Puketi to Whananaki

Days 9 – 12, km so far 312

We spent a super relaxed day moseying on down from the Puketi forest to Kerikeri, our first “real” town. By “real” town, I mean one with a legitimate supermarket, not just a dairy. The route we took wandered down 4WD farm roads and through pastures full of cows and sheep. We really felt like we were living the true New Zealand experience- although the UK couple we were with told us it feels like they’re back in the UK, so not quite the iconic NZ picture for everyone.

At the campsite in Kerikeri, lots of T.A. hikers were settling in for a few nights (just one for us) but Tane, a Kiwi we had met, decided to indulge in some wine, cheese and crackers and lucky us, we got to take part in his celebration. We’ll have to hide a bottle of wine for him somewhere along the trail in the future. We managed to chat with quite a few T.A. hikers that night. Ken, an American hiker who had also done the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and AT (Appalachian Trail) recently told us that this trail is by far the most different and challenging thruhike he’s done.

After Kerikeri it was on to Paihia which turned out to be a beautiful little holiday town. Reminded both of us of Vancouver Island back home- beautiful coastal views, beaches, trails, tourists, and ice cream. Stayed at a lovely campground on the water and arranged our boat crossing across the estuary along with five other hikers. The crossing had to be done at low tide because it enters an estuary so we would have a half day of forced rest before our boat would leave at 2:30pm. This meant we would also indulge in multiple ice creams from the camp shop while waiting for our boat.

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Once across, we hiked a short 10km through Russell Forest following a river until we reached a big grassy space for camping along with a small shelter to cook in.

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The next morning (in the words of my journal- daaaayyyyyyyuuuuuum), we hiked a whopping 40 kilometres to Whananaki. There ended up being a lovely 21 km of road walking to be done before a whole lot of forest that was on private property (=no camping allowed) so we had to push through to finish it all. Go big or go home right. It wasn’t too awful to roll into camp and have somebody usher us in saying “50metres through that gate- hot chips!” (Chips=fries). You can bet we ate some.

Highlights of this stretch

About an hour out of Kerikeri I told Matt that I could definitely eat a big bag of popcorn in town. Sure enough the first storefront to jump out at me in Kerikeri was “gourmet popcorn”. Of course I chose the most economical bag – a 3 pop (they come in 1 pop, 2 pop or 3 pop so yes I got the biggest bag- also the biggest bang for your buck).

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Had a Countdown rotisserie chicken and a big bag of oranges for dinner in Kerikeri.

Matt fed a goat some grass.

Cheese and wine with Tane.

What we learnt

Don’t trust road signs. Check your map or GPS to confirm. We took a wrong turn coming out of Waitangi forest so we ended up taking the highway for a few km rather than the nice coastal route. Plus side there was a dairy along the way and a cycle path in construction alongside the highway so we weren’t struggling with no shoulder and fast cars.

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Don’t stay at a campground on a holiday weekend. It was labour day for the Kiwis in Paihia and unlike us trampers who go to bed at 7pm or earlier (that’s called Hiker Midnight folks), people on holiday like to drink and have a good old time till midnight.

If you have sore muscles, pop into the historic Stone store and try their tester of “healing balm”.

NZ sun is harsh.  Sunscreen up!

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The Northlands Forests

The big bad muddy Northlands forests. That’s about how well we knew them before actually setting foot in them. That, and also that it was one of the harder sections in the T.A. The Northlands forests consist of four forests: Herekino, Raetea, Omahuta and Puketi.

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Before leaving on the T.A., Matt and I picked up the Guidebook to read through as a little teaser to our trail. Turns out we only actually read about the first five pages, about ten times. It is a lovely book and great to show people to give them a glimpse of the Te Araroa but as people about to hike the trail, we couldn’t really look past the first couple of stretches.

ANYWAYS, I think somewhere in the first couple of pages, the author notes something along the lines of “overseas trampers should be advised that tramping in the New Zealand bush does not often exceed 2 km/hr”. I think our friend Roger (from Canada who lives in Wellington) read this out loud to us and all three of us laughed. No way, so slow.

Yes way.

Beginning on day one where we conquered the Herekino forest, my journal entry for the day started like this:
“Holy heck. What have I signed up for?”
I was not ready for the amount of mud that the Herekino forest had to offer us. Technically placing your steps so as to not slip and bail with 12 kilos on your back was so much more mentally exhausting than walking on a beach for 4 days.

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Sometimes the trail looked like this…

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And sometimes a lot a lot like this….

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But we did it, we conquered them and we do not regret a single step! (Well, except for the couple, ok, tens of times we took a step that resulted in a slip and a sloooosh and a sluuuuup- how do you like my mud noises?)img_0161

The coolest thing we saw

Some rusty abandoned loggers huts

Four big eyes! Two owls perched directly above the track in the Raetea forest.

