Thursday 22 November – Sunday 25 November
Whatawhata to Waitomo
Day: 37 – 40
Km’s: 81
Cumulative Km’s: 855km / 3,000km

The back half of week 6 was packed with highs and lows, both physical and emotional.

The highs; we were fortunate to catch a clear, blue sky day to summit the highest mountain of the trail to date, Mount Pirongia. Add to that, warm hospitality of local Kiwis, picturesque countryside walking, magical rainforest tramping and an adrenalin rush of an adventure blackwater rafting the Waitomo caves.

The lows; New Zealand has been struck by 2 big bouts of bad weather. The first coming off Antarctica, the second moving over from Australia. This has meant a few cold and soggy trail days for us.

We are well and truly into the groove of trail life and while we have experienced a few tough days over the last short while, we are constantly amazed by the incredible beauty New Zealand has to offer and are loving life on the TA.

Day 37 – Thursday 22 November, 23km
Whatawhata to Kaniwhaniwha

Waking to the sound of rain on the roof we felt extremely greatful to have spent the night in a cabin. Not keen to start the day soggy, we had a sleep in hoping the rain would stop. By 7.30 the weather had cleared so it was time to start moving. With so much moisture in the air nothing had dried over night. Not even our rain gear. We put on wet pants and wet socks followed by heavy sopping wet boots.

With the summit of Mount Pirongia coming up we checked the weather forecast. It appeared as though the hiking gods were on our side, we had been granted a 2 day window of dry weather to get to and summit Mount Pirongia. It would be our highest summit of the trail so far at just under 1,000 metres.

Today we would walk to the base of the mountain, camp overnight at Kaniwhaniwha campsite and summit the following day. We spent a large portion of the morning walking along a highway. As far as highway walking goes it was fairly pleasant without too much traffic. The further we got out of town the greater the space between houses became until we were once again walking along side farmland.

Along our way we met a lovely goat who was unfortunately tied to a fence on the side of the road. It seemed like a cruel place to house an animal, I felt very sorry for it but presumably someone was looking after him with buckets of water and a shelter in access. He took a great liking to Adam. Wagging his tail while running around him in circles he managed to wrap his chain around Adam’s legs. I would have helped Adam out but I was too busy filming it all to assist.

Snacks on his mind…

Not long after meeting Mr goat, the trail veered from the highway through private farmland. At the trail junction, there was confusingly a padlocked gate marked with ‘private property – do not enter’. We triple checked our maps and decided it must be right and climbed over. We followed the GPS and after not too long trail markers began to appear.

The farm we walked through was a beautiful big sheep farm with a sprinkling of cows. The paddocks were lush and green and as the track climed we had spectacular views over the valley below us. I felt like we were in Ireland with the green grass and rocky cliffs surrounding us.

It felt as if we had 1000 eyes on us as we walked with the sheep staring down on us from on top of the cliffs.

We were almost through our first section of farm land before the trail rejoined a forest track when it started to rain again. I looked up to check the clouds above when all of a sudden I heard a loud whosh from behind. I looked up again and directly above my line of sight was a Magpie bearing directly down on us. The sound playing in my mind was that of a bomber jet in a war movie. This bird meant business, hurtling towards us beak first it was coming down fast. I couldn’t remember what you are meant to do in Magpie situations so I instinctively did all the things. I threw my hands in the air and waved them above my head while screaming and running. After 100 meters or so of this I stopped to take stock. My charade had apparently worked, the Magpie was nowhere to be seen. Relieved that no one had witnessed our ordeal, Adam and I recovered, climed over a final stile and into the safety of the forest.

To cross or not to cross

Good cows….

Over the stile we entered a beautiful stretch of rainforest, well graded with grand trees stretching tall above us. It was magical under the canopy with the afternoon light filtering through.

Before long we had to leave it. It was onto more farmland and country roads until we hit the turn off for our campsite for the night, Kaniwhaniwha.

Pirongia is a popular mountain so the track into camp is well maintained. A beautiful stretch of rainforest path winding beside a wide stream. A sense of peace and tranquility instantly washed over me walking alongside the stream.

