Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach – Te Araroa diaries 1
The first 100 of 3.000 kilometers to hike are done! As I’m writing this I’ve just been dropped off in Kaitaia, the last major town before Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand reachable for visitors. I’ve just finished walking the infamous 90 Mile Beach and wow, it was hardcore. However, it also was fun and I was happy just about most of the time. 90 Mile Beach is a killer, both mentally and physically, and it’s said that if you can do this, you can do the rest of the trail, too. Here’s how I experienced my first section of Te Araroa, from Cape Reinga to 90 Mile Beach.
Departure from Auckland
After having been in Auckland for almost a week, I’m happy to leave the city. My hotel was the worst and I did not sleep properly ever since arrival, so I was really keen on leaving, despite the fact that I felt a cold was coming up. I just needed to get away from the city as it was draining all the energy out of me. I booked a bus to Kaitaia and a transfer up to the Cape. Nothing was going to stop me from starting. Not even the cold that I was having and the throat aches that kept me up during the night. As I arrived in Kaitaia, I went to the pharmacy to stock up on painkillers just in case.
Arrival at Cape Reinga
The next morning I woke up not feeling too good, but in good enough spirits to get my supplies for the first five days out on the trail. I went to the supermarket, got my foods and eagerly awaited my transport, which was planned for 12.30 pm. According to the driver, Paul, the transfer usually takes about 1.5 hours, so at least I should still have enough time to make it to the first camp site for tonight. Unfortunately, the North Island doesn’t leave much space for freedom camping and although I know people will still do this where they can, I prefer to just respect local rules and not overnight somewhere I’m not allowed to. Which meant I still had 12 kilometers to hike after arrival at Cape Reinga.
Having there before back in 2018 when it was incredibly misty, I was happy that it was a beautiful day. Upon arrival at the Cape, I felt nothing but excitement. Cape Reinga is a sacred site to the Maori, you will find an 800 years old Pohutukawa tree and from here, the spirits of the deceased leave the mainland and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki.
Also with my transfer was Xavier and upon arrival I met Ida whom I shared a room with in Kaitaia, so we decided to hike together. There was noone else at the lighthouse which made it even more stunning and unfortunately, we just had a few moments to check out the beauty of nature, because ahead of us was the first challenge of Te Araroa: the tidal crossings on Te Werahi Beach.
Cape Reinga to Te Werahi Beach
The trail down to Te Werahi Beach was pretty straightforward and well marked. Down at Te Werahi Beach there are two crossings that depend on the tide and it’s best not to be there at high tide. High tide would be at 16.00 hrs that day, so we hoped to be at the first section no later than 15.00 hrs. We’d heard it was just a short run across a rocky section, but I’d read on Rosie’s blog that she had been washed away by a big wave so I was a bit worried. I should’t have been though because crossing the rocks was super easy, we got there by 15.15 and it was well in time to cross keeping our feet dry. We just had to wait for a bit for the wave to roll out again and than take a quick run. Nothing major, just common sense it felt like.
Te Werahi Beach
Te Werahi Beach is simply stunning. At the end there’s a tidal crossing which is recommended not to do at high tide. It’s hard to see from a distance, but at the end of the beach a river is flowing into the sea and this river gets bigger near high tide, which is a common thing in New Zealand, for example I also experienced this on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The tides are part of your adventure. We get there just around high tide and although we are not in a rush, we still decide to check how deep the water is. And we decide to take off our shoes because it’s just one crossing for today and it doesn’t seem worth getting our feet wet already, there will be enough wet feet on the rest of Te Araroa. We wade into the river and it turns out to come up to just below our knees so nothing too bad. However, don’t trust my experience to be similar to yours as I’ve heard of people standing up until their middle.
The red rocks and Twilight Beach
From here, its a sturdy uphill walk through something that can be best described as a mix between a desert and volcanic island. There’s fifty shades of red and yellow sand dunes all over. The trail is poorly marked but with our combined knowledge we manage just fine and arrive on the farmland following this section not much later. By then we’ve done about 7 kms and I am feeling in so much pain. I’ve not taken any painkillers since this morning, I’m grasping for breath and my legs just can’t go any further. So basically, it’s just sitting down, taking meds, eat a lot and regaining my strength for the last bit.
This definitely works because within half an hour I’m up and running again and soaking up all the natural beauty around me. With every step I take I’m feeling more and more grateful I get to be here and experience this on a beautiful day like today. Next up is the descent to Twilight Beach, the final beach for today. It’s about one hour left, before there’s a few stairs to climb up to Twilight Beach Campsite. I get there just before sunset, pitch my tent and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Life is good.
