Today was full of magic, and I attribute it to the amount I was suffering that brought it on. Last night I arrived at a picnic spot by the beach that allows free camping for one night. My feet were in agony from the roads and on arrival I came across a group of surfers who offered me dinner and a beer. I was served curry and homemade naan bread and could barely even finish my bowl there was so much. The guys and gal were from the UK and Ireland and brought out guitars as the sun went down for a sing along. I was given the egg shaker to play so I didn’t feel left out!
Despite my good sleep, or maybe because I got a taste of life that wasn’t sore feet and hiking, I woke up in a foul mood and was about ready to collapse after the first 3km. I left at 6:15am without making breakfast because I didn’t want to wake the campers around me, so when a woman called out from her home as I walked past at about 7:30am and asked if I wanted a shower, I threw my hands in the air with relief.
Janie gave me a towel and hooked me up with soap to scrub myself down in her outdoor shower. She then made me coffee and breakfast which we ate in the early morning sunshine outside on her patio. Luxury! She told me I HAD to do the coastal walk to Whale Beach and Matapouri Beach, and even though an extra 45 minutes on my feet didn’t appeal, leaving my pack on her patio to collect afterwards did. The walk did me a world of good, reminding me that I do in fact love walking, I just hate all these bloody roads.
I was riding high for a while after that and even met a section hiker named Susan on the trail, but the last 6kms of road walking into Ngunguru basically killed me. It was about 28 degrees, no shade, and my feet were broken. I’d spoken to a man named James earlier who was going to ferry me over the Whangaumu Bay estuary, and he was going to check if the town of Tutukaka close by sold runners. I’ve been dreaming of wearing sneakers for two days now and had my hopes up about this town, but 1.5kms out from Ngunguru James texted me to say he’d called the store and they had nothing. When I received his message I collapsed on the side of the road and balled my eyes out. I can not describe my foot pain, other than to say it’s all encompassing!
When I arrived at the corner store in Ngunguru 20 minutes later a woman said to me, “it’s a hot day to be walking.” At that point I just shook my head and burst into tears again much to her horror. When I finally pulled myself together and explained my foot pain, the woman named Erika told me she lived about 1km south down the trail, and gave me her sandals off her feet to wear. She told me to come to her place to try on shoes and relax with a glass of wine. I did both, and walked away with a pair of new kicks and a host of stories from such a generous and intriguing woman.
A day has passed since I started writing this and so much has happened since then. Susan, the section hiker, and I caught the boat over the bay with James and stayed in one of his cabins that night. His daughter was having her 19th birthday party so there was a large group of young people and tables full of food. I ate myself sick, and the next morning when I left to hit the trail quite early, I found Susan on the floor in the toilet having a major migraine attack. She was trying to give herself an injection, and after running to find help, James and I drove her to the hospital in Whangarei about 30 minutes away. It was all quite frightening, and after Susan was admitted we contacted her son who left immediately from Auckland to collect her. I’m happy to report she’s doing okay, and will hopefully take some time off the trail to recover.
I ended up going to a shoe store in Whangarei as Erika’s sneakers were already hurting my feet (they were the old style rocker sort that are designed to give your calf muscles a work out). I ended up buying a cheap pair of $60 sneakers and a pair of advanced memory foam insoles. They seem to be working well so far!
After leaving James’ late last night I found myself road walking after sunset with nowhere to sleep other than the side of the road for the next 15km. Thankfully I came across a couple leaving their farm and asked if I could sleep in their driveway. They invited me to sleep in their old caravan instead, and despite the 30+ mosquitos I killed, the unit was luxury compared to sleeping in a ditch.
This trail forces you out of your physical, mental and social comfort zones on a daily basis. I’m really learning to take each day as it comes, because something unexpected always seems to be waiting around the next corner.