Day 62 (Sun 10 Jan): Atene to Whanganui
Started 7.25am, finished 2.35pm, 24k (plus 7k car ride).
Pain in the head status: Fine.
Word of the day: Desultory, passing from one thing to another in an aimless way.
We resumed our desultory ramble along the Whanganui River Road in the cool of the morning, passing through a couple of tiny settlements and commiserating with the sheep crammed into pens and on a stock truck trailer on the side of the road, awaiting their final voyage. Their luckier counterparts bleated and chewed grass in the fields, oblivious of the fate that would be theirs too, someday.
The oyster cliffs were worth a closer look, consisting of dense layers of shell packed into sandstone, including enormous oyster shells up to 10cm long.
I had decided to actively solicit a ride to bypass a section of unpleasant state highway walking and started putting my thumb out while we were walking the last part of the river road. After being callously ignored by the occasional southbound vehicle, we were picked up by a hunter from Kapiti and his son, although from the number of beer bottles in the back, the hunting was probably a secondary weekend activity. They gamely cleared out the back of their ute to load us in and obligingly dropped us off at Upokongaro, 10k or so north of Whanganui, where we refreshed ourselves with beverages and date scones.
Fortified, we crossed the spanking new cycle/pedestrian bridge at Upokongaro to the western side of the Whanganui River, to pound out the final kilometres of the day on a very flat easy trail by the river.
Our entertainment along the way included seeing a steam train on the railway line, the steamboat Waimarie on the river, and a series of sculptures at points on the path.
We were hosted for the night by our own personal trail angels at 9B, who put on such a spread of vegetarian curries for dinner it took two heaped platefuls to fully appreciate them all. We also had some belated Christmas cheer with several versions of Christmas cake.
Highlight of the day: Meeting of old friends.
Day 63 (Mon 11 Jan): Whanganui to Turakina beach (Koitiata)
Started 8.40am, finished 3.30pm, 24k.
Pain in the head status: Good, I’m enjoying this run of painfreeness.
Word of the day: Mephitic, offensive to the smell, noxious.
Our trail angels transported us to the supermarket to pick up a few essentials then dropped us off on the No2 line road, an alternative route to the state highway out of Whanganui. We recommenced our walk with stomachs full of breakfasts, and our packs restored to weightiness by the contents of the food parcel we’d added.
The No2 line road was busy enough that we were often scrambling along the messy verge or gutter but this was nothing compared to the short 3k section of state highway we then turned onto. Mephitic stock trucks and speeding sedans barrelled past in a stench of fumes and it was a relief to all the senses to turn off into a quiet country road that eventually led us to Turakina beach.
This was our first beach walk since Auckland, and once we got through the sand dunes, the walking wasn’t too bad – a novelty at least for an hour or so. There were vast numbers of black billed gulls who rose before us like a Mexican wave, screeds of smooth colourful stones on the beach, stacks of driftwood and the offshore breeze was delightfully cool.
Just before the camp site at Turakina, we had a river to cross but we’d timed it to be there at low tide and it was barely knee deep. We discovered that this river is in constant flux so we were lucky to have such an easy crossing and at different times, we could have to cross a lake or an estuary. The whole beach is undergoing incredible change with the sand dunes advancing by up to 4m a year, in stark contrast to the erosion happening on many other NZ coasts. Most people would be worried that their beachfront bach would soon end up in the ocean – here, you’d be worried that your beachfront bach would soon be an inland bach.
Startling event of the day: We were almost ambushed and stampeded by a rakish group of bovines, but fortunately they were cowed by our stick waving and hollering. Trampers beware- this lot was definitely plotting more mischief to unwary walkers.