A Lesson in Humility – Reaching Te Paki Stream

I hadn’t slept well, mostly due to the fact that my Therm-a-Rest needed fixing. Diarmuid’s alarm went off and I eventually sat up. I didn’t feel like eating anything, my mouth was too dry but I ate a couple of the gelatine sweets. I got up and went for a walk outside, I headed down to the beach to see how the day was looking. There was a cool sky and as I was standing there I could see that the sun was rising in the sky as the shadow from the ridge behind us receded.

I headed back to the tent where Diarmuid had started to pack up his gear. I let him get on with it and when he had most of his stuff put away, he said right we’ll drop the tent now. I looked at him. All his stuff was still inside and I hadn’t even put anything of mine away. “You haven’t finished packing your gear away?” “I’ve done as much as I can until the tent comes down. We’ll take it down and then carry it over to the side.” “Ok,” I said, too tired to argue, “just let me put some of my stuff away first, give me a few minutes.” I went in and stuffed my sleeping bag away followed by most of the rest of my gear which I then proceeded to pull outside. Once I had all my equipment out, we took the tent down and I started to try and roll it up so it would fit nicely into my bag again. Diarmuid finished packing his bag. The tent didn’t fit into my pack like it had before! It’s a guaranteed rule that no matter how well you pack your bag before the trip, it’ll never pack the same way when you’re on the trail. Frustrated as I knew it was going to happen, I unrolled the tent and tried again. It still wasn’t as snug as it had been and was a little higher than I wanted it to be. It would have to do as I tried pushing it further down the pack.

By now our two neighbours were also up and about and were packing their own things away. Their lightweight tent was proving much more amenable, just being stuffed into a bag. I eyed it with dislike. I’m not a huge fan of modern tents, with one or two exceptions. I like old style tents, Icelandics, Baker tents, real tents made out of canvas. In Moskoselk√ɬ•tan’s Tapp Varrie, I had found the perfect melding of modern tent design and old traditions. I love my tent, but that morning, I would have given anything to have been able to have just stuffed a lightweight flysheet into my bag instead of the canvas monster that I now had to carry.

Once our bags were packed we set off. Our two neighbours would soon be following us, but I hoped to try and get some distance ahead of them before they would inevitably over take us. I was thirsty. I’d had a mouthful of water for breakfast, knowing that I would have to ration the little water I had left strictly. All my hope was bent on the fact that one of the blue lines on the map would prove true and we would find some water on Scott point. I was doubtful but I needed the hope. The first five minutes were very tough as the muscles in my legs woke up to the fact that they would be doing more walking today, they started to scream at me and I thought I would have to stop. That scared the hell out of me, but I pushed off and they soon settled down. The landscape however didn’t, it would continue to rise and fall as we crossed Scott point. We had barely gotten to the top of the rise, in front of which we had camped, when I could see that the two camels (I still can’t understand how they got by with so little water) were coming up behind us, fast. As he passed me, one of them said “Incredible heat in the sun and it’s only up!” I could only pant, “Yeah.” Then they were gone. They went over the rise and were soon far ahead of us.

The sweat was dripping off me and I would every now and then take a mouthful of water, this would normally happen just after we’d reached the top of a steep slope. It was like that, steep slope upwards, followed by slightly less steep slope downwards. Up and down. Up and down. I was constantly looking for water but saw none. I took it one slope at a time, saying to myself, you just have to get to the top of this one, then you can take a rest and after that you can tackle the next one.

About half an hour or 45 minutes into the walk, we came across mud along the side of the track, I figured that this was probably one of the blue lines marked on the map. Diarmuid turned around a minute later and said exactly what I’d been thinking. By now I’d lost hope for any water on top of Scott point, it was now focused on the start of 90 mile beach, where I had always been slightly more hopeful that a stream would be. But really, I was pretty sure that Te Paki stream was our only real hope for water and I was worried that even there, we might it dried up. Diarmuid by now was convinced that we wouldn’t find water until Te Paki stream.

