11/20 Closing the Lollipop

Okura River to Auckland

33 trail k

Today, we will arrive in Auckland.

Even though this marks only the 20% point, it feels like a huge milestone. Oftentimes, it seems if a hiker can make it through the first month, their odds of success multiply. Also, we will have walked back to our starting point, a place that feels a little familiar, and closing our little northern loop of travel. Everything in our new single line southward will be new, unseen. Small victories.

We leave our lovely ridge early; the cool breezes coming off the coast are delightful, and we wind around a sheer blocky headland rising out of the ocean.

We follow a well defined pathway, then walk the length of the beach, then on a well defined pathway, etc. We pass a historical Victorian homestead overlooking a cove, and walk under huge draping arms of the Pohutukawa tree, the New Zealand Christmas Tree, which are often held up by props and crutches, as the arms are sometimes as big as or bigger than the trunk.

When we get more into town, the path at times darts into narrow alleyways between buildings, running between paneled fences, and along fantastic gardens. We pass one man working on his house who shouts “hey! Are you guys long walkers?”

“Yes!” We answer.

“Wait up. My wife bakes for you.”

He came over to meet us at the fence line, proffering a large Tupperware stacked with muffins. Banana muffins! “Don’t mind the half eaten one, my daughter got into these.” There is a tiny bright pink tricycle in the front yard. He tells us about his house he is working on, doing most of the craftsmanship himself. “I’d like to do the trail myself one day,” he tells us. “Do it!” we encourage him.

We continue to wind through the city, passing beautiful nooks and parks, rarely feeling hemmed in by the city itself. The interesting thing about our conspicuousness is the interest it draws from people and the invitation to interact it implies. “You guys long walkers?” asks a man passing us in a park. “Yeah.” “Well good on ya!” He proceeds to explain what we are doing to his companions with enthusiasm. “Well now, where will you guys be for Christmas? Wellington? That’s around where I spend it too. Maybe I’ll see you in the road. If I do, I’ll stop for a chat. My name’s Barney!”

The thing about this magical and unpredictable ribbon of space-time we call the trail: I will not be surprised if we never see this man again, and I will not be surprised if we do. We bid him good day, and continue on.

Midday we reach an intriguing sign:

I’m pretty sure they just misspelled ‘adventure.’ The English is different over here, in’it? We choose the pipeline.

It is exhilarating to walk through the crashing surf. The burls of energy roll through the water, build, and then hurl themselves to shatter against the pipeline in a spectacular optical illusion that is devoid of any of the anticipated violence. I am delighted to the core of each and every cell.

A park, a street, an alley. There is a soothing repetition to the pattern of our progress that defies boredom. I never anticipated enjoying urban hiking this much. Descending a set of stairs labeled Possum Ladder, we are deposited on a striated rocky crescent. Low tide win!

We work our way along, making a game of balancing on the highest points and ridges to stay out of the errant splashes of surf. After one particularly fun curve, we wait for Ellie and Parker to catch up. We watch Ellie take the ‘mountaineering line,’ and the closeups on my camera reveal a completely placid expression, the same expression she wore while swimming with her waterlogged pack. Ellie is an understated and unassuming bad-ass.

We wait for Parker to catch up, but enough time goes by that we pull out the maps to see if there’s a logical alternate he could have taken. Ah, there is a way around on the road. At this scrutiny, we also notice there’s a note on the junction that escaped our attention: “hikers have reported that the stairs are destroyed- unable to return from beach.” Well, how bad can that be? What really is unable? Do they mean destroyed destroyed, or just roped off because something needs fixed? We are already this far, so we press forward to investigate. The answer: destroyed destroyed.

Well. We scan the cliffs, looking for a way to climb up that is within an acceptable window of risk. Not much luck. I search farther down the direction we haven’t come from, and just as I am about to turn back, a grizzled old dog comes around the corner, followed by his human in flip flops. Oh! “Excuse me,” I say, “but did you come from the road?”

“Yeah,” she says, puzzled.

“Oh! Awesome. We just noticed the stairs and were hoping for another way out.”

“Well, Castor Bay is right around the corner back there. You probably have another half an hour of the tide to get around before the point is covered.”

I run back to the other three of the bunch with the news. We follow the coast around and sure enough, there is a beach with a main road behind it. And even better: there’s a TA sign on the street sign post. That’s a bingo!

The majority of the rest of the day is walking along long dark beaches of congealed lava. Most of the sea walls along here are made of the same black black rock, so it lends the feeling of wandering through ruins of a medieval fortress.

The trail leads up to an old gunnery, where the ‘disappearing’ guns were designed to capitalize on the recoil and roll back into the cliff for reloading, disguising them while they are inactive between shots.

There is a large labyrinth of passages beneath the gun, and with no lights and no warnings, one is able to explore them at will. It’s a bit eerie actually, and they lead all the way through the large hill that this compound is built in.

After a few more K’s along the waterfront- which includes an aggressively friendly interrogation by 2 older couples traveling from Dublin who have recently hiked the Camino de Santiago and want to talk shop- I catch up to the rest of the duck brace at the Devonport Ferry. We board the next one leaving, and as I sink into the seat, tiredness tsunamis over me and I become acutely aware of the deep ache in my feet. The ferry ride is only ten minutes at the most, and most of that ten minutes is spent fantasizing about riding the ferry back and forth for the rest of the evening, and not actually having to get off my seat and back onto my feet. Alas, when it’s time to disembark my fantasy is shattered, and I drag myself out onto the street after the others. Only 4k to the apartment we have reservations at. Parker dodges out to the harbor to gaze upon the boats, and the four of us remaining take a $1 bus to the top of Queen Street and walk the last 15 minutes to the townhouse. There’s an elaborate entry sequence, which amazingly works without a hitch, and then we are inside, dumping our packs, kicking off our shoes, and face planting onto our beds. What a long day!

When enough strength returns, we walk (walk! god let it end) down to the grocery store for the makings of a big salad and lots of pasta to cook. Dismally back home, we discover the stove doesn’t function, but at least we are traveling with our own full kitchen. We set our campstoves up on the porch and cook the pasta in small batches. We celebrate the end of the ordeal that is dinner with a shower and sleep.

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