrosia. At camp, birds chortled and sang about in a perfect pitch. One second two hoots perfectly whistled, then two deep chortles almost like clucks, and finally a seductive call that lingered in the forest air languidly like a song drifting through an alley way between two lovers. I was transfixed, everything blended into one place, an embedded spot in a dimension where sound and smell thrived and pulsed in this acre plot. The birdsong charmed me. I listened attentively for each note and the order of each sound. I could only imagine the bird had a long and colorful tail. The river rushed down below and this bird hypnotized my ears with an arrangement of sounds so utterly beautiful I forgot where I was. I was enrapt in my imaginative colorful tail feathers of this bird. Like the envisioned routes, the tail feathers, and the meandering current within the chasm, I was simply immersed in a delightful nature. The evening crept over the forest and the bird’s calls faded, as I faded too. I slipped into a slumber yearning for another perfect hoot. I would get one and jar awake. Then, I would slip again. We played this game until a dark shroud huddled over the forest. A damp silence fell and the cascading creek remained softly raucous.
Woke up at the fog line, the thick strip of moisture laden clouds that filled the canyon with a bounty of sheeps’ wool. The forest walking that basked in the grounded morning sun rays enriched the soles of my feet. I felt the warmth seeping through. The draping canopy hung over the path as kauri sprouted stoutly above shooting its way through a thick forest and stood at the helm of lords over the forest. I was cloaked me in a warm green shawl. Occasionally, I would slip into giant groves of the kauri. The robust trunks held a thin bark reminiscent of the flaky eucalyptus, the papery birch, and the appearance of the jumbled puzzle pieces of the ponderosa. I strolled among the giants and marveled with my neck upward. Eventually, the day passed and ended in Kerikeri. Throughout the day I walked through lovely farmland, bromeliad forests, riverside groves, and manicured lawns. The flowers bloomed widely and gaped for the warm sunshine.
In Kerikeri, the motel owner greeted me and graciously welcomed me into his place. What charm and friendliness. We perused over his lovely gardens, in particular his giant bromeliads with the deep red and purple luster sprouting high into the air. These bromeliads (the name escapes me) were about to bloom, at which point they would flower and decompose, their once in a lifetime bloom. The plant was one of the most beautiful and exotic plants I have ever laid eyes on. I was transfixed. He walked me over to the pool and pulled a gardenia flower for me. I wafted the flower deeply and almost keeled over. Such sweetness. But, this was not the flower I had seen before on this trek. I spoke about the sweet smell of the air here in the Northland, of this constant aroma that had intoxicated me. He pinpointed it immediately and showed me. Jasmine, jasmine held the answer to my odiferous question. Turns out, jasmine is an invasive species to boot. Regardless, the smell has captured me.
There’s just no feeling of drama here in the Northland. I have needed this. No drama, no stress, just chill vibes, sweet smelling air, and a gorgeous green landscape. In the States, we are just inundated with drama. So much so, we all seek the drama. I am so grateful to be away from that noise. The people here have no pretentiousness. The people here are so communal, so friendly and nice. Sigh, this is just a positive/negative rant. I am so damn fortunate. Take this for example. At another holiday park, our country’s equivalent to an RV Park except no giant diesel trucks and even the bigger giant trailers. I met a family from Toronto here in New Zealand on a month long holiday. Michele and Richard wanted to take their family on a holiday to a stress free place. They chose New Zealand to take Mary and Roy. I met Michele and her daughter Mary in the laundry room. We small talked, then ramped it up to about what we were all doing. Michele and I had a very easy conversation and we both felt the mood stemmed from not being in the place where we are from. We just weren’t surrounded by hordes of people and all the drama associated with those places. We even spoke of Terry Fox, the beloved Canadian who after becoming stricken with cancer and losing a leg, attempted to run across Canada, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. He got around Lake Superior and the cancer returned and he died. He died a national hero and now Terry Fox Trots are run by kids nationwide. Michele was surprised I had heard of him. Somewhere in this nugget of my head I had heard of the story. Mary got a little excited that I had gotten there on foot. She opened up and her eyes glared excitingly as she described her experience watching a pod of dolphins surprise her and the family on the ferry trip they had taken this morning. Michele excused themselves to dinner and I continued charging my phone. After about a half an hour I walked back to camp. Roy slung open the motor home door.
