3/16 Meeting the Southern Ocean

Artifacts on the Water Race to Pines on Riverton Beach

36 k

Wind thrashed the trees last night, creating a maelstrom in the branches above us, but there was not a breath of disturbance down at the tent level.  A magic nook.  Rain beat down on and off, but by the morning it is only drizzling

We go through the morning ritual, doing as much as possible from inside the tent.  It’s a chilly day, and we are trying to delay the dampness as long as possible.  We finally take a deep breath, and emerge into the gray day, quickly stuffing the tent.  

I take a bit of time to poke around the artifacts before scooting up the trail.  There are all kinds of wheels and axles and pieces I don’t know the name for, abandoned from some kind of gold mining operation in the past

After leaving the campsite, there is a lot of the same, and I assume the same will continue all day. I walk along the Race. I listen to podcasts. It is cold, cold enough that it is pleasant to hike in rain gear.  We don’t have many snacks, so we take very few snack breaks. It is muddy.  A few spots are so so slippery, they must be clay instead of mud.All in all it is pleasant, if predictable.  The sky stays dark a very long time, giving the illusion of a suspended predawn twilight.  The clock shows 10:00 before the sky begins to lighten in tiny increments.  A friendly fantail adopts me fore several k’s, flitting and bobbing and coquetting and encouraging.

Between the lack of snacks and no muddless spots to set the pack down or sit, we make consistent progress.  On one hand I enjoy the uniqueness and ease of walking on the narrow trail separated from the greater forest by the sluice trench, and on the other hand, there is a feeling of claustrophobia at the separation.  A few times, like yesterday, I have to climb down into and back out of the Race where the elevated walkway has calved in, and one of these is flanked and ceilinged by a ghostly row of timber ruins. What is the story with these?  I’m not sure why, perhaps because they are so entwined with the forest’s reclamation, these fascinate me more than the morning’s metal implements in their carefully manicured clearing.

Eventually the track becomes more packed, and the going becomes quicker; the forest thins and the air becomes little brighter.  Hope for sun and open views returns.  It is apparent there is some kind of open land out to our left, so I check and find a bit of service, just enough to get a message out to Jo to see if she would like to meet for a meal this evening, promising to let her know when we are about 6 k out from a trailside restaurant.

The trail zags towards the openness, and we break free into the fringe of the forest.  It is unbelievably windy!  Let me back into the trees!  I shake my head at myself- the grass is always greener.  The funkiest fact is the deep sluice trench continues next to us, completely camouflaged by the long flowing meadow grass, like a Bengal tiger trap.  I am unaware of this until I turn to take a picture, and step backwards onto the edge of it, almost falling in.

The track leads back into the mossy forest again, and the wind disappears; I am glad to be protected.  The fog and muted light cause the moss to glow like jewels.We reach a fork that forms a loop, the track morphing into a well drained, well-trodden tread.  A series of signage talks about how all these waterways were used for mining, and the primitive yet brilliant engineering that went into their creation.

In no time at all we reach carpark that marks the end of our final forest track! It is so, so windy, the air swirling and diving and buffeting everything in its path, every which way. There is no service to alert Jo as I had assumed, and so I hope there will be soon.

We walk along the highway, the sun flashing out intermittently, a flamethrower, creating an instant oppression when it does.  The hut girls come off a connecting road, a shortcut from part way down the water race, and merge onto the asphalt shoulder right in front of Prana- what are the odds?  We keep up our pace, just concentrating on making it to Colac Bay and its much anticipated eponymous Tavern.  I find enough service on the top of a hill to squeeze out a message of our ETA to Jo.  One more k and it is in sight, although, oh no, is it closed?

We cross the street and are vastly relieved to find it open.  We duck inside, pulling the door shut behind us, and are the only ones there.

The music is thumpingly loud, and the burgers are a factor again more expensive than we predicted, but we can charge all the things and sit out of the wind, and we have anticipated this meal for so many k’s that we are having it, expense aside!  We each order the blue cod sandwich as recommended, and Mouse arrives, joins us, and orders as well.

Our table is located in front of a tall single pane picture window.  I sit in a daze, hypnotized watching the wind blow flotsam and jetsam back and forth, the music so loud and consistent it almost forms a white noise.

