An hour after encountering the shark, I found the "micro-camp" at the end of Twilight Beach. Set on a large patch of mown grass at the head of a long flight of steps (oh, my poor legs!) shaded by pohutokawa trees, it is actually a beautifully maintained spot complete with a roofed cooking area, "long-drop" toilet and fresh-water tank.
Two other trampers were finishing breakfast when I arrived. I bade them a cheery “Good morning!" with more enthusiasm than I felt and asked if I could join them.
"Sure!" the woman exclaimed with a pleasant American twang.
Wayne and Margie hailed from a small town in California's Sierra Mountains. I quickly realised that Wayne in particular was a serious tramper. He quietly and modestly reeled off a long list of treks around the USA that made my head spin. He'd done it all from the Brooks Range in Alaska to the Florida Everglades. Nor had he spent all his time trekking. One year, he and Margie had gone to Disneyland instead of the wilderness.
“I couldn’t believe it!” she marvelled. “Wayne in Disneyland!”
“Well, I wanted to see that part of life,” he said. “It was kinda interesting."
Not that he volunteered the information. I had to draw it out of him.
He confessed that his long-distance walking days were over. "I'm 71 and I just don't have the fire anymore," he said mournfully.
I sympathised. Time is just beginning to yap at my heels. In not too many years, a rocking chair will seem the safer and saner option. And that gives this walk all the more currency.
So, we chatted happily while I made a second breakfast. They pretended not to look at my equipment. Walkers are incredible gear snobs. Fashionistas in Milan, LA or NY are mere village gossips compared to trampers getting together.
Margie glanced at my battered, bulky and blackened Trangia cook set while Wayne folded up a gleaming miniature gas stove.
It even had its own little container and fitted, ever-so-neatly, in a side pocket.
The talk turned to the obesity epidemic in America and NZ. I explained that part of my motivation for walking the trail was to promote mental and physical health in "nature's therapy room."
While the three of us were commendably slim and fit (given our combined age of about 190 years), my pack’s weight issue intrigued Margie. It bulged in all the wrong places by comparison with their packs’ enviably slim and healthy Californian profiles,
"Gee!" Margie exclaimed doubtfully, “Yours does look kinda big!”
I'm sure she meant well but I felt embarrassed and a little defensive, like the parent of a chubby child at the first day of school in a new town.
"Well, I am carrying two weeks' worth of food," I said, a little lamely.
"Hmm," said Margie, fingering her expensive titanium trekking poles, the school nurse at the schoolyard gate with a set of scales.
I tried another tack. "Also, I'm trying to show ordinary people that they don't need to spend a fortune getting into the outdoors. Look! Everything I'm wearing comes from good-will shops, even my glasses!"
They looked horrified and exchanged a glance.
"Well, we better be pushin' on," Margie said to Wayne after an embarrassed pause. Clearly, the sooner they left this eccentric and possibly dangerous Englishman in the dust, the better. After cautious handshakes and farewells, they moved off at a rapid pace, trekking poles clicking in counterpoint with their feet.
As they passed from view, I'm quite certain I heard Wayne call out, "Hey! Margie! Slow down, hon!”
I don't know what her reply was. She'd probably broken into a canter by then.
There’s no denying it. My pack is fat. Everything in it is fat. We have a weight issue.