Day 32 to 36 – A stroll along a river

Saturday 17 November – Wednesday 21 November
Auckland to Whatawhata
Day: 32 – 36
Km’s: 194 Km
Cumulative Km’s: 774 Km / 3,000 Km

After a few days off in the city of sails we were keen to get moving again, back on trail and out of the city.

Unfortunately a large section of trail south of Auckland was closed this season due to Kauri die back disease. The TA trust had no alternative but to re route the trail along a motorway. Although we have enjoyed country road walking sections of the TA, walking highways is not our bag so we made the decision to bypass this rerouted section.

When Adam and I first made the decision to hike the TA we discussed at length, the large amounts of road walking on the North Island. We had considered cherry picking sections of trail on the North Island and thru hiking the South Island but in the end there were more sections of trail on the North Island that we wanted to hike than sections we didn’t want to hike. We decided to address it on the road, one section at a time and if we came across a section we didn’t want to hike we would allow ourselves to hitch ahead.

We are now more than half way through the North Island and can say that this approach has enriched our journey. Through hitchhiking we have met some incredibly humbling and generous people. We have been injected into the lives of quirky locals who we would otherwise never have met. For us the TA is not just a trail. It is a journey, an adventure and a unique life experience.

Day 32 – Saturday 17 November, 13km
Auckland to Manurewa

We had a breakfast date with our swiss friend, Robert this morning. It was a short walk over to his hotel then we wandered down towards Queen Street together in search of a cafe. At 8am on a Saturday most of Auckland’s inner city cafe’s were closed, luckily we found one just before full throws of hanger set in. It was great to catch up with Rob. We had been keeping in touch via text but hadn’t seen him since leaving Kerikeri where he’d had a few days off due to blisters. Rob is a hiking machine, accustomed to walking in the Swiss alps. We knew it wouldn’t be long before he caught up to us. Rob will be spending a couple of days in Auckland before getting a bus down to Hamilton so although we won’t be leaving Auckland together we should see him again in a few days time.

Back to our hotel we packed, checked out and after almost 3 days of rest, got back on the road. It is strange to hike through a city, we received odd looks from people trying to figure out where we fit into the world. Backpacker? No, too scruffy, homeless? No, not scruffy enough.

Auckland street art

We wandered through parks, a university, the Auckland Domain and across to Mount Eden.

Not so inviting for a stroll…

Mount Eden is an extinct volcano in the heart of Auckland. It is a steep climb to the top but the views to the city more than make up for it.

Mount Eden crater and Auckland sky tower in the distance

On the descent from Mount Eden I lead us down a track which took us slightly off trail, around the outside of Eden Park. It turned out to be a bonus detour. The street was lined with the most magnificent trees which looked to be trying their best to regain control of the city.

The trail continued through the city towards Cornwall Park. En route we made a detour to a local library to use the bathrooms. We also made good use of their foyer for a picnic lunch break. I was a little worried about being moved on by a librarian but they let us finish up in peace.

The perfect shelter for a couple of hobos

Lunch over we continued past the racecourse and onto the beautiful Cornwall Park with its towering trees and idyllic pathways.

The trail even took as right through a wedding party using the park for their photo shoot. We took a slight detour for their sake and stopped in at the creamery for some delicious NZ ice cream. A group of brazen finches spotted Adam as an easy target and a faceoff over a scoop of cookies & cream unfolded before my eyes.

Fueled by the sugar we continued to One Tree Hill, climbing up to the obelisque.

We caught a marriage proposal in the making in the field below. A man arranging stones into a ‘will you…’ his construction was beginning to slow by the time we made our way back down the hill. After all of that effort I hope his beloved said yes.

The trail lead us into suburbia, we walked through to Onehunga where we jumped on a bus to Manukau to meet our trail friend Jeremy.

We had decided to bypass the airport, sewage treatment plant and 80 odd km of motorway leading out of Auckland. We would instead be spending the night at Jeremy’s home, catching a ride south in the morning to rejoin the trail at Mercer.

Jeremy picked us up from the bus terminal looking like a new man. Clean, well dressed and beard trimmed. He had settled back into life post trail. His cousin Geoff who is also hiking the TA was also spending the night at his place. It was lovely to meet Geoff and Jeremy’s wife and son. After dinner we set our sleeping pads up in the living room and crashed! 10pm was a late night in trail hours and our first day back on trail, although short had taken it out of us.