The fish burger is more than worth the price.  A hot platter clatters down, loaded with an entire side of crisply fried blue cod, topped with a sunny side up egg, melted cheese, juicy tomatoes, succulent beets, bright leaves of lettuce, homemade mayo. It is ringed with a pile of sizzling fries.  Cold bubbly beers and ginger beers appear, and Jo walks in the front door as we are about to dig in.  Jo!  She looks wonderful, and has the fantastic news that her wrist will be taken out of the cast in a couple of days, meaning she can finish her hike.  I divide my attention between savoring each bite and absorbing Jo’s trail stories since we have seen her last.  The hut girls come in, and greet Jo as well; they had assisted her with camp and packing when she broke her wrist on the trail!  Trail family, like blood family, is not chosen, nor often even intended.  Through circumstance they just are.   I remember how skeptical I was of Jo at first, in contrast with my fondness for her now, and wonder if I should have put more effort into getting to know these girls.  But then again, I had different things I needed to learn, and different things I needed in my journey.  And so I just gather happiness in being allowed to see an intersecting slice of theirs.

We indulge in Banoffee cake for dessert (served in a huge bowl overflowing with ice cream, fudge, and whip cream). I drink several cups of instant coffee along with it, anticipating a long evening after this coma-inducing meal.

We hug Jo goodbye, wishing her luck on the rest of her trail, and hoping to see her back in the states.  We leave around 4:30, warm and energized, and confident of making it to the market in Riverton for our resupply before they close tonight.  The road walk peters out where the ocean has destroyed the road, a few-inch-wide ribbon of asphalt that dissolves into the sand of the beach.  There is one lone surfer out in what must be frigid evening surf.  A beachwalk!  A long curving strand stretches ahead, made up of tiny pebbles and colorful gravel rather than sand.

Part way along this crescent the trail leaves the beach for what is signed as a farm route.  A farm route?!  Oh misery, I expect…but no! It is spectacularly gorgeous. The trail climbs and descends never far from the ocean, weaving between small beaches and headlands displaying fluted granites and greenstones.

Waves come in, crash, rush out, leaving tiny streaming waterfalls behind on every reef and rock sticking above the surface.  The ocean is an opaque aquamarine, clarifying to bright emerald where the sun lights it full on. Flax thickets are rioting everywhere that is not sand or solid rock, and on the connecting trails over the headlands at times I have to blindly push through, which is even more difficult than in tussock. I suddenly realize our speed has slowed to a crawl, a fact completely eclipsed by the stunning splendor of the track.  We are definitely not going to make the market tonight.   Oh well, well worth the current magic. .

The ridges that separate the tiny beaches begin sporting steeper ups and downs.  Many of the marker poles are bleached white, and white piles of granite bedeck the short grass.  The last stint on the beach is the finest, as rays of sun break through the clouds and beam out like a prevailing force for good.  

The final climb away looks back over fabulous coastline. I wish we could camp out here, and set up the tent door to frame this view so I could absorb every nuance.  Alas.  We ascend the long shallow hill and plunge into thick North-Island-style forest, then climb some more.  The path is wide, well-packed.  We gently descend to the car park, our updated goal for camp.  All the comparably flat areas face a gusty incoming wind, and they are none too flat to start with.  A rainbow lasers down in the distance, and we sit on a bench, overlooking the town, the estuary, the bay, the sky.  I am tired; today has the feeling of three days smooshed together.  Camping up here will be fairly miserable in spite of the aesthetics, so down we go. Down the road, down the hill.  We pass livestock fenced next to the road, including one  strange old cow with balloned, baboon-bare rump.  How bizarre!  Rare species, or rare disease?  Could be either, I have no idea.

We cross the harbor bridge in waning light, and reach town just a bit after 8:00.  We find the dairy still open, but less stocked than anticipated.  I have read the map wrong, and the full market is not right next door like I thought, so we call it for the night. We will just  hike back to Main Street in the morning.  We follow the trail where it diverges from the road and wraps behind a school grounds.  Let’s see, track field, bathroom block, bandstand… we poke around, thinking we may be able to tuck up against one of these structures in the enveloping dark, but everywhere feels a bit too exposed.  At the far end of the grassy playing area there is a group of pines.  We stomp around a bit, looking for a flat spot, waiting for a gust of wind to see if it is sheltered enough.  Thankfully, this will do just fine.  We all keep our headlamps as dim as possible, pitch as quick as we can, and settle in.  The gentle sounds of surf float in on the piney breeze – the beach must be very close.  The stars are very bright.  Only 2 more days.  I am already nostalgic.

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