We arrived into camp late in the afternoon. The sun remained shining just long enough to dry out the remaining moisture in our socks and boots ready for the big day tomorrow.

Day 38 – Friday 23 November, 23km
Kaniwhaniwha to Bartlam’s Family Homestay, Puketotara

With one day remaining in our fine weather window and a storm threatening to hit tomorrow we would be summitting and descending Mount Pirongia the same day. It would be a big day so to give ourselves maximum daylight hours to get through it we set off walking at 6.30 am.

Ready to hike!

The sun had well and truly risen by the time we started hiking but as we made our way into the forest the vegetation grew so thick in parts that it felt like we were still in the early hours.

It was 8km to the summit with the first 5km beautiful dense rainforest. The track was steep but in relatively good condition so were were able to walk at a steady pace. The higher we climbed the thinner the forest became until we had glimpses out to the valley below us.

As the sun shone down on the track we could see the morning dew evaporate infront of our eyes. It was set to be a beautiful sunny day.

We had a snack break at a view point overlooking the valley below us with a windfarm in the distance. From there it wouldn’t be too much further to the summit of Pirongia. The last 1.5km were the most challenging section of the climb, the track became quite muddy in parts with no option but to plow straight through. There was some scrambling up the steep slopes before we were ejected onto a beautiful boardwalk which would lead us to the summit. We felt incredibly lucky to have brilliant sunny blue skys and magnificent views from the 959m summit.

A few selfies later we continued on to Pahautea hut for a lunch break. It was glorious basking in the afternoon sun. My bagel and cream cheese couldn’t have tasted better!

We had made it to the top in 4hrs, which gave us the opportunity for a long lunch break to dry the dew off the tent and air our our feet before the descent. Pahautea Hut was incredibly well appointed, I was a little sad that we wouldn’t be staying the night but as Adam said, we will have plenty of hut opportunities on the South Island.

After lunch we begrudgingly donned damp boots and headed down the mountain. The word ‘down’ can be used loosely when describing the way off Pirongia, it felt like the most climbing up I have even done whilst trying to get off a mountain. From 959m it is a series of up and downs before exiting the track at 539m, higher than where you first start.

From Pahautea Hut the Hihikiwi track dropped down quite suddenly by way of a thoughtfully constructed boardwalk and stair case. It then forces you to climb up again to the summit of Hihikiwi where the beautiful boardwalk abruptly ends, ejecting you onto what the kiwis term ‘tramping track’.

The way down was 4hrs of picking our way through boggy mud patches, twisted roots and rock scrambles. The forest was stunning, tranquil rainforest but our eyes were mostly downcast, looking out of the gnarled roots that seemed to be reaching out for our feet as we walked past. If felt as if they were trying their best to leave us rendered with twisted ankles.

Climbing up to climb down

Our Swiss friend Robert had summited Pirongia the day before us, spent the night atop the mountain and had started making his way down that morning. We were about half way down the mountain when we received a text from him advising us of road closures at the bottom. A car rally was being held along 3 of the roads we would need to walk tomorrow to make it to Waitomo. To get through that section by the end of the day would mean an additional 20km out of way. We wouldn’t have enough day light or energy to achieve that so we dialled the number of a local homestay. Lynn and her husband Scott were saviours. We would tent at their place that night and they would shuttle us around the road closures the next morning. Lynn kindly offered to pick us up from the trailhead but feeling guilty about having to skip some of the roads tomorrow we decided to walk the additional 7km off trail to their house. After a snack break which was more like a second lunch for me, we continued the remaining 2 hours off the mountain. My knees were telling me they’d had enough so I was thankful to reach flat ground. Our boots were soaked through and we were covered in thick black mud to the shins. It was a big, challenging day but we were proud to have made it and to have coped so well.

At Lynn and Scott’s we were greeted with chairs, cups of tea and slice. Truly terrific people with a beautiful young family we were very grateful for a hot shower with fresh, clean full size towels! I almost hugged her when she pointed me to the shampoo and hair dryer. I had been trying my luck with a shampoo bar I found in Waipu called ‘dirty hippy’. The idea of it is great but I was unable to get it to lather through a weeks worth of grease and it had left me looking true to name, like a dirty hippy. Hair clean I came out of the shower feeling re-energised, a new person. Back to the tent I shoved some wraps down the hatch, called it dinner and was out like a light when my head hit the pillow.