Day 33 – Sunday 18 November, 26 Km Manurewa to Rangiriri

Jeremy dug out an old cardboard box and helped us make up a sign for our hitch to Mercer.

It was the first time we’ve used a sign and it worked a treat. Jeremy dropped us off by the highway interchange and we positioned ourselves for what we thought might be a 30 minute wait.

Not 10 minutes passed before James came by in his newly refurbished V8, saw where we were headed and let us hop in. He had been up in Auckland on a stag weekend, lives down in Hamilton and was heading home to chill before heading back to work tomorrow. He was a friendly guy and easy to chat to which made it a quick trip down the highway to Mercer.

Unknown to us, Mercer has a little service centre with a cafe and McDonald’s. Given we’d made such good timing on our hitch with James we went for a second breaky before starting the days hike.

We would be rejoining the trail at the Waikato River.

The trail went through beautiful farm land and past the historic redoubt reserve before spitting us out onto the highway.

A cleverly disguised swamp!

Thankful for only having 2 kms of highway rather than 2 days of it, we crossed over rail lines and through an underpass. You really do get to see all aspects of New Zealand on this trail.

Thankfully we were behind the barriers walking along the highway. While it wasn’t the most spectacular scenery we have seen to date it definitely wasn’t the worst road walking we have done either.

Parts of the roadside were a forest in themselves. There was plenty of tangled jasmine and honeysuckle, releasing a sweet fragrance as we walked, we could barely smell the car fumes.

After 2 km we rejoined the river through more farmland. There were a few electric fences to navigate, keeping us on our toes.

Whilst the walking was flat the paddocks were potholed from cattle hooves so you had to constantly be aware of where you were putting your feet.

Thanks to the farmer for the insulated groin guard

Excuse us boys…

We eventually dropped down to the river bank where we spent most of our day meandering along the river.

Blessed be the boardwalk 🙏

At some points the trail disappeared, presumably having dropped away into the river but it was otherwise easy going.

Before long we passed the speedway centre. By the sounds of things a drag race was underway. It formed the sound track for the remainder of the day. Strangely, the cows didn’t seem bothered by it. Out of the river and back up to road level it was cement for the rest of walk into Rangiriri.

Glad to have a fence between us and this guy 😬

Making new friends

After 3 days off in Auckland today was a bit of a struggle for our bodies but we made it in one piece. We would be spending the night slightly off trail behind Rangiriri pie shop.

Cathy is a trail angel who owns the famous pie shop. Before opening her store she had never made a pie in her life but has placed in the top 10 pie shops in the country 3 years running! This was all unknown to me when we rocked up. We had messaged cathy in the morning to let her know we would be coming so she had offered to put some pies aside for us. These pies completely exceeded all expectations. They were HUGE and full of fresh ingredients. We couldn’t go past an apple pie for dessert!

Cathy is a gem who very kindly looks after hikers. Her shop closes a 5pm but she stayed back until after 8pm to feed us. She welcomes hikers to pitch tents in her paddock for koha (donation), providing access to water and toilet facilities. It is a huge help both practically and mentally to have people like her helping us out on trail.

Day 34 – Monday 19 November, 24 Km
Rangiriri to Hakarimata Walkway

Having rained during the night we packed down a wet tent this morning. Unfortunately the sun wasn’t going to shine enough to dry it out before we left. The previous night Cathy had mentioned that the cafe next door to her opened at 7.30am. Knowing this I was hanging for a coffee. Unfortunately it was closed and having given up on carrying freeze dried coffee 3 weeks ago I’d have to wait until Huntly, 15km away to have my caffeine fix.

The trail into Huntly was through farmland, running parallel to the river on a stopbank. Essentially a raised mound running along side the river to prevent flooding when the river rises.

Out of the way gals!

By this point of the trail you think I would have learnt not to underestimate walking through farmland but apparently I hadn’t. Although it was flat it was severely potholed by cattle. With grass at shin height it was difficult to see what you were walking on so it required constant attention in order to keep your ankles in one piece.

What pretty eyes you have

The paddocks were probably the most well fertilized that we have come across yet. The green wet manure was unavoidable underfoot.

Adam Amongst the giant marshmallows.