My water was gone. I’d drunk it all. In little mouthfuls, my water was gone and I’d stopped sweating. I’d noticed this phenomenon, when I’d still had a little water. I’d be sweating profusely, drops rolling down my eyebrows and into my eyes, then it’d stop. I’d have a mouthful of water and it would start again for a short while. This wasn’t good. Then my mouth started to really dry out and I could feel my lips starting to cake. My tongue was still ok, dry and sticking to the top of my mouth but not as dry as my lips. As I smacked my lips, I could taste salt. I presumed it was from my sweat. As we continued on and I became thirstier and thirstier I considered drinking some of my sweat but figured that wouldn’t be a good idea. The idea of a perpetual cycle of me sweating, then drinking my sweat, then sweating it out again and continuing came to my mind. I continued on. I realised that I had truly never known thirst before. Never! I started to understood those scenes in the movies where you see people trudging along, dying of thirst, smacing their lips. I was doing the exact same thing. At the same time, I thought that I hadn’t really reached the level of thirst that you could reach, that I was only entering the realms of thirst and it scared me. All I thought about was water. I thought of “Main characters of Ice-Cold in AlexIce-Cold in Alex” and promised myself that if I got out of this alive, I’d get myself to a pub that night and order a nice cold beer. I figured that in between that time I’d have time to hydrate myself with water before I had the beer.

We trudged on, every so often we’d take a break. I’d normally drop my bag and just sit, trying to keep out of the sun and not get burnt. I looked around me and saw the scenery, thinking it was really beautiful but not really caring. When I saw greenery, I’d just think, there must be water there, how could it be so green unless there was water there. How can I get at the water that must be there. By now I’d even given up trying to suck any moisture out of my long empty platypus. I did find some relief by sucking cool air into my mouth, but it was shortlived. Diarmuid’s water was starting to run out by now, he was getting air bubbles in his platypus, a sure sign that he was on his last dregs. We didn’t talk much, we just walked and I dreamt of water.

I thought my platypus probably wasn’t completly empty, that there was proabably a few drops of water left in it, but I resolutely refused to open my bag and drink them. I knew that if there was no stream at the beach, I would be able to reward myself with them there. That was my major motivation to get to the beach, so I could open my bag and taste those few drops of water from my long empty platypus. I was still carrying the empty plastic bottle of water from the day before. I may be thirsty beyond belief but I wasn’t going to leave any rubbish behind. I could see the water vapour around the edge of the inside of the bottle and thought that if I put the bottle in the sea, it would cool down and form some water droplets which I could drink. Water! Water! Constantly thinking of water and how I was going to continue until I could get some.

Eventually we came to the steps leading down to the beach. They were steep and we were both lagging. I took the lead for a change and started down the steps, in the distance on the beach I saw the two camels walking off. I hadn’t the heart to curse them, but I did wish they’d offered me half a litre before they left. I knew it was ridiculous of me to think that they should have because it would endanger their own plans, but I entertained the idea that if our fortunes had been reversed I would have offered some water. I never once even dreamt of asking them for some purely because I didn’t want to endanger their plans, this was my own fault that I was without water and I would have to deal with.

We reached the bottom of the steps and we crossed a boardwalk over swamp. Through the boards I saw the blue line from the map, it was mud. “There’s the stream” I said to Diarmuid. “Where?” “Between the boards.” I continued on, not stopping to see if Diarmuid understood what I was saying. As we got to the beach, we dropped our bags. I walked down to the water and walked back looking everywhere for some sign of a stream or anything coming down from the ridges around us. There was nothing. Diarmuid went to cool his feet in the sea. He came back and said he was going to wear his sandals. I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. I mentioned sunburn to him but he said that’s what sunscreen was for. I left him to it, figured he knew what was best for him. As far as I was concerned the best protection was staying covered and I had put sunscreen on the parts that I couldn’t cover, mainly my hands. The day before, my right hand had gotten very burnt. It looked really bad but wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want it getting any worse. The funny thing about it was that half my hand had been covered by the cuff of my shirt so only half of the back of my hand had been burned. The hairs on that part of the skin had also been completely bleached of colour. As I look at my hand now, the colour has returned to the hairs and half of my hand has quite a good tan.