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Highlights in the forests

Camping in Raetea and putting on our crusty mud socks in the morning

Following the river as our trail in the Omahuta forest for 2 km, at points it was over my knees deep!

Puketi forest recreation site campground- SHOWERS!!!

Hiking in pastures of lambs

Being led along a road by a calf

Hiking for a full day with five other Canadians (featured in the fantastic photo below!)

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People we met in this stretch

Bettina – Germany
Josée – CANADA
Brad & Jess – CANADA
Chris & Heather – UK
Tane – Kiwi
Julia & Adrian – Austria
Sarah – Sweden

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Cape Reinga to Ahipara

Five hitchhikes later and we arrived at the Northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, where Maori dead “flee” and then “leap” to begin their journey to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki.  It’s a very sacred spot for Maori.  This is also a very important spot for T.A. Hikers.  It’s not the easiest spot to get to unless you’re into shelling out some cash for a 4WD bus that will rip around on 90mile beach before reaching the Cape, so for us, it meant to hitch.  Our first ride from Whangarei was no problem.  Two beekeepers- Lummy and Robert picked us up quickly.  They were driving up North from Hamilton just for the day to test the waters and chase the manuka flowers where they were blooming to decide where to set up their hives.  They were a lot of fun- very friendly Kiwis indeed!  Even offered us some work extracting honey if we want in December!  Unfortunately (fortunately) we’ll be hiking but we may have to take a day off to experience the beekeeper life.

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From Awanui, where the beekeepers dropped us off, it was a bit trickier.  You see, to hitchhike, you need cars to be driving past you.  Lots of tour buses, lots of full family vehicles, not a lot of extra space cars.  Alas, four thumbs later, we arrived at the Cape with a lovely Australian couple who had rented a car and were driving wherever the locals told them to.  I think they wanted to start the hike with us after we told them about it.

Of course, we took our celebratory starting photos and we were off.  The Cape was much more beautiful than I expected.  For some reason, I had expected it to be lower down, but it was high at the end of a ridge, and the weather was perfect.  The coastal walk was absolutely stunning.  White sand beaches, beautiful shells, strange grassy dunes, sections that felt like Mars.  It was fantastic.

img_0885 img_0888Since we hitchhiked, we only arrived at 3pm which meant we would only walk 12km to the first free camp site at Twilight Beach.  I was so excited to meet the first few fellow trampers, two Germans and an Austrian, all hoping to reach Bluff.  We were all thrilled there was a water tank at the campsite.  On the beach, we were both trying to conserve our water, but the NZ sun was just so hot (like every single Kiwi has told us).  I wore a t-shirt with skin covered in sunsceeen for maybe half an hour and starting to get red, so I threw on a long sleeve.

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The next day, we crossed over Scott’s Point to finally reach the official start of 90mile beach.  We crossed paths with Nahria and Kevin (who we hitchhiked with one length to the Cape).  They were goin’ fish in’ but recommended a friend’s campground further down the beach.  Once we reached the iconic steps down to 90mile, you couldn’t see the end of the beach, not even halfway, not even a quarter of the way.  Should be fun!  We walked for roughly 7 hours through sunshine, sudden downpour and several stream crossings.  Looks like our days wth dry feet are numbered.  We passed the time this day writing Haikus.  Mind you, we don’t know what a real Haiku is so we made up the rule of 3,5,3,2.  Makes no sense I know.  This is my “Haiku”.

Burger Fuel

What I would eat now

If I could

Burgers

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Our second night was spent at the Bluff campground, and our third night at Utea Park.  Considering we had endured a sudden hailstorm that pelted our bare legs like bibi guns, I think we deserved the bed in a cabin.  Utea Park was Nahria and Kevin’s suggestion.  We saw in the communal kitchen a note about picking clams at low tide.  Matt was quick to jump back down to the beach (me not so much) to pick a huuuuuge bucket of tuatua (clams).  We feasted on them alongside three other T.A. Hikers that night.

The last day on 90mile was definitely the toughest mentally, although still very bearable.  From what we had gathered at the campsites was that most hikers had unbearable blisters.  Us?  So far, so good, thank god.  Once we could see Ahipara in the distance, it seemed to take forever to finally reach it, but by 3pm, we were eating fish and chips (for Matt) and a popsicle (for me) outside a dairy, and then settled in for camp for another night.

