Taumarunui to Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Not much happened between Taumarunui and the start of Tongariro so all I’ll say for those two days is that seeing Ruapehu and Mount Nguarhoe for the first time from the road was incredible and exciting.

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On the day of Tongariro, it was a 5am wake up call and we were up and ready to tackle the Tongariro Crossing. It was a well formed steady uphill track and we climbed up and above a stunning sea of clouds and island mountains.

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The smoke coming out of the Te Marii crater was also a super cool site. Keeping at a steady uphill, the views of the main crater were crazy! Felt like we could be on another planet.

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Blue lake was magnificent- reminded me of our lovely Garibaldi Lake back home.

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Then a tough scramble on scree up to overlook the Emerald Lakes.

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Once at the top of the Red Crater, we admired Mount Doom of course.  This is the reason Lord of the Rings fans come to Tongariro after all.

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Then, Brad and I took a two-man trip to the summit of Mount Tongariro while the others hung out.  This was a side trip from the T.A. but there’s no way I could ever regret the extra kilometres. I got my views of Ruapehu, Mount Doom, all the lakes and also Lake Taupo. Ooh and also Mount Taranaki far to the West.  We got our fill of snow up there since this Christmas will be our first summer Christmas!

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Once back down, it was my turn to wait with Francis and Jess as Matt and Brad took a trip up Mount Doom- not something for the faint of heart. It was a straight up scramble on loose rock. Watching from below was just as scary I thought. Not ten minutes after the boys left, we heard “ROCK!” and then we watched a huge boulder fall halfway down the mountain. I gave them both a massive hug when they returned 2 1/2 hours later. Matt was so kind to give me his photos- boy did they ever have a ridiculously stunning view.

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Strange occurrences on this stretch…

Brad and Matt shotgunning a 500ml beer at 9am before starting our walk for the day

Brad, Matt and Jess mixing maple syrup from the free bin into our leftover rice from the India takeaways for breakfast

We got a free 2L ginger beer from a lady at a holiday park but it tasted like smoked cheddar cheese.

Te Kuiti to Taumarunui

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We said “see ya later” to Brad and Jess as they waited for Jess’ boyfriend, Francis, who arrived in Auckland the day before from Canada. We spent the first day separate but joined back up again the second morning. When we walked down our steep as driveway back to the road, there were the 3 of them, filtering water from the stream by the road. I tell ya, the timing with this squad is too crazy. We can never lose each other for more than a day. No complaints! They’re the coolest, weird as, but cool.

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Highlights of this section

Climbing up this steep as pasture hill.

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Sleeping on the lawn of a farmers house and feeding her baby lambs in the morning: Franny, Allie and Duncan.

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3 Kiwis cooked Matt a chocolate chip pancake in the Waihaha Hut and he dropped it, chocolate side down, within two minutes of receiving it.  Still ate it.

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Seeing mount Doom, snow capped in all its glory.

Passing Sam’s store, an awesome 12 year old who set up a booth outside his house with fresh eggs for sale in order to buy candy for the walkers.

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Waking up at 11pm to pee and peeing underneath an unbelievably starry sky.

Hitting the 1000km mark with the trail fam.

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Jess’s mom sent Francis with a ton of chocolate for Jess.  She shared.  Oh my god, YUM.  Sharon, you’re the bomb.com.

Winning ice cream bets for the summit altitude.  Matt’s watch has an altimeter but it’s faulty so before we reach a summit, we take bets on what we think Matt’s watch will read.  I won.  4 chocolate dipped cones from Maccas for me.  This massively made up for the lack of views as we were clouded in at the top!

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Saddest moment

Realizing we had all either eaten all of, or almost all of, our honey from Lummy in Hamilton.

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Damage done

Punctured my knee on a branch on a mossy log that I crawled across to cross a river.  Hit some muscle so I’m slowly recovering.  It may look like a dot but oh my god…  good thing my doctors, Jess and Matt took care of me while Brad captured the dramatic first aid moment.

