Parangarau Stream to Mackerel Forest
19 km, 1 k by water
The rain starts in earnest in the middle of the night, and when it does, it falls straight down in big drops that splash off the ground and ricochet into the tent. I jerk awake and batten the hatches, then sink back down, and lay listening to it. It is so peaceful. The wind isn’t shaking the tent. It falls musically. I can see out through the rain that the faintly glowing spots I noticed early are now boldly glowing, a neon green, nothing mistaken about it. What can it be??
Suddenly a loud crash woofs through the site. Was it a massive branch? The sharp, fresh, almost overpowering smell of upturned mud follows close behind the sound. A whole tree must have uprooted. The wind howls far above, but down here on the bottom, I am lulled back to sleep.
The morning is still raining, and we pack and leave our terrarium. A climb to forest roads, and the mist continues through pines. We pass Tane Moana, which from John’s Maori coaching I am guessing means ‘Man of the Sea’. It is an ancient, towering Kauri, and it is protected as a reminder of conservation.
We pass through a few rural homes with tangled and rioting gardens, and (the trail provides) a hardware store in the country that carries are stove fuel, that is even open much earlier than the average shop.
Once in Ngunguru, we set up shop at the Salt Air Cafe, and buy pastries and sandwiches and coffee in orchestrated turns so that our welcome continues. They have excellent internet, and one worker is happy to plug our battery banks into the kitchen while we eat and get in contact with home. A man sitting at the far end table notices our packs and asks if we are walking the TA. I say yes, how could he guess, ha, ha. His wife was one of the first 20 people to hike the trail when it opened in 2011, and he campervan-accompanied her. “You know,” he says haltingly, as if he himself were not convinced, “you will be walking by my place on your path today, and you would be welcome to stop in. Now, I don’t want you around all day, a few hours should be plenty, so if you want to come by anytime after 1:00 and quietly relax, you would be welcome to.”
I thank him and he describes the how to identify his home- a library, a reserve, some specific rain water holders. Of course, in the moment of the depiction, it feels as if it will be unavoidably obvious. I am hesitant if we will even go, though. Hanging out in a stranger’s personal space is a generous invitation, but often can be a diversion from, or even counterproductive to, using time and energy as planned. However unlikely to accept, I am sincerely grateful for the gesture.
We need to get across the Ngunguru Bay early enough to still make 10k by the evening. We are supposed to meet a man by the names of James to do so this afternoon. Around 12:00, we take turns shopping next door in the slimmest grocery we’ve had to resupply at yet. While Prana and I scrounge the aisle for acceptable food on the first shift, Jim, the man from the cafe, sees us and reiterates his invitation. “Really,” he says, “you would be most welcome to drop by. As long as you plan to entertain yourselves, you could have tea, or sit and overlook the bay.” We thank him again.
At 1:00 we are beyond antsy and all have our resupply complete, so we decide maybe it’s worth considering stopping by Jim’s house to finish charging our phones and batteries, especially since he is right next our boat’s meeting spot. The second invitation convinced me, at least, that this would not be an awkward or difficult to escape visit. We all packed up, and as we were leaving, James the boat captain breezes through for a pastry. You know you’re in the right cafe when it’s where the locals get their lunch. He seems like a gregarious, kind of Crocodile Dundee sort, but much lankier.
We set out for Jim’s, of course by now the directions much fuzzier than they were earlier. Let’s see, there’s the library, there’s the reserve across the street. We cross. Hmm, no unusual water tanks. We cross back, and Bro mentions seeing a TA detour sign right by the library. Parker remembers something about the Ngunguru Estuary. Turns out there are multiple reserves, all by the library. We find a pathway along the shore, much nicer than the road, and joke about how finding Jim’s house is like an escape room, our whole team each remembering or finding a tiny piece of the puzzle. Just as I am certain we won’t find the house, there are the water tanks, and there is a microwave permanently set up with a padlock, with another clue: ‘Trail Magic! The code is the length of what you are walking, rounded to the nearest thousand.’ A well-worn pair of boots top the microwave, Linda’s, I presume. And on the balcony overlooking it, leans Jim. “Come on up,” he smiles.
It is a fabulous visit. He is so friendly, and such a pleasure to talk to. I had fully expected him to remove himself once we had settled on the upper porch, but he stayed and shared stories in the endearing, proper and precise, very British way he had about him. The hour we had to spend there went regrettably quickly, and then he pointed us to where we would meet James, visible from his back balcony. We thanked him for his generosity, then went down to the water to meet James.
The texted instructions direct us to take our shoes off and wade out to the edge of the water. A high pitched whine precedes James in a very small, and what appeared as a very tippy, aluminum speed boat. He whips turns between the poles marking the sandbars, and for some reason I am struck with a comparison to Zaphod Beeblebrox rodeoing into the scene.
Parker and Prana take the first trip, and launch across the inlet. James is back for the rest of us in almost no time. We wade out to knee deep, huck in our packs, and then lean exactly the directions James tells us too. It strikes me as telling that the he is the only captain, (or maybe it
is upon this only boat) that requires us to properly wear the life jackets. We zoom to meet the others. James maintains a beautiful property for camping known as the Eco camp, and I wish we were staying as we follow the trail through it. There are always places I wish I could have stayed, on every trail; there are only so many nights, only so many moments.
The 10k left to the day goes quickly, and we enter the Mackerel Forest. The first campsite we had hoped for, we arrive at and find it is perfect, at least as beautiful as the Eco camp, though entirely an entirely different beauty. There is a tea colored opaque creek rushing along, both banks lined with Cala lillies, the white forms reflected in the dark mirror below. At the bend where the trail crosses, a side trail leads to some flat spots in a friendly ground cover, tall trees creating a vaulted roof above. A perfect spot. Dinner bubbles on our little stoves, and the sunset saturates the entire sky to a deep dark pink, the webs of tree branches above us backlit to black; the leading in the rosy stained glass mosaic of the ceiling.