Day 13 to 19 – River crossings and trail angels
Monday 29 October – Sunday 4 November
Kerikeri to Whangarei Heads
Day: 13 – 19
Cumulative Km’s: 386 km / 3000km
After 300km our feet have hardened, our trail legs are coming along nicely and hiker hunger has well and truly kicked in.
We’ve had some ups and downs in this section of the trail. Stunning scenery, unbeatable hospitality, unreserved generosity and the warmth of creating new friendships. On the flip side, gale force winds, slippery slopes, electric fences and sinking mud flats have added to the challenge of this epic adventure.
This post is a long one, feel free to read about our week that was or simply scroll through for a visual diary of our journey.
As always we thank you for following along with us.
Day 13 – Monday 29 October, 24 Km
Kerikeri to Paihia
After gorging ourselves on one last serving of fresh fruit and yoghurt while we had the opportunity, it was off to the post office to send on our bounce boxes. The next time we will be seeing them is in Auckland. When we first set out from Cape Reinga two weeks ago, Auckland seemed like a lifetime away. Now in little over a week and two hundred km’s it feels like we will be there in no time.
Following our rest day in Kerikeri we rejoined the trail at the historic Stone Store.
After a brief sunshower it was a beautifully sunny morning by the lake. For a split second I thought about how nice it would be to delay setting off to sit and have a morning coffee at the honey house cafe overlooking the picturesque Kemp House gardens. Alas, it was on to Paihia we tramped. The trail took us through local parklands that backed onto residential property.
Hilariously in the middle of suburbia we somehow took an unknown detour and ended up off trail. A minor correction over a stream and through someone’s backyard and we were back on track. We wandered down semi rural streets lined with citrus orchards and horse stables. I made new friends along the way, 2 carriage horses who I would like to believe were so friendly because they liked me, but in reality were into me for what was in my backpack. Lucky for them I had a few carrots on me which I was more than happy to share.
Load lightened we headed into to the Waitangi Forest for 13km of tramping through the pine trees. As far logging forest goes this was a beautiful one. There were light rains on and off all day, as the winds blew and the rains fell the smell of the pine floated through the air.
We had a treat of wraps with fresh veggies and boiled eggs for lunch, leftovers from the weekend. It felt like a feast compared to our usual lunches of preservative laden cheese and spreads. While stopped for lunch I checked the distance we had to go until we arrived at Paihia.
I was surprised to find we only had 14km remaining. Adam’s response was ‘yeah it’s only a short day today’. Granted it was an easy gradient but it made me think about how far we have come in the last couple of weeks. A few months ago we wouldn’t have considered 24km to be a short day.
The trail continued on forestry road passing the monumental Te Araroa opening marker.
After a few snaps through a rain speckled lens we continued uphill to the Mount Bledisloe lookout. A small detour with incredible views to the coast. The lookout gave us a birds eye view of today’s destination, Paihia!
My pack was heavy today after making the mistake of packing in fresh food and luxury toiletry items like soap and shampoo since we were walking town to town for the next leg. My hips were starting to feel it so it was a bit of a hobble for the rest of the way into Paihia. The trail took us alongside Paihia’s expansive golf course with picturesque views out over the bay of Islands!
Sadly the day was overcast so the bay wasn’t its usual azure blue but it was magical none the less. We walked by the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, unfortunately without the time to enter the complex. It was too near closing time to warrant us paying the entry fee.
Over the bridge, along the beach and into town we headed.
First stop, kebab shop for a 4.30pm dinner. Then onto the supermarket for some resupply items for the section ahead. Last up was a trip to the ice cream parlor. It was 5.45pm and we had eaten dinner and dessert. I have a feeling that Adam and I will be in our prime as retirees.
We stayed the night at Pickled Parrot Backpackers. Not to be mislead by the name, it is a quiet oasis, a cozy home away from home. We were warmly greeted by Rose and her two adorable dogs, Noodle and Molly who battled for our attention. I was happy to give as many pats as they would take.
Day 14 – Tuesday 30 October, 31 Km (15 kayak, 3 hitch, 13 hike)
Paihia to Punaruku
Up bright and early for a complimentary breaky at the backpackers and down to the waterfront to set off on our first kayak leg of the trip, Waikare landing.
We would be paddling with Jeremy today, a Kiwi from Auckland who has set about walking the TA one month at a time. We were met by the very friendly Dan from Bay Beach Hire who briefed us on directions and safety, swapped our packs for kayaks and sent us on our way.
