11/7 From Destruction to Terrarium

Captaine Bougainville Monument to Parangarau Stream

15 k Day 21

There is such a tension of time on the trail. And math, for that matter. Should we have gone farther today? Could we have taken more time for other things besides hiking, or exploring more side trails? How far can we push the energy without burning out? 157 days left. 20 days down. An average of 16 k per day behind us. An average of 17.5 k per day ahead of us. We will become more fit. The terrain will become tougher. What does the future hold?

The toughest thing about this section of the trail, which has been the majority of the trail so far, toughest for me at least, is the restriction. The camping is so specific, between what’s available for camping due to topography and private land, and when you can and can’t cross certain areas, due mostly to tides, that it’s been hard to hit a stride. So the length of the day is an inflexible schedule, which is one of the things I most enjoy leaving behind on the trail.

But then again, I did quite enjoy yesterday, sitting in a giant bean bag of beach grass, for two hours, looking out to sea, imagining being a sailing explorer. So who’s to say. I guess this trail is just different.

Good morning and goodbye, magical spot! The high tide was in at sunrise, covering our beach walk of yesterday and erasing the map of our footprints. Children and dogs shriek and bark with delirious, (and I imagine cold) happiness as they play in the surf.

A softly carpeted pine forest cups the trail as it leaves the monument.

Climb, climb. Cross a stile. Gravel roads snake around treeless ridge lines, in a comfortingly familiar, gentle, PCT-esque grade. The views out to sea are unscreened, and the frequent rocky headlands, which bend the crashing waves into a spectacular interpretive dance, are interspersed with shallow pools and pale beaches, which paint the underside of the ocean bright greens and turquoises. Could this go on forever?

At one dip between the grassy ridges a pair of apparently injured ducks are walking, dragging or unsuccessfully attempting to flap their wings. I think how sad it is that they both are injured. How unlucky. Prana rounds the bend and shouts “Babies!” I’m right behind, and, indeed, there are ten or so small grey chicks, milling around each other and chirping in gentle confusion. Aha! So the adult ducks are probably just fine.

We alternate road and beach walking, watching the wave crests rolling with a strange dark red seaweed. We nip into a reserve to check out Whale Beach, supposedly the second most beautiful beach in NZ. Who makes decisions like that? What makes a beach more or less beautiful? Whale Beach is quite nice, but no more or less so than many. It’s made of coarse-grained salt-and-pepper sand, with large leggy trees that drape to create shady arboreal coves. The tide is up, lending a cramped feeling, with a few strategically placed, interesting pieces of driftwood. Prana and I sit for a few moments, then retrace to meet the others at the lunch time meeting place, a general store.

The woman cashiering is condescending, continuously speaking to me like either I am mentally delayed, don’t speak English, or both. I won’t recount the conversation, as it isn’t quite funny yet. The cook, however is a lovely cheerful woman, and I choose to imagine that the cashier has some unknown personal tragedy that makes her today uniquely pessimistic, and the cook owns the store and is the one deservedly benefitting from the exorbitant profit margins of the groceries we buy. I soothe my wounded faith in the default kindness of strangers with a Thai chili prawn burger.

Time for a flock strategery session. We have more of the high tide/ low tide/ boat crossing vs multi day highway walk coming up for the next three days. Everyone pulls out their version of the notes and maps and we brainstorm. And count. And refigure. And call boat captains and campgrounds . And refigure again. After 2 hours we have a solid workable plan. We were originally going to go explore the headlands and Matapouri Bay, tied with Whale Bay for one of the best beaches, but at 3:00 the others are ready to just head for camp and call it a day. I decided to go explore alone and meet the crew in camp.

Matapouri Bay is lovely, and I prefer it to Whale Bay. The sand is not white, but a uniform cream, fine grained, firm packed, smoothed all the way back to where the sheer cliff walls sprout. There are little rocky islands dotting the sand, and along the cliffs are alcoves framed and roofed by the same leggy trees, creating natural gazebos. The wind is harsh and gusting, and I love the feeling of walking the length of the bay alone, indulging the split second sensation that I am on my own on an uncharted adventure. When I reach the apex of the loop, the other side of which is Whale Bay, I turn around hightail it back to the trail.

It’s a road walk that eventually leads to a farm crossing. After navigating over and under several electric fences, abruptly, the ground looks like a bomb has dropped.

There is a huge tract of ripped up pine forest, and the fall out is piled and laced over the entire field. Orange blazes lead the way up and over the hill, the footing tedious. I am annoyed, disgusted- how can this keep happening? Why is this approach the accepted way? There have to be other solutions than just this viscious approach, this apparent what’s-left-behind-be-damned; but I am also conflicted, ashamed. As a consumer in this world, conscientious or not, I am a part of this system too. And I choose to spend my time recreating rather than fighting. Perhaps this pine forest was grown for only this reason, but I see it as an analogy for the land I love back home and the desecration it is facing now, which is endlessly troubling.

At the top of the decimated ridge, the trail resumes per normal. I am grateful that it was flagged our direction, as it is legally closed if traveling the other way. I offer gratitude to the universe and pick up speed, flying along the clean even track, through the unsplintered forest, watching my thoughts come and go.

I find the camping flock at the second potential campsite for the night- somehow I arrived two minutes after they did. We canvass the area, a low narrow creek bottom between vertical ridges, covered by thick tall trees and unexpectedly find enough flat tent-friendly patches. We pitch our little homes, and marvel at the light. The trees are so thick, the light filtering in is green. “It’s like we are in a terrarium,” says someone. “It’s like we are underwater,” says someone else. Adding to this sensation is the extreme shelteredness of the creek bed, in contrast to the canopy above, where the wind shrieks and tears through the branches, swinging and thrashing them about, like driftwood and seaweed rolling and tumbling on a roaring set of waves as the tide changes. But where we sit looking up, it is perfectly still and quiet. It is a magical haven.

As the light fades, I see eyes reflecting from within the leaves on the bank. I shine my headlamp to see who they belong to. There’s nothing there. I swing the beam away. The two spots glow again. Beam back. Nothing there. I start to notice other reflections around as well, faint and flickery. Are they spider eyes? Dang, those would be huge spiders, I ponder. With the headlamp switched off for good, the spots continue to softly glow, and I wonder if it is some kind of phosphorescent plant or creature.

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