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Lessons learnt

The first 18km of this stretch was crazy. How you make a trail: Tell a T.A. Hiker there is a trail and let them stomp their way through the bush until there looks like there is a trail. We were slipping and falling all over the place.

Don’t buy the same shoes that ripped on you the first time.  7 days in and the brand new ones are already starting to rip again.

Nights spent: 4

On Mary-Anne and Allan’s lawn

DOC campsite at the Pureroa Forest Headquarters

Waihaha Hut

Somebody’s lawn

Last but not least

Some of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery, as captured by Brad of The Tramp Twins

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Hamilton to Te Kuiti

After saying goodbye to the family, Lummy and Rhys dropped us back off where they had picked us up two days ago, on the River track. We continued on our way until hitting Hamilton where we grabbed some early lunch- sushi for me and Jess! Chinese for Matt! McDonalds for Brad! We continued on walking east through the suburbs of Hamilton and when we hit Dinsdale, we all ran into Countdown for a resupply and then to a bakery for baked goods and coffees. Brad had a doughnut literally the size of his head, for only $2.50! The rest day definitely affected us a bit and we were all quite slow going today, strolling along and laughing hysterically at things that weren’t that funny. When we got back into farmland, we came across a section gated off with a sign saying “Danger! Do not enter. Animals on track, please call… etc etc”. We stood there for a few minutes wondering what the deal was and then we saw a couple of deer heads pop up through the tall grass ahead of us. One phone call and Clyde the deer farmer popped down and invited us on to the trailer of his ATV for a grand tour of his deer farm. He was such a friendly guy explaining to us that the females were having their babies which they hide when they’re born. He didn’t want hikers startling any fawn and having the mom come after them. He showed us his pet deer, Noelle, born on Christmas and then the stags and then the females and THEN the first baby fawn this season! It was huddled up close to the fence and a classic Bambi fawn. Adorable. After or tour, Clyde dropped us back on our track at the other side of his farm. It soon started to rain so we ducked into the bar at Whatawhata where the manager was kind enough to let us set up our tents on the back patio along with Mandy and Scott, two Irish Kiwis. We were thrilled to stay dry throughout the rainy night.

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The next day, we planned for 32 km and managed 38km! Don’t get too excited for us, the extra 6km was a scenic mistake of a detour. After a bit of a road walk, we jumped off Old Mountain Rd on the wrong side of the road where there was an extended track. We managed to walk the timely 3km and get back on to SH23 before realizing our mistake and having to backtrack the 3km back, up and down, up and down. Once we ate lunch and got back on track, all was good again. Nothing to do but trek on! Mandy and Scott were pretty surprised when we passed by them. They thought we were long gone considering we started well before them in the morning. We pumped out the km to the start of Pirongia where we arrived at 3pm. We all knew we’d be happier waking up on top of the mountain so we decided to go for the summit and then 30 minutes beyond that to the hut. We arrived with time to spare before the sun went down and were surprised when there were about 10 other hikers already at the hut for the night. It was a beautiful hut that is fairly new as far as I’m aware. For dinner, Matt and I ate couscous with carrot, peas and honey soy Wok sauce. It was delicious! Dinner is always so delicious when you’ve pumped out a big day.

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Three days into this stretch had us waking up completely clouded in in the hut. I think it was the coldest our feet have been putting on wet socks and shoes that felt like ice packs. Luckily the first bit of the trail was beautiful boardwalk (to protect the kauris!). Once the real mud started, the sun had come out a bit so it wasn’t unbearable but it was hillarious. Between the sploooges and slooops of the mud to our own sound effects as we each took our turns stepping ? falling? sliding? into the knee deep stuff, it was a grand old time.

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Lucky for us there was a stream as we emerged from the forest and the sun was shining which meant we could wash our shoes and still expect them to dry out while we road walked. After 17km on road, we ducked back into the bush and farmland to find Bettina (our German fifth musketeer). We all walked and talked (99% about food) until we hit road again and bumped into a farmer who offered his woodshed as a shelter. A storm was coming in and tonight was the start. So here we are, me writing a blog post, in a wool shed with wool scattered on the floor, the smell of barn, and sheep baaaaaaing outside in the pouring rain. We gotta be out by 6am though, the sheep are about to be shorn!

