Today’s beach was a tapestry of painted sands.
I hit trail early on this penultimate morning of my Te Araroa walk. The tide was out or I wouldn’t have been able to walk the beach line along the little Riverton harbor. It was overcast and cool, a somber start over a beach littered in pieces of shells, millions of shells, a fraction of the life this estuary supports, itself a fraction of all life. Coming to the end of such a long endeavor brings my mind to those kinds of musings. The tide had left the sand woven in water patterns. Just how small are we in the warp of life. A tapestry in which all humanity will follow these shells to the shore.
The little Riverton harbor.
Tiny broken shells littered the strand.
When I rounded the spit, a beach line curved farther than the mists of morning would allow me to see, to a pin prick, a point on the horizon. I knew I had fourteen miles of sand to walk today and wondered if that point in the distance was the full length, or if there was more. Fourteen miles is a long way on sand. The beach was so flat that the waves left a sheet of water, a mirror reflecting a sky of clouds on the grey surface. Still the weft lines of wave on sand left patterns that became almost alive as I moved across them. I walked fast, flowing with the patterns underfoot. It became quite hypnotic over the miles, and I was glad to be alone on this near finish day.
The distances always seem insurmountable when you can see to the horizon. But in a few hours I was well beyond that horizon.
Several streams crossed the beach at intervals but I hardly slowed my pace, hop, skipping across the shallows and splashing through the deeper places. The pace and rhythm had me in thrall and I followed without hesitation. It felt good. I love walking like this. A quiet settling around my movement, which becomes absolutely calm in its ferocity. I feel one with my exertion and quiet in it expression, a meditation at speed, my horse nature out, and felt to it’s fullest. On all my walks, my favorite animals by far have been the herds of wild horses galloping across the Western landscapes. They move me more than the picturesque elk or antelope, and I think it is that I feel a kinship to those majestic beings, galloping across a landscape. I felt it across this beach today.
A wind picked up as the morning drew toward noon, and by the time I had reached our exit from the beach, it was howling. I followed a vehicle access road and dodged behind the first sand dune I came to, it’s top of tussocky beach grass giving me some protection, and waited for Matt and Anton who were not far behind. We hoofed it to a little picnic spot with a table and benches for lunch. Now Matt needs a bit of a warm drink at noon each day, but it was still much too windy to fire up his stove without more protection, so in typical thru hiker fashion he went into the nearby outhouse and proceeded to cook on the floor in it, quite nicely out of the wind. Anton and I were deep in our own lunches and too preoccupied with keeping them from blowing away to notice that a car had driven up. A guy quickly got out and dashed to the outhouse door, which he opened only to be confronted by a person cooking his meal inside. Poor guy. Poor Matt. They were both a bit embarrassed. But Matt cooked away and the guy politely waited his turn at the room. Oh, what we do in times of extremis. Matt was going to have that hot cuppa with his lunch! We all laughed above the howl of the wind. There’s nothing like the camaraderie of long trail friends.
It was a short couple of miles into the town of Invercargill, our last night on trail. We stayed in the Tuatara Lodge, an old hotel, now a Backpackers hostel. Thomas the Tank Engine was also there having finished at Bluff earlier today. We all planned a celebratory dinner the following evening.