11/9 Taiharuru Estuary

Mackerel Forest to Damien’s Beach Camp

27 km

The grass this morning is cold enough to to almost numb our feet, making the grass heads that ping off our skin as we swish through the weeds actually painful. We have several creek crossings that we are in sandals or barefoot for, and when we climb away from the water and shadows we are happy for our good protective walking shoes and the heat of the sun.

We make shockingly quick time to the Pataua bridge and picnic area next to an ocean inlet. It’s mostly a paved road, so there are few spots to rest, the main break taken for foot doctoring, and we pull out lunch with several hours to kill. The Taiharuru is an estuary we need to walk in for several kilometers, and then cross, so we need to wait for the lowest tide possible, which won’t be until well after 5:00.

We all find something to do- read, write, nap. The waiting is unfortunate in that it is neither relaxing nor comfortable. But the most unfortunate part is the water source. To pass the time, I go to refill water bottles at the little sink in the bathroom. Packing them away, Prana asks, “have you tried the water? Is it any good?” I haven’t, but assume it is rain water from the tanks behind the building and am ready to accept either variety: delicious or algae-ic. I take a swig. “Yeccchhhh!” I hadn’t seen that coming. Salty. This was the last fresh water listed until camp, and we still have a couple of hours to bake in the sun. Prana solves the dilemma with the art of asking; knocking on a door, the man who answers agrees to refill our bottles for us.

When it is not quite time, but we can’t sit any longer, we walk to the entry for the Estuary. We’ve read about the predatory mud. We’ve read a few accounts where people have gotten off track and waded up to their chests. What we haven’t read about is a simple and shallow crossing- which either means simple crossings don’t happen, or when they do, they are unstoried.

The militant directions chant themselves in my head: “cross EXACTLY where the large orange triangles tell you too. do NOT get drawn off to the side, regardless of what it looks like.”

We wade, slowly, never deeper than the thighs, and mostly below the knees. Sandbars are always in the right places. The mud is docile. Turns out the simple crossings are just simple.

5 late k’s to camp. We cross a stile and are supposed to follow a fence line, but it is congested with neurotically curious cows. We hop to the other side, drag our heels up a ridiculously steep road, and arrive eventually at the water source on the bottom of the other side of the ridge, just before the ocean. We are more than ready to call it a day, be off the feet, shed the packs. Even though the map is marked for camping, it has the feeling of being in the yard of house up the hill, especially with the family playing and talking outside, so Prana walks up the driveway to ask if it is alright to camp by the creek at the road. He is gone longer than I expected, and when he returns it’s with a different answer than I assumed. “They didn’t say we couldn’t,” he reports, “but they didn’t say we could. They really are excited to to offer us a stay at their camp on the beach. I tried to explain we are perfectly happy in our tents, but they were insistent. It’s at the other end of the property.” Again, it’s a generous offer, but we have what we need right now right here: a flat spot to fit 5, and unlimited fresh water. But the answer has been given, with an obvious intention to treat us to comfort, and so we hope the walk isn’t too far. About 3k in to the detour, Damien, who Prana had spoken with, overtakes us in his car to lead us down the web of farm roads in the dark.

We crest a hill and overlook an open faced pole barn facing and separated from the beach by a low dune and a beautiful soft grass lawn. Damien shows us the water inside, the lights, the couches, the picnic tables, the stovetop. He insists we help ourselves to whatever we want. He seems keen to chat, and I am afraid I’m seeming rude, but I am too tired to concentrate on forming words that are more than the minimum answer to questions. We thank him and he bids us to sleep well, to make ourselves at home in the morning too. As soon as he leaves, the water quits working. We traded a fully met basic need and a lack of convenience, for a illusory wealth of half-wanted conveniences and the basic need unmet. There are many analogies in this situation to the world at large, and the fascinating spectrum of motivations for giving and receiving, the perceiving of needs and the assumptions of others’ desires, but I am too brain-numbed to explore these thoughts now. I’ll file it away for a long beach walk to contemplate. Ah, well. We do the night routine: tents up. Rice cooked. Mattresses inflated. Sleep will be easy here.

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