Welcome to the OK Corral

I head south again at about 9.30. The beach is washed in salt spray, warm and humid. I've slept well, cocooned in my hammock and treated myself to three (not two) oatmeal packets on a sand dune overlooking the beach.

However, I'm a tenderfoot. My first steps on hard sand are accompanied by a mental, "Ouch, ouch, ouch," until the nerves settle down and I move from a hobble to a stronger stride.

Well ahead of me, two distant figures emerge from a momentary parting of the salt-laden air.

Mike and Becky, I guess, and grow certain when I come across twin footprints with twin trekking pole indentations. I step out a little more, playing a game of "catch up". It helps take my mind off the beach, my sore feet and aching shoulders. I measure my strides against theirs. They grow nearer. I can see their heads, arms, legs.

But I can't maintain this pace for longer than an hour and stop for five minutes. When I look up, they've drawn away and evaporate into another surge of spray and mist. I am alone again. Wiping my glasses, I smile when I realise that it's salt air and sweat on the lenses that makes the world seem so opaque.

Another hour and I rest again, turn on the iPhone, take a few photographs, and shut it down again.

90 minutes later, I shuffle through the soft sand of the vehicle ramp and step onto green grass. Now I know how a horseless cowboy feels when he reaches the outskirts of a dusty settlement.

My feet are even more tender on the concrete pavements than on the hard sand. I walk with a mincing step, a drag queen fallen on hard times, until I realise that brown faces are staring at me from behind house windows. I straighten my shoulders, a gunslinger from the desert, about to hit town. I forget about my feet.

Hip hop blares from a house. Two Maori men sit on the porch, a woman with them. I smile and wave and the woman comes over. On a whim I ask, "Hey, would it be OK if I sat a little awhile?" An expression of intense suspicion passes over her face but she says, "I'll ask the guys."

A man walks over, arms crossed. "What you want, bro?" This is a close-knit community and strangers aren't necessarily welcome.

I look away and back again. "I've just walked down the beach from Cape Reinga. I wondered if I could sit down for a couple of minutes, please."

His face splits into a broad grin. "Down the beach? All the way? Man, bro, you are crazy! Come on up!"

He offers me a seat next to the other man. This one is huge, muscles rippling under his singlet, tattoos everywhere. He sips on an energy drink, head nodding in time to the music and his eyes are red. His weekend has begun early.

The man who came over questions me about my travels, lifts my pack, staggers puts it down, slaps my back. The woman brings a glass brimming with orange cordial. I sip slowly, savouring every swallow.

I don't want to overstay my welcome but before I go I ask, "Want to hear some British hip-hop?"

That gets their attention. I stand up and extend thumbs and pinkies on both hands.

"I'm the gangster tramper come from far away, Walking down the beach for four long days. Mmh, mmh, yup, ow, get down, get down that beach, move those feet."

I speak in an exaggerated monotone British accent and perform a graceless shuffle. Fortunately, they think it's hilarious.

"I walk very far and see many things,  I like the people I meet, they give me the beat. I'm the gangster tramper and a gentleman too, Thanks for the drink and thanks for the seat!"

Inspiration fails me at this point but we're all laughing. Even Mr Muscles gives me a handshake.

It's Friday afternoon in the OK Corral and it feels wonderful to be off the beach and among people again.

I'm the Gangster Tramper. Watch out, Ahipara, here I come.