Monday 5 November – Saturday 10 November
Whangarei Heads to Dome
Day: 20 – 25
Cumulative km’s: 497km / 3,000km
This week saw us return to where it all began… the beach. Thankfully the distances involved were not as punishing as 90 Mile Beach, which was nice. We also were able to break up the beach walking with a few headland tracks with stunning views up and down the coast, making it more than worthwhile.
With more tidal areas to contend with over this section, a decent amount of on the fly planning was required in order to avoid an impromptu swim. Fortunately, luck has largely been on our side so far and we have been able to sync up with the right tides when needed.
The mud also made it’s glorious return for us through the Omaha and Dome Forests, with plenty of energy sapping hills thrown in for good measure.
Still, we are enjoying the trail more and more every day as we get into the swing of things and our bodies get used to hiking every day.
Day 20 – Monday 5 November, 26km
The Green Bus Stop, Whangarei Heads to Waipu town
A later than normal start today (8:30am wake up instead of 7am) as we had time to burn before our 11am boat pick up to get us across to Marsden Point.
Literally just as we were about to bid farewell to our accommodation for the previous night, the owner, Terry, pops his head around the corner, offering us a lift down to the jetty. What a legend! This would save us 5km of road walking on unsafe sections of narrow road, so we jumped at Terry’s generous offer. It also had the added bonus of allowing us to swing by The Deck for some breakfast pies!
In a flash we were at The Deck – I think it actually took us longer to choose our order than it did to drive there with Terry. It wasn’t until the cashier recited our order back to us that we realised it sounded like an excessive amount of food for two people. Leigh told her that we were also buying things for someone else in the car to keep any suspicion low.
We ate our breakfast of pies, mini sausage rolls, quiches, rocky road and blueberry & apple slice overlooking the scenic oil refinery on the other side of Reotahi Bay.
Our hiker friends from the US and New Zealand arrived in time for the 11am boat and Blair the boat captain had us on our way without even needing to get our feet wet. The crossing itself was a quick one – we were glad to have coordinated a group of people to share the mandatory $100 cost with.
On arrival at Marsden Point we became reacquainted with our old friend the beach. With the smell of benzene in the air from the oil refinery and the wind blasting us in the face, we powered on down the first stretch of beach.
Opting to skip the Ruakaka River crossing due to missing the low tide timing, we headed into the town of Ruakaka for some lunch at a local bakery. Two hours later we started feeling guilty about not walking, so we hit the road again making ground towards our second section of beach walking for the day.
With the wind dying down this was much nicer walking than earlier that morning. We stopped about halfway along the beach with a local fisherman who proceeded to regale us with stories of his extensive travels across Australia, including NSW’s most central point (it’s a town called Tottenham apparently), as well as being one of the first people to drive up to Cape York.
We finally made it off the beach and headed back to the road to get to Waipu where we would be staying for the night. Our timing was spot on as we were greeted with rain just as we reached the end of town. A quick stop at the local supermarket to organise dinner we had arrived at the local backpackers for the night. A few burritos, a block of Whittaker’s chocolate, a hot shower and a load of washing later, all was good in our world again and we were ready for the next few days on the trail.
Day 21 – Tuesday 6 November, 13.5km
Waipu town to Brynderwyn Walkway
With no more scheduled rest days between here and Auckland, we decided to split the 30km+ walk into Mangawhai into two days. This meant we would only be walking a half day today so we had time to burn in the morning.
I even had time to weigh myself on an old set of scales in the bathroom. Apparently I’ve lost 5-6kgs in three weeks, which is more than I was expecting, so I’ll need to keep an eye on that going forward!
After a sleep in, we headed out to Logan Maclean Cafe in the Scottish-inspired town of Waipu for a morning coffee and to use their wifi to catch up on a few things. We arrived back at the backpackers we had been staying at shortly before our scheduled check out time, thinking that they would be pretty relaxed about letting us hang out there for an extra half hour or so while we packed our stuff up. We were instead greeted at 9:45am by a pretty abrupt cleaning lady who basically kicked us out so she could start cleaning.