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The next morning we woke up at 5:30 am and just like the farmer said, he was ready to shear at 6am.  We started walking and today’s walk  was 17 km through pastures, up and down, up and down…I think I’ve gone through this walking pattern before… But then, it started to pour the coldest wettest rain we have had on our trail so far.  We were freeeeeeezing.  Drama queen me will tell you I was in second stage hypothermia.  My legs were tingling!

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We arrived in Waitomo just in time for lunch where we decided to call it a day and hide out from the horrible weather.  The café in Waitomo was a welcomed site, we all treated ourselves to lots of cake and a bit of real food too. The four of us split a cabin at the campground and booked ourselves in for The Labyrinth tour with the Black Water Rafting company (a big deal in NZ!  One of the top attractions).  Around 6 in the evening, we hitched a ride (with a Calgarian!) to the HQ and our three guides, Anz, Christine and Hannah took us on a hella fun tour, tubing through the pitch black caves, down a couple waterfalls, with glowworms hanging above us.  Highly recommend!!

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Our last day on this stretch was the 17km in to Te Kuiti, day 35.  We could see the town from early on in the day so it felt extra long trekking up and down hills to get there.  I had some really bad shin pain throughout the day too which did not put me in the greatest mood.  As soon as we arrived in town, a squad of schoolkids joined us with endless questions and comments as they trailed behind us down the main strip of town.  We spent the afternoon eating and arranging accommodation for the night as a “weather bomb” was suppose to hit for the night.  While we ate our pizza for dinner, two more neighbourhood kids joined us with once again, endless comments and questions for us.  My favourite was “so is Canada cold as?”  It was fun chatting with them, they were super outgoing and not one bit shy.  We headed to a lovely backpackers for the night where we slept in the lounge because they were full.  Lucky for us, the lounge came with a television and hundreds of VHS videos to choose from.  Yes, VHS.  We started by watching “Holes” and moved to “A Bug’s Life” from there.  Felt like a sleepover from back in the day.

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Hamilton

You may remember a while back when we were making our way up to Cape Reinga that we hitched a ride with some Beekeepers chasing the flowers up North. Well those beekeepers said to give them a shout when we hit Hamilton and you can bet that’s what we did. 30 days in to our hike and we had yet to take a rest day AND it just so happened to be Matt’s birthday. We gave our beekeeper, Lummy, a call and within minutes we heard back with an offer to spend the night and the question of when do we need to be picked up.

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After spending the night just outside of the Hakarimata ranges on a trail angel’s lawn, we set off for an easy 13 km day to Te Rapa where we gave Lummy a call. All the four of us talked about on the way there was alllll of the food we would eat for Matt’s birthday. When Lummy arrived we were in for a bit of a shock when he drove us to a local restaurant and bar and shouted us a meal and far too many drinks for what we were used to consuming on the trail. It was such a good time, even a birthday dessert for Matt. On the way home, we picked up a Black Forest cake (Matt’s favourite) for Matt’s birthday.  Before heading home for the night, we popped in for a quick tour of the bee facilities.  So many bee hives.

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After an incredible sleep on real mattresses, the next day started off with my ultimate New Zealand dream becoming a reality.  I got to feed Logan, their pet baby lamb!  We also helped feed the scrap bin to Boss Hog and the goat, and by help I meant watch Lummy feed the scraps to Boss Hog and witness Boss Hog gobble up every little bit including eggshells.

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The morning of our first official rest day (0km walked), Brad and Jess tried their first Weet-Bix and Brad loved it (Matt and I are not yet fans). Just before noon we met up with Deelia (one of the busy bee employees) who took us around town to get some errands done. For me, errands meant a new pair of shoes and a iPhone screen replacement and case (because of that time two days ago that I shattered mine). My shoes were replaced under warranty and with the help of a very helpful Kathmandu employee.

