I was in Whanganui, having said goodbye to Tim and Becky who were busing south towards the Tararuas and Thibaut who was doing similar to get to Wellington for his parents arrival, and my crotch was finally starting to feel normal again (the cycling, people...). Clayton (of my Hunua ranges adventures) had internet-introduced me to a dear friend of his Sarah, so with all my food, my humungus pack (it was not getting any smaller) and care package from mum, I was glad when she insisted on picking me up. We went back to her place where I got not only doggy cuddles but BABY RUBY cuddles!! Then she took me driving round the town showing me the sights and incredible views out to the ocean and the mountains I'd be heading into. Back at hers again I was spoilt with fresh fresh chicken burgers and beer and just chilling in front of a tv- hadn't done that in a while, and she even fixed my cracked phone screen cover ~ who IS this Wonder Woman?! 😃 thanks Sarah, Ray, Ruby and Peanut, the dog for the lovely time in Whangavegas! After a relaxing morning getting sorted and saying goodbye to MY shoes, we drove out to where I had left the trail and Sarah and bubs joined be on the road out of town. They turned off and it was just me again... to ponder the weight of my pack and realise that carrying a 500g gigantor of a PLB was just not worth it, so as I walked I researched, bought a new and sold an old PLB. The wonders of technology and being able to walk with my face in a phone... then came the stretch of trecherous road in the form of State Highway 3. And the stinky farm transport trucks!! This was definitely not a favourite walking section.
I was relieved when I got to step off the highway and head west towards the coast. Did a little over 30km, met fellow hiker Mikey from the Netherlands who walked with me for a bit (2 cars had stopped and told me that my 'partner' wasn't too far behind, so stopped and waited to see who this person was!) and stopped at the Turakina camp ground (for free!) for the night. The next day was beach again~! It was pretty hazy but beautiful and I really got a sense of walking 'south'.
My next trail angel came in the form of Kuru~ I had run out of water on the long beach then forestry road section and he gave me two glasses of ice cold raro (orange cordial sugary goodness that I wouldn't usually touch with a barge pole~ but on trail... man it was heaven!) He was working hard to renovate the house and somehow keep up mortgage payments with little money coming in~ a hiker camp ground perhaps? We brainstormed a few ideas then I went on my way on towards Bulls, past a house with loads of chickens and hand painted signs on the fence like"God sees All!" And "Let in the Light!" "And Jesus gives Life!" I was curious so I came closer to read the other signs when the door to the house opened. "Oh God oh God...!" I thought, (probably not in the way I was supposed to) "this is going to be interesting, be prepared to run!" A beautifully radiant old woman, crouched with age, with striking pale blue eyes and short grey hair comes towards me~ she flashes me a toothless smile and is clearly eager to talk ~ about her dogs, and a recently fallen tree on her property... she introduces herself as Heather... thank goodness she doesn't want to talk of God today. We chat for a while and I say goodbye, she had made me smile. Soon after I come to a sign, clearly for walkers and it leads to a water tank- just what I needed!! So close to Bulls, it was mid afternoon and I wanted to keep going. I walk past a man coming out of a dairy. "Jeez~ you must REALLY love what you're doing" it had been raining on and off all day and I must have looked a sight! We both chuckle and go on our way. The rain had come again so I decided to step into a cafe, charge my phone and have a refuel coffee and custard square (on the trail I can eat ANYTHING!). The rain clears soon after so I continue south, past the punny Bulls town signs, milk tin shaped rubbish bins and the cartoon bull murals~ even the Police station is painted in theme!