90 Mile Beach – day 1
Next up is 90 Mile Beach, a beach which is in fact just 88 kilometers long rather than 90 miles. 88 Kilometers is still a lot though, especially having to walk it in three days because of the limited camping options. I’m the last one to get up and decide to take things easy, I don’t feel rushed or the need to leave. After a coffee I pack up my tent and start my hike through the hills that make up the north end of 90 Mile Beach. After about an hour I reach a viewpoint, from where it’s a whole lot of steps down to the beach. Although I know this is going to be hard, I’m looking forward to it!
The first day on 90 Mile Beach is easy for me. I’m easily picking up a fast pace and with the tailwind I feel like I’m flying. I pass some other hikers and feel my best. The sky is pretty awesome and the sun is shining. I grab a quick lunch on a log and eventually make it to Maunganui Camp Site mid afternoon in the best of spirits. I’ve just got one small blister but other than that I’m feeling quite well. I’ve got a restless night though as the wind is causing my tent to make a lot of noise. I clearly remember being blown away in the Swedish mountains just a few weeks ago so it keeps me up most of the night.
90 Mile Beach – day 3
The second day on Ninety Mile Beach starts with a dark sky and a drizzle. I decide to put on my rain gear just to be sure because I don’t want to put it all on while hiking and having to stop again. Eventually the rain never really starts so during my first break I take it all off again. The wind is a bit more fierce today but I’m listening to music and a bunch of podcasts which gets me through most of the day. Only the last hour is getting a bit painful. Which is also caused by the fact that the camp site for tonight is said to be just 200 meters from the beach, however it’s a 1 kilometer walk across a gravel road, which is a true pain for the feet. The beer I find upon arrival is awesome though!
Unfortunately, today my feet have suffered. Yesterday was a wet feet day all day long, so many stream crossings along the way and my feet just aren’t used to that. I count no less than seven blisters on my feet. However I’ve come this far, I can make it tomorrow, too.
90 Mile Beach – day 4
I somehow thought that I would be fine, but putting on my shoes the next morning is pure horror. I decide to give myself plenty of breaks and time today. There’s 31 kilometers of sand ahead of me and I don’t want to get injured. I also take myself off the painkillers I’ve been taking to keep my cold under control. Unfortunately, within one hour I’m in pain again. It’s gonna be a long day I reckon …
During the first half of the day I just keep in good spirits while listening to music and podcasts. There’s an option to camp at km 17 but I decide to march onto the next campsite in Ahipara, the first town of the trail. Just a few kilometers past the turn off I regret this though as my feet are terribly painful and giving me a hard time. I decide to put mind over matter but it’s hard. I see the others ahead of me struggling as well and try to catch up with them so at least there’s someone to talk to. They all tell me they are having a hard time. The wind has turned and is now straight in my face and the town I can see from a far distance doesn’t seem to get any closer.
The last few kilometers are the worst. I keep talking to myself that I can do this and that it’s just my feet. It takes forever to exit the beach (“you’re almost there” are the words I hear no less than five times) and then I realize it’s another kilometer to the camp site. I could have died right there but I manage to get myself to take a bunch more steps and even find a camping spot with the rest of the group, who are limping just like me.
While taking off my shoes I notice two blisters got infected and one of my toenails is not doing well. I was having sore feet for a reason. That night we order Thai food and the pain seems quickly forgotten.
A hitch to Kaitaia
To hitch or not to hitch – that’s the question keeping some Te Araroa hikers occupied during large parts of their trip. Before I set off on this adventure I decided I wanted to do it all. However, it was already within a few hours of hiking and hearing that many sections are currently closed for various reasons (meaning loads of road walking to bypass) I knew: this is not for me. If I feel like I want to get a ride, I’ll happily get it. I’m not a purist who feels the need to hike every kilometer as per the book. I’ve got nothing to prove and nobody I owe an explanation to other than to me. I’m here to hike through a beautiful country and have a good time. I came here because New Zealand’s nature makes me happy. Not to hike along a highway.
And so the decision to get a ride to Kaitaia was easily made. Also because Herekino Forest, the next section due, is closed due to kauri dieback disease. Same for the notorious Raetea forest ahead. Together with two others who have too painful feet to continue I decide to hit the road for a hitch and we’re picked up within five minutes. Another 15 minutes later we’re back in Kaitaia and I knew this was a great decision. I’m now putting my feet to rest for the next few days to come. I want them to be fully recovered when I’m starting my next section, whether it’ll take a few days or a week.
I’ve truly enjoyed my first 100 kms on Te Araroa despite being in quite a bit of pain the last day. New Zealand has been extremely kind weather wise to me so far and walking on a beach for 88 kilometers may not be for everyone, I’m happy I did it and proud that apart from my feet, the rest of my body managed just fine. I’m looking forward to the next weeks to come!
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Love reading along! Beautiful pictures! Hope your feet heal soon! March on!