Sunday 29 November – Day 15
We have a late start today in preparation for the water crossings this afternoon. The thought of a sleep in is one thing, waking up regularly before 6 am is another entirely. James greets us with a pot of coffee and soy milk which we add to our already inordinately long breakfast. There is little point leaving too early as we will just be sitting on the river bank waiting for the tide to go down and by then it could be raining. The forecast is for showers and before we depart camp there have already been some drizzle. We cannot wait around any longer so chomping at the bit we depart shortly after 10 am. I walk with Jazz who is sporting tendinitis but coping remarkably despite the pain. She is determined to get across the river. It’s a lot speed than I would normally walk at but I’m enjoying her company and we are really in no rush. This small section of the trail is a new alternative to the road walk I had in 2017. Not only does it save time but also cuts out a tedious road section. Access has kindly been granted for TA walkers through private property (thank you Violet) that leads down to the Horahora river. Along its banks are huts and caravans for the use of the Maori landowners however today there is no one else in sight. The instructions are to walk around the river side to the left until reaching an orange marker at the first clump of mangroves. I set off through the sand when an oyster catcher starts squawking and flying towards me. Wee thing is going ballistic. I spin around and make haste down towards the water where I’m not a threat to their nest. Calm is restored however I wait until Jazz arrives so I can direct her away from the same attack.
At midday we arrive to the crossing point where Fiona and Tony are waiting. Tony does a dry run to a sandbar in the river, the water above his knees. Supposedly we should add another 60 cm depth for the other side. We’ll wait longer for the water to go down further. Suddenly two guys appear around the corner. Jason and Hone started 14 November (the day before me) and have come from Matapouri this morning. We’ve not seen them before, but that’s is way of the trail. Everyone’s journey is different. At 12:40 I can’t wait anymore and lead the charge across to the first sandbank. The water is cool and quite fast flowing but it doesn’t go above my knees. So far so good. For the next deeper crossing to the far bank I hold my pack above my head just incase the depth is above my waist or to chest height. The water touches an inch or two of my shorts but no deeper. That was easy. The others can now see that they can cross with their packs on their backs and soon enough we are all on the other side of the river. We had taken our shoes off for the river and it was suggested by James we keep them off for the mangrove walk to the road that followed. It is notorious for thick black mud. Again we are in luck as it is relatively dry and the long grass wipes off most of the sand by the time we reach the road.
There is a 5 km walk to Pataua North along a pleasant stretch of road. I pass a German girl heading NOBO (North bound). She seems to reluctantly stop when I smile and call out, to learn she did the south island pre-covid and is now doing the North. I learn that the Taiharuru estuary is easy to cross and tell her about the Horahora. She takes off again. I asked the others about her later and she didn’t stop for them, too intent on wherever she was heading to today. Pataua North and Pataua South are separated by the Pataua River. Its spitting distance between the two but if you want to drive between both sides be prepared to go right around via Whangarei. Or have a boat. Or walk across the footbridge as I did. There was nothing to stop for so I continued walking out of Pataua S and a couple of kms further along the trail deviates onto the Taiharuru estuary. It’s low tide so I can easily follow the poles with orange markers around the coastline. Despite the tide my shoes and socks are submerged in water and mud so by the time I reach Tidesong they are quite slick with goo. Hugh is at the door to greet me and asks if I would like a cup of tea. What a host. And there indoors with foot elevated and surrounded by homemade baking is Jazz in her element. Shoes washed off I too am welcomed inside for tea with scones cream and jam, banana cake and Christmas fruit tarts. We can see Jason and Hone approaching along the estuary however they veer right and have chosen to continue onto the next campsite. Jazz and I reach for their scones. Suckers. Before long Tony and Fiona arrive and we have our informal group together again.
Ros and Hugh Cole-Baker at the Tidesong B&B and camp are heroes of the TA. They are well known on the route and have offered hospitality to literally thousands of TA walkers plus they are fervent supporters of the TA Trust and the trail. In 2014 Hugh accompanied Ros as she did the trail whilst raising awareness of kidney transplants and what can be achieved post operation. Some of you will know her sister, Ann Woodward.