Bulls behind me, as was the camp ground, it was a little risky ~ who knows where I'll sleep?! but I kept walking. I had seen a reserve (Mt Lees reserve) on the map so that was my destination, making it another 35+km day. And when I got there it was wonderful~ turns out it's free campsite with toilets, water, a covered space for cooking and flat soft grass to camp up :) got all set up and chatted to people there till bedtime (about 7pm). The next day was a long walk and a quick stop in Feilding in intermittent rain, and onto Palmerston North where I would be invading the space of my cousin Nicky's 20 somethin' yo son and his army mates. I had NO idea what to expect! AND to make matters a little more complicated, when I rang the PLB distribution company it turns out that they had run out and were waiting for the next shipment~ having already paid and seeing as the next section was... the notorious Tararuas, I had no choice but to hang in Palmerston North..but would these guys put me up for that long? and could I put up with them?! 😳😂😂 So my first cousin once removed (no Tom, I'm not your Aunty 😂) and I had hung out a little previously, at some Christmases and family gatherings and there was a time I was going to take him and do the Round the Bays with him but the little buggar kicked my ass; he was like 10 and I was like , unfit. So really- we didn't quite know each other. And he was away when I got into town so I knocked on the door of a complete stranger (this was beginning to become a habit!). There was Jacob, with a dirty mo~ but pleasant enough. "Have a shower if you like... want a towel?" "Yes please!" "What?! You don't even have a towel, in that big pack?! What's in there...? Just snacks?!" Oh, the army banter- and I was thrown right into the think of it! So what they thought was a night ended up being 4 at the house of Jacob, Harry (also sporting a dirty moustache), Tom and Rupert the handsome dog. "So you and Tom are Asian, but not the same Asian. Explain that to me?!" "Well my mum is Japanese and Tom's dad is Chinese." "And you are the ONLY non- doctors in the family~? Jeez, you guys must be such a disappointment...." 😂😂 "so this walk, you're REALLY just hitching everywhere right? And photoshopping the photos~?" FOUR nights of this, people!! So much fun. Good food, great laughs, dog walks and the Harry Potter movie marathon; getting to know the block-heads was an honour. Oh and it turns out the dirty mos were for Movember. Hope for everyone's sake they're now long gone...
Km: 1377-1476km Zero days: 2 waiting for the PLB but walked to town and the supermarket a few times!) Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: 2 Mikey the Dutchman and a kiwi who's name I forget! at the campsite.
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: 0, not a challenging section😬
Kg of rubbish picked up: quite a bit on Turakina beach 😔😔> 1kg of bulky plastic bottles etc. Drop off points were: Bulls
Homes for the night: Day 53: Koitiata campsite in Turakina Day 54: Mt Lees Reserve, just out of Bulls Day 55: Jacob's house in Palmerston North Day 54: walking the 10kms of Palmerston North trail with Rupert- again with the boys ~2 zero trail km days~ Food highlights: Sarah's yummy dinner, and I have to say the spag bol and garlic bread made for the boys
General Highlights: the trail putting me in contact with so many people I would otherwise never had met~ from new friendships to chance encounters on the street the beach section was beautiful- black sand and shells, a different experience from the beaches in previous sections Tom giving up his bed for his ol' first cousin once removed~ super grateful!
General Lowlights: waiting for the PLB and having that slow me down~ but being able to wait it out in Palmie with the guys was a plus 😁 State highway 3. Scary and dangerous- and mind numbing lay boring at the same time: how is that possible?!
Things I learned: human interaction is precious to me- I love to chat, make contact and being let into the lives of others is an honour
Number of days with wet feet: 1 Weather: intermittent rain Body: Toes a bit tingly and feet, tired. Spirit: so grateful for being her
Question unanswered: what are the Tararuas going to be like alone?!
Taumaranui- Whanganui (Part 1) 'Walking' day 46-52
I'd just finished typing a very self righteous reply on a post about hitching on the Te Araroa Facebook page along the lines of "I'm walking this for charity so to be true to my word on 'walking the country' you won't be seeing me hitching- I'll be walking the whole thing! - each to their own though..." next thing: having beers with Tim and my new friends Megan and Neil.
Tim: so I've organised a group of us to go down the Whanganui River in three days. Want to join us? Me: but it will still take like 5-6 days to get down to Whakahoro right? Tim: The weather is looking horrible so I'm hitching down to National Park in the next couple of days.. Shelley: Let me think about it. Shelley (after a few more beers): OK.
