Trip Report TA: North Island pt1

Making friends

After a long international flight I found myself back in Auckland for the first time in three years. I had booked a bus the following day to take me to Kaitaia and then planned on hitching up to the northern terminus at Te Rerenga Wairua(Cape Reinga). Auckland is a big cold feeling city, built up but empty. It rained.

Waking early the following morning I wondered if I would bump into any other hikers on my way up to the terminus. The instant I arrived at the Auckland bus terminal I spied two people with large hiking backpacks, my people! Laurel, a local kiwi from Wellington, and Dale, a South African living in Belgium, who were just as keen as I was to start the months long trek across Aotearoa.

The bus ride up to Kerikeri has us picking up another hiker: Mikki, from Brisbane. Another fellow from Finland, Anton, was also on the bus and we chatted about his hike of the PCT that he just completed. Upon arriving at Kaitaia Anton started hitching north in the rain but the remaining three of us decided to spend the night and hitch the following morning. We meet two more hikers just finishing up their Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē(Ninety-Mile Beach) section, a kiwi Tobin, and Deedee(13) from the US.

Ready for the long hitch hike in the morning Laurel, Dale, Mikki and myself stick our thumbs out. Our first ride is stuffed into the work vehicle of a local Māori by the name of Chika. He's eager to chat and takes us quite as ways before leaving us along the roadside. The day is hot and we continue to try and thumb. As we reposition where we hitch from we get separated for just a moment and a couple picks up Mikki! After a decent amount of waiting the remaining three of us get another hitch with a local Māori mom and son on their way back home. Dropped off near a marae I take a moment to lay down in the shade while Laurel and Dale continue to thumb. Out final hitch is with two young Germans who take us all the way to the terminus!

Northern Terminus

Phew, we finally arrive at the lighthouse overlooking the crashing ocean waves hundreds of feet below. There is a large sign post that hikers use as the terminus marker for the Te Araroa, and we all take turns getting our pictures taken. The view is stunning: carved rock and massive dunes beckon for exploration. Unfortunately the track right at the start is closed... We decide as a group to walk 16km(10mi) backwards along the road we just came on in-order to jump on to the trail after the closure.

Closed track

Luckily as we begin our road walk light clouds roll in and provide us with much needed shade. The road undulates along rolling hills as we pass paddocks of sheep, cow and grass. Eventually we turn off onto a side road to begin reconnecting with the trail and we begin to feel dwarfed by the massive dunes we could see before off in the distance. We wild camp near a structure at the start of Te Paki Stream, boiling with excitement for tomorrows start of beach walking. I suffer a bit as the couscous(Israeli) I bought in Auckland to serve as my dinner for the next week does not cold soak...

Assembled in the morning the team heads out down Te Paki stream. Laurel, Dale, and Mikki decide to walk straight down the stream with sandals or bare feet in the water and sand. I follow the track on the southern bank which though overgrown in parts is easy to follow and keeps my feet dry for the time being. Eventually we are spit onto beach and face the bountiful Tasman Sea filling our horizon.

The sand is firm and we make quick progress. Occasionally clouds roll over dropping a bit of rain but it is always soon after followed by drying sun. Surprisingly we see northbounders(NOBOs) walking up the beach as well as many trucks, probably driving up to see the dunes. The day passes smoothly as we each hike our own pace and occasionally pair up for a chat or snack.

Near the end of the day we catch up to two other hikers, Josh an Alaskan fisherman from Seattle, and Kez a young Brit. We all end the day at the same camping spot since there are not many options amongst the never ending stretch of sand. Josh and Kez tell us about their previous day as they ignored the closure signs and walked the track from Te Rerenga Wairua without incident. They received an evening visit from a curious possum that they were able to shoo away.

The wind is ripping through our campsite all evening as the group splits up to find any spot where they can hide away in their tent. I convince Dale to cowboy camp with me in the little shelter for the night. As darkness falls it begins to sprinkle rain and in a panic I setup my tent. The rain passes shortly after as Dale sticks it out in the shelter.