In any event, once we had packed all of our stuff we headed back to the cafe for another couple of hours, grabbing a bite to sat for lunch before setting off for the day by early afternoon.
More road walking was to be ahead of us today, starting with a few km’s of cycleway running parallel to the road (which was amazing compared to walking on the road!), followed by another few km’s of busier roads with not much space to walk, ending with a 5km uphill climb on gravel logging roads to our accommodation for the night.
At a certain point while climbing up the hill we looked back to some stunning views of Waipu through to Whangarei Heads where we had come from the day before. The afternoon light on the hills was amazing!
We finally reached the end of the gravel logging road and after some initial confusion about the location of our accommodation for the night we stumbled down the Langsview Track to Dragonspell.
Our host for the night Johnny couldn’t have been more helpful, showing us around the property and encouraging us to take any vegetables we wanted from the garden. While we were intending to camp, the lure of a comfy bed was too much to resist as we decided to stay in one of the guest rooms available at Dragonspell.
Day 22 – Wednesday 7 November, 17.5km
Brynderwyn Walkway to Mangawhai Heads
As today was my birthday, we had planned for a relatively short day on the trail and to stay at a nice B&B in Mangawhai Heads as a bit of luxury.
After a good night’s rest at Dragonspell, we set off along the Langsview Track. The track itself was nice with occasional views back over the coast but nothing overly spectacular. It was a great trail for getting through an audiobook or podcast. Still, the constant threat of a fresh spider web to the face being the first person on the trail that day keeps you alert!
The track eventually spat us out onto a short road section before climbing some farm roads, followed by a few farm paddocks which were home to some pregnant cows, sheep and one slightly intimidating bull. The incline was tough going at times and the resident bull definitely looked at little hostile to begin with, but we made it through unscathed.
The farm trail led us to the beginning of the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway which was absolutely stunning. Following the coastline, this section of the trail overlooked the beach and the weather really turned it on for us. Amazing views as far as the eye could see.
We ran into a local kiwi hiker by the name of Russell around this time who was on day 12 of his hike and had covered the same distance as we had in 22 days. You don’t do those kinds of miles by standing around chatting all day, so Russell was off and gone almost as quickly as he had arrived.
The cliff walkway eventually came to an end and we followed the trail down to the beach. Staying on the beach, we accidentally disturbed a birder long-lens photography class before rolling into Mangawhai Heads just after lunchtime.
With h-anger/h-agitation levels peaking and not much open, we headed to the local takeaway shop, smashing down some burgers and wedges before topping it off with some icecream.
After checking in at the B&B, we headed out for pizza and drinks – a great way to end the day!
Day 23 – Thursday 8 November, 26.5km
Mangawhai Heads to Pakiri
After a few shorter days, we were up early for our complimentary B&B breakfast at 7am. Before we knew it we had finished stuffing ourselfselves silly and it was time to hit the road again.
We welcomed the footpath walking through Mangawhai Heads to Mangawhai Central, a pleasant break from road walking without a footpath or shoulder. It also brought with it some unusual advertising…
Small town roads eventually turned into dusty gravel roads and we followed our breakfast with a healthy amount of dust, caused by cars flying past us as we walked on the dusty back roads towards the beach.
After about 10km of road walking, we switched gears exchanging road for beach after crossing a construction sight of some sort. Ahead of us, 15km of beach walking and a potential river crossing at the end of the day to get to Pakiri Holiday Park.
While the morning had been cloudless and hot, it wasn’t too long before the clouds rolled in which allowed us to do most of our beach walking under more kind conditions. Once we got through the first 5km of beach, we didn’t see another person on the beach which was actually quite nice. We did, however, share the beach with a variety of local bird life.
The last stretch of beach seemed to pass quickly, but we did still have a short river crossing to contend with. We ended up missing the low tide by almost 2hrs, however, it turned out fine with the water only knee deep (even though the sand was like quicksand and you would sink up to your shins with every step).
