Distance: 525–605 KM.
Time: 21 days. Current destination: Auckland.
It’s taken me three weeks to walk the distance it took me one day to reach via car, bus and then three other cars I caught with my thumb out. Feels good to be here, sitting once again in the home of my friend Craig, aka Sunwalker. Tho, I must say, my feet don’t particularly care for all this sitting around. I’m pretty sure my feet look as swollen as Tanya’s, and she’s nearly two months pregnant. But I know this is good for me. A little R&R, and due to some logistical considerations, I will be taking my first zero (day off) tomorrow. You see, after all the river fords and perhaps a little excess condensation in my camera case, my camera has died a sudden death. Fortunately I have a no-questions-asked 3-year return policy, and I’ll just have to send it back to the states and leave it for something I need to deal with when I return. Until then, I’ll just buy a new one (fortunately the same model doesn’t cost THAT much over here (It’s a Canon powershot sx280). I’ll then ditch the weight of the ineffective water-resistant case in exchange for a ziplock baggie and call it good.
Back to the physical nature of walking, I left the ol’ barn studio that I stayed the night at and heading up the trail, which took on the form of an old, overlooked farm track. Only a few miles in, I was pleasantly surprised to find Annie (not Abbey, as I soon found out) and Albert. We trotted on together, our paces varied as we ascended up the ol’ track. At the top, we reached a reserve and two orange triangular markers leading us into the forest and down a beautifully manicured trail. A mile later it came to an end in a field with spectacular views. We savored the sight until scratching our heads as to where to go next. I have to say, I had a hard time reasoning our whereabouts on the map as I was happily caught up in conversation. (Seems to happen with so much time spent without). Ultimately, we turned back and head back to the orange markers. Again, we scratched our heads, this time without our packs on as we slumped across our packs while munching on energy bars and trail mix. Where is the trail? we thought in unison. The orange markers indicate that it’s right ahead, but the map and nature of the trail suggest otherwise. I recommended that we head up the gravel road a bit, and then take another down to where the trail “should” be. It would reconnect a few miles later. We proceeded on, and then, just minutes later, we came to the Te Araroa and it’s orange triangular markers. What in the world was the previous trail then and more importantly, why did it have orange markers??? Well, it’s a new trail, and many kinks are still needing to be worked out.
That day we all hiked together, rolling across farm pasture and a few HOT electric fences. (I’m curiously stubborn and have developed a theme in testing several of these out)… As we descended from the field, we crossed a river and a junction with a road. A sign tacked on a utility shed said, “Puhoi Pub: 5K.” With that, we quickened our pass—slowing briefly to pick a few blackberries. It was 7pm when we rolled up, and Albert and I ordered up some beers (Annie is gluten free). I ordered up a basket of fish and chips—the first of many to come I’m sure—and for $9 NZ, they satisfied the craving I’ve had for quite some time now.
By morning we were hiking together toward Orewa, and first we passed through the town of Waiwera. There I was reminded of the complexities of hiking with a partner(s). Annie and I had gotten ahead of Albert and after we made it through the tiny coastal town—in which I restrained myself from eating a morning ice-cream—we stopped and waited at a picnic table on the beach. Albert would have to walk by. But after an hour he still hadn’t. Annie was a bit worried that something had happened (perhaps he’d gotten struck on the highway earlier), but more likely he had taken a little-out-of-the-way-detour up and around a breamish sort of feature on the shore. I personally wanted to start hiking, especially with the incoming tide and a coastal route that couldn’t be hiked at high tide. Feeling slightly selfish, but also feeling like I had every right to my independence, I hiked on. It wasn’t until hours later that I ran into Albert (now Annie missing), as he had hiked that breamish feature and then road walked around the coastal route. I was now very pleased that I was a solo hiker, but as ya’ll know, it’s six of one, half a dozen to another…
But the Hibiscus Coastal Route. What an adventure. Adrenaline rushed through my body as I hopped across rocks and plunged into the rising tide. I went around blind turns, in which I stood before secretive caves, the tide throbbing against the shore, rising ever higher as the minutes ticked on. I plunged in, sometimes knee high, sometimes waist. More blind turns, more plunges, more straddling the coast’s rocky textured shoreline like a mountain goat on a steep, rocky hillside. As I managed my way down the coastline, my eyes were swept out to sea, which ranged in color from blue to sea green to turquoise to violet. It was a special place, one that was certainly a highlight of the north.
That afternoon, after another beach walk and then a surprisingly easy 15K road walk, I reached Weiti River and the small town of Stillwater. I walked up to the boating club to fill up my water bottle and was surprised when the door opened and I was welcomed in by a lean, older gentleman. As I entered, I was even further surprised when I noticed it wasn’t just a boat house, but a pub! Two hours later, after some entertaining conversation, I was once again walking down the trail—this time with a little bit of a swagger to my step. It was a pleasant evening, though I was much later then I expected. Sunset was just around the corner and dimmed the ground ahead in cool colors. I walked out onto the soft mud of an estuary and hiked along its surface until reaching the Okura River and an anticipated “thigh-high” ford. It had rained steadily a few days before, which is one of the reasons it may have been nearly shoulder deep. (Which at that point you’re nearly floating…)
I was a wet rat by the time I crossed and after a slight confusion as to where the trail went (it was getting dark at that point AND I still had a little buzz), I veered cross-country. It was simple enough: head southeast until you hit the beach. Well, it would have been simple, but four or five fences stood in my way and they were HOT. As customarily, I tapped on each and they gave me a tiny jolt. But then I wondered…. how HOT are these wires? Well, they are HOT, and after sending a bit of shock through your forearms, there’s a brief lapse and then a bit of a jolt that gives a kick to your calfs. Very, very odd sensation. I think I’ll stop testing the effectiveness of these wires and let the signs speak for themselves.