We were lucky the weather had cleared enough for us to paddle. Poor Jeremy had been waiting 3 days for the conditions to improve so he could paddle. We were also extremely lucky to have early morning tides and a strong tail wind in our favour.
We set out just after 8, paddling on glassy smooth waters past Opua and on to Marriott Island for a short morning snack break.
Onwards we continued, the river widened before narrowing again, leading us through mangroves to the quaint Waikare landing.
Thanks to a strong tail wind we had made good time and arrived at the landing before Dan.
I had made the rookie error of leaving my jacket in my pack with the intention to keep it dry. We got out of the kayaks wet and cold.
With significant cloud cover and a strong breeze I was chilled to the core, trying to absorb every inch of sun I could. Very chivalrous of him, Adam changed into his hiking shirt and gave me his jumper. I took of my wet pants, put on my rain skirt and by the time Dan arrived I was semi defrosted but dressed like a bag lady. We exchanged Dan our packs for his kayaks, put some fuel in our bellies and bid Dan farewell.
Back on track it was onwards to the Russell Forest our newly formed group on trampers headed. It was after midday by the time we started walking from the landing and the trail notes had advised that this section of the trail could be slow going so we were planning on camping at a DOC shelter 4kms into the trail. We had a 5km road walking connection before we even hit the forest so the shelter was a realistic target for the night.
About 1km into this road walk our group had spread out a little, Jeremy at the front, myself in the middle and Adam behind. I heard a car coming up behind me so I moved off the road and turned around to see Adam having a chat to a couple in a ute. I spotted a confused look on his face and before I knew it he was climbing into the back of the tray.
When the ute came slowly driving past me the lady driving didn’t say too much but simply motioned for me to jump in the back. I instantly understood why Adam hadn’t objected and followed suit. Stern but warm she had a motherly presence about her, I don’t think we would have got away with not accepting a lift. Next for pick up was Jeremy. I had expected him to deny the lift but he also climbed in and we were off. The duo were so kind as to drive past their farm and drop us right at the junction of the track. We jumped out of the tray and had a chat. It turns out that this lady is something of a Waikare trail angel. Often offering her yard for walkers to tent in and giving people lifts up to the trail head. Knowing that people often got lifts up the road eased my hitchhiker somewhat as we bid her farewell and headed into the forest.
The track started off as a wide road before turning onto a single tramping track. Just before this junction we were met by a wild horse.
Big, shiny and strong he did not look like one to be trifled with. Surrounded by lush green foliage we saw our first of what would be many silver ferns since arriving in New Zealand.
After a short walk the trail opened up into a grassy area with an abandoned caravan and garden.
It was such a pretty spot you could imagine what it looked like before it was reclaimed by nature. Onward we walked and before long it was on to the river trail we descended.
The stream was picturesque, crystal clear water running over smooth flanked by dense green bush.
It was the type of walking I had hoped to experience on this trip. The trail crossed back and forth over the stream before coming to an ambiguous crossing where it wasn’t entirely clear where the trail went next.
I was certain that this should be the point that we continue along the river bed but was overruled and we climbed up into the bush and over a small hill to meet the stream on the otherside. Somewhat frustrated by the unnecessary bush bashing it was a couple more of these attempts at using ambiguous trails through the bush before I put my foot down and declared we should simply stick to walking the river bed. By this point Jeremy had departed the river and had headed up into the bush not to be seen by us again for the reminder of the day.
We were still wearing cocs from the morning paddle so the creek bed walking was an enjoyable, a lovely change from everything we had experienced on the trail to date.
Before long we hit our desired intersection with the track and it was back onto soil until we hit the hut.
Thanks to our luck with the tides and the lift to the trail head there was still plenty of daylight left in the day so we made the call to keep walking and get through the rest of the forest before sunset.
We had heard about a good fish and chip shop in Oakura. A little off trail and a stretch to make it there that night but we thought it was worth a try. Exiting the Russell Forest was steep but easy going. We climbed our way steadily out of the gorge to the main road.
It was a spectacular time of day, golden hour though farmland with spring babies im every pasture we walked by.
Shortly before 6pm the sun was beginning to slip behind the mountains.
I checked my gps. 7km until Oakura. I read a comment on the Guthook app about a place not far up the road that welcomed TA travellers. We decided to make a decision about it when we got there. We rounded the corner and there it was.