We climbed over a few fences and stiles en route. One stile in particular wasn’t quite high enough to clear the barb wire fence. My legs were still warming up for the day and being a little stiff I caught my bag on the way over and teared a big hole in my drink bottle pocket.

One of the last paddocks we entered was full of dairy cows. As we walked towards them they all ran to the back of the paddock until there was a huge heard of them to get past. They were oddly curious but cautious. I would slowly move forward, the cows at the front would run away while cows at the back came closer. They all had beautiful big eyes but very full udders. When the cows ran their udders flopped about violently. It looked incredibly painful. I felt guilty for making them move.

Nice arse Betsy!

The last stile lead us into Huntly golf course where we ran into a kiwi couple traveling north bound from Wellington. It was lovely chatting to them. They were great people and proved to be a wealth of information having recently passed through the trail we were headed for. We traded notes about what we had encountered over the last month, wished each other good luck, farewell and kept moving onward.

Towards Huntly we walked, past the power station and park. The trail doesn’t run through Huntly but we opted for a quick detour over the rail bridge to a cafe for lunch.

This cafe was a dream come true. The only menu items they served was all day breakfast. Feeling satisfied after our break we visited the countdown to top up our food supplies and headed over the footbridge and back on track.

‘security we have a hobo in the snack isle’

It was another 5km of road before we reached the turnoff for the Hakarimata Walkway. It couldn’t come soon enough because after my coffee I was busting for the toilet. A real hazard of city walking is that you can’t pee wherever you want. Luckily there was a toilet at the start of the track. Thankfully my boots weren’t too dirty so they were quick to clean and disinfect at the cleaning station and then I was straight to that toilet!

We took the scenic route through the forest along the Kauri walkway. One of the largest trees in this area is over 1,000 years old. Standing all on it’s own historians aren’t sure why it wasn’t logged along with the rest of the kauri in the region but we are greatful that it still stands today. It was a special sight to see.

It was magical to be back in the forest again after such a long stint of suburbia, city and roads.

We climbed the hill to the lookout and could see over Huntly and where we had walked earlier that day.

The Hakarimata Walkway is a popular trail for locals and well maintained with a nice steady gradient and stairs up the steep sections of hill. We walked for another couple of kms before we found a good campsite for ourselves on a quiet section of trail.

It is lovely to be camping out in the bush rather than a caravan park for a change.

Day 35 – Tuesday 20 November, 31Km
Hakarimata Walkway to Hamilton

What would be our biggest km day since 90 mile, we both stumbled into the hostel exhausted by the end of it.

I was expecting to wake up early sleeping out in nature but I ended up having a big sleep in and we didn’t get going until after 9. It’s nights like these when I love living out of a tent. Last night I had dinner in bed and after a solid sleep woke up in a forest to birdsong and the sun filtering through the ferns above. Everything I need in life within arms reach in my pack just outside the tent. I started the day with breakfast in bed. Bliss!

Chia in bed ❤

Adam had some personal things to attend to, namely application of 3B cream to ward off any chaff from the upcoming 30 km day so I set off ahead. It would mean that we ended up spending most of the day hiking separately which was a nice change giving us both some headspace. We had made it a few kms into the forest the day prior and had done most of the climbing. The trail undulated for 8 km through beautiful lush green foliage to the summit of Hakarimata.

The track was fairly slow going, tramping standard as the kiwi call it. Tramping generally means slow going trail through mud, over contorted tree roots or up steep ungraded trail, or all 3.

This section of the trail was fairly quiet. It seems that many people walk to the viewpoints at either end of the trail but not many people walk all the way through the circuit. I had a few minutes with the summit all to myself, enjoying my bumper bar, before the flood of day walkers came through. The views were vast, able to see all the way over to Hamilton.

The hordes of people were a signal it was time for the descent. The way down was steeper than the way up, it was a well maintained but very long set of stairs. I was thankful for the handrail to help brace myself on the way down. Meanwhile, fitness enthusiasts did laps up and down the stairs as I did my best to ease the pounding on my knees.

The end of the trail was as beautiful as the summit, passing a stream and a little waterfall. I was glad to be on flat ground again. From the trailhead we ventured into Ngaruawahia it was perfect timing for a cafe lunch stop, the rains were coming in so we were able to shelter and dry off a little before heading through to Hamilton.

A crochet Christmas tree

It was another 20 km through to Hamilton but it was a beautiful flat cycle path the whole way so we thought we would be fine to make it before sundown.

