Te Araroa part 3: Water
When I was about twelve, I went on a school trip to an island where we camped and collected shells and whatnot. The school sent this infoletter to all parents which said “Magerøya is an island that is surrounded by water on all sides.” Well, duh.
It’s also a fairly accurate description of New Zealand. Water to the south, north, east and west. But not just that. There’s been water below us, above us, right in front of us and, in Sarah’s case, even inside her pack.
From Paihia the trail goes to Waikare. This can be done either over the road or by kayaking. Obviously we went for the kayak option. Courtney had called ahead and arranged everything for us (she’s sort of become our guide and has arranged so many useful amazing things for us). The Bay of Islands is usually warm and sunny, so the kayak safety talk tends to be limited to “Enjoy your trip, and don’t drown please” but we had some interesting weather coming in (gale force winds, heavy rain) so Dan from the kayak hire company told us about all sorts of ways we could die on the trip. In the end we were allowed to go, but only if we brought our warm clothing plus stoves to make hot drinks. Just in case. Some decided they didn’t want to risk hypothermia this early on the TA, so Dan offered to drop them off by car. In the end, eight of us set off by kayak. Me and Jasper of course (do your worst, NZ weather, I grew up in Norway!), as well as Courtney, Sarah, Aaron and Marie. Joining us were Iben from Denmark, and Alon, a British/Israeli guy. Spoiler: we all survived. The first bit to Mariot island was amazing. The wind and tide were behind us so we made excellent time and could stop for a snack break (supermarket mince pies are great for kayaking). Then some really dark clouds rolled up. We decided to paddle on so we could at least stay warm which worked. The wind was still behind us, luckily. The last bit of Waikare river was easy to navigate thanks to Dan’s great idea of putting up a trail marker right there in the water. Once we got ashore we experienced some more of Dan’s genius. Normally, he just picks up the kayaks but because of the bad weather he also brought us hot drinks and 2 kg of snapper filets he’d got from a friend (who asked him to “spread the love”). So Dan brought his gas stove and made us dinner. What an awesome guy (this was all on his official day off btw).
Full of snapper (or just hot drinks in my vegetarian case), we tramped up the road to Russell forest. Just a few km from the landing is Sheryl’s place, where TA trampers can camp. But we had quite a bit of daylight left so we thought we’d go on. A bit later, as we passed one of the last houses, someone called out to us to say we were welcome to camp behind their house. There was a beautiful spot beside the river. The owner, Philippa, told us to make ourselves at home and help ourselves to the fruit from the trees. Kiwis can be so generous! There were already some other tents there, belonging to an American family - they had three kids from 11 to 18, all hiking the TA. Whoa. How much food must they be carrying to satisfy the hunger of these teenage boys?
We had an interesting night. It was one of the coldest nights on the entire TA. All sorts of animals were rustling and growling around and I heard something (someone?) splashing in the river in the middle of the night. Courtney heard it too. Alon was the only one curious enough (or brave enough) to stick his head outside the tent - apparently, it was a horse. The next morning, we headed into Russell forest. Dark clouds were swirling overhead and everything was just a bit ominous. Rusty old cars next to the track, the remains of a dead cow, and creepiest of all: a trail marker in the wrong colour. Usually these indicate trapping lines, so you are only supposed to follow the orange triangles. We followed it anyway and ended up in the river. This was a good thing, because the river is the track. We splashed about for an hour or two which was great fun. On the TA, you know your feet will get wet anyway so it doesn’t really matter. And the forest was absolutely stunning. We dried out a bit at a shelter then continued on a track which soon turned into a road. The TA has a lot of roadwalking. Some people don’t like that which is fair enough since it makes your feet hurt and it can be uncomfortable to walk with cars whooshing past if there isn’t any shoulder. But I like Courtney‘s way of thinking: it’s all in the trailnotes. If you don’t like the roads then just skip them but don’t complain. This is the trail. The TA is just very different from many other thruhikes. It’s not just about hiking and getting the kilometres in. It’s about the overall experience, and the people you meet. Cool things happen on the roadwalks as well. Every car that passed us gave us a wide berth and all drivers waved at us (including a school bus full of kids). Everyone we meet is just so excited about what we do, and I wouldn’t want to skip that. Sure, it was a 15 km roadwalk in the rain, but we did it with Courtney and Sarah which was a lot of fun. Sarah’s a big fan of pattern games so we played those while we hiked. Took be forever to figure out how I could bring both Philip and chocolate to the moon! In the late afternoon we arrived at Helena Bay where we stayed with a trail angel called Jock. Trail angels are people who do awesome things to help TA hikers. In Jock’s case, this involved inviting eight of us to stay in his house. He also provided us all with beer. Despite our Australian hats, he recognised us as Dutchies (“you can always tell an Aussie, but you can’t tell ‘em much, bloody know-it-alls”).