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When we returned back to Lummy’s, Nicola, his wife, was busy preparing a lasagna for dinner. I don’t think there could have been anything more perfect. We LOVE lasagna and every hot meal we have that is not cooked on our little alcohol stove is a total blessing. We had some time to kill before dinner so Kate, Lummys daughter, gave us a horseback riding lesson. We each took a turn riding Vince around in a few circles.  Of course, part of owning a horse includes shovelling the poop.  While we rode Vince, Lummy’s youngest, Rhys, ripped around on his motorbike in the paddocks.  He is fearless and only 8 years old.  The boys let Matt onto a motorbike and Matt’s eyes lit up. Logan, who was off motorbiking temporarily while he recovered from a rugby injury, gave Matt all of his tips and supervised while Matt rode around the front paddocks with the sheep.

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Next up, dinner!  Kate loves to bake so she and I made an apple crumble for dessert.  The dinner Nicola whipped up was phenomenal.  So so so delicious and the company was even better.

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We woke up the next morning sad to leave but knowing that if we let ourselves be spoiled any longer it would be that much harder to get back into our tramping routine.  Lummy set us up with a jar of honey each.  Brad’s nearly done his 345g but I’m savouring every little spoonful.  Until next time Hamilton.  You can bet we’ll be back.  Next time, as potential beekeepers.

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Auckland to Ngaruawahia

Day 23

We woke up early seeing as we were camped in a public park and the dogs started their morning walks around 6am.  Today’s goals included a long list of gear replacements and catching up with the real world as well as making it through the Auckland CBD and to the southern suburb of Onehunga.  The walk along the coast included a neat visit around North Head, a volcano forming a headland that was used as a military defence base back in the day.  We ventured a little off route here and ended up walking through tunnels and bunkers down to the shore where we scrambled around rocks to get back on the road.

It rained on and off all day which seems to happen a lot here in NZ.  As soon as you decide to throw your rain jacket on, the weather clears up and then starts to rain down on you as soon as you take it back off.  Not a huge worry for today because our first shelter stop was Maccas for some wifi.  I ordered coffee but got a hot chocolate.  Auckland was off to a rough start.  Kidding.  Auckland has a bad rep for being the big mean city so we joked as we got closer to it but truth was we had stuff to get done so Auckland was a welcomed stop.  First up, new socks for me under Icebreaker’s lifetime sock guarantee.

Next were shoes for Matt.  He had put some in his bounce box waiting for us at the central Auckland NZ post.  A bounce box usually consists of gear replacements, toiletry refills, food, or anything else you might be missing on the trail.  You mail a box ahead so that by the time you get to it, you need exactly what’s inside.  For Matt, it was shoes.  His has started to blow out the sides.

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Last was a new backpack for Matt (this was a big one).  Basically, Matt’s Osprey bag started to squeak and Matt was not down to carry a mouse on his shoulder for the next 2600 km.  He swapped it out for an Aarn pack, New Zealand designed. The idea behind it is to keep you balanced by having weight not only on your back, but also your front.  His new bag is also already lined so he doesn’t have to worry about those sudden New Zealand hailstorms and having a pack rain cover.

Funny enough, we broke off from our two Montreal Canadians at McDonalds when we went to suss out (NZ for sort out) our gear.  Then, low and behold, four hours later, climbing Mt Eden not 200m ahead of us we’re Brad and Jess and once more we joined up for a walk.

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Day 26

Separated from Brad and Jess for a day of on again off again rain.  Nevertheless we pushed on through 35 km through the forest to come out into Mangatafiri where as it got dark, we decided we best set up camp for the night.  With a short highway walk ahead of us, we decided to try our hand at knocking on a door and asking for some lawn space to camp.  Debbie greeted us and quickly agreed to us pitching our tent.  As we tried to choose a patch of grass, she ran back out and offered us real beds, hot showers, mince on toast for tea, coffee, beer and some chocolate.  Kiwis are fantastic people.

