Te Ahumairangi to The End of The North Island
Our tent spot worked perfectly, and we arise this morning to the 5:30 alarm to ensure we aren’t noticed or disturbing anyone. We can see out over the ocean and port; we are so close to both and never realized it yesterday. We plan to make breakfast and coffee in the botanical gardens, and we climb back up to the Northern Walkway on the main ridge trail. I am hungry from skipping dinner, and severely hungover from my French press overdose yesterday- my head aches and I feel like each movement is pushing through molasses. At the end of the park Prana pauses to figure some milages, and I follow the Northern Walkway signs across the street and up a stairs. A rose garden! I follow the signs into the garden, revel in the delight of having the entire rose garden to ourselves for breakfast. I set up the stove, and when several minutes have gone by with no sign of Prana, I start to wonder where he could be. I turn on the cellular on my phone and call to learn he is in a different part of the gardens. Apparently the GPS showed the TA diverging from the North Walkway at the base of the stairs, and he followed the track not noticing that I went up. Damn. I am so frustrated when these types of turns are not marked on the ground, as I detest walking while staring at the GPS screen. I pack up and go to meet Prana, grumbling to myself the whole time. He tries to be especially nice to me when I arrive, but I am too far down the black hole of self-pity to accept it. We pass a fern garden and I lift my thoughts out of the darkness long enough to learn the name of an oak-shaped leaf I have been constantly curious about. Hounds tongue. Tongue of the hound. We finally find a nice bench in front of a beautiful Kauri tree for breakfast. With all the requisite chemicals and carbs now coursing through my system, my outlook on the day, the trail, and the world vastly improves.
We walk past something labeled as hen and chicks, though it looks like something I’ve seen named Desert Live-Forever. I’m happy to see it.
There is a sculpture component to the gardens, a cairn fountain made of Marauki boulders, and a giant suspended copper funnel that is supposed to “sound like a gong” when tapped. It does not sound anything like a gong, but when I stand inside the bottom, there’s a strange concentration of the rush of the wind, like holding a seashell up to one’s ear. It sounds powerful in a sentient way.
The TA takes us through all the nooks of the botanical garden and exits past the rose garden, now filled with people and maintenance workers, putting us back on the Northern Walkway. Tricky tricky. We walk through an old and lovely cemetery as we near the center of the city.
In the downtown section, the city is bustling. We step over an inset star in the sidewalk announcing the Te Araroa. I wonder how many people have unwittingly walked over it and never known about the TA?
A long stretch of shops and crowds unreels before us. Our main objectives for this part of town are the gear stores and the post office. Luckily both are within a block of the trail, and we arrive a few minutes before they open. And they are outlets! That’s a bingo. We loiter at the library across the street, using the bathroom and internet, and send a message to Anna to see if it will work out to meet up for a meal or coffee later; she invites us to stay at her house, offers a ride to the ferry in the morning, and may join us walking the last 5 k. Amazing!! We also learn of the Santa Barbara mudslides. The world! It’s as if the world is dying.
The few items we need to pick up are all woolen articles. After the interminable sogginess of the Tararuas, and the constant reports that the South Island will be colder (please oh please let it be colder) we are going to go Kiwi-style and switch to merino wool clothing instead of bamboo and polyester. The stores have almost exactly what we are looking for, and what is lacking in preciseness is made up for by discount. Prana finds merino boxer briefs, a merino hoody that is almost the same cut as his bamboo hiking shirt, and a merino button up sun shirt. I find a merino sports bra even though I hadn’t been looking for one, but it fits perfectly and I hope it will dry much faster than the Patagonia one I use. The women’s sun hoodies are too f-ing fashionable to actually be useful, as is often the case with women’s gear, so I go with a merino sports t-shirt, and a long sleeve merino tee.
To the post office.