Whaaaatttttt?!?! I'd like to blame peer/beer pressure- but really, it made sense. Having a good crew to go down the river was important to me- for company and safety and being alone they wouldn't have rented out a canoe to me, or a single kayak for that matter, the weather was a complete nightmare up there on the highest point of the North Island: gale force winds, freezing temperatures and hail were all being reported by our friends just in front of us, and I hadn't yet resupplied making getting to launch point without some sort of motorised aid before my friends took off, impossible. I was planning to spend time back in the North Island in February anyway so I put away my 'no hitching' rule for the moment (on the proviso that I'd get the section done before hitting Bluff) and relaxed the night away at the Taumaranui Holiday Park. The next morning we (Tim, Thibaut and I) headed into town for lunch, resupply and to meet up with Tim's friend Becky who was joining him for this section. Still on trail- a daily total of 4km slackpacking back into town (I hadn't done that section as the Taumaranui RSA courtesy van - yes I ended up here directly after I stepped off the trail and had my lamington at Zar's Place the afternoon before - this van took us to the edge of town where we were staying). Thibaut, the Frenchman who was in the Pureoras with me, had let it slip to us that he had worked at a Michelin 3-star restaurant and was set to return to France to work at a renowned 2-star place. Well! We had to make use of this situation! We bought all the indredients- a beautiful piece of beef, butter, garlic, wine, mushrooms, beans and did I mention butter? The Taumaranui New World also had a courtesy van so we all piled in and back to the small kitchen at the Holiday park to prepare (or watch Thibaut prepare) the feast. We were all happy: Becky had joined the gang, Tim had his new shoes (pic of him saying goodbye to his old pair below), I had my new poles and foooood for days, Thibaut got to work his magic and we were all getting down to gangster rap and fine French cuisine! Yummmmmmmmm! The trail always provides the most amazing surprises!
The next day I bade farewell to Pete's remaining pole which had seen me through almost 1000km - over the northern forests, the mud of Pirongia, the wild beauty of Pureora and the endless road walking, got on a bus: only $10 y'all with my pack AND a big banana box filled with food for the next week (I knew we were loading it all on the canoe so I went a little mad...), and headed to National Park, around 20 minutes down the road- oh how easy it was~! There we were met with the others : Matteo the Italian pizza chef, Yen the concert pianist and Inma the tough as nails, sharp tongued and super awesome woman from Barcelona who had come out of the storm and had war stories to tell: freezing their hands so they couldn't feel anything, hunkering down in a hut with a hole in the roof, losing their pole and almost being dragged down a river and camping on an island in the middle of the river~ I listened to this all with wide eyes and admiration (but relief that I chose the bus... 😬). Another big BBQ meal and more beer (no it wasn't an all you can eat buffet?! That was news to us 😂) and my stomach didn't know what had hit it... and all the people sharing my room that night, (if they were still conscious) may not have either 😳. Morning came and I took my time, finishing a blog entry, Yen and Matteo hitched to Taumaranui for supplies and the rest went ahead to start the 2 day, 52km journey to the launch site Whakahoro where we would be meeting the canoe rental company with our canoe and food supply. By the time I got sorted it was late morning and after a little while of walking I got to a side trail which promised views of Taranaki and a waterfall~ I left my pack and started running. And then I noticed all these empty buckets of the side of the track... turns out the path guardians bring gravel in buckets and leave them at the start of the track, those using the track can volunteer to take a bucket or two up the track to stations when someone else can take them further- so that eventually the guardians can lay gravel on muddy or damaged areas with little effort- it all having been transported by many hands. The buckets are then empty and again people can grab them and take them closer to the trailhead to be filled again. Nifty crowd sourcing idea! So the view on the day was hazy, and the track to the waterfall seemed to go on forever so I eventually made the call to go back (of course, doing my bit with the buckets!) mid way back and who should I see but Yen and Matteo. They stop to take a bite at the 'look out and see nothing' while I went ahead. They caught up just as I had pulled my pants after a pee and we walked together till early evening and a passable side-of-the-road spot for a camp and a fire. Matteo decided to share his whiskey around and Yen set fire to his socks. 😂😂😂. We had all the next day to reach Whakahoro so I took my time (again) singing to myself and taking photos. When I got to the hut everyone was all settled in and we had the place to ourselves. Until the others started arriving- wet through from a rough day on the river. "We've got a booking". Damn. But wasn't this a back country hut?! First come, first served? "No, it's a great walk hut. And we have a booking" I'm sure it's not, I'll check on the website.... No reception. Double damn. So we got thrown out, and set up camp outside. Matteo was not impressed! (AND It turned out it WAS first come first served! Triple damn...! 😝
Onto the river! The canoes and all our food was delivered and we packed all our belongings we wanted into the watertight barrels and after a few words of advice from the friendly tour operator Ben, we were on our way! Thibaut was my canoe buddy and we worked well navigating the rapids and monkeying around waiting for the others (Yen and Inma- not to mention any names!! Haha!)