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Day 27

After breakfast with Debbie, we set off for a lovely walk along a stopbank beside the river and many farmers paddocks into Mercer where we were excited to see a McDonalds because we knew who would be in there.  Sure enough, the fab Canadian four teamed up again to continue walking along a confusing highway/riverside track.  (Confusing because of recent flooding I think.)  When we arrived in Rangiri, we spent the night in our tents pitched on the lawn of the local café.

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Day 28 took us into the Hakarimata Ranges which we pumped out in 5 hours instead of the 6-7 approximated trail hours.

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It was in these ranges that I took my biggest muddiest tumble yet.  Just on the other side was the city of Nguarawahia where a local rolled down his window alongside us and led us back to his lawn to pitch our tents for the night.  He also had a 4 month old golden lab to keep us company.  By keep us company, I mean tear apart everything we have.  He loved chewing up our nasty as socks and muddy as shoes.  Did I mention he was the cutest guy ever and I could not discipline him at all when it came to his chewing habits.  Destructive or not, it was adorable.

780km down.

Highlights of this stretch

Leaving Auckland.  Sorry Auckland but the big city is just not for us trampers.  I have no regrets about staying true to the trail and meandering through Auckland but gosh, I had never looked at my map so much the entire hike before we entered the big city.

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Mince on toast at trail angel Debbie’s house

Finding my street signs

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New shoes for Matt

New socks for Quinn

Finding an orange tree and standing around it for 20 minutes replenishing our vitamin C.

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Public avocado orchard.  I am carrying one with me waiting for it to ripen!

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Day 25 which was a day perfectly timed to arrive in time for Clevedon’s local market where the local baker was selling their baked goods at an amazingly reasonable price.  Between Matt, Brad, Jess and I, we had: 1 salted caramel pie, 1 apple pie, 1 giant quiche, 2 mini quiches, 5 appleturnovers, 1 bowl of fudge and 5 coffees.

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Crossing though multiple paddocks of bulls, cows, and horses where we had to confidently walk our walk and pray the bulls wouldn’t charge us.

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Lessons learnt during this stretch

Night 25 was spent camping at Huanu Falls.  Earlier in the day we were telling somebody how fortunately we were that it had never rained while we set up camp in the evening and took down camp in the morning.  Night 25 was our jinxed night clearly.  Don’t brag about perfect weather until the hike is done.

Sleep does not always happen when freedom camping.  By the time we reached the botanical gardens on day 24, it was about time to camp. We cooked our dinner and then left to scope out the park, pitch our tents and fall asleep. Not so much the last one. November 5th is a Guy Fawke’s holiday (= fireworks galore). So, every house in NZ seemed to be having their own firework celebration. A flash of light to the right of our tent, some pops behind our tent, and cracks and snaps all around. I think it was near midnight when we were actually able to fall asleep.

Nights spent: 5 

Onehunga- Debra, future T.A. Hiker’s couches

Huanu Falls

Trail angel Debbie’s spare room

Rangiriri café backyard

Trail angel on Thickpenny lane’s lawn

Puhoi to Auckland

From Puhoi, we kayaked 7km down the river, then continued on foot through a small park and then quickly to the coast where we had to carefully step and climb around several headlands and rocky cliffs to Orewa. From there, it was a coastal/road walk through the Northern suburbs of Auckland before reaching the ferry terminal at Devonport. We spent this entire section hiking with Jess and Brad.

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Km completed: 598.

Also just thought I should add.  As much as all I talk about is food, we walk for about 25-35 kilometres a day, sometimes tough rooty muddy bush, sometimes smooth but tough on the feet road walking.

Highlights of this stretch

Down the river, I told Matt while kayaking that if we were alone, I would totally be singing Pocahontas. Then, Brad accompanied me in singing Colours of the Wind, the full song, all the way down the river.

