Oct 22 day 52 Wanganui to Koitiata Beach Campsite 30 km 7:15-1:45
What can you say, completely flat day– 30 km of road walking, most on highway 3. Grey, misty, heavy traffic, no real sights to stop for, poured rain with high winds for second half. Just a hiking day to put in the books and forget; however, outside hiking some events not to forget. On crossing the Whangaehu River, right when it started to rain, we (Cory is hiking with me) stopped at the Whangaehu village to see if there was a Tip Top or small store. I asked a woman who was standing in front of an old store, she said there was nothing in the town. As we walked back toward the highway, a dreadlocked, grizzled man waved us down, asked if we wanted coffee, inviting us into his home–a cinder block building that had once been the village store. After siphoning gas from a can into his truck (using the tried and true suck on the end of the hose approach), he introduced us to his wife and granddaughter as well as a friend from up the street. We got coffee and he told the story of the flood (he has lived there for 20 years and as been flooded out four times– each was called a 100 year flood, so I’m guessing he is much older than his 58 years). This is the same flood that hit Wanganui. He had pictures of the village under water, told of escaping with family and children by climbing the roof of the house across the street. His is one of two families that has returned to the village, the other houses are still under condemnation. His was able to occupy early because it is all masonry. He had to shovel truckloads of silt out of it and pressure wash the inside multiple times, and the house (actually is it an old store building from the 1940s) is still in very rough shape, but can finally be lived in after three months hard labor. Interesting people working hard in rough circumstances. Back on the road–around lunchtime the rain really picked up, so we decided to walk in to Turakina (our road turned just outside it) to see if we could get lunch and dry out a bit before the last nine km. Neither the roadhouse, nor the tavern were open, so a coffee and a mince pie at the gas station was the best we could do. The last walk in was rough with wind and sideways rain. A couple of kilometers before Koitiata a woman named Ruth gave us a ride. She sings in a country music club and was on her way to practice. The campground was small, minimal facilities but full of interesting folks. Trish, the warden, doesn’t charge TA hikers, so when the rain broke we pitched tents and spent the first part of the afternoon talking to the various campers, most of whom are driving big RVs. The camp is right across from the beach we will be hiking down tomorrow, the wind characteristic of an ocean breeze. The tiny beach town is one to make you smile, as are the people at the camp. There is Gary, an older man who used to dive (scuba) a lot and had stories about living in Dunedin and having parties with American sailors. Then there is a woman who just moved with her children back from Hamilton to live in the area where she was born. For now, they are in a pop-up camper and tent. The children baked muffins and decorated them with colored icing– one for Canada and one for the US, giving them to us for breakfast. And there was a couple who, because so many people they knew were dying from cancer, etc., decided to take a year off. They bought a camper bus and are traveling the entire country. They had us over to their campsite for beers and conversation. The wind was still blowing and it looked as though the rain would return, so I crawled into my flapping tent, read Barry Lopez for about an hour and slept the sleep of the dead.