We had magnificent weather for the 2 and a half days we were on the water- met loads of people, shared food, and laughs with new friends Maddalena, Federico, Te Haumihiata and Michael and revisited the serenity of the great river Whanganui~ It was the first day going towards John Coull hut and things were going well. It was late morning that Thibaut decided to open his whiskey (my bottle was as yet untouched in my barrel - and by lunchtime both of us were feeling extra relaxed and buzzy... the wind blew my hat off into the water and Thibaut galliantly dived in after it. Then I jumped in, cause, what the heck! After lunch Thibaut swapped out with Matteo into the single kayak and I got in the driver's seat (steering) at the back of the canoe- it's definitely harder than Thibaut made it look! Perhaps the whiskey had something to do with it... and we continued down the river, Thibaut looking more and more jolly as we all floated down the river together. Matteo and I were on a roll and after a while we realized that no one was following us~ we got concerned so parked up on the bank to wait. The others finally came through, mood darkened and finally Thibaut came down the river swearing in French and looking inconsolable. Just that morning we were discussing his GoPro and how much he used it and how there must be hundreds of Gopros at the bottom of the river... and that, my friends is what happened to his... I felt so awful for him~ all the shots he had taken from Cape Reinga to here were lost... and he was so mad at himself for having lost it. The next hour or so down the river to the hut was a somber one. As he lay there on the bunk I sheepishly offered him my chocolate and chippie stash which seemed to help a little to cheer him up, and told him my whiskey stash was waiting if he wanted. He soon came out and joined us, and the whiskey went to good use amongst us all. The next day we floated, occasionally paddled down the river and took a cool lunch/sidetrip hike to the Bridge to Nowhere - with the heartbreaking history of the war veterans trying so hard, eventually unsuccessfully to make life for themselves in the harsh environment in the bush surrounding the river. The bridge- now completely cut off apart from the walking tracks to it, one of the only temenants of the village that was. That night were treated to a powhiri at tieke marae/hut where we were staying - Michael was part of the iwi the area and his daughter sang as they welcomed us onto the land. In response Federico and Matteo sang an Italian soccer anthem?! And the German contingent of the wider group sang a song too~ then came making a costume/accessories out of the natural environment- some serious talent on display! a fashion show and a shared dinner. Again Thibaut stepped up and seemingly created a masterpiece from the simplest of ingredients. It was such a lovely night with the stars out, I chosea campsite instead of the hut- and slept like a log to the sounds of the river, the morepork and the neihbour's industrial generator.
After another great morning of paddling, singing photo taking and crazily and randomly leaping from the canoe, we arrived at Pipiriki where Matt the canoe guy was there with mountain bikes. Half of us were walking the 80km to Whanganui, and I along with the others would bike. Ugh! I'm walking fit, and became paddling for but the bike?! Up those hills?!? Haha! That was another think completely! Still, going down hill was a joy! Our packs being transported roughly half way, to 'The Sisters' the old orphanage/ nunnery we were staying for the night by Matt, then onto Whanganui for us buy the local postie. Now Jerusalem, right on the banks of the river, though lovely was kind of creepy. The resting place of the renowned poet James K Baxter, the orphanage would be the perfect spot for a horror film... but the sun was shining, the nuns were amazingly hospitable, it was so clean and very homely all the same. And we had the whole place to ourselves for $25 each! So we raided the little side-window-of-a-house/corner dairy of all of its sugary contents and settled in happily - although a lightbulb did smash in the kitchen that night, spraying broken shards of glass all over where we had just all been eating dinner....! 😳😳😅.
The next day was the last push on bike to Whanganui where I picked up my new pair of shoes (and more milk powder than I knew what to do with... thanks mum...), bought some hay fever combating antihistamines, and had a well earned beer. We sent what photos we could to Thibaut. (Ps DON'T send naked butt photos - the group one as above- just to clarify! through Facebook because you will be blocked from using messenger for 73 hours! 😅😂😂😂); and I said goodbye to the crew to meet up with Sarah and her family in Whanganui :)
Km: 1057-1377 (Except for the 100+km of the 42 Traverse and Tongariro Crossing 😅) Write up coming in part 2)
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: the crew of 6 I went down the river with and Leon the German who walked the Tongariro with Matteo and Yen.