As soon as we approach the gate it started to rain again. Our decision was made. As Adam declared, the fish and chip shop was already closed so we didn’t have much to lose. As the sign said we strolled on up the driveway and through the farm gate to the house. No one in sight we noticed a sign on the door of a large building behind the main house. We called the number indicated, Sue & Alistair were 10 minutes off but very kindly instructed us how to get inside and told us to make ourselves at home. On arriving home Alistair went about lighting us a fire and had a good yarn while sue made up a bed and supplied us with fresh milk and bread. A lovely couple, they had only recently started renting out rooms and tent space to hikers. It was everything we could have wanted and more. A cosy fire, hot shower, comfy bed, cuppa and some toast. Sue made comment that we didn’t look too bad compared to some of the hikers who had come though their doors. This is the second time we had heard such a comment (Rose from the Pickled Parrott the night prior) witch gives me a bit more hope that we will make it through this beast of a walk.
Today was a big but brilliant day! One of our favorite days on the trail so far.
Day 15 – Wednesday 31 October, 22 Km (3.5 hitchhiking, 18.5 hiking)
Punaruku to start of Morepork Track
Waking up in a cozy bed, snuggled into a soft pillow and warm blankets it was difficult to get going today. Luring me up was the fresh milk in the fridge so I could have a coffee and the promise of toast with real butter. After a solid breakfast and a good stretch with the aid of a tennis ball I found in the living room we were off on the road again.
A morning of pleasant county road walking, we passed a huge pig who appeared to have escaped his yard and was enjoying an early morning breakfast of fresh roadside grass.
Although we’d already had breakfast we were hoping to make it down to Oakura for the takeaway store. A few kms into the walk a car was coming our way so I stuck out my thumb. Surprisingly she pulled over! Wasn’t going to Oakura but would drop us at the turn off. Perfect! This lady had recently moved up from Auckland and was headed into Whangarei for supplies and lunch with her sister. It wasn’t a long trip but it was a great help. From the turnoff we started walking down the road when in under 5 minutes I managed to score us another lift! That would be Leigh 5 Adam 4 on the unofficial hitchhiking score board for anyone keeping count. That brings us to 9 times in the last 2 weeks that we have rode with strangers. It has been a surprising enjoyable part of our North Island experience, giving us the chance to meet a varied array of locals.
Slightly off the trail, Oakura is a stunning bay with shell lined beaches, vibrant blue water and several islands off it’s shore.
The sun was shining, melting away the morning frost and we sat on the grass by the beach and watched the waves lap over sea shells and pebbles.
Reflection time over it was to the takeaway store for toasties and coffee.
By 10am we were back inside ordering icecream (doesn’t everyone have dessert after their second breakfast?) and in walks none other than our American friend Rick!
We started walking the trail with Rick 2 weeks ago and have more or less been walking at the same pace ever since. He had to have a short time off trail due to an injury but we are now happy to have him back with us. There is never any judgment on food choices amongst hikers. Rick was straight into the icecream as well.
Dosed up on sugar and dairy we headed back up the hill to the main road and back on trail.
We had a 7km road walk connection ahead of us before we got to our next section of trail, the Helena Ridge Track.
Along the way we picked up Jeremy, our paddling buddy from the day prior who we’d lost in the Russell Forest. We were surprised to see him but glad he was OK. We continued onwards as a group of 4 but somewhere along the road we lost Jeremy once again and it was down to 3.
Over a stile and onto a farm for the start of the Helena Ridge track, we instantly climbed a steep hill which gave us stunnning views over the bay.
We continued though regenerated manuka forest teaming with honey bees fast at work. The trail climbed up and down continuously. It was fairly slow going and required thoughtful navigating to stay on track.
We climbed a final hill which rewarded us with beautiful vistas out to the bay before heading into native forest for more steep climbing.
The forest was beautiful. Lush and green but unfortunately I started to feel a bit off. I’m not sure if it was all the diary or the sugar or the walking but I needed a sit down and have a little break. Adam also took the opportunity to rest his legs.
A couple of wraps with vegemite and some water did the trick and on we hiked.
The trail eventually lead us out to beautiful farmland.
We crossed a paddock with some overly friendly cows who tried to follow us through the gate.
This thoughtful farmer had set up a pretty grass space for camping with a serviced water tank. We will never know who that farmer was and he will never know that we passed through his land but I am very thankful that they allow us to do so and that they so kindly helped us by providing water.