‘Hi! I’m Roy!’
‘Hey there Roy!’
‘I hope you make it!’ I blushed and smiled wide at the thoughtful remark coming from this young man. The next morning I ran into Michele and Richard. They offered me a cup of coffee. We small chatted quietly. They told Roy was so excited after he saw me. They said he said he loves hiking now and wants to see the world on foot. I didn’t have a chance to see Roy that morning.
‘I had those same dreams…Try not to let him forget about ‘em.’ I told them.
‘Oh he will. That’s all he talks about. Seeing you though, really left an impression.’ I blushed and smiled again. I shook their hands and walked off and bade them happy trails.
Heavy rain settled in for three days straight. It became difficult to fall into a rhythm because the rain fell so hard, even if all one was mostly doing was walking roads. So, I strategized to have at least one half day and dry out in a hotel room. More or less I walked with my head under a rain jacket hood and narrowed my vision to that of a hooded one. Fortunately, the temps remained warm enough and it was not difficult to remain warm and clammy, a mantra I normally use when hiking in the usual cold rains in the Rocky Mountains and such. After some rest, I left a seaside village amid still thunderous skies.
The sun finally popped out after another dreary morning. Sweat dripped from me as the thick humidity clung to a warm air. I found myself in a cheerful mood because of the sun. After some hours of walking and plodding across a waist deep estuary I became stuck in a seascape painting, frozen in awe, the waves rolling through on an uproarious conveyor belt, the weight of the whole Pacific Ocean pushing into the coastline heaving the weight of an open sea from a South American continent worlds away, the most water I think I have seen at once, the most powerful. One wave crashes and another one follows suit directly behind it, an endless cacophonous line of power. Misty clouds hung in the nooks of the mountainous heads, the moist fog line distinguishing the layers of dirt and saltwater. Only a thin ribbon of pale sand stood out. High tide, the tide was raging and pushing into the grassy dunes barricaded above the beach. I found a flat and grassy patch on top of a bluff as night sunk in. With the booming noise and desolate farm land, the area held an empty feeling, lonesomeness at its highest frequency. I watched the shore swallowed up. Soon, a deep and raucous sleep enveloped me as the waves influenced my ponderous slumber. I tucked away whatever sadness on the surface the scene provoked. Instead, I simply listened and let the crashing consume me.
In the morning, the low tide afforded me swift travel along the beach. The misty atmosphere felt like a hangover. Although my mind has been freer lately I couldn’t help but see and feel the pulsing and crashing coastline as symbolic. I had an awakening of sorts. The misty clouds oozed towards me, the rear bottom sagging with moisture. I didn’t feel it right then, but I understood I had been in a profound sadness this past year. Like in a misty fog I couldn’t recognize the ailment until the sun poked through. Some part of my soul had been waging a swirling wade on a lost coast. Something had vacated my being and left a vacuous and murky hole. What appeared to me in this moment along this South Pacific beach, what laid out in front of me, the surging waves, the powerful roar, the proud character of nature, all of this; I felt inspired to patch that hole up and fill it with this wandering mist, the verdant hills, and the moist and smoothing shoreline. I had been awakened from my dypsomanic stupor, startled awake from that hangover with the roar of nature. My thinking in sadness ended right there. I licked my lips, I tasted the gritty air, the salt. A plume of air bellowed up from my belly. I mumbled in a belchy breath: I will not be anything different for anyone ever again.
The ocean, the coast, the beach, and the sea have always invoked a layer of sadness to me, a gloominess ensconced in mist and fog. It’s an impression I have had from reading books and growing up in the desert, a place so distant in nature. I understand the emotive meaning of waves and water, of the provocative essence the sea brings, the emotional eruption spewing forth from the ocean. I hiked along that beach not in that spewing fate of an emotional gush. I promise you. I walked on in am understanding of what I had suffered through the past year. I understood that love has a sadness to it. Love must be as true as the ocean. I could now don my cap of grace back on and bid farewell to the forgiveness and sorrow that I had sunk into. The ocean reminded me of those depths and provided me with introspection. I walked on with a fuller insight because of this moment by the ocean.