Finally, we arrived at Pakiri Holiday Park, where we would be staying for the night. We’d heard a lot of negative comments about Pakiri but our experience was great – $20 for a tent site and they let us set up directly opposite the kitchen and toilet blocks which were technically powered sites. Save for 3 other TA hikers, we had the entire holiday park to ourselves and with a few hours of daylight left, we set about testing all of the play equipment in the park – a giant inflatable bouncing bag, swings, fuseball and table tennis. It ended up being one of our best holiday park experiences so far!
Day 24 – Friday 9 November, 11.5km
Pakiri to Govan Wilson Rd
After deciding to break the Dome Forest walk into two days, weren’t in any great rush to leave Pakiri. After a lazy morning, we eventually bit the bullet and packed down our tent.
We would only be walking to Govan Wilson Rd today – rain was expected overnight and we had heard of a family that had a big shed that hikers could sleep in. A quick text to Matt and Jas confirmed that they would be happy to have us stay for the night.
A couple of km’s of road walking to start the day and we were straight into a steep climb over farm land. I’m not sure why but this climb sapped a lot of energy and left me feeling pretty flat for the rest of the day.
After an hour or so we had reached the top of the farm, with pretty great views back towards Pakiri. It made the climb slightly more acceptable to me in my fatigued state.
We were then into the crux of the day – the Omaha Forest. What followed was half a day of relatively steep ups and downs, and mud… no shortage of mud. In contrast to some of our earlier mud encounters on the hike, this mud was harder to avoid and always seemed to pop up in the worst possible places, where the likelihood of you slipping over was at its highest.
A well timed break at the summit was just what we needed. We enjoyed the spectacular views of Omaha Bay and a chance to rest our feet while we chomped down on lunch.
It wasn’t too much longer before we popped out of the forest, muddy and ready to chill out for the afternoon. A few km’s down the road we reached Matt and Jas’ place and were greeted by Matt and his young son.
Matt told us his history of helping hikers out over the past four or five years unofficially, before being convinced to advertise his property in the official trail notes. His son is tasked with greeting hikers, offering them a cold drink on arrival and organising coffee orders for the morning. In exchange, he gets to keep the money paid by hikers for the privilege of staying there.
A cold beer later, we had a chat with Matt before setting up for the night in the family’s shed. We were grateful for the roof as it saves getting your tent and gear wet when it rains all night.
Day 25 – Saturday 10 November, 16km
Govan Wilson Rd to Dome
After a comfy night’s sleep and Matt and Jas’ place to a backdrop of falling rain on the shed roof, we met Jas at 7am as she brought out some freshly brewed coffees. We also got to meet some of their family pets which was a lot of fun. It was a great start to the day!
After taking up Matt’s offer of free wifi access to download a few bits and pieces to plan out our day (and most importantly our arrival time at the Top of the Dome Cafe), we were ready to tackle Dome Forest.
It wasn’t long at all before we were off the road and back into the forest. We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of trail condition, but after starting off with some fairly good condition trail, it didn’t take too long before the mud returned! Muddy downhill sections were in abundance as we focused all our energies on staying upright.
I was grateful for my hiking poles, but even that wasn’t enough to stop me from ending up on my butt a few times throughout the day when a slip in the mud would throw your entire balance off.
Despite all the mud it was still a really beautiful section of trail to walk through.
Thoughts of lunch at Top of the Dome Cafe at the end of the forest spurred us on, and we eventually arrived at the Cafe in time for a late lunch… or, in my case, a late lunch shortly followed by an early dinner. We also had a hungry but polite rooster join us for lunch.
We had heard that there was a small space to camp a couple of km’s on from the cafe. It didn’t take us too long to reach the spot in question – a “camp here” sign next to a small farm shed marking the spot that we would call home for the night.
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.