Adam and I filled up our bottles and decided on an early dinner there so we didn’t have to carry the water needed for dinner to our campsite.
We had no sooner poured boiling water into our bag of backcountry nasi goreng when we heard Rick’s voice coming down the trail. We had separated not long after starting down the Helena Ridge Trail. It turns out that he and Jeremy had met at some point and walked the rest of the trail together. The pair deciding to stay put for the night, Adam and I continued alone for the additional few km of road walking to the start of the Morepork Track. We had read about a possible camp spot there and figured it was a good place to start from for the next day.
The remainder of the road and farm walking was breathtaking. I am continuously in awe of how beautiful New Zealand is.
We walked along the ridge on a farm road which looked out over lush green paddocks of grazing sheep to the ocean and headland kms in the distance. What a life! Yes, walking the trail can be hard work but the views and experiences we are having are 100% worth it. We arrived at camp blissfully happy and ready for bed.
Day 16 – Thursday 1 November, 21 Km
start of Morepork Track to Sandy Bay
Last night was a restless one. A pair of hunters came past our tent in the early hours, looking to enter the forest. While I was fast asleep and didn’t hear a thing Adam felt it was necessary to tell me the next time I stirred. Needless to say I didn’t sleep very well for the reminder of the night, experiencing the vivid dreams you don’t really want to be experiencing when free camping between a road and a forest full on hunters.
We had a relatively long day ahead with the Morepork, Onekainga and whananaki Coastal Tracks.
The first 13km was similar to the forest we had been through the day prior.
Very steep and slippery in sections you needed to be careful of every foot placement. The precarious trail even warranted the debut of Adam’s hiking poles. Coming down one particularly steep and slippery slope my feet went out from under me and I ended up sliding down the trail on my bum. The mud was inevitable.
We endured extremely strong winds all day at 80km to 100km per hour. So while we were moving through some spectacular farm land with costal vistas, it was very difficult to enjoy it with the risk of either being pushed into an electric fence of blown off the edge of a cliff.
The threat of electric fences became very real today. On the Whananaki Estuary Walk we had to navigate several farm fences, stiles and gates. At one section the track came to a junction with an electric farm gate which appeared that it needed to be crossed. Adam was in the lead, and having opened several of these style of fences already, grabbed the top rope. clearly he didn’t give the rope enough respect and after stepping through got a shock. Dropping the rope as a natural reaction it now lay on top of the bottom fence rope, the electric sparks audible. Given it was already down I stepped through while we figured out how to get it back up without electrocuting ourselves. 3 shocks later Adam had given up and took to using his hiking pole to get the hook back in place. Meanwhile I used every power in my core being to remain composed and not film the whole ordeal. Gate safely back in place I turned to see where the track took us next. ‘Oh no!’ I exclaimed loudly. I could see the bright orange marker we needed to follow, it was back on the other side of the fence!
A little soggy, a little windblown and Adam a little electrified, we made it into Whananaki in one piece. We headed straight for the beach store in search of something fired or some icecream or both. We were in luck. Chocolate, lollies, licorice, wedges, chips, beverages and 2 icecreams later we were feeling ready to move on.
The foot bridge out of Whananaki is the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere. Originally built in 1947 to allow kids in the south to attend school in the north. Before this their committed teacher would row them across the river. We braved the 100km per hour winds and stepped out on to the 395 meter bridge. I was scared of getting blown into the river, one hand gripped my phone, trying desperately to get a couple of snaps of this monumental foot bridgen the other white knuckled the railing.
Having safely crossed into Whananaki south the trail directed us to the beach to pick up the Costal Track. A stunning track running through private costal farmland.
I was completely amazed that the entire journey was through private land. All of the spectacular beaches we passed were private property and not accessible. The views the cows were getting were that of a 6 star resort.
The wind and on again off again rain made for a slow going day and despite our epic takeaway store feast at mid day I was feeling a bit fragile for the first time since starting the trail.
We arrived at our campsite around 5.30pm. It is one of what would seem to be the few free camps left in Northland. Trying to be good law abiding hikers we camped well within the designated free camp site zone. Unfortunately for us this was a patch of sand. Comfy for sleeping on but not so stable for an ultralight tent in gale force winds. At around 6.30pm the winds and rain picked up again to give us one last show of force. The pegs flew out of the ground, the fly flapped violently in the breeze threatening to tear and the poles contorted close to snapping point. When we eventually got everything under control we made the decision to risk a fine and moved onto a grassy patch for a solid anchor. With the tent full of our things we dragged the whole soggy, sandy mess across the lawn. In the panicked move we positioned ourselves on a slope with our feet a good 10cm higher than our heads. At that point in the day neither of us cared.