I threw my bag on my back and turned to see Diarmuid wasn’t ready. I decided I’d continue on. He said he had to figure out what he was going to do with his bags but I could go on if I wanted. I said, that “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” I started off on my own. The tide was on its way out and the hardness of the sand depended on how long it had had to dry out in the sun. I stuck to the most concrete like sand that I could. I struggled on, my eyes peeled for any sign of a stream. I felt better on my own, just trudging along. I don’t know why, it just felt good to keep on walking. I continued on this way for a while, at one stage looking back to see if Diarmuid had started. He was quite small in the distance but had started. I kept on walking.

Then suddenly, I saw a darkness in the sand ahead. It was wet sand and was too far away from the tideline to be a remnant of high tide. Hope grew. It was only wet sand, but were there was wet sand like that, there had to be a stream. As I got closer, I could see that it was shaped like a stream. I eyed a spot where I could drop my bag close by. As I stepped closer and closer though I started to see that there was no bubbling stream hidden from view. I dropped my bag at the spot and walked along the stretch of wet sand and saw no source of it, the sand dried up and became part of the sand bank running along the stretch of the beach, huge sand dunes behind the bank.

Still, this was the first possible source of water that I’d seen since that morning and at this stage I didn’t give two damns about anything that might be in the water or how small a trickle it was. All I cared about was that these few puddles had water that I could drink. Tentatively I dipped my index and third finger of my right hand into one of the bigger puddles and put them to my lips. It was sweet! Or at least I thought so. I was afraid that in my hope and desire to find water that it was truly saltwater and that I hadn’t really found water I could drink. I tried again, this time scooping up a little. It was sweet!! I cupped my hands and scooped some water out and drank it. Instant relief! But I couldn’t really get that much water in this way. I quickly thought of my hankerchief and dipped it into the water, sucking it, not caring about the few grains of sand. My mouth was quickly quenched as the dryness was banished. I needed more, but the hankerchief was picking up more sand. I thought that if I soaked one side, I could suck the water but not the sand from the other side. A brilliant idea. I was instantly able to get much more water out of the piece of cloth. As I did this for the third time, Diarmuid arrived.

As soon as he arrived, I thought of the shovel in his bang. “Hand me the shovel in your bag, please!” I explained that if I dug a hole the water would fill up the hole. All those bits and pieces from Ray Mears books and TV programmes was paying off! He started to dig a hole. I quickly took it from him and scooped out several loads until I had a nice hole, I had dug down to where the sand was runny and it was starting to pour back in out itself. I ran to my bag to get my cup and bowl. I felt alive! I felt excited and overjoyed! I felt in my element! I came back with cup and bowl to find the hole as expected was filling up with most beautiful water I had ever seen. I filled the bowl and gave it to Diarmuid then filled my cup and drank it. It was beautiful, it was pure (apart from the sand which gritted against my teeth), it was without doubt the best water I had ever drunk! I drank another cup! My morale had been instantly lifted. I knew I’d get to Te Paki stream. I had been fading fast before I found this underground stream and wasn’t sure if I’d reach Te Paki with the bag on my back but now I knew I’d get there!

To help filter out the sand, I laid my hankerchief in the hole that looked like a pothole in the sand and scooped the water out with the bowl and mug. It worked reasonably well and Diarmuid had some more. I had lots! We took a little break and I filled my water bottle. Diarmuid didn’t want any, but I wasn’t going anywhere unless I had a litre of water with me. We continued on again. I hoped Te Paki wasn’t too far away, but didn’t really mind. I’d found water! I wasn’t going to expire or be unable to get Te Paki! I had found water!

We walked on, the sun still beating down on us. I was no longer thirsty and I’d started to sweat again, but I was feeling tired. I just wanted to get to Te Paki stream so I could drop my bag and wait for the buses and get a lift out of there! Up ahead we saw two dots and thought it was our two friends from the night before but couldn’t understand how they were so close. Maybe they’d stopped at Te Paki stream I reasoned but as they got bigger I realised they must be other walkers. Diarmuid came to the same conclusion and said to me, “I think a little friendly warning is in order.” I nodded. Honestly, I didn’t think a warning was warranted, for starters because I didn’t want to demoralise anybody with the idea that the way ahead was tough and that they better have water. Secondly, I thought that they probably didn’t need the warning and probably had plenty of water. It was a man and a woman, I can’t remember if I recognised their accents but I could see from the get up that they’d be fine. I think they were from North America. Both had reasonably sized packs and a pair of walking sticks. Diarmuid gave them his friendly warning, they smiled and said they’d be fine and had some water. They weren’t very conversational and soon walked on. They were less than 20ft away when I remembered that I had wanted to ask them how far it was to Te Paki stream. “Hey.” I shouted. “Hey!” They either didn’t hear me or weren’t going to turn round, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and gave up. It was probably better I didn’t know how far away it was I reasoned.