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We stopped at a Maccas (McDonalds) in Orewa for some ice cream and wifi. We sat in the half outside/half inside section and at one point a bunch of school kids came in and coughed as they went by us. I’m pretty sure they were trying to tell us we stink. We really do stink.

Watching Brad eat 4 McDonald’s soft serves in Orewa.

$5 Pizza Hut pizza dinner in Silverdale.

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Before Stillwater, we grabbed a $5 honesty box dozen eggs and in the morning scrambled eight of them with hot sauce in quesadillas for brekkie.

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Our Stillwater Motor Camp trail angel, Roy, led us to the lounge to stay the night equipped with a TV (we watched some great NZ soap operas), a pool table and all the mattresses we could ever desire. He also provided us with coins for a free shower and laundry. Amazing.

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Crossing the Orewa estuary. Being impatient, we left and arrived at the river crossing an hour and a half before low tide. We then stood in the middle of the ocean ankle deep for a good 45 minutes contemplating our next moves. Matt, the bravest of us all, decided to go for it and we all followed, bags held high above our head. New river crossing record….chest deep.

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Lessons learnt

Locals know stuff, but locals are locals and I wouldn’t want to see boring sections of my hometown either. We were advised on a couple of spots on the trail where we could “hop on a bus” to skip the “boring” stuff and soak up the great stuff. We are here for the boring, the bad, the ugly as well as the great, exciting and beautiful. The said tough section turned out to be one of our most beautiful and fun yet through a super high river, along rocks, past caves and on beach.

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Nights spent: 2

Stillwater Motor Camp
Kennedy Park freedom camping

Mangawhai to Puhoi

After 4 hours of sleep (in an EXTREMELY comfortable bed), our Mangawhai family bid us farewell and we set off for a short day to the end of Pariki beach. The day’s walk was almost entirely on beach so we walked plenty of the way barefoot and took our time checking out all the surfers until we ended up at Pariki holiday park some 20km later.

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Halloween (the next day) was spent mostly in a forest where we were lucky enough to experience our second New Zealand hailstorm about halfway through the day. When we finally arrived at the last summit, we practically ran the rest of the way down the trail. This last part was a more popular public walkway so there were pristine steps down leading to a café. All we could think about as we ran down was cake and we made it with ten minutes to spare before they closed. The café owner directed us further along the trail to Fiona’s house. In the last few years, so many trampers had knocked on Fiona and Wes’s door that they decided to clear a patch of lawn and make a proper campsite for us T.A. Hikers.img_0300

Day 20 was spent walking with Brad and Jess as it was mostly forestry roads and the more people to chat with, the less mentally draining road walking is. We arrived in Puhoi after 26 km around 2pm but we couldn’t set off again until the morning because the next section was a 7km kayak down the river which had to be done at high tide. Luckily, Puhoi had a cheese factory and a pub. Oh my god. YUM. After a quick hitch back to town, we enjoyed some beers at the pub, some burgers and some fries as all the locals gathered for the Melbourne cup horse race. Quite the build up for a two second event. We quickly retired to bed which for this night was a shed which our two little Hubba Hubbas fit perfectly in. We went to bed super fat and super happy.

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Highlights of this stretch

Quinoa  chocolate from Yvonne & Paul.

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We got to the Pariki holiday park early but when Jess and Brad showed up, we were more than happy we stopped for the day. If I haven’t mentioned them before, Jess and Brad are our Eastern Canadian soulmates. We camped with them for a few days before Whangarei but then lost them when we both went into the city to resupply. ANYWAYS, they had owed us a box of Tim Tams since Whangarei for a bowl of chips we bought them back in Whananaki. We were surprised they were able to resist eating them for the whole 3 or so days we were apart. The box lasted all of five minutes when it got into our hands.

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Halloween marshmallows at the café.

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Our café menu: a slice of carrot cake, a muffin and a meat pie.

Fiona greeted us at her camp with 4 farm fresh eggs.

