Day 20 (Sun 29 Nov): Ngunguru to Taiharuru (Tidesong)
Started 10.15am, reached Horahora estuary river at 11.45am; crossed river 12.45pm; reached Tidesong camp/B&B on Taiharuru river estuary at 4pm, 16k.
Pain in the head status: migraine in the night, some difficulty sleeping. Took pills and they helped; woke up fine. I knew it was too soon to start crowing about how well I was doing.
Word of the day: Certitude, feeling of complete certainty
Odd start to the day as we had a tidal river crossing about an hour and a half from camp, which was only crossable two, maybe three, hours either side of low tide, which was 3.30pm. Bizarrely, we had a similar crossing to negotiate later in the day but low tide for this river was 2pm. However, we were planning to stay at a campsite at Tidesong, run by a very friendly pro-TA couple that was on the near side of the river, so we wouldn’t have to cross that one today.
We mooched around doing word puzzles then lovely James arrived with a big pot of plunger coffee which made friends of us all. He also asserted, with fine certitude, that it wouldn’t rain today but would remain overcast, which goes to show that even statements from a trusted and respectable source, who supplies caffeine, may be incorrect, and saying something with confidence and self-belief doesn’t make it true. It poured with rain half an hour later. Life lesson complete.
However by the time we set off, the rain had cleared and we did only have patches of light drizzle for the rest of the day, until we were caught in a brief shower just before Tidesong. The walk to Horahora river wound through Manuka, some flowering so profusely it looked like snow, and lines of hives were humming with activity to capture the nectar. I did wonder whether the apiarists would resist having the native bush regenerate over the tea tree expanses, as this would reduce a potentially lucrative supply of Manuka honey.
At the river edge, we skirted around some violent oystercatchers who screamed at us for getting too close to their nest, had some lunch and Tony did a river reconnaissance- but the water was still way up his thighs and James said the deepest part at the end would be 600mm higher than this. So we hung about for a while, watching the sandbar emerge from the retreating water, until Mark got tired of waiting and strode in and we all followed. It wasn’t too bad – just missed the undies. Lovely James had advised us to remain barefoot until we reached the road as we had thick black mangrove mud to navigate. It was good advice- and after the immersion in cool river water, the massage by river stones and shells and the application of mineral-rich mud, my feet felt fresh as if from a spa treatment.
The next delightful bay I had never heard of before that we passed through was Pataua, separated north and south by another estuary but this one is spanned by a footbridge. Pataua is so named because of a pa on the headland, which launched many war parties (taua), a recurrent theme in these parts.
We only had to skirt around the final estuary of the day, Taiharuru river, where mangrove tree trunks were as thick as my waist and had oysters growing on them. We were tenting at a place called Tidesong but as soon as we arrived, the beautiful hosts Ros and Hugh ushered us in for tea and scones, home made with jam and cream. And banana cake and Christmas mince pies. It would have been rude not to sample them all.
Mark and Jaz were already there but Jaz had finally realised that hitching and hobbling on her tendonitis afflicted foot was not improving it, nor giving her the best TA experience. She decided to get it checked out the next day in Whangarei.
Our tent site was next to a paddock with a mad group of sheep who would periodically bleat urgently amongst themselves then stampede over in a fleece-flopping flock to stare at us curiously and discuss our intrusion. Hugh told us later it was because he’d been feeding them treats- who says sheep are dumb. It was also the warmest, driest campsite ever as we had a large piece of carpet to put the tent on – such a great idea. If weight weren’t an issue, I’d be strapping some of that to my pack.
Podcast highlight: Was very excited to hear Health Check from the BBC report on research from the Dunedin longitudinal study (Dunedin described as a town in NZ), which has followed a group of babies born in Dunedin in the 1970s- so my cohort too. This recent study found that children exposed to higher levels of lead (primarily from petrol, at that time) had more memory and cognitive issues than those with lower levels – even though they are now still only in their 40s. This is great news – every time I forget someone’s name or can’t remember where I am, I can blame toxic lead exposure from my childhood. Another reason to revile the oil industry. I won’t forget to do that.
Wildlife lesson: Last night, I thought there was a horse outside the tent, there was such a loud whinnying, neighing-type noise. Turns out it was a couple of quail, flapping and flurrying to get to the top of the next-door trees to roost for the night. Had no idea quail were roosters.
Day 21 (Mon 30 Nov): Taiharuru to Reotahi
Started 8.45am, reached Ocean beach camp 11.45am, end of the Bream Head trail around 4pm, final campsite at Reotahi at 6.10pm; 27k
Pain in the head status: It was definitely premature to crow about the diminished migraines with walking. Had another night disturbed, but it did ease off with medication.