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How we passed time on the beach:

Haikus (as mentioned above)

Writing math equations in the sand for the hikers behind us

Counting dead pufferfish (55 in one 30km stretch)

Drawing faces in the sand with a single line made by our hiking poles

Singing songs from the Little Mermaid

 

Things we learnt not to do:

We met a guy, Brian, in Japan, who had done the T.A.  He was American but has done about 3 long distance trails as far as I know.  One of his tips?  Butter is cheap.  Butter is good.  Butter is calories.  Put a spoonful of butter in everything.  Matt was a bit too excited about this.  Tried it.  Put one spoonful too many.  Felt sick.  Didn’t want to throw up and waste the precious calories.

 

 

Beware of what you bring

The idea is simple.  The less weight on your back the more fun you’ll have.  Having said that, that doesn’t mean skipping out on necessities like rain gear and personal hygiene!

Matt summed it up well:

If my pack’s 6 kilos, I’ll laugh.  7 kilos would be great.  8 would be fine.  9 and I’d want to lose some weight.  10 and I’ll cry.

Oh For the last however long, Matt and I have been talking about the weight of our packs for the T.A.  Of course, that didn’t mean we were really going to bunker down and spend too much time physically going over our gear and cutting weight where we could.  We thought talking about being lightweight often enough would do the trick.  Surely if we talk about our 7 kilo bags, our bags WILL weigh 7 kilos.   Nope, for us, it was night before the commute up North that we decided to get it all together, gear splayed all over the floor, then stuffed into our packs and plunked down on the scale.  First step was cutting off tags and excess straps.  Yup.  I suppose it all adds up but mostly it was fun to pretend to be ultra lightweight..ha…ha.

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Nobody cried but there would a quick couple last minute decisions that had to be finalized.  For me, it was my camera and my iPad.  I was always planning to bring my GoPro but I still hadn’t managed to fathom the idea of leaving my Olympus OMdEM10 behind.  Matt has a great little camera, the Sony RX somethingsomething.  It’s small and takes great photos.  Unlike Matt though, I like to constantly have a camera at the ready so sharing a camera doesn’t sound like much fun to me.  Then again….. for the sake of pack weight, I’ll have to learn to share.  My iPad on the other hand…well I didn’t actually plan on taking it.  I’d have my iPhone and Matt would bring his iPad.  But now that it’s time to go, I’m wondering how likely I am to blog if I don’t have my own.  Part of my process for packing is in these very words being typed out right now.  By the end of this post, I should have made a decision.  Thanks for bearing with me.

While I contemplate a bit more, let’s dive into the big 3.  Sleeping bag, shelter, and pack.

For shelter, Matt and I have gone with the MSR Hubba Hubba 2 man tent.  It weighs 2 kilos (light for a tent with poles) and is way more spacious than 2 man tents we’ve previously owned (Kelly Salida 2 and a REI tent from a while back.  Plus, we got a sweet deal given Matt had worked at MEC just prior to leaving for our travels.  Only way we could’ve cut weight here would have been going with a tarp tent (no poles- you use your hiking sticks/trees).  I hate all bugs though so I’m happiest in a fully enclosed tent.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next my sleeping bag (same as Matt’s): MEC Aquila Down

It’s not the lightest- weighing in at 972g- but it keeps me warm and happy.

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Last, my pack.  I’ll be carrying a Hyperlite Windrider 2400

It weighs in at 799g.  I’ve got the 40L windrider which should be just big enough for the longest stretches between resupplies.  This was a bit of a splurge when I got to New Zealand.  I loved the Osprey Ariel 55 I travelled with but for hiking, it wasn’t just a bit excessive in terms of its padding, buckles and straps.

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To get up North, we’ve hired a relocation vehicle to get from Wellington to Auckland.  We’d hitchhike to Cape Reinga from there.  Packing our bags came approximately one hour before departure.  We had started the night before but hadn’t so much glimpsed at the scale yet.  After lots of thought here’s what we came up with.

Matt is at just over 9 kilos.  Heavier than me, but his backpack itself weighs a kilo and a bit heavier than mine.  We’re splitting the tent/cook set/PLB/maps.

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My backpack sits at about 7.6 kilos including fuel (alcohol)for our stove.  Lighter than Matt’s but remember this is our base weight.  We have yet to add water and food supplies to the situation.

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I know it may not look like much but it’s surprising how quickly the weight adds up.  Electronics definitely are a big part of that.  And yes, I am bringing a mini raccoon stuffy but that guy has sentimental value.

We’re both bound to have slightly different gear lists by the end of it.  Chances are we may need to replace a few items or maybe one day we’ll be so tired and frustrated that we chuck some weight out of our bags without thinking it through.  I will also try to resist but when I walk on a beach I can’t help pick up beautiful pieces of paua and sea glass.  I’ll do my best to keep it light.

