El Rancho Holiday Park to The Dandelion Depot
Peach, Mario, and Bro are hiking a short day to the next holiday park. We pack and start hiking to a sunny morning. The first section is a boardwalk over the estuary, threading through grasses and rushes and brambles loaded with blackberries. They are still on the tart side, and I eat several handfuls. We leave the boardwalk for the beach, striding into the wind on well-packed sand, Kapiti Island looming across the surf. Bro, the unstoppable hiking machine, catches us at the end of the beach, and we turn inland to find breakfast. Jan’s is one of the few places open, (none of the fish and chip shops are) and not only is she a phenomenal baker, but a lovely painter as well, with her unassuming canvasses of local landscapes on display around the cafe. Peach and Mario catch up and join us, and announce Jan’s scones are the best they have had in this country.
The sunny skies didn’t last long, and when we leave Jan’s a cold wind is whipping in from the ocean, and the tide is high. We walk the shore-bordering road one block in for protection from the trees. At one point Prana and I attempt to walk the uncovered strip of the sand, as I have missed walking along the surf but it’s so dreary we quickly retreat inland. We reach a set of trails that intertwine through the coastal dunes, and in spite of the light sprinkle, are very pleasant walking. The rain picks up significantly when we reach Paekakariki, and in an ironic moment, I ask Prana if he wants to stop early and stay at the holiday park with the others. We hike on along the waterfront, where there are several panels of poems written from and about this location. Some of them are quite evocative. We round the corner and there are several cafes- we go into Finn’s for a late lunch and finally get to order some fish and chips. They are quite good, and one of the servers is horrified at the prospect of us walking on the Escarpment Track with the ‘huge’ packs we have. “It’s a really difficult track,” she warns. “Really difficult. There are a thousand stairs.” I attempt to humbly reassure her that even being difficult, it is probably not more so than the last mountain crossing we completed. “That may be,” she concedes, “but just be ready for it.”
We put on full rain gear and head out of town. The first part of the track is a very gentle incline, a nice wide tread, and well protected. A sign warns us of the impending conditions:
We head up into lovely views.
I start counting wooden steps, convinced that the woman at Finn’s was exaggerating. There are many stairs, but they are well spaced; what gets gnarly is the wind. It rips through the high unprotected parts of the track so ferociously that it’s not a stretch to imagine getting blown off. Each step we are out of the trees requires an intense focus.
We cross two swing bridges spanning deep ravines, and my stair count nears one thousand. Finally we start descending, and the wind lessens. Prana sings to a sheep he finds on the trail, and the sheep is mesmerized.
We descend off the Escarpment, final stair count lost at 1251, and follow the train tracks for awhile, checking the map occasionally for where we can camp tonight. There is an area called Secret Valley that we have heard is nice for camping. We also have a description for camping near a beach that sounds as if it may be the same spot. A kilometer or so before the area we stumble upon an old train stop shelter. The train no longer stops here, confirmed by the permanently fenced off platform, and we duck inside for a moment’s reprieve out of the blowing mist. What a relief, so still in here. It’s fairly dirty, but not disgusting dirty…and the campsite description sounds pretty exposed. We marshal our spirits to go a bit farther, but when we round the backside of the depot, we see this:
For some reason, it causes both of us to want to stay. We duck back inside and start carefully sweeping the dust, dead leaves, and broken glass out. I receive a text from Anna, Zigzag’s daughter, asking us if we are ok in the weather, or if we would like to be picked up for the night. What a kind offer! I message back that we are out of the weather for the night. We change to dry clothes, and carefully lay out our bed. The wind howls and whirls, the rain crescendos and ebbs, the Wellington to Waikanae train service serenades us every half an hour. We snack on a few things, work on a crossword, and revel in the snugness of the Dandelion Depot.