An hour of so passed and weather gave us a reprieve. Adam tried to dry a few things out while I feeling sad about our current state set about eating 3 lunches worth of food. Wet and cold I was not cooking tonight. I looked over to the travellers in the campervans parked next to us with pure envy.
Day 17 – Friday 2 November, 19 Km
Sandy Bay to Nikau Bay
After last nights frenzied ordeal we both woke surprisingly well rested. I don’t even remember stirring during the night which is unusual. Normally, given we sleep for about 10 hours a night I turn every few hours like a rotisserie chicken.
Thankful that the rains had cleared we took our time to dry everything out before breaking camp. The beach car park where we were camped looked like a laundry room with everything airing out on the ropes of the fence.
It’s amazing how quickly one adapts to thru hiker life. In the real world there is no way I’d be doing my washing in the carpark of a surf club, hanging my undies out to air in the sun 20m from a road.
Today we had a short walk ahead of us, 19km in total. A small amount of road walking around the beautiful Sandy Bay headland before we hit Wolleys Bay where we would hit the beach for a small section of sand walking.
It was a stunning morning walking along in golden hour, light hitting the beach. We watched in amusement as a couple doing their morning workout were attacked from the sky by an angry group of seagulls. It’s the first time I’ve ever seem a seagull attack over anything less than a chip but it gave us a giggle.
On we tramped past the town of Matapouri and onto the Matapouri Bush track. A beautiful section of trail we walked through eucalyptus plantation when we first entered the forest, making me feel at home.
The trail quickly opened up into a pine plantation before entering a regenerated kiwi sanctuary. The bush was lush and green, crossing several streams. We heard lots of bird noises, not quite sure of what a kiwi sounds like to know if we were hearing one.
After 300km on the trail we have seen many possum and rodent traps, today we saw our first successful possum trap. Possums have become pests in New Zealand after they turned to eating the eggs of native birds. As a result there are extensive programs in place to attempt to eliminate them. A little grossed out onwards we pressed on to Tane Moana, the giant Kauri tree. Incredibly large it was amazing to see one tree sustaining so much life.
Feeling energised by our stop at Tane Moana we pressed on. The trail took us back into some young pine forest which to me felt like a field of Christmas trees “it smells like Christmas in here!” I exclaimed. Adam was less than excited by the pine than I and refused all attempts to get him to smell the glorious pine branches.
After a lovely day’s walking, hiker hunger was kicking in for the both of us. We had heard about a good cafe in Ngunguru, Salt Air so with only 3km of road walking to get us there we marched on at a rapid pace.
Neither of us had had lunch, holding out for the lure of a cafe meal. We had a good chat to a couple of older ladies who had taken themselves and their dog out for lunch. She told us a story about a girl she met last year who was walking the TA. She had super sore feet and was struggling in the main street of town. This lovely woman took her home and fed her wine and cheese before setting her on her way with a new pair of shoes. Kiwis really are some of the friendliest, most giving people around.
We had just about finished our lunch and were ready to head to the shop to resupply when none other than our old friend Rick came walking by. We hung around while Rick had his lunch so we could head to the shops together. We were sitting down chatting and the lady from the cafe came out and asked us if we were walking to Bluff. Why yes we replied. It turned out that a lady, unknown to us had paid for a pie and a loaf of bread for another hiker, Christian to pick up on his way through. It turned out that Christian had already passed though so she had been instructed to pass the already paid for food onto any other hiker. Rick was keen for the pie and I was keen for the bread so that was how we split it. I had never thought about buying bread on trail before but it worked our brilliantly. Some avos and tomatoes from the store and we would have a delicious lunch and breakfast!
For the next section of the trail we needed to cross the Ngunguru River by boat. We had just organised our pick up when Jeremy came walking by. We left him to do his resupply and headed for the pickup location down by the river.
It was a novelty seeing the TA marker attached to a small pier on the river. It are these quirks that make the North Island such an interesting place to hike through and worth all of the road walking.
James picked us up in his boat and ferried the 4 of us across to Nikau Bay camp. His property is absolutely beautiful. He offers hot open air showers with big rainwater shower heads. It felt like we were in a rustic resort.