Tuesday 23 October – Sunday 28 October
Kaitaia to Kerikeri
Day: 7 – 12
Cumulative Km’s: 226km / 3000km
After the monotonous but challenging 90 Mile Beach last week, this week we were greeted with a change of scenery as we entered the Northland Forests… namely muddy mountains, farmland and an assortment of New Zealand roads!
The 2018-19 Te Araroa trail through the Northland Forest section has been drastically modified compared to last year, largely a result of DOC measures to stop the spread of kauri dieback desease in the area. In essence, for TA hikers this meant that former forest trails were replaced with alternatives through private farmland or along nearby roads. Fun times!
Our feet, ankles, knees and other moving parts have held up better than expected so far, with nothing more than a few minor aches and pains to speak of after almost two weeks on the trail. In any case, we decided to take a rest day in Kerikeri to give our feet a short reprieve, which is where we are writing this post from.
The weather gods have also continued to look after us – in two weeks of hiking we have really only seen rain on one day, and that lasted for all of about 2 hours on Friday morning.
We couldn’t really have imagined a better start to our 6 month journey!
Day 7 – Tuesday 23 October, 21.5 Km
Kaitaia to start of Raetea Forest
An early start on Tuesday morning allowed us to swing by both the local chemist to pick up a few bits and pieces, followed by the post office to sort out our bounce boxes (ie. boxes with excess gear that we will need later on in the hike but don’t want to carry unnecessarily so we send it forward to the next town on the trail).
It was then down to business… securing a ride from Kaitaia to somewhere close to the Raetea Forest trail and to avoid some less than safe sections of road walking on the State 1 Highway. As we are quickly becoming seasoned pros at the hitchhiking game, we expected a relatively easy time finding a hitch out of Kaitaia.
It turned out we may have been a tad optimistic, as it wasn’t until almost an hour later that we were able to grab a lift with a local lady who was on her way to visit her grandmother.
While we were grateful for the hitch, we were still about 5km away from a safe spot to start walking, so we decided to try for a second hitch, which I managed to lock down with a local Maori guy after about another half an hour wait.
For those of you keeping score at home that’s 4 hitches to Adam, 2 hitches to Leigh 😉
With our highway hitches behind us (and country road traffic almost non-existant), we still had a 12km road walking through the town of Takahue ahead of us to get to the start of the infamous Raetea Forest.
Before we knew it, we had arrived at the Raetea forest marker after passing by some stunning farmlands.
With no official campsite for the night, we chose to take on a short but steep climb up a bush track to a small roadside campsite next to a mountain stream.
The magnificent views across the valley made us forget about the fact we were climbing the hill with fully packs loaded for the week.
After setting up camp next to our trail friends from Switzerland and Sweden (who we have been walking with since 90 Mile Beach), we ended the day in a two hour conversation with a local by the name of Johnny who was the first person to move into the area almost 20 years ago. With conversation topics ranging from local history, spirituality, intelligence, space and time, to solving the world’s important problems, we were ready to pass out for the day by the time Johnny had used his trusty staple to kick over his motorbike and head back down to his property.
Day 8 – Wednesday 24 October, 17 Km
Start of Raetea Forest to small campsite on farmland after Raetea Forest
Raetea Forest had loomed large for us for some time now – the accompanying trail notes suggested that we should expect to travel at around 2km/hr and we had heard the horror stories about the muddy forest tracks within. Still, we figured there had not been any real rain since arriving in NZ, so maybe we would be lucky🤞
Things started off pretty dry, however, we quickly realised that even in good weather the muddy sections of the Raetea Forest see very little direct sunlight, which means their consistency ranges from muddy on a good day to the stuff of nightmares in proper wet weather!
Fortunately for us, the lack of rain meant we were tackling this section in conditions that were about as good as we could hope for. Still, our zip-off hiking pants came in handy as we ended up being covered in mud up to the knees by the end of the day.
The mud was definitely a change of pace from the beach – we had to concentrate on every step to avoid the deepest parts of the mud. Still, it was actually quite fun to begin with.