I stopped for breakfast at the camp the other hikers had walked to late last night. I caught up to them after road walking around a ferry option that the hikers had taken. Yea, I am solo, and am aiming to stay that way, however, part of this little adventure is to get out of my comfort zone. Granted, my comfort zone usually makes people very uncomfortable. Yet for me, being a tad more social on trail is something I’m not generally accustomed to. So, I ambled on over to camp and had a warm breakfast. It was fun chitchatting and we had planned to try and meet up for the water taxi at Whangarei Heads. The muddy and humid track of Bream Head felt like a sauna. At least, I sure as hell sweated like I was in one. The narrow ribbon of trail became a chute and if it wasn’t for the well constructed stairs the hiker would zip on down like a log in a flume. Thick moisture laden clouds smothered the craggy peninsula. I couldn’t see the views of the ocean and the bay. Eventually, I popped out on some soggy grassy slopes and spied the views of the bay.
At the dock, I knew I would be hours ahead of the others, the Bream Head track being too slow going. I took off my shoes and socks and leaned up against a shed and watched the ride softly lapping into the gravelly cove. The taxi time neared and things felt just a little too empty. Then, I heard a tractor motor. The tractor came lumbering down a drive way and the fisherman immediately saw me as he drove down the gravel ramp and entered the cove. He threw me a motion of ‘need a lift?’ I obliged his gesture with a head nod. In a few short minutes I was across the bay and walking the beach, the remnants of city life evident in the folks recreating up and down the beach.
I must have passed hundreds of people. Fishermen of every ilk, dogs and walkers, couples, horse riders, people driving their trucks or riding their dirt bikes, swimmers, old people, kids, families, grizzled fisherman, chiseled baskets—-you name it, I saw the spectrum. I gazed back across the bay and the high points were still smothered in clouds. The silky smooth clouds blanketed the rooftop of the heads and looked like an eerie smoky afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. I had mackerel skies above me. And, get this, I had a social walk. I bet at least 10 people, all different and random, ask me if I was hiking the TA. As different as all those folks were, the cheeriness and hospitality made me feel so welcomed. I was reminded of my first successful PCT hike in ‘11 when I would run into random strangers who all seemed to know of the PCT. I just recall how they treated me with such cheer and glee. Walking along this beach felt very similar. It may seem silly, but this was pushing my comfort zone and I was embracing it. I wanted to write it earlier: I think what I need now is to be around nice people.
Once across the Whangarei Harbor, I could see a routine develop on the maps. I wouldn’t have to wait for tides to lower, camping would be at regular intervals in regards to my pace, and I could carry 3 day’s worth of food. The only challenge would be the forecast. More rain followed, again. Nothing too torrential and on two of those days I covered nearly 30 miles in rain all without wearing a raincoat, the temps remaining warm enough to do so.
This trip being so different than a Grand Canyon traverse, the complete opposite, and how the notion to relax feels imperative, both physically and emotionally. My spiritual bucket is so full from the GCT to be super engaged in the social aspect is paramount to not being as engaged in the environment. The country is pretty. This trail is almost boring, almost mundane in the lack of a natural creative route. And that’s ok; I’ve already accepted to be fulfilled by simply walking, an act I love most in life. I know why I am doing this: a much needed break from the work I had been doing for 11 years, a break from being in a close relationship, a break from the States, and most importantly a break from the self-indulgent self. If you think this means running away, well, you are simply dead wrong. I had been so loathing in my own self I felt I needed to be removed from that self, a grounding of sorts, to fill that hole in me with the world around, absorb anything other than my own ego. I’m there just as much, I’m completely aware of me. I just need a break and simply be, just simply fucking be. And, the Te Araroa is fulfilling that stop gap. I need my mindfulness back and not that image I’ve been harping on the past year. This is called my songline, in a way. I am using my inner compass fueled by my curiosity. Check the ego at the door.
