Meadow on the Langview Track to The Gortress
The glorious beach grass mattress makes for a great night’s sleep. The first set of roads out in the morning ride the ridge with views over the ocean on both sides. Brutally steep downhill pavement leads to a farm crossing, and dozens of sheep flee from us in misapplied terror. Every time we come over a rise, more bolt in an exaggeration that is almost offensive. “Wait!” I want to defend myself. “We aren’t going to hurt you!” I do want to pet them, true, but they don’t want anything to do with us outside of demonizing us.
For some reason I had thought that the morning would be easy, and would go quickly. We are having lunch in town again, which, while indisputably tasty and fresher than we could carry, is losing some of its glamour from frequency. A rare treat is only a treat if it stays rare. But the kilometers unspool slowly this morning, sometimes getting tangled and sticking, and the pastures are tedious footing.
We arrive at the Mangawhai cliffs track. I had noticed on the map last night that one could follow one side of the track close to the road, or double the mileage on the beach by walking the partial loop backwards at the top. I can’t seem to get enough of the rocky headland scenery, and the low tide is perfectly lined up, so I elect to take the long way around.
It is the right choice. The first half of the beach is rock hopping around tide pools, through strange rock formations over a variety of fascinating boulders. It reminds me of boulder hopping along the Grand Canyon, which I miss terribly. There is a pocket of pink and black sand. The path leads through an arch.
There are almost no other people down here, and I revel in the quiet. Only a crab scuttles out of sight as I step across a tidal pool. Clouds of Neptune’s necklace float and sway. When I reach the edge of the beach where the other trail leg comes back in, there are people and ecstatic dogs everywhere. The sand is so flat it looks blue, the incoming tide spilling so far inland it leaves a mirror for the sky.
I make the morale-fatal mistake of mentally celebrating too early, thinking this is basically town. There are several kilometers left, though, and while they thread through bright colorful gardens and overlook an enchanting peninsula made of sand dunes, my feet are smooshed further from the pavement. Why does today seem so hard? Intellectually, objectively, it is not a hard day; but that doesn’t change the fact that each step takes an effort.
Town. That magical, snake oil curative. We grab a table, grab some veggie-stuffed rice wraps hoping to to placate our bodies’ mutiny, grab some coffee, that elixir, that philosopher’s stone. We need to charge our phones- we’ve been using the battery gluttonously with the frequency of towns- and the ladies in the gelato shop, The Milkbar, say yes, of course they can plug them in behind the counter. We buy gelato to be grateful patrons. A good trade.
The rest of the flock arrives and wilts at the table. An inexplicably hard day for everyone. Bro eats and eats, and declares he is stuffed. When he returns to the table with a gelato himself, we tease “we thought you were full!”
“My dad says, ‘dinner goes in the stomach, but dessert fills the heart.’ I think he’s right!” he informs us. Sounds about right to me.
We refuel and resupply, and all relish the fact that in 2 more stops we will be at a real grocery store! These tiny markets, while better than no chance to replenish, are obscenely expensive, plant-poor, and have a dearth of choices that aren’t junk food or heavy cans.
We follow a busy road out of town, fill our water at the last business we pass, and dodge cars on the highway for the rest of the day. We try to talk, but the interruption of the roaring motors overcomes that motivation. We see a baby hedgehog, toddle out to the middle of the road and start picking at the remains of a bird. I didn’t even know they had hedgehogs over here! It is adorable, it’s breakfast less so. Oh no. I don’t want to see that get run over!” we are all in agreement. I try to move the little tyke’s meal off to the shoulder, hoping he will follow, but the carcass is cemented to the road. “Be careful!” we admonish him. Just then, as if on macabre cue, a hulking blue garbage truck barrels around the corner. We can’t watch. We can’t not watch. I try to use my Jedi mind powers to alert the driver. The truck passes in a cyclone of noise and raised dust, and when it is gone, we see the little creature, unperturbed, still munching contentedly away. What can we learn from his acceptance of his lot? I guess he will be fine. Perhaps finer than us.
I arrive at the logging road crossing that our maps promise will have camping. It’s a nice pine forest, with a not nice sign: No Camping. Prana arrived first and did a little investigating- there is a big thicket of gorse bushes that could easily screen our tents from the road. There’s no camping opportunity coming for awhile, and not that long until we have to wade a river, so we all agree stealth camping in the gorse is the plan for the night.
Now, gorse is not at attractive plant. Apparently it is Scotland’s national plant, or in some way symbolizes their patriotism; when the Scots came over, they brought some of the bonnie weed with them, and to say it has flourished would be an understatement. It is a thorn and sticker ridden monstrosity, and most plants appear half dead. We tuck into the thicket, finding space for our tents in a scene that is somewhere between the branch fortress one builds as a kid in the backyard brush pile, and the thwarting thicket of thorns from the end of Sleeping Beauty. A gorse fortress. Our Gortress. We will be protected tonight.
We plan out the tidal approach tomorrow- 3 river crossings, all reported knee to shoulder deep, all low-tide dependent. Fortuitously, it lines up nicely again with the middle of the day, so we won’t need to start too early or hike too late. Now that we are all off of our feet, the 5 of us all realize it was a hard day for each of us, and are able to laugh about it, weakly, together. We cook dinner- the water we collected is all tinged with salt. At least it is still drinkable, but the aftertaste of brine reminds me nostalgically of the Hayduke Trail, and I picture my true love’s burnt-rock sweeping vistas as I drift to sleep.