Word of the day: Abulia, a state of hypofunction, with the loss of ability to act or make decisions
This was the day of great feats and much food. We had just had our porridge and packed up the tent when Mark rushed over with fabulous news – Ros and Hugh had breakfast waiting for us all in the house. We hightailed over there and had a second breakfast of muesli, fresh fruit salad and yoghurt, then trumped the hobbits by having a third breakfast of toast, eggs and bacon. On reflection, this was then I knew my head still wasn’t quite right, because I ate the bacon, despite being a vegetarian, despite not really wanting the bacon, because my brain was befuddled and couldn’t figure out the alternatives. Tony would have happily eaten the bacon. He would even have traded an egg for the bacon, as he got an extra one because Mark doesn’t like eggs (funny how the man is always offered the excess food.) Anyway, none of that occurred to me until some hours later, when the bacon was well and truly digested and irretrievable. Next time I hope to do better, and keep my intestines pig-free. In my vegetarian defence, I did do a good deed for animal-kind and bottle fed the pet lamb. It’s best not to think about what might happen to the lamb in a few months though.
Our beautiful hosts drove us around the estuary, as it was high tide and uncrossable, and Hugh had a renal appointment in Whangarei that morning so he couldn’t take us over in his boat (for which I was secretly grateful – not about the renal appointment, which was to check his transplanted kidney, that he had received from Ros (I told you, beautiful) – but about missing the boat ride). We farewelled Jaz, off to her own reckoning with the doctor, and the three of us, Mark, Tony and I, carried on. We ascended, then descended, Kauri Mountain, disappointingly bereft of many kauri, and passed through more farmland, where Mark noted the multi-hued calves, pointing out one the colour of chocolate cake. They were also shades of caramel, fudge and carrot cake. Clearly, three breakfasts had not been sufficient.
This was definitely the most varied day of walking so far. After forest and farm, we reached beach. A long, steady walk along Ocean Beach (Whangarei), on the pink and gold sand, bereft of any other people. The waves chased us up the sand, although the tide was turning, and left in their wake strings of translucent jelly balls, like glass beads. And this is the place to find NZ dotterels – everywhere you looked they were darting about.
Scrambling over some rocks to reach the back just before Bream Head, it was a shock to see clumps of people, including a surf school. This was then the decision to undertake the great feat was made. It was only lunchtime. None of us really wanted to hang around at Ocean Beach campsite for the rest of the day. However, the task ahead was a gruelling walk over Bream Head itself, followed by a 7-8k walk along the road to the next campsite. The signs said the Bream Head walk would take 5 hours 15 minutes. My defence strategy against these signs was to first to ignore them, and then to pretend that they had been written for other people, maybe people with babies or snails in tow. The clincher was the forecast – it was predicted to be stinking hot tomorrow, whereas it was overcast with a cool breeze today. Better weather conditions; avoidance of heat stroke; not having to wake up with the dread of the walk tomorrow; it was decided. 12.30pm, lunch consumed (double helping of wraps to power us up the mountain), and we were off again.
It was steep. It was hot. It was sweaty. You know you are sweating a lot when droplets fall off your eyebrows onto the inside of your glasses. The litre of water downed in preparation for the climb quickly saturated my merino. In fact, my merino underwear became so sodden they dropped down into my shorts. It was unfortunate that I was wearing my only intact pair of underwear. My other pairs have developed numerous holes (more than the requisite three) but these may have provided more ventilation. Regardless, I doubt these underwear will survive the washing machine at my mother’s house in Auckland – in fact, I doubt they’ll even make it into the washing machine.
It was a gorgeous bit of bush though, and amazing views at the top – oh, and the other top – crap, there’s another top… My delusions about the signage were fortunately confirmed however, and we made it to the other end in about 3 and a half hours. Poof. Who needs 5 hours 15 minutes?
The final push started out quite pleasantly along a suburban-type coastal road, vaguely reminiscent of Eastbourne, but then deteriorated into the usual road-walking drudgery, worsened with the disappointment of the only dairy we passed being definitively closed. Mark peeled off to have a drink at the local club, and by the time we reached Reotahi freedom camp (just across the harbour from the Marsden Point oil refinery), Tony was near a state of abulia due to hunger. Drastic action was required, and quickly. There was no time for rehydrating dinner. I assembled the fastest and most calorie-laden meal I could conjure with the ingredients available – a soy and linseed wrap, smeared with peanut butter, and stuffed full of chunks of Whittaker’s rum and raisin dark chocolate. Dinner was served. Tony was restored.
We threw the tent up just before the rain arrived. I blessed the Whangarei Council for putting in such a nice toilet, with tiles on the floor and even hooks on the walls, so I could have a peaceful, private wash out of the elements. If ever there was a day I needed a wash, it was this day.
Wildlife fact: A board at Ocean Beach stated that the bar-tailed godwits travelled 11,000km in 8 days in their migration from Alaska to New Zealand. That really puts us to shame.