We had a great (and dry!) night at Jock’s, then headed up the Helena Ridge track which was absolutely stunning. Nice and steep with glorious native bush all around. We dried out our tents by flying them like kites up on a windy ridge under the hot NZ sun. There were some cows in the field next to us but luckily they were behind a fence. Sarah found out the hard way that the fence was electrified. She was trying to get a good photo (you should totally check out her photography’s website btw, www.skywilliamsphotography.com, she’s extremely talented). Courtney, Sarah and Aaron all seemed to think it was a bit funny that I really really don’t like cows so I told them about the time I narrowly escaped certain death in Austria. I don’t think they were entirely convinced, but Courtney did text us about the next field of cows she crossed to assure me they were friendly “and it’s only 100m to the next gate”. Cheers, Courtz.
We walked most of the day together, but sometimes one of the group walked a bit faster. We always caught up with each other because everyone kept taking snack breaks. So. Many. Snacks. Part three of this trail could easily have been called “snacks”. Already after a week on the trail, we started noticing that we were eating more and more. Around this point (the 300 km mark, woohoo!), everything began to revolve around food. We were eating everything. Courtney scoffed an entire snickers bar then stared at the wrapper in disbelief “Did I just eat that?” Yeah, you did. I was eating a carrot with peanut butter when Sarah offered me a gummy worm. Ooooh more toppings for the carrot! It was delicious. Jasper and I have Aarn bodypacks, which are like backpacks but with front pockets to distribute the load more easily. Great for posture, and my shoulders haven’t hurt at all. The best thing about them though is that you can put all your snacks in the balance bags for easy access. We’ve renamed them snack packs. Aarn, you are welcome to use this for marketing purposes. Our main goal for this day was Whananaki, where there is a campsite and a dairy (that’s Kiwi for village store, they tend to have takeaways). I was so looking forward to kumara chips! Disaster: it was closed when we got there! We cried. Then we pitched our tents, and raided our food bags. Jasper cooked an epic curry consisting of dried peas, dried mushrooms, lentils, curry paste and coconut milk powder. Courtney had two dinners. Marie just stared at the vast amounts of food in disbelief. I’m pretty sure she can photosynthesise because she doesn’t seem to eat anything.
The next day was glorious. Sunshine, a coastal walk, and the promise of two villages with shops! We cruised along the coast, enjoying the views along the way. It’s a shame the pohutukawa trees are not blooming because we’re a bit early in the season. They will have beautiful red flowers in a few weeks. Oh well, you can’t have everything! We could have fish, veggie burgers and kumara chips from the Matapouri dairy. Delicious! Jasper and I then did a bit of power walking to Ngunguru. Great bush walk, passing by one of the biggest kauri trees - Tane Moana. What an awe inspiring tree, unbelievably big! Not far from the tree the track became a gravel road again. I was just removing a stone from my shoe when the school bus pulled up behind us. “Want a ride, guys?” On a school bus? Hell yeah! We sort of have a policy that we will not hitchhike except on dangerous roads with one exception: if someone asks you to hop in, then we will do so because it’s a great way to meet friendly people. Aaron has done a fair bit of hitching because of his injured foot and he has many cool stories to tell. We’re expecting a “Hitchhiker’s guide to Te Araroa” shortly. Anyway, the school bus dropped us off after a few km, just outside the Salt Air cafe in Ngunguru. Aaron was already there, and Sarah showed up not long after. Courtney had been invited to a friend’s place in Matapouri, they made her an offer she couldn’t refuse (i.e., “help yourself to anything in the fridge”). So the four of us loaded up on snacks at the shop and devoured our dinners at the cafe. The man at the next table was a bit bemused by the quantities of food but accepted our explanation that we were hiking.
“Your teeth are going to need some looking after though.”
“Probably. We all have floss though...”
“... for emergency repairs.”
If any dentists in Wellington are reading this, maybe you could offer TA trampers a discount if they get their teeth fixed halfway on the trail? Just a thought.
We were picked up at Ngunguru by James from Nikau Bay camp, just on the other side of the estuary. This is an absolutely amazing place to stay. We had heard that the showers were described as the best on the trail, and after seeing them we understand why. I was in one of the large outdoor cubicles, Sarah ws in the other and we were like a couple of kids on Christmas eve: “Is there a tree in yours?” “I’ve got a palm tree!” “I want one of these at home!”
Apparently it was Thanksgiving in the US this evening so we had a little celebration for Sarah and Aaron. We got TimTams and mint slices, and James provided a campfire and marshmallows to roast on bits of nr 8 wire. The rain started late in the evening, but we were all snug in a bunkhouse. Our packs were outside under the porch, but Sarah had unfortunately put hers close to a tree where there is a hole in the roof. The next morning, all her stuff was soaking wet. Her sleeping bag was inside, luckily, as was Shackleton but her tent and clothes were all drenched. She tried to dry it out but it was humid and more rain was on the way. Well, we’ll figure out something.