Cheese factory. So so so delicious. Matt and I shared a cheese platter with Brie, blue, and Gouda as well as salami, pickled veggies, pâté, chutneys and so much French bread. Their ice cream was also by far the most delicious I’ve had so far in NZ.

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Nights spent: 3

Pariki holiday park
Fiona’s camp
Puhoi shed freedom camping

Whangarei to Mangawhai

After a hitchhike into Whangarei, first stop for me was the clinic. For Matt, it was McDonalds which I soon joined him for. Matt’s menu choices were 2 double cheeseburgers, a frozen coke, and a McFlurry. For me it was an egg McMuffin and a McFlurry. After Maccas, we were picked up by my coolest distant relatives, Paul and Yvonne, the hippest Kiwi Canadian couple there ever was. Yvonne, my Nana’s niece, came to New Zealand 30 years ago and never looked back and her partner Paul is a Kiwi who’s introduced me to many Kiwi slangs and builds guitars in his free time!  (The coolest.). On the menu for tea: burgers and for dessert: apple crumble and ice cream.

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A resupply done, a shower had, a movie watched and some stomachs stuffed, we were ready to start the trail where we had left it.

After a supreme brekkie of eggs, toast, bacon and all the fruit I could ever desire, we headed off to Marsden Cove to resume our trek. There was a river crossing about 9 km in so we timed our arrival for low tide.  Somehow the river was still waist deep.

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The track followed the beach for some 20 km and along the way we had to cross the Ruakaka a River at low tide.  One of my favourite moments of this stretch was when the track turned off the beach into a parking lot where a young girl and her mom brought their goat on a leash out of the boot of their truck.  The kid’s primary school takes care of a bunch of calves and goat kids and the students take turns taking care of them.  Ie: going for long walks on the beat.  Only in NZ.

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We met quite a few new hikers we’ve “caught up” to at camp in Waipu Cove- too many to remember names, whoops.

From Waipu Cove, we walked mostly forestry roads to the Mangawhai Cliff walkway which was a stunning and easy walk along the cliffs overlooking a beautiful white sand beach.  At the end of it at Mangawhai Heads, there was froyo.  Of course we had to get a cone each- boysenberry and strawberry flavour.  Yum.  The lady said she used to give hikers a free cone but now there’s too many of us.

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A short walk further took us to Mangawhai a Village where we stopped for some “chips” and a resupply at FourSquare (kind of like an upgraded dairy).  As we sat at the picnic table outside with our chips and Milo (a chocolate drink), a guy strolled up to us and it went like this:

“Hey, you guys walking somewhere?  Want to come hang out?”

It was still pretty early during the day but Matt and I did not hesitate to say “yup!”

Craig, our trail angel, took us down the street to his family’s cottage where a girl in a fancy historic dress greeted us with a bird of her shoulder.  This turned out to be Isla and her pet bird Olive.  Julia and a second Craig soon appeared and the hang out offer led to much wine, pasta salad, beer, tequila shots, roasted veggies and some quality dress up.  Craig’s mom is a fantastic artist who has an amazing collection of thrift shop dress up clothes ranging from 70s to Halloween to high school prom to kimonos.  Oh, and also a wide assortment of hats and accessories.  Matt and I went for a 60s/70s look.  I thought Matt looked quite charming! A midnight meal then led to 3am hot milo and science lessons by the woodfire on bean bag chairs.  Never say no to a Kiwi inviting you to hang out, as vague as that may seem.

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Favourite parts of this stretch

Not five minutes in to our walk, a fisherman in his car chatted us up and gave us tips for our river crossing. He must’ve noticed I snuck a shell into my shorts pocket while we were talking because after saying goodbye, he rolled up next to us a few moments later and handed me a beautiful big perfectly in tact shell, which I will carry so long as it doesn’t break. This was my favourite act of trail magic so far.

This amazingly tiny puppy.

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The white chocolate chip macadamia nut homemade cookies Yvonne sent us off with.

Crossing the Ruakaka River. Waist deep.img_0260

Lessons learnt during this stretch

Kiwi kids have better class pets (goats) than Canadian kids (guinea pigs).

