It's felt disconcerting and perplexing to find so few people on the trails. So, far I've encountered only five other Te Araroa through-walkers and perhaps a dozen other people, ranging from day-trippers to hunters. Otherwise, nada.
Perhaps it's the remoteness of Northland, maybe Kiwis don't appreciate what they've got on their doorsteps or possibly this tiny country is so large it can easily swallow travellers whole. Whatever the reason, Ocean Beach bustled with people, as did the looming Bream Head, guardian of the gates to Whangarei harbour.
At the rocky headlands at the far end of Ocean Beach, I stopped to eat, fill my water bottles and wash the estuary mud of yesterday from my body, shoes and clothing. I put off the steep, 500 metre climb for as long as possible, then shouldered my pack and pulled myself up the first of many inclines. The views made the effort worthwhile.
James and his daughter Bridget found me eating a desiccated possum (as they later joked) while having a breather halfway along the ridge-line. We hit it off, had a laugh and when they invited me home for the night, I accepted gladly. James even offered to run me across the harbour the next morning to save me haunting the jetties like a derelict castaway looking for a voyage home.
I don't want to embarrass this family but they are seriously nice people who bought me a chocolate milkshake, made me feel instantly at home, listened to my tales, filled me with beer, wine, scotch, a roast chicken dinner, lit fireworks, and put me happily if improbably to sleep on a piece of carpet with my head against a row of firewood in the garage.
I can't tell you how nice it was to spend time with these normal, funny and generous people.
Now I know where all the trampers and walkers are. They're inside their homes whooping it up and having a great time.