*** UPDATE:  ***

-My big camera and iPad have been sent back to Wellington.  I will be using my GoPro and iPhone as well as sharing Matts camera and iPad.

-Even though my pack is waterproof I’ve taken the further step of lining it with a garbage bag.  Extra protection for those river crossings!

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Can’t beat Welly on a good day

 


Wellington, the windy capital in which we resided for the last month and a half. They’re not joking when they call it the windy capital. There have been nights when God knows how many hours I managed to sleep between being woken up by gusts catching the bedroom door or open window. Laundry sure does dry quickly though. On the other hand, although almost every day consisted of some wind, our month and a half had plenty of perfectly calm moments. From perfect blue skies at the beaches to perfect wild flowers glowing in the sunlight on the mountains, you really can’t beat Welly on a good day.

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Some of our favourite prime sunny days destinations in Wellington include:

Breaker Bay

We stopped at Tarakena Bay.  There were some tracks leading off into the hills, but we stuck to the beach and rocky surroundings.

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Tip Track/Radome Track

From Island Bay, this trail took us roughly 4 hours.  There are a couple of access points but we like to think we chose the best route with the most spectacular all around views.  Starting from Owhiro Bay, we quickly made our way to the ridge where we walked for about an hour to the Radar Dome (for the airport).  Seeing as we were on a ridge, there were non stop views completely surrounding you.

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Island Bay 

Our home for five weeks.  A lovely bay and beach area where we took Maisy, the miniature German Schnauzer we lived with on a walk almost daily.

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There ya have it.  Wellington on a good day.  Told ya it’s a tough one to beat.

 

 

 

Things Kiwis say

You tell someone you’re going to New Zealand and most people are kiwi savvy enough to say “sweet as bruh!”  Same as somebody whose told you’re from Canada and exclaims, “Oh eh how abooot that eh!”  Anyways, if you’re not one of those people, “sweet as bruh” pretty well means “awesome man!”  That’s about all I came with to New Zealand, so naturally when I started hearing other strange phrases, I started a little collection of my favourites.  I credit my landlady, Anna, and my little Kiwi neighbours for teaching me most of these.

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Togs.

Swimsuit.

Lolly, Barbie, Cuppa.

Candy, Barbeque, Cup of whatever you’re drinking.

Bruh.

As in bro/brother.

Tea.  

“What’ll you have for tea Alice?” my little five year old neighbour was asked.

“Hey Alice, Dad wants to know what kind of tea you’ll have for dinner”, I chirp in, a little confused about a five year old drinking tea…

“Pesto pasta with ham”, Alice decides.

Then it clicked.  Tea = dinner.  Ok, that’s a lie.  At the time I just thought, oh she’s hungry not thirsty.  The lightbulb lit a week later when I was ringing somebody up at the call centre (you’ll hear about that fantastic job one of these days).  Someone told me they were “just in the middle of tea”.  Ok.  Then another, “it’s tea time”.  No problem.  Then finally, “I’m just cooking tea, can’t talk at the moment”.  Ok, the last one didn’t make sense.  Lightbulb lit.

Fush ‘n Chups, Fish ‘n Chips.

Classic.

Sweet as.  Mean as.  Nasty as.  Everything as.

Good as gold.

Chilly bin.  

Probably my favourite one.  A cooler in Canada.

KiwiFRUIT.

You don’t eat kiwis.  Kiwis are the birds or they are New Zealanders.  My favorite kiwifruit usage came when Alice (my 5 year old neighbour) said to her dad (while Matt and I sat behind her), “you know these people, they eat the skin on the kiwifruit!”

Plaster.

Not a band-aid.

Jandal.

As in sandal.

Knackered.

Tired.

Good on ya.

Nice work.

Cheeky.

I’d say a mixture of being rude but playful.  What Anna, our landlady calls us often.  Our 5 year old neighbour has also called Matt out on occasion for being cheeky.

Shout.

Pay for/treat somebody as in “I shouted them their meal”

Flossy.

Still not entirely sure, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s somewhat of a term of endearment.

Cheers.

What it usually means, except triple your usage bruh.

Dairy.

Convenient store, local store.

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So there you go, my personal favorites, but I’m sure that’s not the half of it.  Also figured I’d throw in some sheep photos for sake of being a post all about New Zealanders.  There’s a lot of different numbers floating out there as to exactly how many more sheep there are to Kiwis, but it’s safe to say there’s at least 5 sheep per Kiwi in New Zealand.  5 sheep or 10 sheep, more sheep than people is a lot of sheep either way.

Anyways, I think I’ll go have a cuppa and some fush ‘n chups at the dairy.  Cheers bruh.