We get another short sprinkle of rain in the early morning as we head out but then the sun comes out in full force. The wind picks up and pushes us back in anger all day. All day is spent leaning forward into the rush of air. I am unable to have coherent thoughts with the whistling of the wind in my ears. We trudge along the sand and end the day to camp alongside a small lodge that is hidden amongst some low hills and thankfully out of the wind.

A clear blue sky greets us the following morning and a much tamer breeze. Kez leaves early complaining about extremely sore hips. I notice he is carrying a heavy limp as I pass him. Laurel, Dale, and Mikki eventually head off the beach to take an alternate path that follows a gravel road. Josh, Kez and I stick to the beach for the day as I blast off ahead of everyone.

I get a bit lonesome and let Josh catch me so we can chat as we leave Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē behind and head into Ahipara. My face and legs are absolutely sun burnt. Even though I have a wide-brimmed hat the right side of my face is crisped due to the reflection of the sun off the wet shore we are walking along all day. Arriving into Ahipara there is a sense of accomplishment and a sigh of relief as we reach civilization again. We head to the nearby dairy for a massive serving of fish and chips.

After we go to a paid campground to wait for everyone else to arrive. They all do and we setup our tents but Kez gets himself a private room since he is now feeling properly injured. We meet another hiker, Max a young German. I join Laurel, Dale and Mikki to the dairy once again. On our way back every dog in the neighbour seems to come out and greet us. For the evening we settle into the campground common room to watch a movie. That lasts about thirty minutes as we are all exhausted and would rather just crawl into our tents for some rest.

Kez plans on spending at least a day to recover and Josh also will stay behind with him. Dale and Mikki opt to hitch around the next section which is just a road walk to connect to the next bit of trail. I team up with Laurel and we hike together all day alongside the cars.

The road is pretty chill and we cruise along. Occasionally there are sections with sharp turns and/or no shoulder to walk on and then it becomes distressing but we keep pushing on. Laurel and I reach Kaitaia at midday and head to the Pak'nSave for resupply. We see Dale, Mikki and Max there. Those three continue to hitch forward as Laurel and I hit the SH1. Thankfully there is a section of the highway some 20km(12mi) away that is closed so there is barely any traffic, otherwise this would have been extremely dangerous to walk along as there is barely any shoulder for most of the way.

Eventually from sealed paved road we jump onto gravel side roads. My feet begin to ache with the constant and hard pounding. The whole day has just taken us along private property fences and I have a sudden emergency when I need to take a shit. It almost becomes a tragedy but I am saved by a tiny alcove of maybe eight trees that stand between the road and a fenceline. Otherwise our journey is unhindered to arrive at our destination, a Hare Krishna sanctuary. Laurel and I are the last to arrive from our group.

Abshay a kiwi, and his wife, Jaya from India, greet and welcome us onto their property. Jaya feeds us a delicious veg curry and continues to fill up my plate when I clear it(three or four times!). The couple has a nice plot of land were they are growing fruit and veg to sustain themselves but they open it up to TA hikers(for a small fee) since the route takes all hikers right by their driveway.

Later on two sibling British hikers, Dan and Hannah, show up and also stay. Everyone takes a chance to have a little skinny dip in a nearby stream pool, play around with the farm dog and go pet the old cows on the property. In the evening two American hikers roll by, Ian and Lauren, but only stop to say hi. The day comes to a close and everyone retreats to their tents. As I'm laying down I realize my poor DCF tent has plenty of pinholes in the rain fly...uh oh.

The morning greets us all with heaps of condensation covering everything. I wake early to head off and begin to tackle the first real obstacle of the hike, Raetea Forest. I pass Abshay out tending to his cows in the soft light of the new dawn as well as passing the Americans still asleep in their tent along the path.

The trail now begins in earnest as a dirt path extends out in-front of me swamped in mud and moisture. The climb feels like a sheer vertical at some point as each step up or down takes considerable effort. To add to the game, roots and pits of mud of unknown depth plague every corner. I use my free hand to brace and swing myself from tree trunks and branches, dancing my way along the edges of the trail where the footing is more secure. After a seeming eternity I arrive at the peak amongst a low rolling fog. No view for me today.