We breeze in at 11:15 to learn that the portion of the post office that accepts Poste Restante has been split and recently moved to almost a mile away, recently enough that no one seems to know anything about it. The post mistress guesses they close at noon. We hotfoot it back the direction we came from and arrive at 11:42, to learn they are actually open until 5:00. Score! That’s the good news, that and the fact they have both of our bounce boxes, which each have crucial gear in them. The bad news is they do not have the envelope my parents sent, which everyone involved has been looking forward to the delivery of. It has some kind of elaborate Christmas game in it, designed by my dad and involving crosswords puzzles, collaborating with my brother and his lumberjack, and who knows what else. Last year it involved encryption with homemade disappearing inks, and had to be solved with hot clothing irons, lemon juice, and water colors. What can it be? Where can it be? How ironic that the first step of the puzzle is narrowing down which continent it is currently on. Fortuitously, the post master at this new branch is awesome, and when he can’t find more specific information in the system, takes down our phone and email and gives us his, encouraging us to keep in contact with him from the trail. He is optimistic it is just hung up somewhere from the holiday volume and will show up as soon as we leave town, and promises to forward it to the Poste Restante in Queenstown, our next accessible post office 5-6 weeks down the trail. Thank you Jonathon!
Once we have our bounce boxes in hand, I have to admit the new location is ideal. It is huge, and has many compartments with table and chair arrangements perfect for the explosion and sorting of gear.
Where will it be cold? Where will our shoes disintegrate? Will our water filter last? How many pairs of socks? Will we have enough sun to use the solar panel? We replace everything we think we might need to in the next 900 miles- water filter, water bags, socks; trade in both our pants for smaller sizes and stow our bamboo shirts; mail a pair of shoes each to the very end; mail a pair of my shoes , sleeping bag liner, and hiking tights to the halfway point; and pack everything else in the box and send it to John’s for safe keeping until we fly home. Was the bounce box the best method for this trail? I don’t know. It was a pain in the ass and so expensive, but it was probably less of a PITA than shopping and researching unknown gear, and equaled the expense difference of buying new shoes over here. And considering the devotees we are to our respective specific shoes with the fact we have seen neither for sale over here, I’ll mark it a win.
1:45, back on the trail and time for lunch. Prana and I quickly consume some pumpkin sushi, crab balls, and spring rolls, and then we are unleashed to complete the final 12 k! The trail follows the waterfront, which is full of murals and sculptures and carvings and art.
We pass the Te Papa cultural museum, which I really hope to explore on our way back through after the TA. This is also where we have the closest access to Mario and Peach to say hello; we were going to meet them for lunch, but Mario has been incapacitated by some kind of stomach bug, and Peach had eaten lunch by the time we were done at the post office. It’s severe enough Mario has scheduled a doctors appointment, and they will be taking the ferry on the 15th at the earliest. However, it is now drizzling, and we are getting concerned about the time: we still have to do our resupply for the next five days after we finish hiking. We will have to see them in March.
When the trail heads away from the ocean, it climbs Mt Victoria via a steep set of switchbacks that lead into a cloud and a network of mountain biking trails. It’s warm and humid, and my skin under my new woolen sports bra starts to itch. Oh god, what if I’m allergic to this quantity of wool, or to exerting while clad in wool? Too late now.
The top ridgeline has a tiny nature walk with a few factoid posts depicting birds, lizards, and animals. At the edge of the lookout point at the top, a post about eels marks a slide. A slide! As
part of the trail!!
For unfathomable reasons, Prana is not as stoked about this as I am. Good thing I’m stoked enough for both of us.
It starts raining a bit more, and it’s not far to where we will meet Anna. She joins us at the corner to see if we would like tea or for her to take any of our gear, but she had forgotten about a previous commitment and won’t be walking with us. She gives us the run down on the bus route back from the end, finding her home, and the grocery options, then wishes us good luck. We follow the trail up Mt Albert, through Truby Park, and down a sidewalk to the ocean as the rain thickens. At Island Bay there is information for a snorkel trail- what is that? It sounds intriguing, but the weather is poor enough that it squelches any curiosity I have for anything apart from moving forward. Before I know it, we are at the park that holds the southern monument. We made it to the bottom of the island!
We celebrate for a moment, then catch our bus back to Anna’s neighborhood. The North Island complete. I savor the thought while I wearily relax into the bus seat. And the logistics for the first half of the South Island sorted.
We walk to Anna’s from the bus stop, and her roommate Esther lets us in. Anna has left a rice and veggie satay dinner cooked for us, and a bedroom made up with towels folded on the bed. What a wonderfully welcoming person! I am ravenous, and the satay is excellent; Prana and I jot our list while we eat. We walk to the grocery store, set a speed record for shopping, and walk back in the dusky light to repack our food. Packaging recycled and bags packed, we share a pint of ice cream in observance of the day’s milestone, and fall asleep immediately.