Te Araroa almost ends in a burst of pure light, then meets a radical, then orders up fish and chips
Wild goats watched me go. I went on past Mangawhai's enormous bare dune, down to Pacific Beach on Carter Holt Harvey Forest Roads, then along the beach to Te Arai headland. It was there the wild goat checked my progress briefly before returning to trails of his own.
At the top of Pakiri Beach the surfers were out in force, but I hardly stopped. It was already afternoon, and I wanted to get to Pakiri's motor camp before nightfall. I made it as the dusk deepened, and dotterels, in greater numbers than I'd ever seen before, skittered here and there in front of me like so many feathered ball bearings.
I ran into one of the beach wardens, Greg McDonald.
No, I was Geoff, and we got talking about Pakiri, and the $5 fee now charged by local Maori for every vehicle going up the beach. Ngati Wai had persuaded the Crown to hand over a dry river bed, so getting a narrow but 100% Maori land strip between the dunes and the sea.
But McDonald kept flashing me disbelieving looks.
"Ken Gordon. You talk like him. Your teeth are like his teeth. You're his splitting image. The same coloured eyes, the same nose. His hair might be a bit more blonde, but otherwise . . . even your voice - it's amazing. Look you might have been adopted out you guys. If you saw him you might never get away."
Who, I asked, was Ken Gordon.
"He's a good bloke, one of the best. A local farmer. You're his splitting image."
"You think I should go see him?"
"You should, you should," said McDonald. "Across the other side of the river. Go down the road there to a T junction, turn right, go down about three kilometres and you'll see his name on a letter box. If he's not on the farm, he'll be working on a house made of sand bricks up on the hill behind."
"You must go. You're doing this long tramp right? If you're looking for something and don't know what it is, it might be Ken and this is the place that he lives mate."
I remembered something Kim Hill had said during the interview two days before. "All the best journeys, odysseys, have some kind of psycho-therapeutic content Geoff," she said. "Are you finding yourself?"
I'd fudged an answer to that question, but here it was. The way McDonald had described it the match was perfect in every detail. It was almost scary. I could see it now. The two clones approaching each other. The meeting. The handshake. The burst of white light as matter met anti-matter.
Next day I had to back-track. That hardly mattered for a man about to find himself, but the beginning of the enterprise was not auspicious.
I found the farmhouse and knocked on the door. Ken's mother Laurel came into the kitchen.
"Is Ken home?" I said, and waited for her to fall about with amazement.
"No, he's up the road working on the building site," she said.
"Well tell me," I said. "Do I look like Ken?"
Laurel was 84, and limping with a cracked bone in her leg. She came up to me to get a better look: "You do look a little bit like Ken I suppose."
"When I knocked on the door," I persisted. "and you came out - what did you think?"
"I thought it was the peacocks," said Mrs Gordon. "They sometimes make knocking sounds at the door. Ken would never knock on the door."
Okay. I took my leave and went up to the building site. The sand-brick walls were already up and I could see two men working up on the roof framing, a bearded carpenter with a woven flax hat, Mat Lomas, and a younger man, Barney Gruar.
"Is Ken there?"
"Ken," called Lomas, "Someone wants to see you."
A face popped over the wall. It was, if I might say so, an interesting face.
"Ken," I said. "I'm meant to be your double."
I presented myself to the whole working party on the roof, sweeping off my hat, and Ken's two workmates took time to compare one fair-skinned, hook-nosed, grin-creased face with the other, but they didn't exactly fall off their perches.
"If you squint, there's something there," said Lomas. "And one thing's for sure, a lot of the grandfathers did more than they were given credit for."
Ken Gordon had been quietly studying me. "My ears stick out more," he said.
I planned to walk Cape Rodney's rocky coastline, to the Marine Reserve at Goat Island Bay, then across the headland to Leigh. The coastal walk was easily possible but I needed to be careful. A headland can beckon you around the foot of its cliffs, put some deep surging cleft in your way, then trap you with an incoming tide as you retrace your steps.
Check the tides: I'd made my own observations coming down Pakiri Beach the previous night. The tide seemed to be full around 6 pm, and I figured if I started the headland walk at around 10.30 next morning I'd be walking on an outgoing tide, and quite safe.