Holiday park at Takapuna—the seaside windsurfers, the pulse of the city mixed with travelers, the intermingling in the kitchen with a Dutch couple, a British couple—at dinner; a British family at breakfast. At the cusp of a major city I felt the bite of the raucousness and the busyness. All these encounters with travelers, whether on holiday or on foot, I am observing what makes them tick, trying to get some insight on what is providing them with purpose. These observations, I hope, will provide some insight on how to navigate an unknown future. As for the locals, my observations through the interactions with them is to garner knowledge of what makes up a community, of what type of humble makeup it takes to be content with a home and a normal routine of life, of what constitutes a family. See, I really don’t think I know the definitions too these things.
Auckland to Hamilton:
Life goes on…and so does a bland part of trail all the way from Auckland to Hamilton, just not enough connection to nature, strictly urban and mundane. This is all suddenly a big digression…
Hamilton to Wellington:
Finally leaving Hamilton, about 10m outside of the city, I finally felt that rural aspect of getting out there. Remote farmland, rolling green hills and knobby limestone points. Getting onto a mossy and thick forest trail going up to Pirongia, the gradual climb to a steep sticky mud climb all through a green tunnel and finally attain the summit to gather some wide views of the surrounding areas, from Hamilton to the Tasman Sea. At the hut I pitched my tarp and walked over to the deck to observe the sunset, my first sunset in just over 3 weeks on trail. This was the summer solstice.
The next morning waking up to a thick blanket of mist and fog, the mind is clear. Ambling along through a hallway of fog I scrambled down some slick boardwalks before hitting a slippery and muddy trail. I skidded and slipped down a couple hours until reaching a dirt road. I had it all to myself since I was up way earlier than the others. An afternoon downpour totally drenched me for 2 hours, to skies clearing up and drying me off, more meandering through occasional rain forests and grassy farmland, immersed in a rhythm of walking—-this writing is choppy, sporadic. Finally, an evening stroll to find a campsite, the orange and pink hues of sunset crowned with plum colored rays emanating the first full day of summer. My writing is turning antsy, a jiggled flick of the wrist and twirl of the fingers, I tumble onward in joystick rhythms. The days are suddenly moving swiftly.
The ribbon of trail threaded through a thick, comforting forest and the soothing Mangaokera River. The gorge sprouted with huge trees, both tall and wide, from pines and cedars and other native trees. The jungle would open up to a rustic grassland, the slopes white specked with grazing sheep. I lingered along this meandering trail before I knew I was exiting a thicket and onto a gravel road. The long gravelly dirt road weaved to a high grassy plateau where I glimpsed sidelong views of endless green prairies and knobby cones. Evening crept in and the blue sky turned to a purple and magenta mixture signifying my good Christmas eve was over. Then, a truck rolled by. I recognized the lady because she had passed me twice already along the road. I asked her if there was a field out of sight to pitch my tent. She told me of a wool shed 2km up the road. I continued on like a slow cooked thick sauce dreaming of a good nights rest after a filling meal that would cost my stomach. The sky turned a darker purple with the remaining rays bleeding through the smeared clouds a dark red. An ATV rolled up on me from a house. I had heard music and seen some people rustling around from the road. I was surprised at how quick the ATV got to me, right as I was passing the long driveway. The girls each wore a Santa hat. They smiled cheerfully and asked if I was a TA walker. The farm manager, the driver’s dad, yelled from above—
‘Hey! It’s all right! The shed! Good to go!’
He eagerly gave a couple thumbs up as he swayed to the reggae music. The girls showed me the way to the wool shed as they pulled up next to the chiller to pick up a load of mussels for the party. They zoomed away after showing me around, both of them laughing and smiling as friendly as anyone could be. I’m pretty sure they were stoned. I giggled when they sauntered off. I hurriedly washed up and gulped down a bagel with cream cheese. At the house, the welcoming vibe grooved along. Wayne greeted me with a smile and a beer and introduced me to everyone. Tuti the son, Brian the brother, and so on. His wife brought out sandwiches of fresh ham, roasted chicken, aioli dressing, and butter lettuce. The Christmas Eve party was just beginning.
