Day 26 to 31 – The road to Auckland
Sunday 11 November – Friday 16 November
Dome to Auckland
Day: 26 – 31
Cumulative km’s: 580km / 3,000km
After a busy few days on the trail, we have finally finished our update of the week into Auckland. We also learned the advantages of planning your blogging around free wifi access, particularly when uploading lots of photos on NZ mobile plans with small data limits… But hey, as they say, better late than never!
Writing this post from Auckland, it is hard to believe that only a month ago we landed here from Sydney, not really knowing what the next 6 months would hold or whether we would even enjoy this crazy thru-hiking thing.
Only one month on, the life of a thru-hiker has become completely normal to us – it actually feels really strange on days when we don’t get up and start hiking!
Besides Leigh’s dodgy finger and my rib issues (more on that below), everything is going well and we are ready to tackle the middle section of the North Island over the coming weeks.
Day 26 – Sunday 11 November, 25.5km (+ side trip to Puhoi Valley Cheese Factory)
Dome to Puhoi
We awoke to the wettest our tent has been all trip so far – dewy on the outside and covered in condensation on the inside. There is something deeply unsatisfying about packing down a wet tent…
While packing up, we were joined by an unexpected guest for breakfast… a chicken from the farm next door. Leigh shared her museli with the chicken – I, on the other hand, did not share my breakfast with the chicken.
We started off the hiking day through long (and very wet) grass. It was kind of like a miniature car wash for your legs!
Today would mostly take us along gravel farm roads, and across private farmlands with some short sections of track in between.
After meeting some horse friends along the way, we were greeted with some fantastic views back across the valley.
Not ones to pass up the option of a cafe lunch, we took a short detour to Puhoi Valley Cheese Factory for a late lunch, again eating enough food for a small army.
With rain clouds threatening, we pulled ourselves away from the cafe and headed back to the trail to Puhoi. After crossing the Puhoi River swing bridge, we weaved through trail covered in pine needles, which was a welcome change to be walking on soft ground after the roads and other surfaces we have been walking on lately.
We were taken by surprise by the number of steep hills on the river trail, but after pushing through the hills under some light rain, we eventually reached the top of the hill with great views over Puhoi town.
After a quick chat with the general store staff about camping options for the night, we headed to to Puhoi Pub for a few drinks and chatted with some northbound hikers we met from the UK, sharing notes about what was to come for each of us and highlights from the trail so far.
Looking forward to another cafe breakfast tomorrow before heading off on our paddle of the Puhoi River at high tide just before lunchtime. We’ve been joking that we’re not going to survive on the South Island once these cafes become few and far between!
Day 27 – Monday 12 November, 26.5km (+ some bonus km’s not included on the TA maps)
Puhoi to Stillwater
If only people could see us now – sleeping on a local sports oval! While it was weird pitching our tent away from a DOC campsite or holiday park, the locals assured us that it was fine as long as we didn’t make a mess.
With our paddle of the Puhoi River tide dependent, we had plenty of time to kill in the morning before our 11:45am departure time. A lazy breakfast at the famous Puhoi Pub and coffee at the unexpectedly well stocked Puhoi General Store later and we were all caught up and fueled up, ready for the journey to Stillwater.
We were glad to have been able to paddle the Puhoi River, it was beautiful in parts (mostly when it meandered away from the nearby highway to Auckland) and was a great way to spend an hour or so. After speaking subsequently with others who had instead done the alternate roadwalk, it seemed pretty clear that we made the right call with the paddle.
After being spotted by a dog from the riverbank at one point, we were pretty surprised to paddle up to two horses in the middle of the river towards the end of the paddle!
Meeting the friendly George from Puhoi River Canoes at Wenderholm Regional Park, we dried off and had a quick lunch before setting off on the hiking section of our day.
The walkway through Wenderholm was a bit of a surprise, a short but stunning walk with some great views along the way and more information boards than we have seen so far on the trip! A sure sign that we were getting closer to civilisation again!
After passing through Wenderholm we then headed for the town of Orewa – we were grateful for the largely footpathed road walk sections and were able to do some rock hopping around the headlands with the low tide approaching.
Reaching Orewa was a shock to the senses… our first busy town in almost a month. You know you have reached civilisation when find a McDonald’s!
After debating the possibility of being able to cross the Weiti River to get to Stillwater, we decided to instead take the suggested route of road walking the entire way to Stillwater from Orewa. We had heard that this would not be fun and this proved to be correct. At some point the footpaths disappeared and we were back to walking on narrow shoulders along highway roads.
With the sun about to set, and the reality of having to walk the last 7km of road into Stillwater in the dark looming, we decided to play it safe and get a hitch. Leigh managed to get the second car we saw to pull over for us. He was a local who offered to drop us at the Stillwater Motor Camp where we would be staying for the night. As we drove down the windy road with no shoulders to walk on and tonnes of blindspots, we felt content with our decision.
Arriving at Stillwater Motor Camp slightly earlier than we were expecting, we were warmly welcomed by Pete the owner, who generously allowed us to stay in bunks in the recreational hall so that we did not need to put our tent up. Given we would be getting up at 4am already the following morning for a low tide crossing of the Okura River, we jumped at this offer. Staying in the recreational hall also had the added benefit of being able to enjoy some of the artworks that other travellers had left behind on the walls.
