Waves crashed down in front of me as I sat on the sand, gazing out to sea. The morning air still had a scent of dew – crisp is how I’d describe it. A blue sky and lack of wind heralded a fine day for walking.
I slipped off my sandals, shed the thick socks, rolled up my trousers and strolled into the shallows. The cold sea water felt good on the feet. To my north the beach curved up towards the unseen Cape – ground already covered. Looking south I could make out the hills that frame the seaside town of Ahipara – my destination 15km away.
Two and half months had passed since the beach had kicked my arse. A long, frustrating wait while the bone in my foot slowly bound back together.
I finally felt ready. This time my pack was half the weight – down to 15kg, from close to 30kg at the start. I felt confident, but now knew not to underestimate the “Ninety Mile Bitch” (that awesome nick-name another Te Araroa tramper applied to The Beach).
I wanted to swim, but buried the urge and concentrated on the task ahead. Feet dry, sand brushed, socks on, foot-wear attached, head protection wrapped, bag hauled, The Stick held – deep breathe – and off I went.
Step after step I felt weight drop from my shoulders. Walking can do wonders for the mind. Meditation without having to cross your legs and close your eyes. Now that I didn’t have to distract myself from a heavy load, the scenery became appealing. Barren monotony transformed into grand stability. Instead of trudging I now sauntered.
The Stick once again proved itself to be a valuable asset to the expedition. Its shoe I had bought was by now completely worn through, but the cord-wrapped head presented a use. For my video camera I have one of those wonky adjustable-leg tripods. I wrapped its limbs around The Stick, then bound it into place with the cord. The result- Stick-Cam! With this new contraption I can now, with true narcissistic flair, cover myself from all angles.
This entertained me for a while as I paced along. Along with The Stick, Eagle-Eye Eddy the Video Camera is a companion when walking. I get to chat to him and he listens faithfully, recording everything I say for future use. He doesn’t talk back, question the shit I spout, correct me or even pull faces. I can just mumble along without having to repeat myself. His only requirement is that I occasionally plug him into a wall socket so that he can have a drink.
Compared to my first few days on the beach it wasn’t hard to keep my mind busy. I could after all see the end of it. The forested hills slowly put on weight, Ahipara gained buildings. People offered me rides, I refused. What looked like drift-wood turned out to be a dead shark. Belly-up it lay in the sand, with a half-chewed squid hanging out of its jaws. Not much further I came across two heads of the same species. Two tails followed. These I could understand – cutting down on size and weight before hauling the meat home. But the whole corpse was a blatant waste.
A dead seagull was also worth the inspection. The twisted, broken shape of its body showed that it’d miss-judged the speed of an oncoming vehicle. Quite a day for finding dead animals. When walking down the road to towards the beach I’d come across two plastered possums. The first had been a very recent kill – the blood that’d sprayed from its head had barely the time to congeal. His mate had clearly snuffed it some days earlier. As I approached a whole swarm of flies flew thick into the air around me, forcing me to hold my breath and run. Not an uncommon sight here – drivers actively swerve into these invasive Australian pests.
What struck me at Ahipara was the noise of engines. The place is a machine playground. I seemed to be the one of the only people enjoying The Beach without having to use fossil fuels. The campsite was beautiful yet spoilt by the constant racket of revving engines. I find it bizarre that all these people go on a camping/beach holiday, and spend all their time tearing around on vehicles. The dog walker epitomised this for me. On my approach to Ahipara I saw her coming a mile off in her huge SUV. I had to wait a little longer to spot the dog running along beside. She was pretty, so I smiled and waved as she flew past. Twenty minutes later, while taking a break, the bounding mutt and its lazy owner came by again. I thought that “taking your dog for a walk” meant that the owner also got to stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air.
Two tractors with trailers marked the end of The Beach. Finally! Here the sand was at its widest – 100 metres from water to the exit. The last section was soft and churned up by all the traffic. Motorbikes fish-tailed past at speed. I sat under the only tree nearby, deeply satisfied with the sense of “job done!” Apart from a few niggles and a couple of minor blisters, my injured foot felt recovered.
Walking through the town was a welcome change. Only the growling cars spoiled the moment. It was early afternoon as I sat outside a store drinking Powerade. The hills of the Herekino Forest were tantalisingly close and I played with the idea of continuing. But sense prevailed, reminding me not to push myself too hard. I backtracked to the holiday grounds in search of accommodation.
I quickly set up camp, not hanging around. There was, after all, something that needed doing.
The Beach was busier now, with quad bikes tearing up the sand and 4x4s parked with their open boots facing the water. I headed for the widest gap between frolickers and dropped my krama, hat and shades. After vanquishing my nemesis it was time for my first swim in the Tasman Sea.
I may have finally completed The Beach, I just only wish I’d done it with a clean getaway…