We made it to the Raetea summit by lunch time a were rewarded with stunning views out to the coastline.
We had expected that the worst was behind us after lunchtime… but we couldn’t have been more wrong.
The further we walked, the worse the mud became and we also started having to contend with a quite a lot of fallen trees which made following the trail a real challenge. Thankfully we were able to bounce things off one another to make sure that we went the right way, most of the time.
After more than 9 hours hiking through the forest, we finally emerged onto a farm and made our way down past the welcoming party of a dozen barking farm dogs to our campsite for the night.
Day 9 – Thursday 25 October, 18 Km
Small campsite on farmland after Raetea Forest to Apple Dam campground
With Raetea Forest now behind us, we had little standing in our way of our journey to the famous Mangamuka Dairy – an oasis for the weary hiker where anything from toasties to burgers to ice creams could be devoured!
We flew through the 6km of road separating us and the dairy and promptly called our shots – toasties for our 2nd breakfast, coffee for Leigh and a cold ginger beer for me. Followed up with an ice cream, of course.
We contemplated waiting at the dairy for lunchtime to arrive, but with the risk of us never leaving becoming greater by the minute, we forced ourselves to move on from this magical wonderland.
It was another 12km of road walking past farmlands and along gravel logging roads before we reached our final destination for the day – Apple Dam campground… where we discovered the ground is as hard as concrete and the drinking water is a nice shade of yellow.
Day 10 – Friday 26 October, 32 Km
Apple Dam campground to Puketi Forest Recreation Area campground
We awoke to the sound of rain on the tent fly, for the first time since setting off from Cape Reinga a week and a half ago.
After quickly packing down the tent, we set off by 6:15am (our earliest start yet), conscious that this would be a tough day on the trail.
Ahead of us was 32km of hilly logging roads, which would be our longest day on the trail so far.
We made good progress through the early rain, testing out our rain gear for the first time on the trip (including my orange garbage bag rain skirt). During our morning tea break we ran into a local farmer who was driving past and stopped for a good chat about life, travel and the local area. It was a nice break ahead of what would be a tough back end of the day as the pain in our feet increased for every hour that we were on our feet.
By early afternoon we had made it out of the forest, but the remaining 5km of roads which we had planned to hitch turned out to be traffic dead zones, which meant we would be walking them too. After following the logging road downhill at the end of the forest, we were sent back uphill for much of the last 5km, taking what felt like an eternity under the beating sun to reach Puketi Forest Recreational Area.
Leigh still managed the energy for a quick side trip to see the majestic kauri trees in the Puketi Forest.
We contemplated hitching into Kerikeri from there in order to pick up our bounce boxes from the post office before the weekend but decided instead to camp at Puketi Forest Recreation Area as we were both feeling pretty wrecked by the end of the day and the idea of having to walk even a few more Km’s in search of a hitch into Kerikeri was less than appealing.
Day 11 – Saturday 27 October, 21.5 Km
Puketi Forest Recreation Area campground to Kerikeri
With the post office only open until 12.30pm, we set off early again, aiming to arrive in Kerikeri with enough time to spare to allow us to get to the post office to collect our bounce boxes before it closed for the weekend.
Leaving the Puketi Forest Recreation Area under the cover of misty skys, we found ourselves traversing across a working farm, dodging sheep and cattle along the way. Everywhere you looked, green was all that could be seen.
While the idea of hiking across a farm may sound idyllic, we had not anticipated how tough the ground would be to actually walk on! The livestock had torn up a lot of the ground which meant that even though the hills are stunningly green, you end up really needing to pay attention to where you put you feet, just in case you trip over the livestock trodden ground.
Still, everything was going well until we hit two streams on the farm, each about 2m wide. We spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out the best way to get across without getting our feet wet. Eventually, the best option we could come up with was to climb along the fenceline while shuffling our way over pieces of broken wood and metal that were hanging in the water.
