Teuila Fuatai: Getting some spring back in my step

OPINION:

It’s weird what pops out in a year made of previously inconceivable events.

Back in April, I was thinking about backyard bunkers and sowing corn. Then it was May and a lot of rejoicing of things I’d taken for granted. Real-life interactions and meals away from home, alongside access to the hairdresser were met with overwhelming gratitude.

There was also a brief return to the netball court. Auckland’s second stint at level three restrictions brought a premature end to that, along with the rest of the city’s winter club league. As the weeks rolled on, and we launched into a seemingly forever-election campaign, it seemed some kind of (re)reset was needed.

I decided a proper date with my walking shoes was in order. While they had some lovely outings during level four, lately, they’ve taken on a semi-retired status. I thought about the things I’d sworn I was going to keep – like the walks and steady regime of home-cooked meals. Remember that day we went up three maunga, just because we could? Unfortunately, the shoes, like a few other ideals, have been side-lined since then.

I knew a challenge was needed. I was after the ‘clear out the cobwebs, kickstart Spring and be one with nature’ vibe. Even though it was a little later than the official September 1 date at this point.

I chose Northland’s Te Whara track. Bookended by two decent peaks, the walk traverses a chunk of the Whangārei Heads. It is about 8km and listed as an intermediate one day hike by the Department of Conservation.

Because I’d done it about three years ago, and had cultivated a regular walking regime round some of Auckland’s suburbs about four months ago, I felt the most appropriate action was to do the track not once, but twice. There and back in a day. It would be a cool weekend achievement.

That meant an early start to ensure a finish before dark. Surprisingly, I didn’t make it up for sunrise that Saturday as planned. However, things weren’t that far behind schedule when I did eventually get moving. As with all well-planned trips, I had thought carefully about the halfway point. Lunch would be at Ocean Beach. I’d be so hot I’d probably even want a quick dip. One of the drink bottles was sacrificed to make room for a towel in my backpack.

About 20 minutes into it and what felt like 2000 vertical steps, all the things I had hoped the walk would bring – and more – had sprung forth. In fact, other than breathing and moving one leg in front of the other, I wasn’t thinking much about anything. It was probably at the first proper lookout point, where you can see all the way to Ocean Beach, my brain started to kick back into action.

Hmm, that looks quite far away, I thought. And that was just the halfway lunch/swimming spot.

I’d say this was probably the first obvious sign that planning for the day had been a bit off. It also didn’t take long for the weather to change. The forecast said the afternoon would be cloudy, with a bit of a breeze. Along the ridge line – which is basically the whole walk apart from the rather tough ascent and descent at either ends – those conditions were amplified. The only views that day were of miserable looking clouds. The windy conditions also made it hard to stand up at the best and most rewarding lookout points.

When I finally began the descent, there was one guy huddled next to a tree who really seemed to epitomise the day. Latching onto a branch for support, he asked through some
pretty laboured breathing how far it was to the top.

Unfortunately for him, there was still a bit to go. I almost asked what part of Auckland he was from before imparting words indicating halfway was “really, really” close.

Needless to say, when I did reach Ocean Beach, I did not have lunch before heading back up over the ridge. The wind also made a dip in the sea wholly unappealing. Instead, I sat on the beach, drank all my water, then walked the relatively short and gentle ‘return leg’ on the road.

By the beginning of the next week I was back in Auckland. Sore from the gazillion steps I had completed a few days earlier, I caught up with one of a fellow “walking-enthusiast” friend. We are booked to do the Queen Charlotte track in January.

“I really think we should train for that,” I said.

“Na, we’ll be fine. It’s not even that hard,” she responded.

Sweet. Totally fine, I thought. And yes, the walking shoes are back in the corner. Ready to go, as always.

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