Day 4 - Stillwater to Wenderholm
“We used to use body bags to float across rivers. There were always plenty around because South Africans are always shooting each other”
We'd been describing our crossing of the Okura River the previous day to a retired Afrikaans couple we met in the shade of a Pohutukawa tree. We'd asked them to mind our gear while we went for a swim on Orewa Beach. They had been living in New Zealand for 20 years and obviously considered themselves kiwis. To this couple, South Africans were the people that still live there.
Once they got more comfortable with us the male of the species enlightened us more.
“Never ask a black how to get somewhere. They have no understanding of direction or distance. If they tell you it is over the hill they probably mean it's over ten hills. They don't understand time...which is why South Africans don't die of heart attacks...they’re too relaxed,” he imparted as he sat back in his deck chair.
I couldn't help thinking that “South Africans” don't die of heart attacks because they end up in body bags before they get a chance to.
It's amazing what you learn when you take the time to talk to people and walking Te Araroa is all about taking your time.
We are becoming very wise.
We’d left Stillwater early so hadn’t managed to meet trail angel Peter, the campground manager as we'd promised.
By the time we arrived at Orewa Beach we were somewhat broken. It had been a tough 13 kilometre stretch along the side of a busy road on another blisteringly hot day.
One of the best things about walking Te Araroa nobo (northbound) is that we’ve met heaps of sobo (southbound) hikers coming the other way. Because most TA hikers walk sobo, most TA hikers don’t get to meet as many hikers as we have in the four years we’ve taken to make our way up the country. We try to make a point of talking to everyone we bump into because it’s good for trail intel. We’ve also made a point of photographing them all. Photos are a great way to remember everybody, but we also reckon our hiker portrait project is a good historical exercise. We’re already noticing changes in the gear people are using. And we love everyone’s smiles.
The reason I’m talking about this now is that as we walked into Orewa we passed a couple of sobo hikers...on the other side of a the highway. They were obviously in a hurry to get a free shower at Stillwater and we were caught off guard, so as four lanes of traffic rushed by, we missed meeting each other and I failed, for the first time, to capture their souls in my camera.
Our Orewa plan was to chill under a tree on the beach and swim until the real heat passed. Trail siesta time.
As we approached the beach, a guy came rushing across the carpark to say hello. We'd meet Steve, a friend of Stephen’s, the previous day near Castor Bay.
We were soon sitting under a pohutukawa tree talking to learned South Africans. Our feet felt raw - I was sure that my right little toe was just a shredded flap of meat, but was nicely surprised when I took my socks off because...it wasn't. Yes it had a small blister but was otherwise only slightly pink.
Whiona wasn't so lucky - her carefully punctured and dressed blister, now named Barney, had filled with fluid. A large and perfectly formed bubble had grown under her sticky tape. She chose to leave it and we opted to treat our injuries with a swim in the deliciously M.O.R. Orewa Beach.
We were about to spend our first night out alone, so before we left town we did some shopping. The supermarket aircon was AMAZING! The coffee we bought across the road after was even more so.
Feeling cool and caffeinated we felt refreshed enough to leave for Wenderholm and date-night in a tent. As we trudged up the hill out of town Doreen from Germany came the other way. It was our fourth day and she was our fourth sobo - we’d thought the season would have been over. We chatted, I snared her soul and we walked on feeling good.
Feelings of goodness don’t last long when you’re dodging cars, trucks and buses. Feelings of goodness can never compete with ditch walking and the rubbish you witness along the way. The road to Waiwera - to be blunt - is a bit shit and ended with us taking turns to “sprint” over a lengthy bridge with no shoulder. It was dangerous, unpleasant and par for the course.
As we came to the turnoff to Waiwera a sign beckoned us to make a slight detour. “Liquor Store!” it shouted.
Ducking down a road for a quick visit to a bottle store is easy in a car. Ducking down a road for a quick visit to a bottle store doesn’t really happen when you’re hiking. A 500m detour soon becomes a 1km return trip of walking - no small deal when you’re absolutely rooted at the end of a long hot day AND you’re carrying full packs.
“But the wine must’ve made the effort worthwhile?” I hear you ask.
Well...the bloody shop was closed. So no. It wasn’t worthwhile.
Things worsened at the track intersection at the bottom of the hill that stood in the way of our campsite at Wenderholm.
Advice: just because a route on a map looks shorter doesn’t mean that it is shorter.
As we stood at the entrance to Wenderholm Park the lines on the map made the Te Araroa route through the park to the Schischka Campground look like a dumb idea. The TA route was much longer that the more obvious option.
“Bloody TA are trying to take us on another Tiki Tour! We haven’t got the energy for scenery! Give us the shortcut!”
Yes. We were yelling...at least in our heads we were yelling.
So off we bolted...on OUR trail...not the actual trail. Admittedly we started in some gorgeous forest, but the scenery was no match for the HORRENDOUS incline we’d chosen. There weren’t any tears, but there were plenty of swears as we staggered up...and up...and up...to the top of a very pointless hill. Once there we were treated to one of the largest and most pointless mown areas we’d ever had the pleasure of lying exhausted on.
“Where's your car?” asked the puzzled little group of motorhome folk as they watched us pitch our tent from their fold-out chairs.
As Whiona explained, I wandered around and took photos of seagulls.
We’d left Auckland. We’d found a field to lie in.
If we’d chosen not to pitch our tent across from the blazing lights of the camp toilets, we would’ve almost felt like we’d gone bush.
Aah. Te Araroa.