I double-checked at the Pakiri motor camp before departing. The man at the counter looked at the tide charts. High tide was at 1.30 pm, he said. That was a shock. It ran directly counter to my own observations, but I didn't query the information. Did he think I could make it around before the tide? Yes, the sea was relatively calm. I should just get there, but I'd need to move fast, and be careful. The cliffs were unforgiving.
I set off past the sunbathing cows to the end of the Pakiri Beach. The headland looked formidable. Waves were leaping at the edge of the rock platform, and the cliffs behind were sheer. Still, I went on. I figured if there was an emergency I could probably find a bit that was less steep, climb it and just wait out the tide, but the waves looked sinister.
Halfway round I met some fishermen. I asked them about the rock platform through to Goat Island, and the state of the tide.
"It's an easy walk around - and the tide's still going out. Low tide is at 1.30 pm."
Of course. The waves still leapt at the edge of the rock platform, exactly as they had before, but they'd turned to pussycats.
Goat Island Bay was New Zealand's first marine reserve, and we'd deliberately included it into Te Araroa. Fish, crayfish, sea-life of every kind abounds here and is entirely protected. It was a Sunday, and Goat Island Bay was wall-to-wall people. Dozens of people were knee-deep in water, feeding fish. Dozens more were lying prone on the surface, wet-suited and with snorkels, observing the fish life below. A few scuba divers were donning their weight belts ready to explore at greater depths, and children out on the rocks were skittering away from a surging blow-hole. The beach itself had hundreds of picnickers, and a glass-bottomed boat was doing a good trade. I had a swim, saw a few blurry fish, then went on up to Auckland University's research laboratory on the hill. To get to Leigh I needed permission to cross university land. The Rodney District Council has already proposed a walk across the land, linking up with Cape Rodney Road, then the harbour walk around Leigh to get to the little fishing port itself. I wanted to test the route.
Dr Bill Ballantine listened with sharp interest to Te Araroa's plan.
"I have always liked the idea of a walkway around the coast," he said. "They've done it in England - Pembrokeshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Yorkshire - there's well over 1000 kilometres of coastal walkway that exists there now. It's all been subject to negotiation, and they don't just throw the Treaty of Waitangi at you there - the farmers will quote the Magna Carta mate.
"Yet it can be done. In remote areas the farmer usually can't afford to fence it off. Now if someone says - we can't pay for the walkway land, but we will fence it, 20 metres back from the cliff - then the farmer is interested. He didn't want that edge land anyway. We will plant trees on that strip - the farmer is interested. We will make rules that there is no camping, no firearms, no dogs - the farmer is interested. And we will give you, the farmer, the power in law to ensure your rights.
"That's the way it's done. No-one sells anything. You simply negotiate with the landowner the right of people to go along the coastal margin - that is, after all, a birthright - and if there has to be stiles or fences then your walkway authority looks after that."
Te Araroa, I said was not pure coastal walk.
"I like it though," said Ballantine. "You don't want it to be all the same. Not all bush, not all the deepest valleys, not all the mountain tops. You'd go through representative bits - including Auckland? Auckland would be part of it?"
"Yes," I said, "Auckland is a part of it."
"I like that - we're fighting for the marine reserves to be the same. If there's something distinct - the giant kelp beds around Stewart Island, or the big mangroves in the north - we'd want a representative bit put into a reserve."
"I still want my coastal walk mind. Let's have that too. Look - put me down with that idea of a complete coastal walk. Put me down as a raving radical if you like, and make yourselves look positively reasonable in comparison."
We went out for a photograph with the reserve as backdrop, but Ballantine gestured further out to sea, to Hauturu - Little Barrier Island.
"Hauturu was New Zealand's first terrestrial nature reserve," he said. "In 1888 the Government said it would buy it, but it took 13 years to do. Leigh was the first marine reserve. That took only 12 years to put in place. What do we say about Te Araroa?"
"We want it to be a millenium project," I said. "That gives us just two years to get the idea up and the route acknowledged."
I tramped the university boundary up to Cape Rodney Road. That led down to Leigh Harbour where fishing boats lay at anchor. I went on up to the small cross-roads town and ordered fish and chips.
"We are a small shop," said the sign taped to the counter. "We are NOT McDonalds. Expect delays on orders when we are busy."
Ten people were waiting in the shop and the order took a while, but takeaway shops on fishing harbours are usually the best around, and it took only 25 minutes for the Leigh shop to prove itself.