12/24 Christmas Eve with the Trail Family

Hipango Park to Whanganui Holiday Park

20 k

The earliest river morning yet. As much as I prefer rafting to canoeing, I do have to say packing up the canoes is pretty darn fast. When we get to the dock with the barrels, I notice how high the high tide water mark is from last night. Five of the seven steps are saturated, and the current is flowing downstream at a smart clip.

We are paddling at 6:12, as we have 20 k to make before the tide starts coming in at 8:52. I do not want to be paddling against a current moving as smartly in the opposite direction.

The morning is clouded and gray, and there are lots of large rafts of ducks and geese. Prana and I keep an efficient paddle rhythm going for an hour without a break. When I check the map, we have 7 k down. We might just make it before the tide change! We keep our pace, and it starts to mistily rain. Almost

2 hours in, 14 k done. 6 k and 50 minutes left. The rain picks up and we paddle on, elated that we still don’t have any wind against us. The rain strengthens, and we touch the bow of the canoe onto the boatramp at exactly 8:52. Victory!

We unload the barrels and pull up the canoe before trotting up to the office to get the scoop. We assume checkin isn’t until the afternoon, but hope there will be a communal space we can use. What a pleasant surprise that they allow us to check in immediately! When we return to the boat dock Mario, Peach, and Jo are unloading and Bro and Mouse are closing in. 20 k before 9:00!

We drag all of our stuff to the cabins and unload the barrels. One thing about waterproof containers-they start to smell rank on the inside after being closed for days, especially with hiking shoes and socks in them. Leaving everything to air, we gratefully accept a ride to town to run errands before the stores close for the holidays. Mario needs new shoes, Mouse needs new socks (big socks! ha, just kidding) and we all need groceries. Of course.

The driver lets us off at Kathmandu, an NZ equivalent to REI, and Prana and I head down to the grocery from there. Hummus and bread for lunch! How wonderful the simple pleasures can be. The hanger placated for now, we turn our shopping to the meals of the next three days. Christmas Eve meal, Christmas breakfast, Christmas dinner, items for a communal fondue tonight spearheaded by Peach, fruit, and indulgently heavy resupply options, since it is only a 2.5 day resupply. The store is packed full and overwhelming per usual, and I notice John calling but feel unable to add a phone call to the multitasking in the moment. Prana runs across the street to pick up another charge plug to replace the one that blew out at Whakahoro, and we are all slumped in the shuttle van to return by 12:45. Not bad. I listen to the voicemail from John which starts with “I’m in Wanganui…” What?!!! I immediately call him back, desperately hoping that he wasn’t just driving through and we had missed a chance to connect with him again. He answers. “We are staying 1 kilometer up the river from the Holiday Park with family,” he reports. YES!!!! He promises to come by in an hour or so and say hi.

At home we unload the groceries, do the laundry, take showers. I call my parents (yay!) and talk for about an hour before I see John coming up the walk. I promise to call Mom and Dad back tomorrow, and run out to give John a hug and meet Hilary in person. We retire to one of the brightly painted round picnic tables in the common area and catch up on the last few weeks. John seems in good spirits, but also hints at deep sadness in certain moments. I think he is missing a community he felt very connected to. Hilary is lovely, just as I anticipated from her emails, and they invite us to join their family for Christmas dinner and to be tour guide this evening. So generous! I really would like to spend some time with them, but we are all anxious to get chores done, talk to family, and hike on the trail tomorrow. We decline, but then think to counter-invite them to join us for our Christmas Eve fondue, and they accept. Perfect!

Prana and I spend the late afternoon taking full advantage of having a cabin to ourselves and access to showers. Our celebratory Christmas Eve dinner is a portobello and leek bisque with spinach raviolinis and veggie thyme sausage. pc: Captain Bigfoot Mouse

While in the kitchen we recognize Simon and Anya! It’s too chaotic to chat with them much right now, but I hope when they catch us on the trail we will have a chance to spend some more time with them. John and Hilary arrive again, and Peach prepares the fondue. Here’s what everyone dips in chocolate: Blueberries. Boysenberries. Bananas. Pears. Kiwifruits. Nectarines. Oranges. Apples. Pretzels. Potato chips. Cheese. It is all delicious! And the company couldn’t be better.

pc: Captain Bigfoot Mouse

A soft rain starts as it gets dark, and we stay up way past our typical bedtime. There’s a coziness to being under the porch with the gentle patter outside, but eventually we make a dash for the cabin and, stomachs and hearts full, call it a night.

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