I’m in love. This country has surprised me with so many beauties, from pristine white sandy beaches to mountainous tramps through thick jungle to rolling verdant hills and mountains of the countryside. There has been little that has not impressed me, and even less that I have not walked away from without being in awe. So, let’s start from the beginning:
Spirit’s Bay to Cape Reinga (23km): This was a bonus leg of the trail. I wanted to start wee bit farther up the coast so as to be able to see a little more of New Zealand’s renown coastlines. The far north as its referred to, is heavenly. The sand is smooth, littered with nothing other than shells. I walked along the coast, watching the tide come in. It was towards the far west end of the beach (which I had to my entire self, FYI), that I got a lesson in tides. They really do come in, and when they do, some of the otherwise easy beach walking can become a little trickier when you then need to either wait it out (which can be a few hours) or you can sometimes take the High Tide Routes, which are a hike(tramp) up some steep coastal hillside dotted with thick vegetation that sometimes can be quite prickly. The first night, I did bleed (much to my own error), but I was in soaring spirits and simply didn’t want to stop hiking and stop the beautiful landscape from evolving before me.
From the coast, I followed the Te Paki Trail up a winding path, easy walking, though many ups and many downs along the coastal high route (no trail on the coast at this point). I dropped down to a beach, scrambled over some rocks at high tide and then climbed up onto a grassy hillside. It was there that I found Paradise. I mean, literally, this could have been the definition of paradise. I dropped to the ground for a short rest looking down over a secluded bay (Sandy bay). The morning fog had lifted and unveiled a stellar view, one I’m sure I held to myself as few folks wander the lengths of these trails.
A short while later I reached the quintessential landmark of the north: Cape Reinga. I took the obligatory stroll to the lighthouse, passing hoards of tourists. And then, more spectacular beauty and solitude along Werahi Beach.
Werahi Beach to 99-mile Beach (1-20km): Werahi sits just below the Cape, and yet few venture out onto the smooth sand. Its a series of three beaches, one small and intimate in which waves crash onto the and I took a 2-hour siesta (which is becoming quite common) and then made my way up through some beautiful sand dunes. Red and yellow and blackish dunes, smoothed over from the ocean’s winds. The route was easy to follow (and likely will continue) as there are either posted with orange tops or small plastic orange triangles. It’s the AT or the PCT, but again tropical, and of course very much it’s own trail. Then, back to the beach, this time Twilight. I stopped for the night at a backpacker’s hut which was a site with toilets, a water vessel and a community open walled patio, as well as plenty of camping in the grass. I thought I’d have it to myself until four people from Michigan showed up, spent from hiking two hours from their car. We conversed a little, but to be honest I wasn’t feeling that great either. On my busride from Auckland to Kaitaia (at which point I hitch-hiked the remaining 80KM:very easy to do, FYI), I picked up a bug of sorts. It didn’t set in until that night, although I felt it’s onslaught while on that bus. The man I had to sit next to was oozing with sickness. It looked like he was suffering from a combination of food poisoning and the flu. Moments after I sat next to him, I too started sniffling and coughing. Damn buses, I’ve never had luck.
99-Mile Beach(20km-103km): Well, again very beautiful. And indeed very long. The highlight was when a Maori man invited me in for a cup of tea. He cooked us up a fish he had just caught in addition to cutting open some raw tua-tuas (which are like a mussle/oyster of sorts). For the next two nights, I caught my own tua-tuas, chucking the shells onto the beach, waiting for the next tide to come in when they’d be washed back to sea.
Ahipada to Takahue Valley via Herekino Track (103-140km): This was an exciting trail though quite the tramp. Again vegetation very thick. Imagine the Appalachian Trail, green and lush, with ferns at your feet and a tunnel of green at your head. Now, make that tropical. And thicker. Loads thicker. The ups go way up, and quick while the downs nearly vertical. Amongst this track, I passed by ages old Kauri tress, whose girth were easy 15-20 feet in diameter. This grove is one of the oldest Kauri groves on the island, and the huge behemoth of trees have ferns and vegetation scattered in it’s limbs. Venturing out of this track and the accompanying jungle-like conditions, was a breath of fresh air. My shorts were weighed down by mud after glissading down steep slopes. I picked a spot to camp in the meadow and laid down for a long night’s sleep. Then this morning, I was awoken twice. Once, at 5:45 when I heard dogs and few guys walking past. Caught in a slumbered fog, I couldn’t quite figure out where they had come or gone to, so I drifted off to sleep. Rain began to fall, soothing me back to sleep. An hour later, the boys returned and I popped up. There, on the trail (which was a muddy farm track), were three late teenage boys, filthy with mud and sweat. They had just gone up to hunt a pig. And indeed they succeeded. In fact, one of the men had blood streaked across his neck.
Now I sit in the home of Ken and Harrison (Ken’s 5-year old son). It was to much delight when I began to ascend up the Mangamucka Trail, and they popped out their front door. They invited me in for a cup of tea and then sausages, potatoes, eggs and bread. A little laundry, a shower and general relaxation. I might head back out tonight, or might not. They’re making pork chops and fresh greens from the garden… Part of me wants to head back out, but then I wonder, “Why? What’s the rush?” With a constant flow of rain showers (albeit very short waves), in the forecast, why not wait it out for better weather tomorrow? But then again, it feels good to be hiking. After all, its day 6 (7 if you include the 9KM I hiked my first night). I’m just starting to get my trail legs and soon the miles will accumulate easy.
That’s all for now. Happy trails are certainly on their way. Before I go, I’ll leave you with one last thought: Don’t leave your hat in the car you catch a ride in. It will make the start of a trail a little more red-in-the-face if you haven’t already guessed.