Day 39 – Saturday 24 November, 35km
Bartlams Family Homestay, Puketotara to Waitomo

We were hoping to be packed and on the road before the storm hit this morning but it wasn’t to be. We were woken with rain before 5am. Trying to be as stealth as possible we packed under the shelter of the tent before whipping it down as fast as we could. We then repacked our bags under the shelter of the Bartlams porch.

After a morning cuppa and a chat, Scott had us down the road, bypassing the closures of the rally and back on trail by 8am. It was hard to imagine rally cars screaming around the corners of these peaceful country roads, cows chomping on grass in the background. Scott mentioned that the road their property is located on gets closed off once per year for the local car club to do hill climbs on. One year, a car ended up through their fence. Not ideal when you live in an area because of its beauty, peace and tranquility.

We said farewell to Scott and started our days walk through farmland. I imagine that in fine weather it would have been a pretty walk. Initially we walked through a rolling fog and spitting rain. We commented that if the weather stayed this way we would both be content, knowing that the worst was ahead of us. The further we moved along the trail the more the weather progressed and the worse the trail became underfoot. A few hours into the morning strong winds had picked up and my rain skirt had failed once again. My hiking pants were soaked and the water was wicking up into my shirt.

The calm before the storm

As the kilometres went on the winds picked up and the fog intensified. We had to cross over a hill on the farm, the visibility was so bad at the peak of the hill we could only see 10m ahead. The winds were pushing us around with our packs on and I was getting very cold very fast. The conditions made it slow going.

Though it was only 5km through the farm and to the Waitomo track turn off, it felt like 10km. This was the lowest point for me on the trail yet. My hands were beyond cold, I had started to lose mobility in them and was worried about getting any colder. A few kms through the farm we dropped a little in height and the conditions eased up. The fog cleared a little and the winds dropped. The rain would continue on and off all day but nothing like we had experienced that morning.

The bush track to Waitomo was soft and unsteady underfoot, overgrown with ferns so you couldn’t see what you were stepping on. I was walking with my hands in my pockets trying to defrost them. This meant I had less balance and fell over twice on this section of trail alone. At one point Adam and I tripped in quick succession on the same jutted point in the path. I went down first, face into the ferns. The contents of my packs pockets went sprawling down the hill and I was pinned down by the weight of my pack. Adam came down behind me, pole first, straight into my upper thigh. It was a comedy of errors. After this I could do nothing but laugh. Another 50m down the track we came to a large landslide. I couldn’t believe it, what else could go wrong today? We detoured around the gaping big hole in the earth, the soil spongy underfoot. I wanted nothing more than to be out of that crater. I had the heebie jeebies and could imagine the earth we were standing on falling away too.

I was just about to stop for a wee break when a couple of hunters went walking by. I didn’t spot them at first, their camo gear working it’s intended magic but I’m glad I spotted them when I did. I was just about to unbutton when I quickly backtracked. I spotted their guns first. Huge rifles with silencers over the muzzle. They were workng with DOC’s goat control program. They had taken 11 goats that morning alone, They even had the goat tails to prove it. When the hunter pulled the tails out of the pocket of his cargo pants, I developed a picture in my mind of this man mailing each of the 11 goat tails to DOC as proof for payment. I assume this is what the tails were for, a price per goat killed?

With the thought of hunters fresh in our mind it wasn’t long until we hit the turn off to a beautiful forest track. It looked magical with low hanging cloud in the trees above us. We still had 13km to go at this point. The weather was still pretty poor and I was too cold to stop for lunch so I shovelled food in my mouth as we walked. I was hoping the trail would give us a little reprieve and the grade would improve allowing us to pick up the pace. It wasnt to be, the forest floor was clay covered in leaf litter. Perfect conditions for a slip and slide, as Adam discovered. As he proded his way downhill with his hiking sticks, his feet slide out from under him. It was as if I was watching a cartoon. His body made an arc through the air as his feet went up and his bum went down. He slid down the slope on his back. I could do nothing but laugh (After checking that he was ok of course). It was a hard fall. Audible. His trashbag rain skirt had proved itself in this situation. It had protected most of his beige pants from the thick black mud. The same can not be said for his pack, the bottom of which will never be the same again.