After a much needed shower, dinner and a game of pool with a local resident of the Motor Camp (who jokingly threatened to smash every window in the place if I beat him… which I did do despite my best efforts), we got ourselves and our gear ready to go for the early start to follow.
Day 28 – Tuesday 13 November, 23km
Stillwater to Takapuna
With our alarms buzzing furiously at 4am, we got ready for our planned 4:30am departure to head to the Okura River crossing which was 5km from Stillwater Motor Camp. While trying to turn the alarm off, I leaned over the metal frame of the top bunk to reach my phone and pressed my ribs hard into the frame, aggravating an old injury. For the next few weeks I can now look forward to a sharp pain in my ribs everytime I sneeze, cough, or stretch in the wrong direction, which should be fun.
It was the first time we’ve had to walk in the dark so far this trip, and it took me a while to warm up, despite the thermals and extra layers. Normally we are tucked into our toastie sleeping bags at this hour.
With Leigh’s 50 lumen emergency head torch somehow putting out more light than my 350 lumen head torch, Leigh took the lead for the first few kms through the Okura Bush Track. At some point after getting frustrated with my own headtorch, I used the torch on my phone instead to see where I was walking.
In what felt like next to no time, we had arrived at the crossing, with numb feet from walking bare foot on the cold wet sand, just in time for the official low tide. We had heard from other hikers that the crossing was about thigh to waist deep on low tide, so we prepared accordingly… Leigh by stashing her hiking pants in her pack and me by tucking my shorts and my trusty apricot delights from Countdown (normally stored in my left pocket) into my undies.
Luckily we turned out to have judged the timing pretty well for the crossing, I went up to waist deep after choosing a suboptimal line for my crossing, but luckily my apricot delights were adequately waterproofed and were still good to snack on post-crossing.
During the crossing, we were greeted with a pretty spectacular sunrise and, despite having to get up early, we felt that it was probably a good thing that we got to do the crossing at such an amazing time of day as it would have had a completely different feel later in the day.
With the Okura crossing behind us, we strolled through the coastal walkway and park at Long Bay. At one point a local ranger came up to us to ask if we had camped in the park last night as they had received reports of illegal camping in the area. We told him we had not and there was no follow up questioning surprisingly, so he must have just thought we were trustworthy people.
In contrast to yesterday, we had time to burn today so we stopped off at Browns Bay for a cafe breakfast. Cruising past people on their way to work or taking their dogs out for a morning walk, we really enjoyed the footpathed walk that weaved its way through what appeared to be some wealthy suburbs. It was great to see that public access has been kept open in these areas overlooking the ocean – in contrast to certain parts of Sydney, there seemed to be very few sections of private beach all the way along the North Shore to Takapuna.
During one of our breaks, a local kiwi and fellow long distance hiker by the name of John approached us to ask if we were hiking the TA. Upon telling him that we were, we proceeded to have a really good chat about different parts of the trail, the local suburbs and John’s experiences doing other long distance hikes. We wondered afterwards whether this interaction would have happened back home – kiwi’s definitely seem to be a pretty friendly bunch when it comes to interacting with strangers.
Eventually we followed a partially formed concrete track along the beach through to Takapuna. For a Tuesday afternoon, we couldn’t believe how many people were around on the beaches.
With an Airbnb already booked in Devonport for Wed and Thurs night, we pitched the tent at Takapuna Holiday Park. It was probably the most cramped space of all the places we have stayed so far, but being so close to the ocean and having access to lots of restaurants and cafes for dinner certainly made up for it!
Day 29 – Wednesday 14 November, 8.5km
Takapuna to Devonport/Auckland
With our accommodation for the night sorted, we could afford another slow morning.
Leigh also had a splinter of some sort in her finger that was causing her some discomfort and was not getting better, so we decided to use the opportunity to stop by a local doctor on the way to Devonport.
After cleaning up the wound and picking up some antibiotics that had to be taken 3 times a day on an empty stomach (a tricky proposition for hikers who are eating constantly all day long), we were ready to head to Devonport.
Along the way, we ran into an amazing local, Red, who stopped us for a chat and promptly signed up for our blog while we were talking on the beach! It turned out that Red had hiked the TA last year, so it was awesome to be able to bounce some things off her to help us with our own planning for the upcoming sections of trail. Thanks Red – it was great to meet you!
With the beaches behind us, we arrived in Devonport and had a ball exploring some old military tunnels and sites around the headland before walking into the main part of town.
After checking in to our accommodation for the night and promptly ditching our packs, we made the short trip across to Auckland via ferry to pick up our bounce boxes from the post office. NZ post had even reconstructed my bounce box for me at no charge after my poor packing job in Kerikeri resulted in something leaking through and destroying the wall of my cardboard box. Score!
We had arrived back in Auckland – the first big milestone of our trip!
Day 30 & 31 – Thursday/Friday 15/16 November, 0km
In scheduling some downtime in Auckland, we decided to use the time to start to plan out the next few weeks of hiking and give our feet a short break… Because let’s face it, they have earned it!
As we get further south the towns will get smaller again, so Auckland is often one of the only places you can buy certain things. We’re also using our time in Auckland to resupply, picking up food to last us for the next 4-5 days on the trail as well as our backcountry hut passes which will allow us to stay in many DOC huts as we head further south.
Once we leave Auckland we start hiking again towards Hamilton and beyond. Wish us luck!