Mangawhai, New Zealand
Clunk, clank, vroooom! The sound of the bus, heading off for 90 mile beach, just after 7 in the morning.
Shuffle, shuffle. “Shit”. The sound of me changing position and watching the bus go.
I was next to the hostel at the time, sure that’s where Nicelady had told me to be, but it seemed as though the bus had stopped on the main road and was now pulling off. I walked up to the main road and hung around, pacing, repeating the odd profanity gently. Frankly, with rain forecast it was just looking like too nice a day to be bothered, though of course a decent day would be better to tour on. 10 minutes later an NZ awesome minibus came along. Ooh, I’d booked through…
He wasn’t stopping either. I wafted about for a bit, feeling conspicuous as people stopped and grabbed food at the bakery, then walked into town once it was clear no bus was coming back. The info centre was open despite it being 8am, and I found Nicelady at her desk again. She was horrified, checked with not even the suggestion of blame laid upon me, and let me know it had been booked but then not transferred onto the list the driver gets.
“So it’s not my fault?” I asked with a smile, and rebooked, to totally unnecessary apologies, for the next day. I was slightly hyper by now, up early and with a belly full of muesli, and didn’t care so long as I’d not wasted a tour booking. The sun had glinted through the clouds for 5 minute spells a couple of times, lifting my spirits even further each time, and I decided I’d walk to Haruru Falls, marked on the Bay of Islands map I’d got, to the West of Paihia. I’d read the map wrong, and it wasn’t 1.5km, but 1.5 hours walk to get there, but stuff it, it was early. A km on the road and I turned onto a field, ignoring the entrance to the treaty grounds a little further up the road in favour of getting onto the walk as soon as possible. Talking to people later, all of us had had the same ‘hmm, $25 entry, do I want to pay that – maybe I’ll walk and see what I can see from outside” thought, but they’d actually walked there. Nothing, was the answer, you can see nothing, so my small shortcut worked for me.
It was very windy, but the walk to the falls is enclosed by trees throughout. It’s quite a narrow path, in fact, but scenic – the vista opens up, pictured, at the first bridge over the river, before a boardwalk across a swamp and back into tree lined undulating track. It was pretty quiet, just one walker and one runner passing the other way while I was walking there, and I was at peace.
I’d seen grand falls in Japan, and wondered what I was in for. Not very much, it turned out, though I felt a sense of peace there (despite the campsite just over the way below the waterfall and houses on the other side of an ugly road bridge over it), probably because the first thing I saw was a man sitting by the falls, looking entirely at peace. Small falls, though.
I sat for a while, joined by various couples and groups. I thought they’d done well to stay so close to me on the trails – giddily, I’d run the downhill stretches – but in fact they were pouring in from the car park. Very different feeling, that – this would only be a short stop, nothing to hold you here for long, then on to many other, probably more impressive sights. Whereas I had a long walk home with the walk, not the falls, the focus. Interesting. Sort of. I stood on the bridge for a photo and felt a nudge on my leg. This being safe-wildlife NZ, I was immediately sure it was a dog rather than something deadly, so I finished the photo before looking down. A dog! Sorry, I mean – a dog. No surprise there. No owner in sight, so we had a short chat before he drifted listlessly off, unimpressed.
The walk back was equally lovely, if a little busier. I caught up with a couple I had seen at the falls, and scuffed my shoes to try to avoid startling the lady, who was at the back. Total failure, but she smiled as I pulled her back onto the path and waved me off as we brushed the undergrowth from her clothes*. “Walk more quickly!” I neither said, nor thought, smiling in the sun, though regretting my choice of jeans as the day warmed up.
I was back at the hostel for lunch, finding Nicki still contemplating her options. Buoyed by mood, I recommended the walk, forgetting the fally anticlimax. Once I eventually got out of the way of the door, she set off – a warmer walk than I’d had guaranteed.
It was exceptionally windy once out of the tree cover by now. As I went through the turnstile that marked the covered area an older runner was jamming his cap back on his head, though I could at least reassure him that he was safe on the path. I had several raised-eyebrow ‘gosh isn’t it windy’ wordless interactions on the way back.
In the afternoon I figured I’d cover one of the other walks on the map, but thoughts of the long coastal walk were scotched by the high tide. Or the fact that I tried to start it in the wrong place, obviously, but I’m blaming the tide. Instead I went round town in a figure of eight, convincing myself there really wasn’t much there, started back to the hostel to change to shorts, stopped for a snooze as it cooled, then started the 30 minute climb ‘bush walk’ just behind Paihia just as it got hotter. Great views from up there, once I’d dived off the path to avoid a couple of runners hurtling down the hill, as there were from a similar uphill “gentle gradient” walk which wasn’t as gentle as I’d thought the sign suggested. Maybe I was reading too much into it.
The day got better and better as it went on, and I ended it sitting in the sun with fish and chips on the beach. With paper in the way this time – using the beach as a plate doesn’t work, kids. Nicki came back not at all angry that a non-walker had walked that far to some average falls, and we watched Ocean’s Eleven after 10pm as a rebellion against the hostel going to sleep once the kitchen/upstairs communal area shut at 9.30. It felt ever so naughty breaking into the dorms near midnight, though the effect was spoilt a little by one of my roommates waving a goodnight over his book. A day with a thwarted tour experience, an active and fabulous day.
*may not actually have fallen off the path. May possibly have suffered some cardiac arrhythmia later due to deferred shock.