After having a good chuckle and taking the obligatory mud covered arse shots we pressed on. We had 2 rivers to cross, one of which the trail notes warned us not to cross in heavy rain due to it’s potential to swell. As we approached the river the colour didn’t look good, it was murky and obviously swolen but it wasn’t moving too fast. We couldn’t hear any rolling rocks and it didn’t look above knee height. I took one of Adams poles for comfort and tested it out. My boots were already swimming pools by that point so I did as the kiwis do and waded in boots on. The river was fine, shin deep and no danger to our safety.

What we encountered on the otherside was a different story. I dubbed this section the tandoori mile. The clay was a vibrant orange colour that when stired up by rain, hikers and horses, turned into a bog resembling a huge vat of tandoori.

Mmmm tandoori

The trail wound in between this clay ‘road’ and a narrow bush track. We were able to move a lot quicker on the bush track, the promise of pizza and beer in Waitomo spurring us on. It was a relief when we finally hit the the tar road into town. At the trail head I got chatting to a local man who was interested in where we had traveled from. He said to me ‘not a very nice trail is it?’, not today I said but I imagine it would be lovely on a fine day. ‘Nah’ he replied, ‘its’s not a nice trail’. I had to laugh.

It was 5km of road into Waitomo and we had a room waiting for us at the backpackers. To have a hot shower, a bed and a roof was a luxury. We washed off the mud from the day and headed to the pub for dinner and a well earned beer.

Day 40 – Sunday 25 November, 0km
Blackwater rafting Waitomo caves

Over 40ml of rain had been forecast for today. Rather than suffer walking through it we decided to make the most of it and our location. We spent the afternoon underground on a Blackwater Rafting Company glowworm cave adventure.

A big dump of rain hit just as our adventure was kicking off. It was perfect timing to make our afternoon that bit more challenging (read fun). We were picked up by a shuttle bus which dropped us off at Blackwater Rafting Company HQ. The team got us kitted out with wetsuits and hardware and it was into a wet bus to transport us to the cave.

After some instruction the adventure began with a 35m abseil down a shaft. It was an hourglass shape with a narrow section in the middle which rquired contorting your body through. Off rope at the bottom of the cave we could start to see glowworms. It looked magical, like thousands of fairy lights strung all over the cave ceiling and walls.

Our guides took us though some narrow sections of cave with beautiful crystalline formations dripping from the ceiling. It was adventure perfectly punctuated with natural beauty. We still aren’t sure whether it was intentional but our guides didn’t warn us about what was coming up on the tour, keeping us guessing and the sense of excitement heightened. We were clipped onto a zipline and in complete darkness surrounded by the twinkling of glowworms, hurtled into the depths of the cave.

After a delicious snack of ANZAC slice and hot chocolate (5 star underground service!) we got thrown a tyre tube each and jumped from a cliff edge into the underground river below. The water was icy cold. To keep warm we kept moving, pulling ourselves along in our tubes using ropes attached to the wall of the cave. We then formed a tube conga line and with torches off, were towed back down the river in darkness. It was a relaxing and unique way of appreciating the glow worms.

In the time we had been floating around the water level in the cave was rising. Done with our tubes we had a few swims ahead of us along with what our guides referred to as the drunken stumble. Water that we were walking through at knee high was ankle deep the day before. The current was strong and it took all our strength to push against it but it made for an exciting afternoon.

Water was now gushing into the cave, we could hear a waterfall in the distance and as we moved closer it became deafening. We were told that the waterfall was the normal exit from the cave but today it was too dangerous to climb. Our guides took us in to have a look and it was pounding. The water was foaming violently and we had to scream at each other to hear anything. It gave us a very respectful appreciation for mother nature.

Our alternative exit from the cave was a little less exciting but beautiful all the same. We had a short scramble up a series of rocks where the cave opened into a cathedral of rainforest ferns. A low fog hung in the air, it looked magical.