I came across Stephen and Eunwha again and they had a nightmare in the swollen river in the bad weather we had had the day before I got on the water. A capsize and rescue and that was, unfortunately the end of their Whanganui experience 😔 what a difference a day makes! Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: Loads! On purpose. Into the water :D none on the bike thank goodness, but there were some close calls! It's like I found ALL potholes and rocks on the rough Whanganui River Road! 😂
Kg of rubbish picked up: the river was clean!!! (Well, there WERE unfenced cows on the riverside which was a concern...
Homes for the night: Day 46: (can hardly be called a 'walking day') Taumaranui Holiday Park Day 47: (this definitely shouldn't)...National Park YHA Day 48: Side of the road around 1190 km mark Day 49: John Coulle Hut Day 50: Tieke Marae campsite Day 51: Jerusalem at The Sisters Nunnery (oh the irony of it!) Day 52: In Whangarei with Sarah and her wonderful family
Food highlights: easily the Michelin grade meal in Taumaranui!!!! And honourable mention goes to the shared meal at the marae where everyone pitched in with communal spirit.
General Highlights: Having food that we didn't have to carry on our backs! the change of pace and activity was a welcome break from walking the weather ah~! The spirit of the river! he tangata, he tangata, he tangata! (The people, the people the people!)
General Lowlights: Thibaut losing his GoPro 😭😭 Seeing the historically thriving town of Taumaranui in a state of disrepair~ it was a weird mix of people- tourists, farmers and rough rough folk you wouldn't want to share a dark alley with, in a town with a lot of boarded up windows but also the most customer focused place I'd ever been: the staff at all the shops- especially the RSA the Isite and the Holiday Park... and the courtesy vans!!!
Song predominantly in my head: Eye of the Tiger: had to be with Tim around
Things I learned: concessions have to be made for safety and enjoyment -to a point and there are no rules that can't be bent on the trail... my butt is not made for long hours on a bike whiskey as friends solve all problems 😅
Number of days with wet feet: 😂😂 Weather: perfect- though we encountered wind- pretty strong at times in the afternoon Body: feeling great! Spirit: haaaaapy!!!
Question unanswered: hmmm... not much individual thought went into this section of trail! Though a podcast (Revisionist History) did make me think of the privilege and social cost of higher education (namely in the US) and how it is beyond the reach of many. The economics of investing in a few stars or should we be using that money for the benefit of the many...? And should top universities be attracting the wealthy by having great campus perks or using that money for scholarship programmes as a social good but risk financial struggle? How much better would this world be if the voices of the poor and the brains of the underprivileged could be tapped (as those who HAVE access to this education) would be? Interesting...
1200km selfie w Matteo, Yen, Inma, Thibaut, Tim and Becky
Te Kuiti-Pureora Forest Park-Taumaranui Walking day 40-45
Having left my mum and beloved dog in Te Kuiti to head back up to Auckland, I continue south, and it takes me all of 5km to get hopelessly lost again. "Help!" I call out on the dedicated Facebook group. I was in a disused quarry with loads of unmarked 4WD tracks and walking trails leading away from the last TA marker. My map was unclear, my GPS more so and my head full of visions of my friend, who had walked the same track a couple of weeks prior, and his accounts of falling off a cliff here and hurting himself (well, more his pride and water bladder really...). Help came swiftly from the lovely mother of trail angels herself, the TA page administrator Judith. "If I remember correctly, you take the small path by the river and follow it upstream". Well why didn't the trailnotes just say that?! Back on trail again I meander up a really beautiful bush path and around 6pm come to a lovely campgraound- a perfect place to set up for the night. This is one thing I love about the TA- most days I have no idea what I'll find or where I'll end up~ but it does come together in the most magical way! The next day was a whole different story however, and all fuzzy thoughts of seeing family the day before and the neatness of the universe came crashing down. 😂😂 A hay fever brick of torment hit me upside of the head and lasted all day as I struggled through the mother of horrible trails; it had its pretty bits, sure.. but ain't nobody got time for that when trudging through calf-high muddy paddocks with knee high grass, hanging off broken fence posts trying to avoid the dead sheep and dung infested stream water! Finally, after sneezing and rubbing my nose raw I come to this lovely open field, then thwaaack! Face down in the dirt. I had caught my shoe on a fallen branch, it had stuck in the ground and with my forward momentum, had launched me, up as it arced, like a pole vault, into the soft but startling grass below. There I lay for a while, stunned at first, then feeling so utterly alone~ no one to pick me up and tell me it was going to be ok.. then it dawned on me after a bit of self indulgent wailing- I was alone. No one to listen to me whinge (but my faithful blog readers) and no one to pick me up but me~ and that gave me strength to get up and walk on. I called it quits on the day after 23km~ it was getting dark and had started to rain. I jumped a fence into farmland, too tired to care, set up tent and crashed.