He even offers fresh greens from his garden and eggs from his chickens. A bit like hearding cats he managed to gets us all organised for the estuary crossing the next morning. I could have very easily spent a rest day or week at Nikau Bay. We had picked up some avocados from the shop so with the free bread we had acquired earlier that afternoon we had avocado and poached egg on toast for dinner. It was pure bliss.
Day 18 – Saturday 3 November, 16km (hiked 10.5, hitched 5.5)
Nikau Bay to Tidesong
Its been a blissful couple of days on trail. We woke up looking over the Ngunguru River, sun just starting to rise in the sky, the water glassy with a few ripples making their way to shore. It is a fortunate existence we are living out.
To add to an already spectacular morning we had fresh bread, avocados, tomatoes and egg (courtesy of James’ hens) awaiting us in the beautiful camp kitchen. The eggs were freshly laid the day before and poached perfectly on the gas hobb. Normally struggling to poach eggs at home I’ve come to realise the result is all in the freshness of the egg and less about the technique itself. At 7:30am James came down to the kitchen with a big brew coffee and after a chat set us on our way.
The first section of todays journey was the crossing of a recently opened trail through private Maori lands. It was a pretty trail through reeds and Mangroves that opened up to the Horahora Estuary.
Adam and I were preparing to cross the river when Rick and Tony (Tony recently joined our crew after joining us at Nikau Bay Camp last night) rounded the bend with a dog in tow.
As per usual I set about befriending the tag along pup. We hit it off and after a quick run around on the sand she guided us across the river, through the mangroves and out onto the road.
Cleaning our mud caked feet and wondering how far this dog was going to follow us, a rural post van came to a sudden halt around the bend. Only delivering newspapers and parcels on weekends the postie had a fair bit of space in her van and offered us a lift a few kms up the road. A couple of weeks earlier when Adam and I were looking to hitch a dangerous section of highway I had attempted to flag down a postie with no luck. I had mentioned to Adam how fun I thought it would be to be picked up by a post van. We definitely needed to accept! Adam, Rick, Tony and myself climbed in the back between the stacks of newspapers and parcels. Jeremy was also walking with us but declined the offer for a ride. Our driver had a few paper stops to make and then it was onto the Pataua foot bride to drop us off.
At Pataua we had a good chat with a couple of cyclists and 2 local men who were interested in finding out where the bunch of us hiking too. All part of the charm of the North Island, meeting locals and striking up conversation along the way.
We had a few more Kms or road walking ahead of us which is always more fun in a group, then it was out into the estuary and over to our intended destination for the night, Tidesong B&B.
Walking through the estuary was messy but a lot of fun. Adam and I both have crocs for this purpose. They protect your feet, dry quickly, are super light and make a great camp shoe. But they also make really great suction cups in thick mud. It was a hilarious yet challenging trip through the mangroves.
We emerged with mud up our calves and splattered in places im not quite sure how it managed to splatter.
It was a short day of walking for us but with the absence of a full rest day we were having 2 easy days of walking to give our bodies a chance to recuperate.
We had heard a lot of good things about Tidedong. Run by a couple, Hugh and Ross who had also walked the TA to raise awareness about kidney donation. They offer camping and meals at their place for a minimal fee. They are true trail angels who’s reputation didn’t disappoint. Entering the property through a newly crafted magical bush trail we were greeted on arrival with fresh scones, butter and jam, cups of tea and coffee. It felt like home. Adam and I definitely ate the lion’s share of scones. They were delicious and hard to stop eating. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get him up and away for our early morning estuary crossing tomorrow! Hugh very graciously offered to ferry us across the river at 7am and Ross agreed to cook us a stack of pancakes ready for a 6:15am breakfast. An absolute pair of legends!
Feeling well rested and thankful for the hot shower to scrub clean the rancid estuary mud. With a stack of hot pancakes and a boat ride across the river to come, a hiker couldn’t want for anything more.
Day 19 – Sunday 4 November, 23 Km
Tidesong to The Green Bus Stop, Whangarei Heads
With the promise of a pancake breakfast I was eager to jump out of bed at the first sound of the alarm. It was a drizzly morning so the tent was a little damp but there was no way we were missing out on breaky to dry it off. This is not something that Adam would normally allow. I have taken to leaving most of the tent responsibilities to him because he is very particular about how he likes the tent packed away.
