11/17 Paddle to the Hibiscus Coast

Puhoi Overlook to Orewa Holiday Park

19 k

Prana and I pack up our tiny homes and convert them to carrying mode bright and early. Today we will travel part way by water, as the official trail goes down the Puhoi River! I am very happy about this, not only because it will be a welcome change from walking, and an hour on a river, but what the river was added to bypass is short but heinous walk on a nastily busy highway. The beauty is, as we ride the outgoing brackish tide to the mouth on the Hibiscus Coast, we are precisely set up for the rocky jetty crossing that requires low tide.

Last night the other three ducks decided they preferred to do the road walk, which allowed them to sleep in late, rather than paddle. I cannot fathom this choice, but it is theirs to make. We do a lengthy sorting out of the morning logistics, and in 5 walking minutes we are at the general store getting coffee, breakfast, and snacks for the day. Puhoi seems like an adorable little town, a hiker sized town, only a few blocks long, the buildings old and wooden and weathered, the community hall matching the church, as if they were constructed as a set. A block down the road is the canoe rental, which actually turns out to be sea kayaks. No matter, the result is the same. Prana’s kayak is orange, mine is blue, with matching paddles. It feels strange to be skirt-less, but the crafts are surprisingly stable. The water is thick (too thin to plow, but barely), and the greenery makes a partial tunnel that the sunbeams sneak through the cracks of.

It’s a small, twisting hallway we glide down at first, that gradually spreads into a broad, mangrove-lined cove. We get an upstream wind with choppy waves in the open reaches, and I wonder how much work it would have been to cross the large bays we have shuttled through in anything but the calmest weather. Probably quite a lot.

It takes us less than an hour and a half; I wish it was our whole day. We thank Katherine, the owner and shuttle driver, who tells us “oo, I passed three hikers on the road to here, and they did not look like they were having fun.” Dang. I wish now that we had tried harder to talk them into the paddle option.

The TA leaves the river and traverses a short forest track before crossing the bridge into Weiwera, but the other three had decided to shortcut this big bow, buying themselves that much more morning lounge time, but unfortunately maybe that much more traffic misery.

We search up and down the headland for this bight of the TA, not finding signs, navigating to where it is labeled on our GPS, and finding…nothing. Not even an overgrown remnant. Confounded and thwarted, we resign ourselves to walking on the road, backtracking part of our river progress, worried about how late that will cause us to arrive at our meeting point. As we trudge up the road, far from the GPS coordinates, we see the TA take off up a wide, well maintained pathway. Aha! Relieved, we sprint along the headland to the bridge for the coastal walk.

The trio is sprawled in the grass when we arrive, none the worse for walking on the highway; however Parker is ready to throw in the towel and hitchhike into Auckland due to his chafing and shoe blues. We convene an emergency Council of 5, and rewrite the plan, forgoing the free campsites to preserve the integrity of the hike. They walked 6 k to here, and it’s 6 k left to the closest camping. We set our sights on it.

The Hibiscus Coastal walk is enchanting, one of my favorite sections on the trail so far, so short and yet so singular.

The trail itself is the bare rock ledges, each one holding pockets of tidal pools, shells and seaweeds, striations and swirls. It feels like we are looking at a lava flow frozen in its tracks. Some rocks poke up out of the sand, worn smooth as silk, like bones getting ready to reveal secrets. The footing is tedious, but I want to stop and look at all the fascinating shapes and abstract beckonings anyway, so it sets its own perfect pace.

We finally reach the beach fronting the town of Orewa, and work our way along it. We reach a grocery and celebrate with plant food for dinner. Glory. When we arrive at the Holiday Park, Ellie is there saving a tent site, freshly showered. Uncharacteristically, hot showers are unlimited and free. We all convert our tiny homes back to cozy room mode; we are drained from the shared effort of morale hoisting, and despite it being only 6:00 pm, we turn in to read and sleep.

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