Kerikeri Interlude

By morning, the mosquitoes had gone and with them my doubts.

I ate breakfast and then stripped off for an enjoyable sponge bath, standing naked in the suburban woods, dipping my small bright green travel towel into a pot of hot water. I fingered my grey stubble. I wanted to shave but I don't have a razor blade.

The new world does not cater for long-distance trampers like me.

Take razor blades, for example. I could not buy just one blade yesterday evening. Some marketing whiz has dreamed up a new form of hell for the stubbled traveller. To shave, I not only have to purchase a year's supply of triple blades but a brand new handle as well.

I don't want new. I like old. There's nothing wrong with my handle. In fact, as plastic handles go, I like this one. I bought it nearly a year ago when I was tramping around the South Island and I've carried it 220 or so kilometres from Cape Rienga. It's going to stay.

So, unshaven but otherwise presentable, clean and hopefully not too smelly, I retraced my steps back into town, dressed in clean socks, thermal tights and my running shirt. The eccentric outfit does not attract stares, even from a police woman who offered me a cheery, "Good morning!" as she stepped from the station. Northland is full of eccentrics. People who choose to live off the grid are not just tolerated but admired.

The Maori ladies in the laundromat laughed over my ineptitude with the washing machines. The cheerful owner of the holiday park where I will meet Rosa in the afternoon had seen it all before. "You can have a shower and shave before she arrives," she offers tactfully. I decline but after selecting a campsite, deposit my pack with her. Unburdened and on light feet, I walk back into town.

For the next few hours, I loafed unashamedly. I enjoyed every minute of it. I ate my bread rolls and cheese in the park. The laundromat ladies dried my clothes for free. I tried on boots and shoes in hunting and camping shops. A sincere young Mormon missionary conversed with me on a park bench. I stretched on a chair in the library. Luxury!

Rosa arrived. We felt a little shy with each other at first. The ice melted in the holiday park when she revealed a surprise: a palatial old-school canvas tent she had bought the week before on Trade Me (NZ's version of eBay.)

The tent did not come with instructions, however, and we had fun working out the complicated arrangement of poles, pegs and guy ropes. She had brought a good mattress, sheets, a duvet, pillows, a folding table, a candle in a glass stand. We made a home together. I shaved showered and changed into my clean clothes.

We drove into town looking for fish and chips but found instead a shop selling roast dinners.

So, we returned to our tent with a fine dinner of lamb, potatoes, vegetables and mint gravy to eat it by candlelight, old world explorers on safari dining at a table laid with fine china and crystal. (When Rosa goes camping, she never forgets what makes life worth living, for her.)

We awoke in the middle of the night and talked drowsily, watched the play of moonlight on the tent roof and the walls bulge and hollow lazily in the soft breeze wafting down the valley. We slept again, warm, happy, on holiday together. We stayed in Kerikeri for a further two days. We wrote. We shared stories. We kayaked on the river. We had fun.

In the Omahuta Forest, after quite a hunt through the surrounding countryside, we found the Forest Pools, three hours' walk downstream from "Camp Paradise."

At the end of the gravelled road, Maori families were congregating. Cheeky kids splashed in the water, men prepared freshly-caught food, women gossiped over tins of beer, teenagers practiced their martial arts moves.. A wild-maned girl cantered by, her long brown legs clinging bareback to a plunging horse.

"Aw! Shit! I dropped my ciggie!" she cried and deftly wheeled her steed to a prancing standstill. We stepped aside in astonished admiration to watch her fling herself from her mount's glossy back and deftly scoop the precious, still-smoking stub from the track before remounting to canter into the camp, the butt triumphantly clenched between her white, even teeth.

We left this convivial mayhem a little reluctantly to wade across the stream. Rosa found it much too deep when it reached her hips. She returned to the bank, With becoming modesty and many a Catholic blush, she stripped off her clothes . Naked, holding her bag on her head, she ploughed through the pool successfully. Or so she thought, The delighted squeals of long-repressed laughter from behind a quaking bush revealed just how many Maori children had witnessed her undressing.

We fell in love again. We swam, sunbathed, relaxed, bonded, met other campers and trampers. We visited Waitangi, site of the treaty between Maori and Pakeha, and listened, enthralled by our Maori guide's passionate explanation of his culture. Somehow, it added depth to our journey, together.

Relationships need interludes. Interludes keep things fresh. Relationships need to expand and contract because the people in them need to do that.

When Rosa and I married, we vowed to support one another in whatever endeavour called to us.

The trail is now my calling. Each step I take forms a relationship with it.

My marriage is my calling, too, and I can't walk the trail without Rosa's support.

We needed to create some space from each other. Now we need an interlude from the trail.

Plus, I need to repair my battered feet and that troublesome tendon.

And I need to keep lightening my load.

So, it will be Christmas in Auckland with my wonderful, crazy, zany family.

After ten days on the trail in Northland, I should fit right in.