Bags thrown together we hurried down to the house. Overwhelmed by the breakfast Hugh and Ross had prepared for us. Not only pancakes there was fruit salad, cereals and muesli, fresh milk, cooked meats, poached eggs and toast. To give you an idea of how heavily my hiker hunger has kicked in, for breakfast I ate muesli with fresh fruit & milk, 2 pieces of toast, 2 poached eggs and 6 pancakes with fresh butter and jam. And lets not forget the coffee!! It’s as if my stomach has no off switch. Whenever I see food some inate primal drive takes over and I’m compelled to eat as much as I can before my brain regains control to stave off the embarrassment.
Bellies full we waddled down Hugh’s glorious hand built pier which took us through the mangroves to where his boat awaited to ferry us across the Estuary. The boat ride was much appreciated, saving us from getting up the knees in mud again.
Safely on the other side we dried our feet as much as one can in the rain and donned our boots. We had a short section of pasture and country road waking to connect us to our next section of forest. There were a few stiles and electric fences to negotiate. Adam once again the willing test bunny. It only makes sense now he is somewhat immune to the shocks given his traumatic experience earlier in the week.
The road connection was uphill but pleasant. We passed a miniature horse farm and right by the trail head a mare and foal.
After a quick chat with the ponies we cleaned our boots at the Kauri dieback cleaning station, climbed the stile and headed into the forest. It was a short but pretty stretch of forest walking connecting us to Ocean Beach.
After 100 km of walking on beaches one could be forgiven for not being overly excited for more sand but Ocean Beach is a sight like no other. Bright white sand stretches the entire 7km of the beach. Pristine without a soul in sight. It was lovely to take off the boots and walk barefoot through the shallows for a while.
A few kms up the beach we could see something sitting on the shore in the distance. At first we thought it might be another hiker but as we got closer we realised that it was a seal pup! I was overjoyed! In walking the 100 km along 90 mile beach I was continuously hopefully to see a seal but in the end we had only seen a carcass. We weren’t expecting to see one and didn’t know it was even possible along this beach so it was a real treat to see it. Not far after the seal a horseman came trotting up the beach with his 2 horses. It was a glorious day of experiences.
The closer we walked the Bream Head the busier the beach became until we hit the surf club. We had a bite to eat to fuel our bodies for the steep 476m to the Te Whara Trail summit. Popular with locals, it was enjoyable to be on a busy trail meeting people out day hiking. We got a few strange looks for carrying such large packs to the summit. One lady even said to me. “wow you are prepared!”. She was off in the other direction before I could tell her that I was on my way to Bluff not the other side of Bream Head.
The hard slog to the top more than paid off. We were rewarded with spectacular views out to sea on one side and glimpses of the oil refinery where we would be crossing the heads tomorrow.
A few snaps at the top and it was time to brace the legs and head back down to sea level. I was expecting my knees to protest after such a steep decent but both Adam and I held up well.
Back to the road and we had a few kms of road walking abead of us before reaching our destination for the night, the Green Bus Stop. The Green Bus Stop is the home of two trail angels who welcome campers to tent on their property for $10 a night. Walking through the gates we immediately spotted the amazing old green bus.
It is a beautiful old bus being lovingly restored by Terry and Jen. Terry welcomed us onto the property, showed us around and we had a good chat about everything from seals to bees. They grow their own produce and very generously allow hikers to cut and pick their own from the garden. They also offer free range eggs and lemons, a large assortment of teas, first aid kit and a well donated to hiker box.
We set up out tent on a lush piece of grass tucked away in its own corner of the garden. We then set about having our packet pasta dinner. The fresh eggs couldn’t be passed up so I poached a couple and dropped them into our backcountry Carbonara. We added some parmesan which i’ve been carrying for my lunches and tucked in. It was delicious!! I don’t think a back country meal has ever tasted that good. The quality of the fresh eggs can not be compared to anything bought in a store. They are big and heavy, have bright yellow yolks and again they poached perfectly!
After we had finished dinner, Terry came down from the house with 3 generously large pieces of homemade pizza. They were loaded with veggies and super fresh. Even the dough was home made! For supper the lovely Jen had given us warm fruit cake, straight out of the oven. The day could not have got any better. I was in heaven!! Such generous people offering so much to absolute strangers. The kindness of the people we have met along the trail has inspired me to give back. I hope to take these lessons back with us into regular life.