"Today is going to be better!" I declared, and set off early, sans breakfast to avoid any trespasser (me) awkwardness. Road walking, in the rain. 30km of it in fact. It had me walking fast and determined and the clouds lifted and the wind picked up during a break to give me just enough time to dry my tent out to the amusement of passing farmers. It was coming up to lunchtime when I came to a marae (maori meeting house and grounds) and the rain hadn't abated, so I went up and knocked on the whare kai (kitchen) door. A woman opened the door, looked down and instantly took pity on this drowned rat standing at her stoop. She, I now know her as Sarina from te hape marae, ushered me in, gave me hot tea and let me use the kitchen to prepare myself a hot lunch. Such an interesting woman, and wonderful and inspiring to hear her talk of her fight to keep her family lands and water free from unsustainable development. Having warmed my body and spirit with this respite from the weather, I carried on and soon came to the campground and the start of the Pureora Rail-Trail. 30km done, but it was only 3pm! After some well-earned chocolate, a strong coffee (Thanks JED's Coffee Bags, would be lost without you!) and a quick collect call to mum (no reception, but a pay phone in the middle of nowhere!) I headed into the forest.
And what an amazing forest it is! The 'rail trail' section of the TA was a beautifully graded, wide and gently sloped (when at all) and in the midst of the most magical flora I had seen~ it was mystical and mysteriously ancient like Waikaremoana but had a vitality I had not experienced before- and the mist and rain just added to the beauty. And to think that the whole of the King Country was like this and this patch was only saved because the 'damn hippies kicked up a stink' about the logging! The 30km I had done that day melted into distant memory and I kept walking through the beauty, passing and reading educational signs and tidbits of history along the way till I came to the diversion up to the summit where the TA leaves the bike trail. "Sweet, I'll just go up and if I don't find a nice camp spot up there I can come back down". First bad idea of the evening. 2km straight up, walking in little rivulets and mud up onto the top where there was a gale force storm going on. "No place to camp, no view and it will be getting dark soon, better take my clothes off and take a timered jump shot selfie" second and worse decision of the evening. So freezing my butt off I get my kit back on, scramble in ever darkening bush back down to the rail trail where there was a sign for the hut in 5km. "Must eat something" but didn't. "Must put more clothes on" but didn't. Third and fourth bad decisions. (I learnt about outdoor risk assessment in high school~ what are you doing Shelley!) so I half walk half run (struggling and getting weak and progressively colder towards the hut which was not getting closer anytime soon. I slip and bang my knee pretty hard on a root and suddenly feel very faint. I grab hold of the tree, calm my breathing, steady myself then jam my hand into the top pocket of my pack- where I keep my snacks. Need that sugar and salt in me, now! That could have been very bad indeed. True to its name the historic 4 bunk "Bog In Hut" was, well... deeply surrounded in bog. I imagined Luke running around with Yoda on his back using the force to raise his x-wing (had to google that) out of the ground around me. Finally, at 10.30pm, with 500 long meters to go and a monster 46km for the day almost done, I had fantasies of having the hut to myself. What awaited me instead was a whole line of industrial sized cookers and 4 slumbering humans. I used the veranda to get myself into warm dry clothes and I tiptoed in, sliding my sleeping mat and getting myself into my sleeping bag and underneath one of the bottom bunks with my head being sheltered by the bunk ladder (so as to avoid getting myself stood on in the middle of the night. Though thinking back, I probably wouldn't have felt it either way! 😂) I crashed again that night, spent, and then some.