Courtney arrived in the morning, but Aaron decided to take some rest days to allow his foot to heal. So there were four of us as we left Nikau Bay. Late start, because we had to cross some estuaries and this can only be done at low tide. First up was the Horahora river which according to James was mostly ankle deep with one deeper bit. We were a bit early though, so the shallow part already came to our knees. Rather than get our packs wet in the deep channel, we let Jasper cross first. While we chilled in the rain, with water up to our knees, Jasper took our packs across one by one. Great to have a tall Dutchie in the group! The riverbank was muddy, almost like being back in Raetea except this stuff smelt like sulfur. Luckily, there were some puddles of rainwater on the road that we could wash in. We still had some standards of personal hygiene but they were pretty low at this point. Refreshed, we continued along the road to Pataua where we took a snackbreak and were joined by a cat called Bubbles who wanted to hang out with us. We also met a NOBO who we already met in the outdoor store in Hamilton before we started. It seems like a lifetime ago. Wait, if she’s here, then that must mean we’re about halfway to Hamilton... But first, some more mud and water: the Taiharuru estuary! Longer than the Horahora but not so deep because our timing was a bit better. The tide was coming in fast though. Half an hour later we might’ve been in past our waists. There was more mud, but hardly any puddles to wash in. With stinky estuary mud everywhere (Courtney had some on her cap, how??) we tramped on. Our destination was the Taiharuru camp, aka hot showers in the middle of nowhere. This is a small cabin, built and maintained by a 17 year old called Louis, especially for TA hikers. It’s amazing. Hot showers, as mentioned, but also two beds and a sofabed (not a very comfy one, use all the sofa cushions). Plus a box of snacks (leave money in the honesty box). Louis, you are a legend. We were very happy to be out of the downpour that started early next morning. 20 mm of rain in an hour or something. Yikes. So we had a late start, but it was not a very long day. Some more beach walking, just for old times’ sake. Dark clouds raced alongside us but they left us alone. Ahead of us was Bream head, which we climbed in the hot afternoon sun. There’s a glorious ridgewalk with some amazing views. They’ve done a lot of possum trapping in this area and it shows, the bush was stunning. All four of us were running low on water when we descended to Urquhart’s bay, but it wasn’t far to our campsite at a cool place called the Green Bus Stop. Terry, the owner, loved that we’re doing the TA and offered us eggs for dinner! There were other TA hikers as well, like Oscar from the UK who did about 100 km in two days and had blisters on his blisters.
Somewhere along these days I must have done something weird to my wrist. It was swollen and something seems to be moving around inside it. That can’t be good. But it didn’t hurt so it can’t be broken or anything, right? Right? I took to wearing a compression bandage and walking with just one trekking pole to give it some rest. As I sat down with the other hikers at the Green Busstop, Iben asked what happened.
“No idea,” I said sadly, as I unwrapped my bandage.
“Oh, it’s tendonitis,” she replied with a shrug as the bandage came off. “I can see that from here.”
Iben is a doctor. A real medical one, not just some random person with a PhD in chemistry (plenty of those).
“What’s the cure?”
“Rest. You can take ibuprofen, but it doesn’t help. Maybe a bit for the pain.”
“Oh, it doesn’t hurt.”
“Does the bandage help?”
“If you think it does.”
Cool. Wish all my doctor’s appointments were this straightforward. So, I decided to just wait for my wrist to go back to normal. On the plus side, my feet were absolutely fine.
We were almost done with the Northland section of the trail, which was been absolutely amazing. Kudos to Whangarei district council for putting up TA signs absolutely everywhere!
One of the last parts of this section is getting across Whangarei harbour. Luckily, Courtney knows someone who knows someone who could take us across in their boat (but not before a quick ice cream stop at the dairy). Together with Oscar, we were dropped off at Marsden point, then we roadwalked into Ruakaka. The rain overtook us on the beach but it was windy enough that we stayed dry behind our packcovers. But the worst thing ever happened: there was a dead penguin on the beach. Noooooooooo! Luckily, Philip was huddling inside my pack so he didn’t see it. After a minute of silence, we carried on.
We were not far from our destination when the clouds decided that this is it. All the water had to come out, now. Luckily, Waipu church has a nice porch where we could shelter. We had got our accommodation for tonight sorted: we were staying with John and Lyn, friends of my aunt and uncle. We stayed with them on the way up, too, and they said they’d keep the spare bedroom ready for us. Maybe we should let them know we might be a bit later, since we’ll wait out this rainstorm? Lyn texted us first, to ask where we were. The next text told us not to move because John was on his way to pick us up. Awesome! We warned them that we might be muddy, sweaty and smelly, but Lyn was pleasantly surprised at how un-disheveled we are (is sheveled a word? I feel it should be). Then she immediately offered the use of their washing machine so we must still be pretty smelly.
John and Lyn promised us hot showers, a big dinner and a comfortable bed, and they were not exaggerating. We ate double helpings of everything they put in front of us. When we arrived, I put our cheese and hummus in their fridge. I almost forgot them in the morning. That’s how well they fed us. Awesome people!