I have been walking Te Araroa (The long pathway) for three weeks now. After a couple of jet lag days in Auckland I headed north by bus to Kaitaia, where I met two Bristolians Daisy and Luke who are also walking the trail. Along with two Swedish girls we hitch hiked our way up to Cape Rienga, New Zealand most northerly point. On the 21st October my wander south began.
The first test of the trail was 90 mile beach, which although only 55 miles in reality is a brutal beginning. Including the beautiful prologue on Twilight Beach it took four days to reach Ahipara at the southern end of 90 mile. Three back to back 30km days on bullet hard and abrasive sand was killer on the feet. My pain was shared with a few equally deranged people who met up at camp in the evenings: the two Bristolians, Rolf and Nathan (Switzerland), Eleri (UK), Pascal (Germany), Luke (USA) and Renée (Australia). We celebrated our first 100km when we limped off the beach in Ahipara with fish and chips. Most of us had picked up some minor debilitation, blisters or ankle niggles so we took a rest day and chewed the cud in a delightful dorm at Ahipara YHA. Food became, and still is, the main topic of conversation.
The next challenge of Te Araroa is arguably one of the toughest. The trio of Northland forests: Herekino, Reatea and Puketi require endurance, determination and a bucket load of luck to exit smoothly. No one exits smoothly. The Herekino wasn’t too bad, the jungle and hills make a nice change from the beach, the mud is still novel. Renée, Daisy, Luke and I camped in the grounds of a burnt out school in Tekahue following the Herekino and attempted to prepare for the Raetea the following day. We bumped into our friends Blair (NZ) and Pascal at the beginning of the forest. I managed to keep up with the flying kiwi for a couple of hours until I dropped off at the summit of Raetea (744m) The next few hours were tough. My tweaked ankle was visibly swelling with every kilometre, the mud had become annoying and my energy levels were in the gutter. Ten hours after leaving camp I lost the trail, the GPS on my phone told me I was less than 20m from leaving the forest so I forced downhill hoping to pop out into open pasture. After an hour of crawling under trees and some hard core bushwhacking I ended up still in the forest. By some miracle I ended up back on trail 10m from where I left it with only 10m to the pasture. Daisy and Luke had snuck passed in this time so I caught them up and together we stumbled down to the camp site where Blair was relaxing. A huge 11 hour day between campsites and water sources! That evening we watched as one after another bedraggled and damaged trampers (walkers) stumbled down the road to the camp site. Each with their own story of mud, roots, falls and navigational issues.
The next day with a swollen ankle I had decided to hitch the next section, however the remark that I was being a soft northerner by a lad from Bristol changed my mind. I spent the day with my foot dangling in the cooling river. An otherwise boring day was improved by the chance meeting with a passing motorist named Steven who gave me 1kg of yogurt and two nutella sandwiches! In the evening I expected some more of the people I met on the beach to arrive, however American Luke got stuck in the forest due to a bust toe, only Eleri made it out, very dehydrated and slightly delirious.
With my ankle feeling better I headed into the Puketi forest with Eleri, Doug (USA), Pavel (Poland), Claire(Aus) and Robert and Anna (Slovakia) who all emerged from the forest in the morning. The Puketi forest took a couple of days but was on much more enjoyable and speedy terrain that the first two forests. For 2.5km the track went straight down the middle of a stream, hemmed in on both sides by thick bush it was exceptionally beautiful.
Following the forests a couple of link days over farmland and forests tracks took us to Paihia in the beautiful bay of islands. Here we took a rest day, drank beer, ate lots, swam a bit and met up with Daisy, Luke and Renée as well as Kevin (USA) who Doug, Rob and Anna had met on the beach.
After our rest day we caught a water taxi over to the Russell Forest where we waded up steam for 4km and had an agonisingly long road walk before camping in an old school field near Helena Bay. Arriving at camp I realised I had left my water filter by a stream 4km behind us. I managed to catch a hitch with an amazing local who even drove me back to the camp after I had found the filter! This day was also the time for me to get my first blister, I was one of only a few lucky people to not get any blisters on 90 mile beach. Everyone talks of ‘foot swell’ during a long distance through hike, mine have definitely grown half a size or so already. On hot days I can only bear to wear sandals, which isn’t too bad, my main concern is whether or not my ski boots will still fit at the end of this!
A long day of roads farmland and beautiful cost walking took us to the gorgeous Sandy Bay where a swim in the sea was definitely required. Being bonfire night we were treated to an impromptu firework display on the beach by a group of locals.
A short day to Ngurngur for fish and chips and a quick boat ride over the estuary to a gorgeous campsite was lovely. The camp had one of the best showers I’ve ever been in – so good after a swim in the sea. A campfire on the beach was a wicked way to end a chill day.
A boring day of road walking was improved by our first proper rain shower, some beautiful views of the Pataua Estury and the incredible hospitality of Roz and Hugh at Tidesong. Ten of us arrived soggy and tired, to be met with cups of tea and hot scones in the most beautiful house was amazing. We were then treated to a delicious roast dinner, ice cream, fresh fruit and carrot cake.
The rain came down hard all night and the morning forecast predicted thunderstorms. The group split and only 6 of us headed out with the other 4 voting to stay with the food, cake and warmth. Anna, Doug, Eleri, Robert, Pavel and I waded across the estuary with Roz’s guidance. Crossing over Kauri Mountain we emerged at the beautiful Ocean Beach, at the end of this a steep climb took us up and over some impressive hills dropping straight into the ocean. The predicted thunderstorms could be occasionally heard but we got caught in only a few rain showers and the forest sheltered us from the worst of the rain. A very stormy night tested our tents, Dougs fancy lightweight tarp was not quite ideal and he was forced to evacuate into a toilet block for half the night.
The following morning we caught a boat across the harbour from Whangarei Heads to NZ’s only oil refinery at Marsden Point before walking 14km down the beach. My back decided it was going to have a paddy and began cramping and spasming which wasn’t ideal and slowed my progress. After lunch we reached Waipu, an interesting town originating from Scottish settlers, still displaying many Scottish emblems and Scottish road names. We bumped into a lady who said she owned a bunk house right on our route which we could stay in for a cheap price, so after buying stome food we set off on the killer road walk to Dragons Spell. I crawled deep inside the pain cave to ignore the knives in my back for 13km and we arrived at 6pm, the end of longest day of walking so far -38.7km.
The next morning my back still wasnt fixed, with enough Ibuprofen I got through the 16km to Magawhei Heads. Beautiful pastures and sea cliff walkways also distracted the mind from the pain. After fish and chips and a re-supply Anna, Doug, Eleri, and Robert continued south while I went to find my hostel in town, rest my back, eat cake and watch Trump win the election. If New Zealand wasn’t such a beautiful country with such friendly people today could’ve been miserable, some how I still had fun and am psyched to continue the adventure once my back chills out.