10/31 KeriKeri

Puketi Hut to Kerikeri Holiday Park

23 km

I can’t believe it still hasn’t rained. All that potential flooding disaster! All those days and hours stacked up with predictions of deluge! I supposed I should blindly accept, gratefully, before jinxing our dry little hiking party. We have a pleasant parting breakfast with John, and say our goodbyes since he is staying a day here and we may not see him again for awhile. I am quite fond of him!

It is a very sheepy day. The amount of mud we have had on days past, today we have, in sheep. This type of excess is much more endearing. Most of our 23 k walk is through paddocks and pastures, which is quite lovely. The fences are well made, and appear to be maintained with care. Each of the fences has a sturdily constructed stile to cross over on. It is cloudy and cool most of the day, which makes for pleasant brisk walking. We walk three abreast and talk most of the day. It’s a town day today, which means showers and laundry! NZ’s humid air means hiking sweat is quick to form and slow to dry, making for stinkier than average shirts; then there’s the faint aroma of eel clinging to pretty much everything.

Sheep sheep and more sheep. And so many baby sheep! Their short legs look comically stubby from the fluff of wool sprouting out of them.

At one pasture there are huge rocks stacked atop each other in the field like giant cairns, cows milling around them. It looks like they are living in a sculpture park, although I assume there is a more utilitarian reason.

At one stile turn, there is a board painted white with black Sharpie markers and a big bag of spheres that look like oranges. We follow suit and sign the board, and each peel a large fruit. They are a deep sunset color and plump, not stringy, bursting with juice, but the surprise is they taste like grapefruit! The sharp, almost bitter tang is not wholly unpleasant, but one more than satisfies the citrus urges. We learn later these are Ugli fruit, a cross between, guessed it, oranges and grapefruits.

The wind picks up, and out of the trees we are at its mercy. For giving up the screen of protection, we have gained views out over the east coast and bay. It gets steadily closer.

One last long downhill through some pastures, replete with electric fences that look deceptively like benign cotton twine. We enter some young woods that line the Kerikeri River, and the walking becomes sublime. There are so many flowers blooming! There are ducks nestled or paddling down on the creek, often with a little line of ducklings mimicking the adult lead.

The walking is nice and shady, amongst some kind of giant pine.

We reach a swinging bridge that seems more like a high ropes course element than a viable crossing.

The track becomes wider and easier, then mowed, then graveled. We enter a beautiful riparian forest, where all the bouncing light is a bright spring green.

The miniature river races and chuckles down below, careening around boulders and splashing over small ledges, until it, and we, reach Rainbow Falls.

It pumps over the edge, creating a soothing roar and a prismed spray. Prana and I eat lunch at the bottom, while Parker hurries to town. He’s got one thing in mind: a triple meal plan at McDonald’s.

We all convene at the Holiday Park, and split a suite. Thankfully, they sell Goodbye Sandfly at the front desk. We have been searching for this stuff specifically! Hallelujah! Sandflies are a terror, a scourge, and they are everywhere. They are tiny, and I haven’t felt a bite yet; but the aftermath of a bite is a huge dark welt that itches at least as badly as poison ivy. I had accepted the uniform of permanent pants gloves and socks until we could find a repellant that worked (and even that has left a perfect ring of bites at the sock line and behind the ears) but Parker looks like he’s in the middle of a case of chicken pox.

Our suite is serene, and looks out over a peaceful quiet lake. I unpack a little in my room, then as I walk through the connecting area, I smell a dead mouse. Oh no! This place seemed so clean. I guess one dead mouse is not the end of the world. I look in all the corners and under the bed, prepared to empty a trap. But I can’t find one anywhere. Where the hell could it be?

I give up, decide to let it go and deal with it later, when suddenly I stop. It’s strongest right by Parker’s pack. Weird. Then it hits me: it is the pack. The eel residue has hit this stage. Luckily, Parker is well aware, and when he comes out from a purifying shower, good-naturedly agrees the pack shall be banished to the back deck.

Prana and I each shower, and Prana, bless him, does laundry. I wash most things except my puffy jacket and rain jacket, hoping more filth will be removed with a smaller load, and those don’t smell bad yet.

He returns with the cleaned clothes, and I bury my nose in them. Restored!

Prana and I set out for dinner, Parker still full from his McDonald’s spree. As I pull on my puffy jacket, I realize it does indeed smell- now that it’s no longer overpowered by the smell of dirtier clothes, I can whiff that it too smells of eel. Ah well. At least eel goes with sushi, which is what we find cheap and abundant for dinner. A man from China, Bryan, owns it, and although it is closing (closed) when we walk in at 6:39, he graciously invited us to order and tells us about his life and the town as we wait for the food to be made to go. He is happy and an obvious place-maker in this town, and it shows in the way he talks about the area and his regulars. On the way home we do a little hunting and gathering at the grocery store and are beside ourselves to find a genius dessert: black licorice ice cream. This is at least the fifth time I have thought “I could sure live in this country.”

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