Castors Bay to Stillwater
As I write this I'm sitting on a mattress in the Stillwater Campground feeling like a king.
Whiona has just dealt with the large blister on my big toe by lancing it with the very same blister needle she operated on me with in the Takitimu Range four years ago.
She loves getting the chance to do surgery and I'm too much of a pussy to do it myself. We have a magic relationship.
Stillwater is a classic kiwi Campground with one difference - it lets TA hikers stay for free! In a large Hall! With Mattresses! And Pillows!
We could’ve stayed in our tent if we’d wanted to...but why would we? The mattress was soooo soft.
The guy who welcomed us at the gate had given us a fifty cent piece each and ushered us in. When I asked how I should pay he replied with a little recipe for trail magic.
“The owners really love trail hikers. You get to stay for free. When Peter gets in later tonight, make sure you go and introduce yourselves.”
The fifty cent piece was for the shower machine. Another gift - of hot water.
Mini Review: Stillwater Holiday Park - 5 Stars.
The day had started at 6.30 - we had a date with a noon low tide on the Okura Inlet, so a sleepin wasn't an option.
We packed, then made our way upstairs to the kitchen. As we sat down for toast and coffee, Stephen came in dressed in his hiking gear - he would be accompanying us northwards to Long Beach.
My breakfast reading was a bookmarked passage of his copy of Geoff Chappell's original Te Araroa book. It was a section about getting stuck in deep mud near where we would be crossing at Okura. I took note.
After packing the lunch Wyn had made and indulging in a quick photo session, the three of us took off down the hill - it was just after 7.30. We were stiff and blistered after our effort the day before, but Stephen got us going at a pretty good clip and we soon loosened up. Under a naked sun we walked around the coast, along beaches, over beautiful rocky outcrops and past some seriously expensive and temporary cliff top real estate. Rangitoto ignored our progress from across a smooth blue sea.
Unlike the day before, there were plenty of Te Araroa signs leading our way.
Castor Bay, Murrays Bay, Rothesay Bay, Browns Bay.
City walking tracks feature plenty of locals and walking with one of them meant that we weren’t as isolated as we’d felt the day before. We met the friends of our friends as we walked. Stephen took some “delight” in pointing out the area’s “ghost houses” - empty investment properties owned by overseas opportunists.
Just before Torbay we met Wyn, who'd been stalking us in her MX5, for a coffee, then said goodbye to them both.
As we left Torbay the tide was nearly all the way out and thanks to Stephen’s fitness we were just about on time. Long Bay is aptly named and it ended with a slightly worried clamber over Piripiri Point and our first appointment with a tide.
I don't do any research before we leave, so didn't have a clue what all the fuss was about until Whiona led me down to the beach.
A small group of Chinese tourists assisted us down the last step - this, rather shockingly for me, involved my hand being held by a nice young woman as she supported my descent. Once we'd thanked them and I'd gathered my dignity we found a small rocky ledge to sit on as we stripped down to our daks and double bagged all our gear.
The strip of water we had to cross was only a hundred metres wide, but it had a deep blue channel in the middle of it.
How swift was the tide?
Our start was nervous, but in the end the short journey across Okura Inlet was fine. There was no current to drag us away and under, the water didn’t go over our eyebrows and our waterproof bags worked. Although there were heaps of small fish, there were no stingrays, taniwha or sharks.
We'd been in a bit of a hurry to get places over the previous few days so hadn't had a chance for a swim yet - walking past perfect beaches full of happy, cool swimmers while wearing full hiking kit and carrying fuller packs kinda sucks - but the little Okura channel hop was a great chance to relax and cool down.
We found a large pohutukawa tree with a picnic table sized rock under it and ate Wyn’s sandwiches.
Stillwater wasn’t far off and it was still early, so we made a quick detour to the historic Dacre Cottage. As well as some historic architecture, we got a few nuggets of advice from a retired SAS officer. My favourite was this gem about keeping clean:
“Personal hygiene is very important when you're on a mission like yours. They say an army marches on its stomach, but I know from experience that it marches on clean feet and bodies.”
Before we got to learn more about jock itch and New Zealand's elite military, my old schoolmate Brian came to the rescue.
He walked us into the campground where we dumped our packs. We were soon catching up over a beer in Orewa. The beer and conversation was perfect - the drive from Stillwater to Orewa on the road we would be walking the next day was a little less so.
It was obvious that we would be in for some tarseal hell.
I'm sitting in the hall of the Stillwater Holiday Park in the dark. Fiona is asleep on the big squishy mattress and I'm wired. I had a thick syrupy coffee at 7.30 so I could catch up on this writing.
We didn't get to meet Peter and his wife, but will be making a beeline for them in the morning.
I hope they're awake.