Te Araroa part 2: Mud ( and roads)
Jasper bought his trailrunners from a shop called “Mud, sweat and trails” which is also a pretty good description of this second part of the tramp. So. Much. Mud.
Unfortunately there is currently a disease affecting New Zealand’s magnificent kauri trees. This kauri dieback spreads via soil. It’s therefore extremely important to clean shoes, tent pegs and any other gear that comes into contact with soil to avoid spreading it. As an added precaution, the TA trust has diverted part of the trail this year. Herekino forest is closed. The trail instead goes from Ahipara to Kaitaia over the road, then there’s a stretch on State Highway 1 and on to Takahue saddle road to the start of Raetea forest.
We didn’t really fancy the roadwalk because it’s a pain in the feet. Also, there’s not really any shoulder on the Ahipara-Kaitaia road. Luckily, we had hardly started before a car stopped beside us. “Where ya heading?” “Kaitaia.” “Hop in, we’ll drop you off.”
Gotta love kiwis. About twenty minutes later we were hunting around for gaiters and fishing around for sandfly repellent at the Hunting & Fishing store in Kaitaia. Carmen got some trekking poles and a water filter and we shared a packet of tent pegs. Hey, Nemo, your tents are awesome but if I spend 400+ euros on a tent I’d prefer it to come with enough pegs to also fix the guylines. Also, while I’m at it, why does the tent get slimy when wet?
Anyway. Next stop, Pak ‘n Save for resupply! Jakub and Katerina the Czech walking machines had walked the entire 15 km road stretch but still reached it before us. We got a lifetime supply of oats together, and of course heaps of snacks. I also want to take a moment to thank the guy who found my trekking poles in the Pak ‘n Save parking lot, handed them in at the info desk and then ran after every hiker in the shop to ask who lost them. You, sir, are a hero. Without my poles I would probably still be stuck in Raetea, up to my nose in mud. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Together with Carmen we hitched the stretch of State Highway 1 like the tracknotes told us to do. The rest of the afternoon was spent tramping down the dustiest road in the southern hemisphere. If this is so dry and dusty, the forest can’t be that muddy, can it? Oh how foolish we were.
Just below the ominous sign saying it would take 8 hours to go through Raetea we saw two little tents. Jakub and Katerina and Pete and Karen were camped there by a small stream. We pitched our tents next to theirs and had a quick splash in the river before getting an early night.
It had been quite dry in Northland so Raetea forest was not as muddy as it could have been. We’ve heard stories of people up to their waists in mud. For me, it went about halfway up my calves (and for Jasper, it just about touched the soles of his feet). Our little trailrunners and Jasper’s tiny gaiters were no match for this mud, so we just waded right into the first patch we saw. Going around the mud just broadens the path and makes everything worse. Plus, splashing around in mud is actually pretty cool. Jakub and Katerina walked at around the same pace as us and kept sliding and falling over. The Raetea mudmonster ate part of their trekking poles, too. After a steep four hour scramble/swim we reached the summit. We thought we’d made good time so we had a lunch break. Then on to the descent! This was when the mud really started. The path was steep, narrow, overgrown and so so muddy. Creeping plants kept snagging at our ankles and grabbing our faces. Someone described this part of the tramp as a mix of twister, the floor is lava and a landslide. The fun wore off a bit as the afternoon wore on, and we were very glad to reach the road. A local landowner had set up a little campsite in a field by the stream. We just sat down in the stream to wash. Pete, Karen, Jakub and Katerina decided to go on but Jasper and I were happy to camp here. Carmen was still somewhere in the mud. We weren’t the only ones to camp at this spot, so we said hi to what would be our fellow trampers for quite a while.
Courtney was the first Kiwi TA tramper we met (she also blogs, check out www.classickiwicourtz.com). Sarah from the US brought a fluffy companion too - Shackleton the giraffe. He and Philip get along very nicely. Then there was Aaron (purple hair, hurt his foot badly on 90 Mile Beach, somehow still made it through Raetea - what a legend). Marie from Belgium seemed extremely unimpressed with everything but still loved the trail (at least we think she did). Scarlett from France was pretty relaxed and just glad to get out of the mud.
Just before dark, three more people showed up - Carmen and another Carmen (a Kiwi) and her boyfriend David. We were starting to get a bit worried about them because Raetea Forest isn’t a place you want to be at night. The path is so narrow and trailmarkers can be hard to spot even during the day. We took a wrong turn twice actually. Just a week or two before us, a tramper got lost in Raetea at night and fell down a waterfall. There are some places to camp in the forest (room for about five tents at the top, plus some smaller sites for one tent here and there). However, there is no water anywhere on the trail. Just mud. If you want to camp, you have to carry water for two days.
Anyway, our lovely little campsite had a stream so we were all good. The sun came out the next morning, which was an easy day with basically just road walking again. First stop, Mangamuka dairy - famous for its burgers. Despite what one TA tramper wrote in their guestbook, it’s never too early for a burger. Or kumara chips. We’re really eating a lot more than at home. I guess we need it.
