The rain continued, on and off, for the rest of our fourth night. When we woke up in the morning everything was damp and humid. Nothing that was wet (including my boots and socks) had dried overnight. Everything that was dry (the rest of our clothes, even those we haven’t worn yet) felt cold and damp. We sat up in our soggy, moist sleeping bags and ate our soggy, moist breakfast before putting on our soggy, moist clothes, packing up our soggy, moist bags, and taking down the soggy, moist tent. Everything just felt incredibly unpleasant.
We started down the trail, which wasn’t so bad at first. It was still cloudy and we were still sweating though our clothes, but it was our last day! After about an hour of slight uphill we turned off onto the Gibbs Hill track. At this point we would take this track back around to the camping metropolis of Totaranui, where we would catch a boat back to Marahau. It added an extra hour onto our walk for the day, as opposed to continuing on to the end of the trail at Wainui, but the boat would drop us off right down the street from where we parked.
This turnoff was when things really started to go downhill. Not literally of course, the trail itself got even steeper. It was the steepest and highest hill we’d have to tackle on the whole walk. It seemed appropriate that we had one last challenge to face on our final day. The track was a combined hiking and mountain biking trail, so it was fairly wide compared to the other sections of trail we’d been on. It made up for the increased width with an even more drastic incline. It seemed like the kind of path that it would be fun to roll down on a bike, but there was little to aid walkers in the struggle up the monstrous slope. We made our way up the path like an inchworm; moving ahead one at a time in two or three meter increments, then catching our breath while the other caught up.
Gasping for air and soaked in sweat (not that we had been dry at any point so far that day), we arrived at the cloud wreathed peak. We relished in the knowledge that the worst was over, nothing else would be as had as that last stretch. From this point forward everything would be downhill. But then the cicadas came.
I had plenty of experience with cicadas growing up in suburban Pennsylvania. Every few years they would pop up en masse and you couldn’t walk outside without hearing their incessant whirring and chirping. You could hear them everywhere, and if you looked close enough you could see them clinging to the trees. None of my prior cicada experiences prepared me for the biblical proportions of what we encountered that morning.
I have never seen so many cicadas flying around in the air before. There were hundreds of them swarming above our heads. They flew careening from tree to tree, bush to bush, and everywhere in between. They dove down from above crashing into us, clinging to our packs, and generally wreaking havoc on the sense of relief we had felt upon reaching the top of the hill. I don’t know what we did to have this plague called down on us, but we prayed for forgiveness and mercy. When we stopped moving they seemed to calm down, but as soon as we started up again they were zig zagging all over. The air was so thick with them that we took to hunkering down and just running through particularly dense sections of the trail. It was a harrowing experience, but we eventually left them behind as we continued down the trail.
After that, everything really seemed easy. The trail continued it’s relatively gentle descent until we reached some open fields at the bottom of the hill. It wasn’t long after that that we arrived at the broad, tree-lined avenues of Totaranui. It was around 10:45 when we got to the beach. We thought about trying to catch the 11:00 boat, but decided to hang around on the beach until our scheduled 12:15 departure. It was nice sitting down with our packs off for a while, letting the breeze cool our sweaty backs.
It was a bit chilly on the boat ride back to Marahau, but the trip was fun nonetheless. It was interesting going back past all the hills and beaches we had walked through, looking at it from a new perspective. Four and a half days of walking were undone in a forty-five minute boat ride. We sure are spoiled with modern transportation technology. The boat made a brief stop at Tonga Island to see some seals. We were quite familiar with seals from our time back in Wellington, but it was cool seeing them again anyway.
When we arrived back at Marahau, the boat turned towards the beach and drove right up onto a trailer waiting for it. The skipper hopped out and got on a tractor (the kind you’d expect to see on a farm) waiting on the beach to tow us up on to the road and back to the Aquataxi shop. It was a comically unique experience, riding through town in a boat on top of a tractor. I suppose it was the norm there, but it looked pretty strange to me. What a reintroduction to the real world. We hopped off and took a short walk down the street to our car. I refused to put my still soggy boots back on, and, since my sandals were busted, I had to tread gingerly over the gravel on the way. We unlocked the car and got changed immediately. It probably didn’t do much for our five day stank, but it felt great to put some dry clothes on.
We stopped in Motueka for some surprisingly authentic Chinese street food (jian bings, dumplings, and rou jia mo) at House of Li before starting the drive back to Christchurch. State Highway 1 was closed so it was another six hours back through the mountains before we arrived at our AirBnb. I didn’t even try to finish writing this journal entry before showering and going to sleep. I doubt it would have been legible or coherent enough for me to read and type up if I had.