The descent is just as perilous but more than anything I feel mental fatigue. The amount of concentration, analysing and seconding guessing of where to step is all consuming. Despite my efforts I still gather a good amount of mud up my legs. Eventually I exit Raetea and reach a campground with a clear running stream. I think of the hours spent struggling and smile big, I haven't had that much fun in a while. I rinse off all the muck and spread out my gear to dry, patiently waiting for my friends to catch up.

The first arrival is Max and then Mikki with Laurel. We worry about Dale as no one had seen him since they left the sanctuary in the morning. Dale was dealing with an elbow injury and we suspected he would have a tough time since Raetea really needed both arms working to stabilize yourself on the poor track. Despite our worries Dale makes it through fine. The girls decide to take the local land owner up on their caravan lodgings and Dale will camp here. I convince Max to join me for a handful more kilometres down the highway to the next camp area.

Max and I make short work of the 6km(4mi) and camp behind the local community centre. Dan and Hannah are here having done a bypass route avoiding Raetea. There is also a French hiking couple but they keep to themselves. Playing around with a curious kitty and patching up the holes in my tent fill the evening. The repairs come just in time as there is periodic rain at night.

I wait a bit in the morning for the rain to pass before packing up and heading out. The sky is grey as I trudge along an empty road into the hills. The next section is dependant on water levels as it winds through the bottom of a canyon via the Mangapukahukahu Stream and Waipapa River.

Despite the rain the water levels at the entrance seems to be around average so I head down to the canyon and into the ankle deep waters. I'm overwhelmed by happiness and memories of the Gila River crossing on the CDT. The sky clears and it turns into a perfect day as I splash down staring up at walls full of lush and prehistoric looking vegetation.

I run into a group of hikers making their way gingerly along the trail: Lucy from France, Joyce a South African living in Namibia, and Lucas and Lara from Germany. Occasionally the trail markers lead us out of the river and up the canyon walls onto worn and slip prone track that may sometimes not be wide enough to fully place a footstep. After struggling along this track I give up and decide to just continue down via the river since the water levels are fairly low.

Making good progress I intercept another group at a point where the canyon track drops down for a brief moment with the river. There are three Canadians from PEI: Clay(Mystery Man), Morgan(Preacher Man), and Brandon(Baby Back). There are also two Americans, Michael(Highlander) and Rachel. They have done the AT and the PCT respectively. I'm excited to meet fellow Canadians so I join them as we have a decent climb up a ridge and to camp for the day.

PEI boys
Clay, Brandon and Morgan

The first hut of trail is our destination and it is amazing. A massive structure with some 20 or so bunks. Brandon pays the fee of 25NZD and the rest of us sneak in. An Australian girl, Olivia, hiking NOBO arrives to join and she gives us the lay down of what to expect down trail. Joyce arrives with news that Lucy is having issues walking some 6km(4mi) back on the trail and needs help. Morgan volunteers to run back and lend a hand. Lucy is eventually picked up by SAR and evacuated!

Hanging in the hut
Morgan, Olivia, Clay and Michael

Everyone I met over the day eventually arrives and it feels like a family gathering as we all chat and eat our dinners. Olivia convinces a bunch of us to join her at night to go kiwi(bird) watching. We spend thirty minutes in the darkness hoping to catch one but are unsuccessful.

From the hut in the morning it is an easy walk along farm tracks and recreational paths into the town of Kerikeri. Everyone piles into the main hostel as the day passes. There is local kiwi, Nick, hiking the TA there that is quitting due to shin splits.

We go out into town for burgers and then spend the night binge watching The Lord of the Rings at the hostel.

Today is a zero day. I'm enjoying myself too much hanging out with everyone so I decide to hang around. We resupply in town, play some billiards and continue binging The Lord of the Rings. Lucy shows up and we are happy to hear that she is not seriously injured, but nonetheless she will not continue hiking.

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