With that mini adventure behind us, we hit the road again and headed for Kerikeri town. Within half an hour, Leigh was able to pick up a ride for us with a “red-headed angel”. A local physio who was on her way to play a game of Pickleball, not only did she offer to go out of her way to drop us at the post office, she also gave us a few tips for things to do around town and even showed Leigh how to lace up her boots in a way to give more ankle support. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day!
Arriving in Kerikeri a few hours earlier than planned meant we had enough time to collect our bounce boxes and head out to the local packers market for a tasty lunch.
We topped off the day with cheese, wine, and pizza with some of our new hiking friends in Kerikeri.
Day 12 – Sunday 28 October, 0 Km
Kerikeri (rest day)
Making the most of our rest day, we headed out for breakfast in Kerikeri and spent the morning planning out our next week of hiking.
Wednesday 17 October – Monday 22 October
Cape Reinga to Kaitaia
Day: 1 – 6
Cumulative Km’s: 116km / 3000km
After a big first week on the trail, we have successfully made it through the infamous 90 Mile Beach! So far so good for both of us, with only some minor blisters and niggles to speak of, we feel pretty lucky to have made it out relatively unscathed compared to many others hikers before us.
In other news, we can now definitively confirm that anyone who says they like taking long walks on the beach in their spare time has definitely not walked all 100km of 90 Mile Beach before!
We’re writing this post from Kaitaia as we enjoy our first rest day and prepare for the equally norious Northland Forest section.
The weather gods were certainly looking out for us during our first week as thru-hikers, with no rain all week and consistent low tides for us to hike the beach on, which meant we were able to walk on hard sand rather than the punishing soft sand.
Day 1 – Wednesday 17 October, 12 Km
Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach Campsite
We started our journey on Wednesday morning at Pukenui Holiday Park, before successfully hitchhiking our way up to the start of the hike at Cape Reinga. We were told by the tourist information centre in Kaitaia that it could take anywhere between 5 minutes and 45 minutes to get a ride. After about 30 minutes of nervously sticking our thumbs out, a quick google of “how to hitchhike” and a brief debate about whether it was thumb out or thumb up, we got our first ride North. We were picked up by local Maori farmer, Shane Murray. After a short but entertaining ride, Shane dropped us off at his driveway and gave us some helpful pointers about getting our next hitch towards the cape.
Luck was on our side, we no sooner thanked Shane and bid him farewell when a pair of Germans in newly acquired stationwagons came driving gently down the highway. With only one seat free in each car, we were forced to split between the two cars. They were only able to take us as far at the great sand dunes, but it was not long until we got another hitch with a lovely French couple who took us all the way up to Cape Reinga.
We are very greatful to all of the wonderful people who picked us up off the side of the road and helped us get to Cape Reinga for the start of our 3,000km journey.
On arrival at the Cape we excitedly hurried down to the lighthouse, took a few photos to capture the momentus start to our walk and we were off! The views from the headland were stunning, it was a picturesque start to the journey. Rolling green hills lush with costal foliage, vibrant blue ocean and stark white sands of Te Werahi Beach.
The weather was perfect for hiking, enough cloud to keep us protected from the sun but not enough to bring rain. We dropped down onto the beach quite quickly and after a few kms of sand headed up over the first headland. It was nothing like we expected. The terrain changed from beach to moonscape to something mars-esque with rambling, pink sedimentary hills.
Being a shorter 12 km day, before too long we hadmade it to the campsite at Twilight Beach. Our home for the night it was beautiful grassy spot on the headland looking down over the coast.
Day 2 – Thursday 18 October, 28 Km
Twilight Beach Campsite to Maunganui Bluff
We woke up on Thursday morning both feeling a bit nervous about the day ahead.
This was to be our first long beach day and we had read many stories about how challenging the beach leg had been for people and the injuries they sustained from it. Covered in blisters, nursing sore knees, shin splints, the list went on.
Our plan of attack was an early start to allow us plenty of time and to split the day up into 4 shorter sections with breaks in between. The first 4kms of the trail lead away from Twilight Beach campsite and up over the headland.
