Day 5 (Sat 14 Nov): Ahipara to Kaitaia
Left Ahipara campsite at 8am, 1k to North Drift Cafe. Left cafe around 9am, reached Kaitaia (Beachcomber Lodge and Backpacker) around 1pm, 14k.
Word of the day: Exigent, requiring much effort, demanding
Pain in the head status: Nada. Feels amazing. Blisters and over-taxed calf muscles are almost a happy pain since they are not co-existing with a migraine.
Early to bed, early to rise. I woke up around 5am with a blissful sense of being well-rested, alert, and excited as a puppy to get up and start racing around. I tried to calm myself down by listening to a podcast about the new COVID-19 vaccine, but it curiously failed to put me back to sleep. I’m so happy to be here, to be having this experience. It feels like such an immense privilege and I am sometimes overwhelmed with gratitude that it is possible.
I managed to restrain myself from waking Tony up until just after 6am, and we listened to the intense birdsong. Sadly, we could identify only one native bird, the shining cuckoo, the rest were blackbirds, sparrows and finches, thrush and starlings. Still, at least they were vigorous in their morning singalong. We’d heard ruru in the night too, hopefully keeping the rodent population at bay.
I’d been promised some kind of birthday cake, which was fulfilled at North Drift Cafe, the best (only?) cafe in Ahipara, where we had a second breakfast of strawberry cheesecake and real, non-instant coffee. It was worth the wait.
Then came our first day of road-walking, back to Kaitaia. I was glad to have walking poles, as I might have ended up in the ditch otherwise, scrambling off the tiny tarseal road shoulder to avoid on-coming traffic. Much of the time there was no verge. I almost lost my life only once, when an overtaking car screamed past me, an inch or so away from my pole. If I come to grief on the Te Araroa, I’d wager it would be through an altercation with traffic.
Lesson of the day came from watching a farmer plastic-wrap huge round pastilles of hay. I’d never seen this done before. Maybe another day we’ll see how they roll the hay up into wheels in the first place. Tony assured me there were systems in place to recycle the plastic, I hope he’s right.
And poor Tony – his blisters are epic. Both little toes are twice their usual size. Watching him hobbling along in pain was excruciating. The tables are turned – it’s usually him watching me. It’s almost as painful watching someone you love suffer and be unable to help as to suffer yourself.
Wildlife limited to dead possums, hedgehogs and magpies. According to my rough calculations, there was around one pest carcass per kilometre on this stretch of highway. Could this be a new measure of the success of local pest control? The roadside was also notable for the amount of aluminium cans – hundreds of them, RTDs, soda, energy drinks. If the country ever re-introduced a refund scheme for bottles and cans, you could fund half a dozen Happy Meals from this road alone.
Actually, there was another new birdlife sighting. We stopped for lunch at Kaitaia Cemetery, where we ate quiches from North Drift Cafe on a wooden bench shaded by a huge pohutakawa tree. A pair of Californian quail darted around the gravestones. It was a busy time – three lots of people drove up to pay their respects to their remembered dead.
We reached our Kaitaia lodgings in plenty of time to do a load of washing, which our noses will thank us for, have hot showers, remediate our feet, and I did a quick grocery shop – quick in the sense that it was only 1.5k to walk there. Today’s walk was definitely not as exigent as the 90 Mile Hell Beach trudgery.
Day 6 (Sun 15 Nov): Rest day in Kaitaia
Word of the day: Flaneur, one who strolls about aimlessly
We decided that Tony’s feet should not be walked on today, his blisters were so bad. So he then walked with me to the supermarket to get some more food for the day, but in his sandals, which conveniently had gaps in the key blister positions. We were then flaneurs in Kaitaia township, but finding nothing to aim for, returned to the backpackers to embark on a day of intensive eating, as much fresh fruit and vegetables as our stomachs could hold, protein in the form of eggs and tofu burger patties, rounded off with buns and pastries. Had I lost some weight on 90 Mile Beach? If so, this is quickly being reversed.
I had time to find answers to some of my wildlife questions, thanks to the amazing Google-know-it-all. Birds tuck a foot up to conserve heat from being lost from their uninsulated legs – so those one-legged seabirds were trying to keep warm. Those skinny legs support their weight because they have very light bones, splayed feet (often) to distribute the load and, probably most importantly, have big leg muscles hidden under their feathers (think chicken drumsticks). Sandhoppers can drown. I’m very sorry.