It was a short walk back to the van, we were swiftly shuttled back to Blackwater rafting HQ where hot showers, soup and bagels awaited us. It was after 7pm by the time we finished up so I called it dinner and had 2 bagels. Adam, bless him, had a malfunction when attempting to toast his bagel. I had walked over to butter my bagel, fresh out of the toaster I leaned over to pick it up when I smelt smoke and spotted flames coming out the front of the machine. It was one of those big hotel rotisserie style toasters so of course I panicked. I screamed for help, the lady on the front desk knew what was going down and told us how to turn it off. We blew out the flames and with the assistance of a coathanger one of the guides managed to pull the charred remains out of the machine. Meanwhile a long que of fellow cavers stood shooting agitated glances at us, eagerly awaiting their turn to toast their bagels. To limit levels of embarrassment by association I tried to distance myself from Adam, sat down and enjoyed my soup and bagel. Alas, it didn’t work, we will forever be remembered as the Aussie’s who burnt their bagels.

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.

Sunday 11 November – Friday 16 November
Dome to Auckland
Day: 26 – 31
Km’s: 83km
Cumulative km’s: 580km / 3,000km

After a busy few days on the trail, we have finally finished our update of the week into Auckland. We also learned the advantages of planning your blogging around free wifi access, particularly when uploading lots of photos on NZ mobile plans with small data limits… But hey, as they say, better late than never!

Writing this post from Auckland, it is hard to believe that only a month ago we landed here from Sydney, not really knowing what the next 6 months would hold or whether we would even enjoy this crazy thru-hiking thing.

Only one month on, the life of a thru-hiker has become completely normal to us – it actually feels really strange on days when we don’t get up and start hiking!

Besides Leigh’s dodgy finger and my rib issues (more on that below), everything is going well and we are ready to tackle the middle section of the North Island over the coming weeks.

Day 26 – Sunday 11 November, 25.5km (+ side trip to Puhoi Valley Cheese Factory)
Dome to Puhoi

We awoke to the wettest our tent has been all trip so far – dewy on the outside and covered in condensation on the inside. There is something deeply unsatisfying about packing down a wet tent…

While packing up, we were joined by an unexpected guest for breakfast… a chicken from the farm next door. Leigh shared her museli with the chicken – I, on the other hand, did not share my breakfast with the chicken.

We started off the hiking day through long (and very wet) grass. It was kind of like a miniature car wash for your legs!

Today would mostly take us along gravel farm roads, and across private farmlands with some short sections of track in between.

After meeting some horse friends along the way, we were greeted with some fantastic views back across the valley.

Not ones to pass up the option of a cafe lunch, we took a short detour to Puhoi Valley Cheese Factory for a late lunch, again eating enough food for a small army.

With rain clouds threatening, we pulled ourselves away from the cafe and headed back to the trail to Puhoi. After crossing the Puhoi River swing bridge, we weaved through trail covered in pine needles, which was a welcome change to be walking on soft ground after the roads and other surfaces we have been walking on lately.

We were taken by surprise by the number of steep hills on the river trail, but after pushing through the hills under some light rain, we eventually reached the top of the hill with great views over Puhoi town.

After a quick chat with the general store staff about camping options for the night, we headed to to Puhoi Pub for a few drinks and chatted with some northbound hikers we met from the UK, sharing notes about what was to come for each of us and highlights from the trail so far.

Looking forward to another cafe breakfast tomorrow before heading off on our paddle of the Puhoi River at high tide just before lunchtime. We’ve been joking that we’re not going to survive on the South Island once these cafes become few and far between!

Day 27 – Monday 12 November, 26.5km (+ some bonus km’s not included on the TA maps)
Puhoi to Stillwater

If only people could see us now – sleeping on a local sports oval! While it was weird pitching our tent away from a DOC campsite or holiday park, the locals assured us that it was fine as long as we didn’t make a mess.

With our paddle of the Puhoi River tide dependent, we had plenty of time to kill in the morning before our 11:45am departure time. A lazy breakfast at the famous Puhoi Pub and coffee at the unexpectedly well stocked Puhoi General Store later and we were all caught up and fueled up, ready for the journey to Stillwater.