From the other side of the headland we decended onto 90 Mile Beach via a steep staircase. At the top of the stairs the trail opened up to gives us a magnificent preview of 90 Mile Beach.
With the salt spray in the air you could barely make out Maunganui Bluff in the distance, the locale of our night’s camp site.
We were greatful to have cloud cover and wide stretches of flat sand for the morning making the walking easier. Hours of beach walking can become monotonous to say the least.
We passed some time playing eye spy but soon ran out of things to spy and hiked onwards. We were both feeling good at the morning tea and lunch stops but started to feel a little weary as the afternoon got on. The last 5km of the beach was the toughest but we made it through fairly unscathed.
Maunganui Bluff Campsite was our home for the night. A beautiful spot set back from the beach. A large grass area where local wild horses visit.
We were lucky enough to have a wild stallion greeting us at the entrance to the campsite. Beautiful and shiny with a long mane and tail he didn’t look wild at all.
We were relieved for our first big day of walking to be over but gingerly hoping our bodies (mainly our feet) would hold up for another 31km of the same tomorrow.
Day 3 – Friday 19 October, 30 Km
Maunganui Bluff to Utea Park
In what was our biggest day yet, we set out on Friday morning with 30km of straight sand ahead of us.
We knew what to expect from yesterday, that it would be tough but we could handle what the beach had to throw at us. It was all about mind games today, again we broke it down into sections 12km, 8km, 6 and 4. The less km we had to do at the end of the day the better.
The first 12km went by quickly, still feeling fresh from the morning. After morning tea were feeling a little stiff but pressed on.
Around lunch time we started to feel grumpy. We sat down to eat and were instantly covered in sand by the strong West Coast winds. It was in our food, our bags our water bottles. Everywhere.
It was also around this time that the constant threat of sun and wind burn had us looking like amateur bank robbers!
We hoped the sand would at least give us some extra calories as it was well and truly mixed in with our lunch at that point.
After a long day of hiking we eventually spotted the aqua flag for Utea Park in the distance.
Utea Park has become a little famous on the trail for its hospitality and hiker smoothies, a guest house and refuge where hikers and cyclists can throw up a tent. It was to be our home for the evening. Only a couple of kms off and we couldn’t wait to get up and over those dunes to a hot shower and some rest. The last km or so it felt like the flag was toying with us. Its this dune, no the next one. No the next one!! We were so happy to have finally reached the turn off.
We were welcomed by the friendly Tania who offered us water, hot showers and smoothies. The grass we are camping on for the night is soft and lush. No shoes required. It was like a blessing for the feet.
The shower was amazing. After 3 days it felt so good to be clean again!
Day 4 – Saturday 20 October, 17 Km
Utea Park to Ninety Mile Beach Holiday Park, Waipapakauri
Saturday greeted us with sand, sand and more sand. The highlight of today was a lazy start to the morning, greeted by Tania at 8am holding a tray of smoothies. It was bliss. Such a beautiful woman, she welcomed us warmly and made us feel like we at home.
Although today was a shorter one it didn’t seem much easier than the day before. After the previous 2 days on compacted sand our feet seemed to tire more easily. We were both relieved and glad to have made the decision of the shorter day today rather than trying to push through and do 31km to Ahipara. The 17km day was enough for us.
As we move further and further South we noticed the beach getting busier with cars and people.
For the last couple of days we had been hoping to spot a New Zealand fur seal. We had seen other Hikers photos of them so we knew they visited the beach. Half way though the day, as we were breaking for lunch we finally spotted a sea! Disappointingly it was long deceased and was attracting a large amount of flies.
We couldn’t smell it though so it was either beyond the point of smelling or our clothes smelled so bad after 5 days of wear that they overpowered the stench of a dead seal.
Tonight’s home was Waipapakauri Holiday Park.