It was lovely to be on a flat, well graded path for a change. To be able to look up and see the views while you are walking without fear of falling over should not be underrated.

The cycle trail passed back and forth over the river, passing paddocks, behind residential houses with spectacular garden’s and through parks.

We even went past the huge Fonterra dairy factory where they process a huge phenomenal amount of milk and dairy products annually. With 10 km to go we were starting to tire, at some point my legs went into autopilot and I had to remind myself to remain present and take in the view. It’s very easy to go into you own head while you are walking and forget where you are.

Adam and I had spread out on the trail. I arrived in Hamilton a little ahead of him so I grabbed some fresh food from the Pak n Save for dinner. Greens and fresh vegies are my go to when we hit a town, to make sure I get some nutrition in between the nuts, freeze dried meals and carbs.

Unfortunately the two hostels in town had booked out of their double rooms so we would be sharing a mixed dorm for the evening. It turned out that I was the only ‘mix’ in the dorm, it was me and 5 dudes. The room smelt like a 15 year old boys bedroom. Add to that our hiking boots and you can imagine how pleasant it was. Dealing with 1 snoring human of a night is doable but it seemed that I had hit the jackpot and all of the men in the room that night were snorers. Despite my earplugs it was difficult to get to sleep. Finally having drifted off we were awoken by an inconsiderate individual coming in at around 1am. Why I am not sure but he seemed insistent on shining everyone in the eyes with a torch not once, not twice but three times. At 4 am I considered heading out the common room to try to nap on one of the couches but I eventually drifted off again. At 6am, people started getting up for the day. I had been lured into booking this hostel by the promise of a free breakfast inclusive of pancakes. It had better be worth the lack of sleep.

Day 36 – Wednesday 21 November, 16km Hamilton to Whatawhata

I don’t want to refer to last night as sleep, it was more a few hours of broken rest. At 6am I gave up on sleeping and went into the communal area to make use of the free wifi.

We had a late start on the trail today with some life chores to take care of. Off the Pak n Save in time for opening at 7am, then back to the hostel for the 8am free breakfast. The hostel only ran the free breakfast for 1 hour. 8am to 9am. After witnessing it I understood why. It was a feeding frenzy, the hostel kitchen didn’t look too different from the paddocks of stock we had been hiking through. We packed, sorted out our very heavy 6 day food supply and enjoyed a last minute town luch of dumplings before we got back on the road.

We had originally planned a 23km day but our late start meant that we would only make it through to Whatawhata (pronounced Fotafota🤷‍♀️).

We couldn’t miss the opportunity

The trail started in Hamilton CBD before slowing edging us out of the city through surburbia, past the Taitua Arboretum until finally we hit farmland.

Ambiguous Km markings but thanks for the inspiration!

We were happily strolling along the road when a man drove past us. Stopped and reversed, winding down his windows as he approached. I said to Adam, ‘he must be going to offer us a lift’. It wasn’t a lift he was offering but directions. It turned out we had missed the turn off for the trail. Another friendly Kiwi! Luckily the turn off wasn’t far behind us, we were back on track in no time.

More colorful Kiwi letterboxes

The trail took us through some pretty farmland but as the kms got on the rain became heavier and heavier. I made the mistake of assuming it would be like all of the other rain we had experienced in New Zealand, a short drizle but it wasn’t. I left my long pants on under my rain skirt and after a few hours of walking the water had wicked up my pants until everything was soaked. My boots were like swimming pools and it was getting cold. By the time we arrived in Whatawhata we were frozen and feeling pretty sorry for ourselves.

Making friends

A venison farm. Poor Bambi 😬 🦌

Whatawhata, finally!

We had heard about a bar in town which lets hikers camp for free or stay in a cabin for a small fee. When we made our way into the bar the woman on the counter was preparing to show us to where we could tent. ‘I heard you also have cabins available?’ I blurted, dreading the thought of being turned out into the rain again amd relishing the idea of a bed, a roof and the potential to dry off.

Roger came to greet us and quickly prepared a cabin. Such a great guy. He let us have a hot shower in his home which adjoins the pub. It was exactly what we needed. Having regained the feeling in our fingers we decided to relish in luxury, forego the freeze dried meals in our packs and enjoy a pub meal instead. It looks like it may be another case of having over packed our food this week.

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