We were glad to have been able to paddle the Puhoi River, it was beautiful in parts (mostly when it meandered away from the nearby highway to Auckland) and was a great way to spend an hour or so. After speaking subsequently with others who had instead done the alternate roadwalk, it seemed pretty clear that we made the right call with the paddle.

After being spotted by a dog from the riverbank at one point, we were pretty surprised to paddle up to two horses in the middle of the river towards the end of the paddle!

Meeting the friendly George from Puhoi River Canoes at Wenderholm Regional Park, we dried off and had a quick lunch before setting off on the hiking section of our day.

The walkway through Wenderholm was a bit of a surprise, a short but stunning walk with some great views along the way and more information boards than we have seen so far on the trip! A sure sign that we were getting closer to civilisation again!

After passing through Wenderholm we then headed for the town of Orewa – we were grateful for the largely footpathed road walk sections and were able to do some rock hopping around the headlands with the low tide approaching.

Reaching Orewa was a shock to the senses… our first busy town in almost a month. You know you have reached civilisation when find a McDonald’s!

After debating the possibility of being able to cross the Weiti River to get to Stillwater, we decided to instead take the suggested route of road walking the entire way to Stillwater from Orewa. We had heard that this would not be fun and this proved to be correct. At some point the footpaths disappeared and we were back to walking on narrow shoulders along highway roads.

With the sun about to set, and the reality of having to walk the last 7km of road into Stillwater in the dark looming, we decided to play it safe and get a hitch. Leigh managed to get the second car we saw to pull over for us. He was a local who offered to drop us at the Stillwater Motor Camp where we would be staying for the night. As we drove down the windy road with no shoulders to walk on and tonnes of blindspots, we felt content with our decision.

Arriving at Stillwater Motor Camp slightly earlier than we were expecting, we were warmly welcomed by Pete the owner, who generously allowed us to stay in bunks in the recreational hall so that we did not need to put our tent up. Given we would be getting up at 4am already the following morning for a low tide crossing of the Okura River, we jumped at this offer. Staying in the recreational hall also had the added benefit of being able to enjoy some of the artworks that other travellers had left behind on the walls.

After a much needed shower, dinner and a game of pool with a local resident of the Motor Camp (who jokingly threatened to smash every window in the place if I beat him… which I did do despite my best efforts), we got ourselves and our gear ready to go for the early start to follow.

Day 28 – Tuesday 13 November, 23km
Stillwater to Takapuna

With our alarms buzzing furiously at 4am, we got ready for our planned 4:30am departure to head to the Okura River crossing which was 5km from Stillwater Motor Camp. While trying to turn the alarm off, I leaned over the metal frame of the top bunk to reach my phone and pressed my ribs hard into the frame, aggravating an old injury. For the next few weeks I can now look forward to a sharp pain in my ribs everytime I sneeze, cough, or stretch in the wrong direction, which should be fun.

It was the first time we’ve had to walk in the dark so far this trip, and it took me a while to warm up, despite the thermals and extra layers. Normally we are tucked into our toastie sleeping bags at this hour.

With Leigh’s 50 lumen emergency head torch somehow putting out more light than my 350 lumen head torch, Leigh took the lead for the first few kms through the Okura Bush Track. At some point after getting frustrated with my own headtorch, I used the torch on my phone instead to see where I was walking.

In what felt like next to no time, we had arrived at the crossing, with numb feet from walking bare foot on the cold wet sand, just in time for the official low tide. We had heard from other hikers that the crossing was about thigh to waist deep on low tide, so we prepared accordingly… Leigh by stashing her hiking pants in her pack and me by tucking my shorts and my trusty apricot delights from Countdown (normally stored in my left pocket) into my undies.

Luckily we turned out to have judged the timing pretty well for the crossing, I went up to waist deep after choosing a suboptimal line for my crossing, but luckily my apricot delights were adequately waterproofed and were still good to snack on post-crossing.

During the crossing, we were greeted with a pretty spectacular sunrise and, despite having to get up early, we felt that it was probably a good thing that we got to do the crossing at such an amazing time of day as it would have had a completely different feel later in the day.

