Utea Park to Waipapakauri HP
It’s a late sleeping kind of morning. Not many miles to do (or kilometers, for that matter). When the light wakes me I stumble over to William’s tent spot to get his email address, as he is a strong hiker on a tight schedule, and we may not see him again. But apparently it’s a lazy morning only for some of us, and he is long gone.
I stick my head into the common area to scope it out- last night it was a zoo and I avoided it. There’s an older man that quietly offers hot water out of a whistling kettle, and I nod appreciatively. I duck back into the tent to root out the coffee fixings, and as I zip the fly closed behind me -scrthzpop!- 4 teeth rip out of the middle of the zipper. What the! I dumbly fiddle with it, trying to stick the teeth back in line, not awake enough yet to accept the fact that they are permanently pulled. It slowly sinks in; we are on one of the reputedly rainiest trails for 180 days, and on day 3 our biggest rain protector is now compromised. The disappointment is compounded by the fact that this is the first use after getting all of the zippers repaired; for a mint, might I add.
At least there is still coffee.
I pour the hot water into the pot and watch the instant granules swirl and dissolve. The man and another woman are washing a pile of large silver fish carcasses in the sink. “What are those?” I ask, to make conversation. “They’re mullet!” answers the woman cheerfully. Just caught em this morning! You’re welcome to some if you like!”
“Oh, thank you, but I wouldn’t know what to do with them.”
“Well, you just cut em up, they’re lovely raw, especially with a squeeze of lemon. Or you filet [pronounced fill-et] em, and fry them up in a little flour and butter. Really, have some!”
I’m imagining where I could possibly strap one to my backpack. The tweaked out cat, who thought it was hilarious to zoom through the tent in the dark last night, would be unshakeable the rest of the trail. “Thank you so much, I just don’t know how to cut them up or have a knife to do it with.”
“Oh, well then. Do it right here. I’ll get the fish knife and Toi here will teach you how to fill-et em. And then I’ll get the flour, and here is some beautiful butter, use as much as you like.”
“Ok.” I’m kind of excited at the prospect now. I take a second to nip back to the tent and let Prana know what’s coming for breakfast.
Toi shows me how to cut from under the dorsal fin and work the knife along the bones. He fill-ets one, then I fill-et one. He flips one over to skin it, and I do the same. At Toi’s urging, I pop a piece raw in my mouth. It tastes clean and sweet, like a fresh morning on the beach. Delicious. Parker and Prana have wandered in by now. Prana tries a piece raw, agrees its good, but the customers prefer it fried up please, so I dredge the outer halves in the flour and liquefy a scoop full of the gorgeous deep yellow butter. The mullet fries up like a melt in the mouth magic trick. “Don’t forget the frames now,” says Aylia, and while I am uncertain of how the ‘frames’ (skeletons) will turn out, I feel like it would be rude to waste them after the generosity of the sharing. Frying them up turns out to be delicious, of course, and the bones are not the hazard I feared; the richer meat slides right off.
With the plate licked clean, I do all the dishes and thank Aylia and Toi one more time.
We return to the beach. I love this walking- the mindless forward momentum. The feet are on autopilot, leaving the mind unfettered to wander. The mist creates a surprising immediacy to the view, hikers behind and ahead fading like wraiths or apparitions. The white noise of the ocean itself is consistent enough to drown out the mind’s incessant useless chatter, but not so overpowering to prevent digging into a focused thought.
There is a dark shape by the water. As we get closer, I realize – a baby seal!! Amazing!
We stop for a windy lunch, and it is at the same time another hiker in front of us is pulling over. We dine with John, who is from the south end of the North Island, and points out some edible seaweed called Neptune’s Necklace. He knows some great history and about the area, and we have a wonderful chat. We are all headed to the same place tonight, so we say see you then to our new trail friend, and while Parker has a nap, Prana and I dig up some more clams to go with dinner.
When we arrive at Waipapakauri, we decide to take a day off from hiking. The holiday park is lovely and quiet, and Parker’s blisters are getting a bit out of hand. (Out of foot?) We book a dark wood paneled motel room and buy the few groceries available- a sleeve of ginger biscuits, a sleeve of vanilla biscuits, and some sparkling juices, passion fruit and peach. (What is passion fruit?! Besides wonderful?!) A hot shower lessens the feral feeling that has begun to creep in. Parker heads to bed early, so Prana and I go have an enjoyable evening social with John, who is a great conversationalist, a great story teller, an all around interesting and open guy. He shares his trick for avoiding blisters- raw carded wool that gets tucked between all the toes within the sock. Worth a try!
He has decided on a day off also; we all look forward to it.