I’ve been walking for ten days and wow … I’ve been experiencing a lot of different landscapes and emotions already. Since my last update, I skipped a section, my blisters have almost healed and I’ve almost seen my iPhone drown. It was a special week walking through the Bay of Islands. Here’s more about from my second week on Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.
Rain and closed forests
After 90 Mile Beach I took four days to let my feet and blisters heal. By the end of those four days, I’m eager to get back on the road, but once I start planning, I can’t quite make up mind about what to do. It’s about a 4-5 day walk from Kaitaia to Kerikeri, but part of this route is closed due to the kauri dieback disease, so you have to walk long stretches on (gravel) roads. It’s also recommended to avoid Puketi Forest during heavy rainfall. And unfortunately, Metservice has announced a code orange planned for the days that I have planned to be hiking that section. I have a sleepless night over this and in the morning I decide to skip this section and travel onwards to Kerikeri by bus. I don’t like the idea of four days of just roadwalks because forests are closed and/or too dangerous. Immediately after making this decision, it seems like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Off to the Bay of Islands
In Kerikeri I’m staying with Asanka, who last year walked Te Araroa with his family, including their two-month-old baby. He gives me some very valuable tips, including to add electrolytes to my drinking water in the morning and to start taking magnesium in the evenings. Before starting the next section of my hike, I visit the local pharmacy and head out well stocked. Asanka drops me off outside Kerikeri where I walk straight into the forest. I’m back on TA!
Because of the forestry, the trail has been diverted here and despite the fact that I regularly have to jump to the side for the logging trucks passing by and the fact that almost all day is on a gravel road, I enjoy being back on the trail. The views are beautiful and the ferns are huge. My feet are slightly painful but it’s nothing I can’t handle. Before starting the descent to Waitangi, I make a detour to Mt. Bledisloe, from where I can get a first view of the famous Bay of Islands, one of the main sights of New Zealand’s North Island.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The next day I decide to take it easy. In the morning I first go to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, New Zealand’s most important historic site. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed here in 1840, which laid the foundation for what is now New Zealand. The quality of the tour is quite average so I quickly decide to continue on my own, which suits me just fine. After a few hours of looking around, I pick up my backpack at the reception. It’s time to start walking again.
Along the coast I walk to Pahia, where I get off the trail for a few hours. I want to visit Russell, located on the other side of the bay. Russell is a historic village where the first permanent European settlements were and I think it would be nice to have a look around. I take the ferry across and ten minutes later I’ve arrived the other side. I walk up to Flagstsaff Hill, another important place for New Zealand history. From here I have a beautiful view over the rest of the Bay of Islands. For a moment I play with the idea of going to Cape Brett, a tramp that has been on my mind for years. Eventually I drop the idea because my main focus here is to hike Te Araroa and so I start making my way to Orongo Bay.
A mental challenge
Once at the campsite I have a small mental breakdown. I’m finding this harder than I had imagined. I haven’t slept well in weeks and am in pain almost nonstop when hiking. Also I’ve been away from home for three weeks now and with a 12 hour time difference, my friends and family feel very far away from me and communicating with them is a challenge. When I’m up, they are in bed and the other way around. I typically only message them in my mornings (their evenings), when I’m starting my walk for the day. In my evening, they are prepping for work and such so it’s a challenge to find a time that’s good for both. The idea that it will be like this for another five months hits me hard. I go to bed early and hope for a better day tomorrow.
The following days consist entirely of roadwalking, or walking along the main road. One time on a tarmac road, the other time on a gravel road. It rains both days so I make the most of it by waving enthusiastically to oncoming traffic and listening to music. The second day I walk with Simone from South Africa. At first I didn’t want to leave the campsite because of the code orange, but in the morning it seemed good enough set off anyway. After three hours in drizzle, the downpour starts and within minutes I’m soaked to the bone. Even in the pockets of my rainjacket there’s a big layer of water, but my phone which I kept in one of them still seems to work fine luckily.
Fortunately, there is such a thing as ‘trail angels’ or people who welcome you into their home along the way. Dave and Alex live in Helena Bay and host walkers in their yard. I call them and I’m very welcome to stay at their place. Once on their porch I can dry my stuff and I get a beer and a fresh meal. I want to charge my phone, but suddenly get the message that there is water in my iPhone and that it cannot be charged. I’m pretty anxious, because everything I need for my hike is on this phone. Also, because of the slow WiFi here in New Zealand, my phone hasn’t made backups for a month and none of the photos I took are in my iCloud yet.
In the end I manage to charge my phone via my power bank, but the first thing I do as soon as I arrive in the next town is get a waterproof bag for my phone. My headphones didn’t survive the rain unfortunately.
Back to the coast
The next day the Helena Ridge Track is coming up, a route that is well marked, but has some very steep sections. Despite the heavy rainfall I decide to go for it and although the trail is good, it is also very slippery in many places. I regularly slip and in the end am relieved that I didn’t tumble off the mountain. Completely covered in mud, Simone and I manage to arrange a lift for the last 10 kilometers into the next town: Whananaki.
Here I find a lovely campsite where I manage to dry all my equipment in the sun. The weather was quite bad over the past few days, but has been pretty good now. I dry out all of my stuff, charge my phone and head back onwards the next day.
Leaving Whananaki starts with the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere, which is 395 meters long. After crossing it, I walk the Whananaki Coastal Track. After about 8 kilometers I arrive at an tarmac road again and I feel a little disappointed. Of the last 110 kilometers, it was almost 90 kilometers on main roads and little trail. Fortunately, the sections of trail I went through are beautiful. I walk the full 16 kilometers to the next village, where I arrange a hitch into town. Here I pick up my package with my laptop and fresh contact lenses, backup my phone with decent wifi and resupply.
Life on the trail is simple. An average day for me is getting up between 06.00-06.30, walking from 08.00, enjoying the journey that’s ahead. Usually I arrive at my overnight place around 4 pm where I set up my tent, sometimes socialize with other hikers if there are any, but sometimes also do nothing for a while. Around 6 pm I start cooking and dinner, after which I go to bed around 7 pm and go to sleep at 8 pm. On the days that I’m ‘in town’ I resupply for the coming days, do laundry, I prepare for the sections to come (calculate number of kms per day, find out if you can refill water along the way, find out where food is available is and where you can spend the night). I sometimes post on Instagram and sometimes I don’t feel like it. I sleep almost 10 hours each night which feels awesome.
It’s the small things
My blisters are now reasonably healed, my feet still have some trouble with the road walking but I’m getting used to it. Just like walking on trail runners, eating a lot of unhealthy food with a lot of calories, sometimes sleeping little and constantly smelling your own stink because you have been walking in the same unwashed clothes for six days. I’m grateful to the people who gave me a lift that they didn’t refuse me because I smell horrible. I enjoy the little things like fresh eggs or a cup of coffee. Or a friendly smile from a stranger. Of being awakened by the birds (I haven’t set my alarm for a single day yet) and the beauty of New Zealand. Until next time!
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Day 5. Kerikeri – Waitangi 17 km
Day 6. Waitangi – Russel – Orongo 12 km
Day 7. Orongo – The Farm 22 km
Day 8. The Farm – Helena Bay 18 km
Day 9. Helena Bay – Whananaki 15 km (en 12 km lift)
Day 10. Whananaki – Ngunguru 26 km
Total distance on this section: 110
Total distance walked: 214