It was a blessing to hit the exit from the beach and get a firm footing on some cement. It felt extravagant to have a shower for the second night in a row so with the opportunity to do some laundry and access wifi the holiday park felt like a luxury 5 star resort.
Day 5 – Sunday 21 October, 14 Km
Ninety Mile Beach Holiday Park, Waipapakauri to Ahipara Holiday Park
An even shorter day was on the cards for today, only 14 km and we would hit the 100km mark and our first town, Ahipara!
Somehow with the mindset of a short day ahead of us every 5 km felt like 10. The sand of the beach was starting to wear on us – we were ready to head into our next challenge, the forest.
We had read about a good cafe, North Drift in Ahipara town so we skipped our snacks and headed straight for the cafe as soon as we had reached the end of the beach walk. Even after walking 100km, we couldn’t d pass up the 3km round trip for a cafe feed.
Being a small town we thought the cafe might be basic but it didn’t disappoint. A nourish bowl and some wedges for Leigh and chicken tacos for Adam. Leigh was excited to get some fresh veggies into my her and an espresso coffee! It was well worth the effort.
Day 6 – Monday 22 October, 15 Km
Ahipara Holiday Park to Kaitaia
After a quick hitch from Ahipara (figuratively and literally), we find ourselves back in Kaitaia for the day. Just enough time to resupply for the week ahead and try out a new social enterprise cafe in town. Leigh was happy to be able to wash her hair for the first time in 9 days!
Coming to you from Pukenui, New Zealand! After months of researching, planning and organising it feels surreal to be sitting in a campground in Northland, a short 30 minute drive away from Cape Reinga, the start of our Te Araroa Journey.
The last 4 days have been a whirlwind. Between Adam finishing up at work on Thursday, us moving out of our apartment on Friday and Leigh doing a two day navigation course in the Blue Mountains over the weekend, we couldn’t have packed much more into our last week in Australia.
Our beautiful friends Polly and Michael puts us up on Sunday night, feeding us pizza and wine and helping us out the door on time for our early Monday morning flight.
After a short 3 hour flight across the ditch, we jumped off the plane and swiftly over to baggage collection. Just as we spotted our bags on the carousel Leigh felt a sense of dread with the realisation that her phone was hiding neatly in the seat pocket on the plane. More than just our access to money, social media and the outside world this phone holds all of our navigation notes for the trail. Luckily saved by an angel from airport services, the phone was intercepted before it was held captive on a return flight to the Gold Coast. After a nervous hour waiting for the return of the phone we were relieved to proceed through customs and be on our way. A thorough bio-security check of our boots and tent and we were on our way.
Monday night was spent stocking up on supplies in Auckland, and this morning we jumped on an early bus to Kaitaia. Six and a half hours later we arrived, still needing to find a way to make the final 100km or so up to Cape Reinga to start the trail. Receiving our first dose of kiwi hospitality we were intercepted by Nicola from tourist information, who offered us a lift halfway.
This is how we find ourselves in Pukenui. We will spend the night here and aim hitchhike the rest of the way up to Cape Reinga early tomorrow morning to start our hike.
Wish us luck!
That’s Adam on the right and Leigh on the left. We are two adventure loving finance professionals from Sydney temporarily throwing in our day jobs as we undertake an epic Thru-hike of New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail.
Living in Erskineville in Sydney’s Inner West, we are both Chartered Accountants who, for the past 10 years have been working in finance (don’t tune out just yet). Weekend warriors yearning to embark on a grand adventure we have taken a leap of faith, are selling our belongings, leaving paid employment and setting off to hike over 3,000 km down the length of New Zealand. Starting from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island the Te Araroa spans the length of the entire country before finishing in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.
You can learn more about us and what inspired us to take on the TA by reading our story.
We are writing this blog to document our journey and share our adventure with you. Taking around 6 months to complete you can expect regular trail updates on the highs and the lows of hiking the TA as a couple.
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Neither of us have blogged before so bear with us as we embark on a journey together. We look forward to sharing this experience with you.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter ~ Izaak Walto
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