We continued on and while it wasn’t as bad as earlier in the day, there was no inclines to worry about and I had water, I was getting more tired and could feel myself lagging, but I kept the pace and kept going. Eventually I saw a glimmer up ahead and after the many false hopes that I’d had over the previous twenty minutes, I saw Te Paki stream up ahead. When we eventually reached it, I rejoiced in the fact that it was a stream! An honest to God stream! You had to walk across it, you couldn’t just step across it, you didn’t have to dig for it, it was just there, bubbling by with actual currents and eddies! A real stream! I dropped my bag at what I figured was a reasonable spot, beside the stream, the bank of sand providing some shelter from the sun and a good view if any buses should pass by. I filled my cup with water and drank it. It felt great! I’d pushed on further than I’d thought possible at times and reached Te Paki stream. We’d be fine now.

Diarmuid walked upstream a little and came back. He said he’d found where the buses came onto the beach, it was about 50ft away and he wanted to move over to there. I said “Fine, go ahead, but I’m not moving now.” He got his bag and walked over to the spot he’d picked. I thought I’d go over in a few minutes, talking my gear over in two trips. I didn’t like where he’d picked though, it provided no shelter and I had no intention of sitting there. He came back over and asked for the camera, he went off and took some pictures. I took my fishing rod and other loose gear over to his bag, where he was standing. In the distance two more people were coming. He said, he’d give them the same warning he’d given the other two walkers. Again, I didn’t care. There was no real harm in it I supposed. I went back to get my bag. As I was making my way across, Diarmuid met the two women. They didn’t have any packs with them I noticed.

I walked over and let Diarmuid do all the talking. Diarmuid had explained our story to them and what our plans were, they offered to give us a lift. Diarmuid asked if they were going as far as Kaitaia. “Yeah, we’re going further south.” I instantly picked up on that, but left it alone for the time being. I remember Diarmuid saying a few times “I think we might just take you up on that offer.” I didn’t want to do any more walking, they explained that their car was back at a carpark about 40 minutes away. I presumed the car park was at the end of the road further upstream. On the otherhand I realised that it’d be foolish of us not to take them up on their offer. So we grabbed our bags and started off. I went back for my bag and started ahead of Diarmuid, by not moving I had a little headstart over Diarmuid. The two women continued on to the beach where they were going to spend a few minutes before heading back. Knowing that we would be slow, we made the most of the headstart that they gave us.

Again I was walking, I couldn’t believe it. I was sure I’d been finished at Te Paki stream but I was still going on. Te Paki stream was interesting, the riverbed was often red and the water appeared to becoming from swampland at times and there was stains of what looked like iron at times. I took all this in, but didn’t care, when I needed a drink, I’d scoop some out of the stream and drink it down. We continued on, as I went round each bend, I hoped it would be the last but it wasn’t. Again I was in the lead with Diarmuid a little way behind me. Shortly before the end, the two women had caught up with us and over took us as we took a breather. One of them shouted over at us, that maybe it was a long 40 minutes and the other said they’d wait for us. We got up and trudged on. Occasionally I’d look up at our two rescuers up ahead. At last one of them turned round and shouted, “It’s just here” making a hand gesture in the direction of the car park. I threw my bag down beside their “old” Toyota Corolla. We had made it.

It was around 14:00, only 24 hours earlier we had set off on what I had thought would be at least a four days journey and had expected it to be adventurous. I’d had an adventure alright and I’d had enough adventure for the time being. I had gone further than I thought possible, pushing through barrier after barrier! I’d found water where others would have found none! I had experienced the most difficult walk that I’d ever been on. But what I really took from our two days walking from Cape Reinga to Te Paki stream was a lesson in humility. I understood the importance of water, something that had never occurred to me before. I understood the power of the sun and how merciless it could be. I had been humbled by nature and I vowed never to forget the lesson!

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