11/16 Prince Hector’s Domain

Not Dome Peak to Puhoi Overlook

29 k

One of the most effective wake up alarms is the siren song of a breakfast cafe. And there was one crooning from only 3 km away.

Up at 5:30, those 3 ks take an hour and a half. At the Dome Summit, the track finally switched over to well maintained gravel with wide steps. We fly down the long final descent, a green flag promising ‘Coffee’ fluttering far below.

It’s a beautiful simple building with the three walls basically made of glass, views over the corrugated forested, mist-draped land surrounding us. The waitress invites us in- leave the muddy shoes outside, please- and to plug in our phones etc. In addition to the barefoot policy, I also appreciate this cafe’s firm boundaries:

Prana orders a chai, and it is served in a full cereal bowl!Then, this weggie lover’s dream come true, the breakfast of all my desires. I had heard NZ doesn’t do breakfast like the US, which I had believed more than the milkshake rumor; so after the shake experiment flopped I had also prepared myself to ignore my favorite trail meal. But this morning, the rumor is proven wrong. Here’s what came on my plate: sweet corn fitters, hash browns, fresh tomato slices, a pile of steamed spinach, a stack of seared mushrooms, a healthy plop of pinto beans, eggs poached soft, and rye toast. Served with black coffee and spirulina/kiwi juice.

NZ for the win.

Despite the ambitious day planned in order to make sure we keep hopscotching correctly onto the few free camping options, we linger. Rain turns on and off like an aggressive mister on the produce aisle. John calls while my phone is turned on for logistics planning, and it is great to hear his voice! I am able to report to him the coveted name for the grey Warbler, as well as advise him of the cafe. He sounds well and happy.

Parker has been cultivating some solitude, and so has been intentionally hiking behind us by an hour or so for big chunks of the last few days. He arrives as we are leaving. The waitress kindly leads him to the hose outside, as he is hiking sockless and his bare feet are as muddy as his shoes. We double check on final camp plans for today, and give the Cafe pet, Prince Hector, some lovin’ on the way out, who not only tolerates it, but coos appreciatively.

Most of the day is gravel roads, easy footing, lots of up and down. There are a few slick clay forest tracks, but these are mercifully level.

At one point, we wait up for Parker. Turns out he is having a pretty low day, as his blisters have gotten bad from his hiking shoes, and he has just realized he lost one of his hiking sandals. We walk and talk. The day grows late. The whole group convenes at the watering hole, with 5 k to go until camp. I’m depleted from the afternoon, and I keep hoping each turn will be the day’s finish line. We cross an unnervingly bouncy swinging bridge and enter a beautiful deep dark forest- surely glow worm country- but there are no tent sized spots. At last we come out on a ridge where the track is mowed wide enough for our tents to get staked out, and clear enough to watch a technicolor sunset, looking out over the tiny enclave of Puhoi.

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