I awoke refreshed to find three TAers, Eunhwa and Stephen, Thibaut (pronounced kinda like Chibo with a French accent) and an outdoor-Ed instructor in the hut along with 10 of his ewok-esque teenage charges emerging from their camp in the bush to make breakfast. They all seemed startled to see me, especially poor Thibaut. "Did you get in this morning?" "No, I slept there- pointing to the spot with 20cm clearance under the bunk" "you slept here?! Under me?!" Having had a very hearty breakfast I headed off with the promise of an easy 15km day to Waihaha hut and was enjoying the beautiful track (post bog), looking forward to the much anticipated 1000km mark further ahead until I realised I had forgotten my ring in Bogg Inn!! A ring with high sentimental value- a shell I had picked up on the beach (shellsonthetrail- geddit?!) at Te Arai Point and had been wearing ever since, "and it's only 4kms back to the hut, I'll leave my pack here and be back in an hour and a half max!" of course it was NOT 4km, more like 7, making it a 14km round trip and a much longer diversion than I had anticipated. (Who is this woman?! Does she do this shit just to have something to write in her blog?!) Anyway, that ring mission, along with the fact that the GPS coordinates didn't 'coordinate' in this part of track and there was a big f@ck-off ravine including rock climbing on both sides towards the end when it was getting late meant that I again stumbled into the hut, cold and hungry and in the dark and made reaching Waihaha hut, not waiHaha in the slightest! But bless them, the TAers had set the fire and made the hut cosy and ushered me in and fussed over me (ok, just Eunwha 😂) so I was able to get to bed warm, well fed and contented... having crossed over the 1000km mark with my ring- and having heard the kokako's haunting song that evening to calm my nerves :) The next day passed without incident (thank god!) and I enjoyed a beautiful walk with keruru swooping in the tree branches and a couple of big beautiful doe (a deer, a female deer) looking magestic in the forest. After lunch at Hauhungaroa hut, I headed down to the forests edge in the rain and set up camp, leaving early the next morning to start the 32km brisk and damp downhill road walk into Taumaranui, listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast and absorbing the farm views - passing the official mid-point between Auckland and Wellington and Sam's Place- a little shelter from the storm where Sam, a schoolboy has set up a little book to sign, a map to pin and some lollies to take with us on our journey. How sweet is that?! Taumaranui came faster than expected despite cheerfully declining numerous offers of rides (awesome locals!) and I was able to sit down with a thirst quenching beer with Tim from Texas and Neil and Megan, some intrepid travellers from the US, meeting the lovely locals at the RSA before the afternoon was out. Bliss!!
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: Eunwha and Stephen- South Korea and Kiwi living in Thailand Thibaut- France Tim- USA
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: Two mentioned above and a few small ones to keep me on my toes!
Kg of rubbish picked up: <5 pieces in the bush, roads are a no go zone now for my sanity and speed Drop off points were: Taumaranui township
Food highlights: Definitely the Chocolate lamington from Zar's Cafe in Taumaranui! Close second was the crumbed fish and chips from the RSA (along with the hospitality and service!) in Taumaranui.
Homes for the night: Day 40: Mangaokewa River public campsite Day 41: some paddock at 940km mark Day 42: Bog Inn Hut Day 43: Waihaha Hut Day 44: just off trail in the bush, setting up in torrential rain @1020km Day 45: Taumaranui Holiday Park
General Highlights: being in that amazing patch of bush, and all to myself it felt like! coming 'home' to a warm Waihaha hut with Eunwha, Stephen and Thibaut getting to Taumaranui, knowing I had a 'Whanganui River gang', and meeting Tim the Texan again after just missing him on Pirongia.
General Lowlights: Face in the dirt sobbing alone and mild hypothermia in the dark alone in Pureora would top this list 😅
Song predominantly in my head: Strawberry by Everclear "don't fall down now, you will never get up, don't fall down now!"
Things I learned: that I can make it on my own, have my own fun and draw on my own strength but it is so lovely to share experiences with others at times too! That instant mash is great for thickening up noodle soup and making a snack.. a meal! 😅
Number of days with wet feet: everyday Weather: terrible! Except for the sunny as hay fever day, lol Body: apart from hay fever and mild hypothermia.. great! Spirit: lows then highs, but Pureora is truly magical! Question unanswered: what made me go back for that ring~? I kind of know but don't want to admit it!