A jovial chaos ensued. Marinated in debauchery, I was glazed over in laughter. Wayne and I discussed our families. He was sort of shocked at how small mine is. I was pleasantly intrigued at how large his is. He passionately pointed around the area where family members lived. He listed them off. I asked him more about the farm. The head of cattle and sheep, the pastures, the shearing process, the milking, the Māori trust he had been instilled to manage and the land behind it. So much more. He continued passing me beers and offering up the mussels. I slurped the mussels with a garlic sludge that tickled my tastebuds. Three sandwiches went down easily. The beer just flowed. I wasn’t overwhelmed with the friendliness and hospitality either. In fact, I was the complete opposite. I was thrilled to be engaged with this family, to know their history and how they do things. Everything felt just natural. I could feel the family’s connection to each other and their lineage. I could also feel their connection to the land and the animals. This party was a tradition and I was a part of it. This is communal bonding at its fullest.
Tuti yelled over to me in a drunken Kiwi drawl.
‘Wait till you see the stars!’ He sprang up from his seat and we stumbled over to the lawn in the darkness. I gazed up bleary eyes from a tilting stance. The beer set in and I squinted my eyes.
‘Is that Orion? Why does it look so funny? What the fuck?’ Tuti laughed and he pointed out some southern stars the Māori had names for.
I had gotten stuck on that Orion looking constellation though, so I couldn’t pick up all the words or which stars he was pointing at. Then it hit me like a shot of whiskey.
‘Wait!’ I said a slurring bit. ‘It is Orion!’ I laughed and expressed in amazement, exclamation points in earnest. ‘It’s just upside down!’
Somehow this brought me back to earth. I felt grounded right there in exactly that moment. All the silliness of self absorption ceased. I was a part of this family for tonight. Tuti and I slung our arms over each other’s shoulders and swayed back to the patio.
Fraser the cousin turned up the reggae. By now the mussels were gone and everyone was happily drunk. Tuti and I spoke of traveling at length. So much so, I had forgotten that I had probably needed to get to bed. So, the beer kept coming. Aunty showed up and we got a laugh at how many times she passed me today. Both Aunty and Tuti said that in 12 years of living there, that of all the walkers I was the first to have the gumption to come up to the house and personally say hi. Suddenly, the group behind the table, Wayne, Hope, Siobhan, and Fraser the cousin began singing along to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. They all locked arms and swayed rhythmically to the lovable tune. Everyone joined in and we all sang out the chorus:
About a thing…
Every little thing…
Is gonna be all right…
The song ended but the vibe and pulse of the song felt like it just continued on. I finally looked at the time on my phone. Half past midnight. A round of hugs ensued and we continued chiming the song. After a long and happy goodbye, which included another beer, I staggered back to the sheep shed for a bleary eyed night of sleep chiseled with a smile on my face.
Yea…from there I walked all the way into Wellington. Nothing would compare to the Christmas Eve night with the Māori family. I found myself in some good walking and some beautiful scenery. The vibe evened out. I camped under the skies more often, stealth camped here and there. I felt the impulse of being grungy. I wanted things to be wild. Of course, a cyclone spun in and got things a bit too wild. Needless to sweat about it when all the effort was given. Wellington fell into place grandly, a wonderfully hilly city on a pretty bay, small yet big the city brought amazingly beautiful urban trails, diverse cultures mingled together, and the harbor brought on a metropolitan busyness. Most of all, however, Wellington brought on hiker friends. Steeped under Mt. Victoria, Heaps hosted me and a couple other hikers with an angelic hospitality of the truest sort. After three full days of mingling, planning, eating, and relaxing, I shoved off on a midnight ferry for the South Island. The seas were rough, but I medicated strongly enough to receive loud knocks at my cabin door. I drearily walked down the plank in the early grey morning and onto the soil of an imagine place and a new hopeful trail.