Saddest part of this stretch

When my one utensil snapped while eating a spoonful of peanut butter.

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Whananaki to Whangarei Heads

We had expected to wake up to rain in Whananaki but were thrilled when we woke up to a glorious dry tent. We packed up quickly just in case it were to start raining, and of course it did. We weren’t too upset though- our first day of actual rain. We counted ourselves very lucky. We spent 27 km walking along roads and some forest to Ngunguru where we would have to catch a boat ride with James, a local, across the inlet. He had a campsite on the other side so once we got to the inlet, our goal was achieved for the day.

Since we arrived a bit earlier than James would finish work, we followed signs for a “trail magic microwave”. Linda who was the first woman to hike the T.A. had set up a microwave full of extra supplies and of course candy along the trail. Her husband Jim was home and he strolled onto his balcony to invite us in for hot drinks. We waited here until James arrived and took us, three by three, to his camp on the other side on the inlet where the trail continued. His camp was absolutely Pinterest worthy with all beautiful D.I.Y wood decor and waterfall showers. The tent spaces were also right on the water, and he had a bunch of kayaks which us and the two other Canadians (Brad and Jess!) took for a spin.

The next morning, we packed up before the sun rose and set off for a lot of road walking to reach Pautua where we would have to cross an estuary at low tide (11:50am). Luckily we made it and only suffered a bit of hanger when we didn’t stop for lunch until 34 km in after the crossing.

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After the hanger was cured on top of Kauri Mountain beside a pasture of cows, we kept trucking on up Kauri Mountain- the steepest private driveways in the world- and then down to Ocean Beach about halfway where we camped with Brad, Jess, and Bettina. Another glorious 40km day successful.

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Our last morning in this section involved a 5:30am wake up call as we set off to finish our 20km to Whangarei heads. We probably should have read the trail notes to better prepare ourselves for the fact those first 7km would be up the steepest ridge and down again and up again and down again and up again….you get the point. Not complaining though because the views were some of our best yet and my legs are stronger for it!

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Once down from the Bream track, and at Whangarei heads, Matt and I hitched into Whangarei to
a) visit the coolest distant relatives ever (Paul and Yvonne- more of them to come)
b) resupply a couple essentials and
c) visit a clinic because I have now been sick for a week- a bit of a hefty cough developed from some horrible allergies of mine that only seem to exist in New Zealand.

Highlights of this stretch

Camping at Nikau camp run by James. A completely beautiful Pinterest worthy campsite equipped with a stunning blue heeler dog, Rusty, and a bunch of kayaks. Thanks to James’s tip, Matt, me, Brad and Jess (the 4 Canadians) made our way across the inlet in kayaks to a hidden trail up to a century old graveyard in the middle of the forest. Extremely spooky, but very neat.

Hiking in the morning mist from Ngunguru down the old Ford road.

Massive Kauri tree- Tane Moana in the forest.

Café in Ngunguru. Matt and I had two long blacks, a giant slice of carrot cake, a brownie and two meat pies. Jess and Brad also indulged in several desserts and of course hot chips!

Trail magic microwave.

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Best lentil dinner yet was enjoyed with a coconut vegetable sauce mix

Instant noodles and instant mashed potatoes trail magic from a local in Pautua who searched for us after speaking to the Canadian couple ahead of us.

Hitchhiking into Whangarei with a very Kiwi (lots of “brother” and “mate” Departmemt of Conservation worker, Matiu. This was heaps better than any other pickup I had imagined. Considering we’re walking the bush of New Zealand, who better to chat with than a DOC worker. Matiu taught us all about Kauri dieback disease, manuka honey and beehives and enlightened us as to what the hovering helicopter we had been watching all day was doing. (Installing boardwalks to prevent Kauri dieback disease).

What we learnt

Estuaries are mucky as.img_1269

Make lots of money so you can afford a house with a private beach like the lucky folk along the Whananaki coastal track.