December 21st Puhoi (km531)-Long Bay (km568) Mileage: 23mi/37km It was quite chilly this morning. I could even see my breath, so I was happy to be in the caravan. I slept really good until the rooster alarm at 04:30. Even then, I slept through that for another hour. But I wanted to get an early start before the road walk got to have too much traffic. I was walking by 7 am and past busy SH1 by 8. I skipped a kayak route once again. I’ve paddled a lot of similar rivers and it was logistically easier just to walk. I enjoyed some interpretive trails through Wenderholm Park. The old historic house there played host to Queen Elizabeth, back when she was in her 30’s or so. After a nice track around the headland, it was more road walking for 6km. The tide was high, so I couldn’t walk the low-tide route around the headlands to the south. Then a nice beach walk along Orewa, followed by a pleasant stroll on a multi-use pathway along the estuary. This led to a new housing development and shopping mall. Just in time for lunch! Note the dummy in the tree??? I went into The Warehouse (think Walmart) to buy a fuel canister but they didn’t have any of the small ones. So then I went to a store called Macpac, which sells a variety of outdoors equipment under their own brand (think REI but WAY smaller). The salesman’s eye lit up when I walked in. “You must be hiking the TA!” He exclaimed. My smell might have given me away. Then he invited me to put my pack down behind the counter and asked what kind of coffee I would like. They’ve made a policy to buy all TA hikers a coffee. So already I was quite a loyal customer. I got a canister, 2 dehydrated meals (think Mountain House) that were 20% off, and a pair of merino underwear that were discounted to $12…that is a steal! Both my Icebreaker merino socks and underwear have developed holes already. Like an idiot, I asked if I could get a warranty pair of socks but of course they don’t carry Icebreaker…they are a competitor. They were so nice at this store, I highly recommend other hikers visit. Before leaving, Mike asked me where I am from. Turns out, he is NZ’s biggest (and probably only) Miami Dolphins fan. Generally, rugby rules down here and kiwis view our “Grid Iron” as it is called, as being kind of whimpy for all the use of padding and timeouts. Mike still likes rugby but is the first kiwi I have met that has even mentioned an American football team. He even informed me that they had beaten the Pats a few weeks ago. I don’t know which was more surprising to hear, of his love of the Dolphins or the results of that game. Conveniently, there was a sushi place in the shpping mall, so I got a box for lunch. As I was getting ready to go, a lady came up, confirmed I was doing the TA, and was quite persuasive in convincing me that I should get a ride with her past the busy streets of the city center. She lives along the route and has seen and given rides to a lot of TA walkers. Who was I to argue with this logic? Another American girl was in the car, on her second visit to NZ and somehow friends with Leslie. It was a pretty short ride, only 4kms, so I didn’t pick up too many other details. Well, so I’m not walking every km but I’ve done 99% so far. I’d had enough of walking busy roads after SH1 this morning. I’m going to make up the distance doing some side trips. Plus, the number of times I’ve gotton off route and walked extra probably makes up for it already. I walked a pretty quiet road some more from where I got dropped off, then began a great coastal track along the Okura river estuary. I arrived a little early for the low tide at 4 pm so I relaxed on a bench at the Dacre cottage, another historic preservation. I filled up on water and did some charging. I tried something new today in charging while I hike. This actually worked! The Suntactics solar pannel charges a smartphone at a decent pace and the y-strap on my pack secures it perfectly. That strap has been extremely handy so far, and to think I considered cutting it off to eliminate excess! Crossing the Okura river next proved to be more difficult then expected. I readied my pack by putting most things inside and changed into my camp shoes. I straped my hiking shoes to the top (using the y-strap of course). The great expanse of exposed sand sure gave the impression of the tide being dead low. Along the 2km section, I saw many horse riders. It looked like so much fun to be splashing around out there on your horse. Several were galloping. The flats were easy until I came to the main channel. The trail notes said to go way far out towards the ocean for the shallowest crossing across a bar. But my polarized sunglasses didn’t reveal a bar…it all looked pretty deep. I checked my GPS and I was spot on the route. So I tried, pack hoisted over my head, and was shortly up to my chest and getting deeper. Not wanting to swim, I retreated. I was feeling some despair, being so close to the other side and following the directions. Something wasn’t right. I went upstream a ways, hoping to ask one of the riders for advice. To go around the river to the closest bridge involves a huge road walk detour. But first I decided to try another spot and this time success. It only came up to my waist. I didn’t elevate my pack this time, so I kind of dunked the lower half. I found a little water inside later but not bad considering. Thankfully I found a little freshwater stream, more like a puddle, on the other side and was able to rinse the saltwater out of my clothes. And for the record, others have had the same problem when trying to cross. It’s not surprising that the inlet may have changed recently…it’s all sand and it shifts around. All’s well that ends well. Looking at the map, my last chance for a peaceful and out-of-the-way campspot was right across the river. There was no holiday park for another 20km. It’s all Auckland suburbs to the south. I didn’t see anything in the notes that said no camping but none-the-less, I wanted to be discrete. Not a problem with my camo solplex tent…I just disappeared into the bush. Stealth camping, as it’s known, is a controversial subject. If done properly, following leave no trace principles, it usually is fine. It becomes a problem when people leave behind fire rings, rubbish, and improperly-buried poop. I’d be against anyone doing that in my backyard too! And just seeing someone camping in a public space can be alarming, as it’s associated with homelessness. Well, presently I am homeless, but in a much different way. So I made sure I was well out of sight and quiet. I even fluffed up the grass from my tiny tent print the following morning. It was a nice spot with views of the ocean and city lights. For the first time in 3 weeks, I could hear city noises. But mostly I heard the pukekos all night. They are similar to our moorhens but larger. I’ll say more of them later.