so it's a beach walk, eh
Te Paki Coastal Track Black Friday, 2016 Te Araroa distance: 12.2 km
[quick note on some Te Araroa vernacular: hikers = walkers, trampers; hiking = tramping; trail names = don’t yet exist but have been imported from the north american tradition]
And so it begins, finally. All around me, as i write, is an incessant white noise that the ceaseless waves of a desolate coastal ocean can only produce; and it is soothing.
After a short deluge of long lost family connections in Hamilton, NZ and a meandering drudgery of bus travel, hitch hikes and road walks, k2 and I are finally on the Te Araroa.
I haven’t seen my cousin, his recently wed, already expecting a child wife, his mum, another aunt, an uncle, and another cousin I had probably played with as a child in years. Three decades ago at some sand pit or grand family birthday party in Sri lanka we would all have been under one roof, never imagining then we’d one day find ourselves scattered across the globe–war is an absolute destroyer of many ties.
But some ties, however tenuous, cling to something febrile even across time and place.
I suppose TimePlaceDrift is quite apt a name for our digital presence, after all.
My uncle who hadn’t seen me since I was a child waited at the airport lobby for k2 and I to clear customs. He didn’t know what I looked like, but my cousin had sent him along with some photos of me that didn’t quite match up his mental image of me frozen in memory even as I had grown up several oceans apart.
I didn’t know that it was he that came to get us at the airport. So I wasn’t looking for him.
As we waited for our tents to clear new Zealand’s strict regulations on foreign seeds and soil, someone scarcely remembered from my past approached me and asked if I was Amiththan.
Siva uncle, he told me later, recognized me not from my recent pictures but from this features of the child he remembered.
We twenty odd years later, there it was, a connection across time and place.
At his house, my aunt seemed beside herself as to what do with a fully grown man freely chatting away in semi fluent Tamil about things past and future promises as if Time hadn’t past. But it has. I barely know my cousins and look forward to knowing them all over.
Pranavan and his wife katpham took us home afterwards to their home in Hamilton, fed us, entertained us and helped us sort out the logistics of the trail. They is well on their way to welcoming their first child into this world. I hope I get to greet this one, forge a link that I hope would survive the inevitable drift.
My cousin drove us to the bus station at three thirty in the morning to make sure we caught the first of the three buses from Hamilton to kaitaia, the last bus stop that is still 112 km away from the trail head at Cape Reinga. It took us just over nine hours to that point.
We hitched, feeling the familiarity of that uncertainty we had encountered so often on the Appalachian trail. It is a feeling blended with unshakable optimism: the trail will provide.
Our first hitch was a lady and her dog lily who was out to get a cold drink. That shaved roughly ten kms to the cape. After several cars passed us K2 said that this was the longest she had to wait for a hitch. I had waited longer on the AT. we walked a bit till we got to a good spot and eventually had our second hitch from a Mauri couple. He liked reggae music. Took us to his town that was75 kms short of the cape and bade us ‘welcome to New Zealand.’ I blithely expected him to wish us Kia ora, in his Mauri dialect and felt guilty.
Then began the trudge. We walked for hours without getting a hitch. Walked along pretty grazing fields lined with wild flowers I couldn’t name and patches of defiant cala Lilies. That pastoral sight was calming but the presence of farm and ample day light meant that we couldn’t simply tent for the night.
We trekked on. This is the type of drudgery that you won’t see in a curated Instagram page about growing travel. The sweat; the uncertainty; the quiet desperation as the day grows short.
It started to drizzle. And K2 had had enough of the lack of kiwi hospitality. We walked up a hidden ATV pathway and contemplated stealth camping but I wasn’t convinced it was a good spot. I could see that k2 was ready to try again in the morning. I suggested we walk a little farther to the turn off to a sign that suggested a near by bay.
At least we wouldn’t be so exposed if we but turn into that side path, our reasoning went.
A car whizzed by and as we had some so many times that day with very little success, we stuck our thumbs out.
That car sped by us.
It was heartbreaking. And the rain was picking up, I quickened my pace, resolved on making it to the bay.
Scott pulled up just then at the precise moment I decided we wouldn’t get a hitch. Without much fanfare he quickly ushered into his truck, having already made up his mind that he would take us to his luscious farm and share the pizza he had picked up for his dinner.
Swami and K2 with amiththan’s kiwi branch of the family tree. last time he saw his cousin they were probably in the sandbox together as toddlers