With the Okura crossing behind us, we strolled through the coastal walkway and park at Long Bay. At one point a local ranger came up to us to ask if we had camped in the park last night as they had received reports of illegal camping in the area. We told him we had not and there was no follow up questioning surprisingly, so he must have just thought we were trustworthy people.

In contrast to yesterday, we had time to burn today so we stopped off at Browns Bay for a cafe breakfast. Cruising past people on their way to work or taking their dogs out for a morning walk, we really enjoyed the footpathed walk that weaved its way through what appeared to be some wealthy suburbs. It was great to see that public access has been kept open in these areas overlooking the ocean – in contrast to certain parts of Sydney, there seemed to be very few sections of private beach all the way along the North Shore to Takapuna.

During one of our breaks, a local kiwi and fellow long distance hiker by the name of John approached us to ask if we were hiking the TA. Upon telling him that we were, we proceeded to have a really good chat about different parts of the trail, the local suburbs and John’s experiences doing other long distance hikes. We wondered afterwards whether this interaction would have happened back home – kiwi’s definitely seem to be a pretty friendly bunch when it comes to interacting with strangers.

Eventually we followed a partially formed concrete track along the beach through to Takapuna. For a Tuesday afternoon, we couldn’t believe how many people were around on the beaches.

With an Airbnb already booked in Devonport for Wed and Thurs night, we pitched the tent at Takapuna Holiday Park. It was probably the most cramped space of all the places we have stayed so far, but being so close to the ocean and having access to lots of restaurants and cafes for dinner certainly made up for it!

Day 29 – Wednesday 14 November, 8.5km
Takapuna to Devonport/Auckland

With our accommodation for the night sorted, we could afford another slow morning.

Leigh also had a splinter of some sort in her finger that was causing her some discomfort and was not getting better, so we decided to use the opportunity to stop by a local doctor on the way to Devonport.

After cleaning up the wound and picking up some antibiotics that had to be taken 3 times a day on an empty stomach (a tricky proposition for hikers who are eating constantly all day long), we were ready to head to Devonport.

Along the way, we ran into an amazing local, Red, who stopped us for a chat and promptly signed up for our blog while we were talking on the beach! It turned out that Red had hiked the TA last year, so it was awesome to be able to bounce some things off her to help us with our own planning for the upcoming sections of trail. Thanks Red – it was great to meet you!

With the beaches behind us, we arrived in Devonport and had a ball exploring some old military tunnels and sites around the headland before walking into the main part of town.

After checking in to our accommodation for the night and promptly ditching our packs, we made the short trip across to Auckland via ferry to pick up our bounce boxes from the post office. NZ post had even reconstructed my bounce box for me at no charge after my poor packing job in Kerikeri resulted in something leaking through and destroying the wall of my cardboard box. Score!

We had arrived back in Auckland – the first big milestone of our trip!

Day 30 & 31 – Thursday/Friday 15/16 November, 0km
Rest days

In scheduling some downtime in Auckland, we decided to use the time to start to plan out the next few weeks of hiking and give our feet a short break… Because let’s face it, they have earned it!

As we get further south the towns will get smaller again, so Auckland is often one of the only places you can buy certain things. We’re also using our time in Auckland to resupply, picking up food to last us for the next 4-5 days on the trail as well as our backcountry hut passes which will allow us to stay in many DOC huts as we head further south.

Once we leave Auckland we start hiking again towards Hamilton and beyond. Wish us luck!

Monday 5 November – Saturday 10 November
Whangarei Heads to Dome
Day: 20 – 25
Km’s: 111km
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
Km’s: 160
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.

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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.

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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.

20181102_0722468213646898434670170.jpgIt’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.

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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.

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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
Km’s: 110km
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.
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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.
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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.20181023_112210.jpg
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Before we knew it, we had arrived at the Raetea forest marker after passing by some stunning farmlands.
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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.
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The magnificent views across the valley made us forget about the fact we were climbing the hill with fully packs loaded for the week.
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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.
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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🤞
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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!
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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.
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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.
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We made it to the Raetea summit by lunch time a were rewarded with stunning views out to the coastline.
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We had expected that the worst was behind us after lunchtime… but we couldn’t have been more wrong.