The next Northland forests we crossed were Omahuta and Puketi. The TA follows gravel roads through them to avoid spreading kauri dieback. For the same reason, camping is only allowed in two places. The first was Apple Dam campsite which is in a nice clearing by a stream. There was some gorgeous native forest on the way but Courtney confessed she didn’t know the names of all the trees because she spent the last couple of years working in a Canadian national park. Fair enough. She still knows a lot about this area and the trail, and Kiwi stuff in general. From her we learned important things, like that a hot dog is not a sausage in a bun but a battered sausage on a stick, and that if you order a burger it sometimes comes without a meat patty. While we all cooked our dinners at Apple Dam, Aaron pulled out an actual apple which he had been keeping for this spot. Scarlett was the real winner of the evening though, she had a Mangamuka dairy toasted sandwich. Sarah gave us all sour candies on the condition that she could photograph us while we ate them. Jasper’s not the only photographer on this trail!
Unfortunately we also experienced some not wholly unexpected gear failure. Jasper’s Exped mat blew a baffle on our last trip to Luxembourg. It’s a common problem, apparently there’s a design flaw with these older mats. Exped is keeping quiet about it, though. They usually offer a two year warranty on their mats, but have been known to extend it for the ones with this flaw. But not if the mat is five years old, as ours are. The best they could offer Jasper was a 30 percent discount if he bought a new Exped mat. Hmmm how about... no. Thermarest offers a lifetime warranty, so Jasper got himself a Neoair Xtherm which is lighter, warmer and more comfortable than the old Exped. Shout out to our local Dutch outdoor store Bever - they gave Jasper a 25 percent discount on it because they thought Exped were being stupid. So, recap: Jasper’s got a fancy Thermarest for the TA while I was still lugging around my Exped. And of course, surprise surprise, it blew a baffle! Aaaaargh Exped! Your mats suck! Luckily, it was not as dramatic as Jasper’s. Two of the baffles joined so my mat was suddenly a whole lot narrower with a weird ledge on the outside. Still, I made plans to get rid of it as soon as I could get my hands on a Thermarest! Also, it’s not as if the Expeds were that old. We had them for five years, and reckon we’ve slept on them for 100-120 nights. That’s not even a full TA thruhike. And they’ve only been used inside tents, and were always stored properly, etc etc. So I reckon it’s just bad design. The new ones are supposed to be better but I’m not going to risk it.
Anyway, Exped rant over.
From Apple Dam to Puketi campsite was a long, long roadwalk. 35 km or so. A lot of the forest was pine forest, which gets a bit boring. At 25ish km, Jasper and I began to feel tired. Our walking speed decreased steadily. Luckily, Kiwi-Carmen and David showed up. They’d hitched a good bit so they were still fresh and set a good pace and we pushed ourselves to keep up with them. The last bit of the forest was more interesting, with native trees and even a beautiful little side trail past some magnificent kauri. Puketi camp was amazing and even had cold showers. We all huddled around a picnic table to cook our pasta/noodle/couscous concoctions. Out of nowhere, a woman appeared with some fresh fruit and a sandwich for Aaron, who had a pretty rough day with his foot. Kiwis are awesome. For dessert, we shared a bar of Kvikk Lunsj, fresh from Norway (thanks, Tim). Jasper and I were of course wearing our Kvikk Lunsj buffs and woolly hats (thanks, Grethe). Sarah taught us some yoga for hiking (pretty hilarious to see Jasper and Sarah do yoga together, what a contrast).
The east coast was in sight the next day! We crossed some farmland and said hi to our very first NZ sheep. I can’t believe it took us 200 km to meet sheep! There were also turkeys, which all gobbled together in unison. Hilarious birds. Philip enjoyed meeting the sheep and the turkeys, but not the cows in the next field. The afternoon was spent along the Kerikeri river, which was amazing. So many beautiful spots: swimming holes, a waterfall and an amazing section over boardwalk through native bush. To quote Courtney: “just lovely!”
The last stretch was a bit long for my feet though and I staggered into Kerikeri holiday park with Jasper, Courtney and Sarah (plus Philip and Shackleton obviously). Aaron did some hitchhiking so he got there early and arranged a cabin for us all. He also filled the fridge with beer. The five of us then went on an epic quest to eat everything in Kerikeri. We pretty much succeeded. Those cheap takeaway pizzas and the snack aisle of the supermarket were no match for us!
We thought the final day of this section, from Kerikeri to Paihia, was a short day so we had a bit of a late start. Ended up walking 28 km, lots of it on forestry roads with boring pine trees. Somewhere on the trail is a plaque marking the opening of the trail. We missed it. Stupid place to put it, if you ask me. How did that conversation go? “Let’s put up that plaque.” “Where d’you want it?” “Somewhere beautiful, the most beautiful place in the country!” “Good idea. Like, the Coromandel? Milford Sound?” “Nah, right in this pine forest with logging trucks driving past.” Good idea.
We also went past the Waitangi treaty grounds and there was a nice coastal walk towards the end as we reach Paihia. My feet hurt again so I was pretty glad to put them up at the Pickled Parrot hostel while the rest of the gang ate/devoured/inhaled massive amounts of nachos.
Up next: kayaking!