So I do a Classic Shelley walking out of Hamilton. I'm looking out for the supermarket I'd been told about on the trail, my last proper resupply opportunity for at least four days till Te Kuiti, I lose my bearings for a moment, about 200m~ same general direction but on a road parallel to the one I should have been on but, back on trail I happily march on, enjoying the views of Hamilton growing smaller in the distance. I'm passed by Lisa~ and we start marching together (rather fast for my liking perhaps..!) sharing a great conversation and learning about each other when I suddenly remember what my mission was. "hey Lisa, where's Dinsdale?" "oh, back there awhile" "back, like where we started walking together?" "no, quite a bit further back~ back on the main road before the Caltex" The Caltex on the corner where I rejoined the trail. In the space of 200m I'd cost myself a whole lot of back track 😳😩. She had lost her train of trail too so she ends up walking me back to Dinsdale. Meeting Lisa, one of the many great people on the trail softens the blow. While at the supermarket Bad Santa calls- it's Saturday, the day of the wedding, but he's two hours early and wants to pick me up now. "Ok!" So that was my walking day: 6km on the trail. Then 4.5km back. Then onto the liquor store with Bad Santa 😅and then randomly to the workshop of a home-kill butcher. At this point my trust in Bad Santa is definitelybeing re-evaluated... but Boof turns out to be a really good sort.
Onto the wedding and EVERYONE is dressed up, as if they were going to.... a wedding. And here we were- him in jeans and grubby baseball cap and me in my shorts and Superman t-shirt. Pre- nuptials, I get to meet the bride, who is Bad Santa's daughter's friend. She is relaxed and very lovely to this scruffy looking stranger~ but despite the blessings I feel awkward, not just because I was getting the sideways looks from Santa's daughter and ex!! 😳😳 so I go to the bathroom to at least take the blister tape off my feet...! My grandmother would have been mortified..!
Most of the crowd were around my age but I found the older crowd easier to mingle with. And once they had heard my story of how I had met Richard (Santa) they chuckled and relax and the initial judgements seem to be withdrawn~ I think!! "I was told this was going to be a casual wedding, if I had known everyone was going to be this formal I wouldn't have dreamt of coming in a t-shirt...!'" "awww, this crowd? It won't take long for things to get get real casual!" I relax soon after, mingle, have some superb fingerfood and more than my share of bubbles and then the dancing begins!! I meet a lovely couple Ben and Fieke~ a local cheese-making couple originally from the Netherlands who after hearing about my Te Araroa journey and telling me about their Camino (a pilgrimage trail ending in Spain) experiences introduce me to their dance~ Ben takes me round the dancefloor in a folk dance that takes me a little while to get, but once I do~ the joy!! Now Bad Santa is getting settled at the bar and so when Fieke mentions that they practically live on the trail, (and would you believe it, close to where I had to turn back to go to the supermarket earlier that day!) I ask him if he would mind if I leave with them and we say our goodbyes, but not before we all give him rousing applause for his Rod Stewart cover (the band didn't know what hit them!).
Fieke and Ben open their home to me at 1am in the morning, let me crash on their grandchild's spare bed and in the morning feed me a wonderful breakfast complete with their award winning cheese. Ben then takes me (and my back hanging off the front!) on his tractor to his cheese factory which his sons manage and through the fields with the cows that his son in law tends to~ a great grass to finished cheeses family business: Meyer Traditional Style Gouda. Check them out, they're at a supermarket near you!
After a relaxed start and my mouth a little dry from the over-indulgence of the night before, I set out across the fields of Ben and Fieke and across onto the road about 2km from where I had finished the day before. I stash my pack behind some bushes and run to the spot and back (walking/running EVERY INCH, no cheating!) and set off again southbound on road and farmland towards the notorious Pirongias. I can feel the alcohol oozing out of me and I'm struggling, and as I stop to take a break I see a familiar face. Coming towards me was Pim, a fellow hiker and someone I'd previously met and kept in contact with from a navigation course a few months prior. We talk a little, walk a lot and then we start up a big hill and gravel road towards a block of farmland. "you know" I say, "the trail notes say this land is closed till two days from now because of lambing season" "now you tell me?!" "yeah...😅" all signs of the trail cease, and we follow our GPS and some faded hiker markings to sneak our way onto the land~ bah, it's only a couple of days early.. right?! It does get my heart racing for fear of getting caught, but the alternative of more road walking didn't appeal. And it was a lovely stretch of trail with some high elevations and wonderful views of the Waikato. After a long and hung over 34km for me I'm very relieved to get to the camp grounds at the base of Pirongia for a well earned rest~ and in time to be in my tent, in my sleeping bag before the torrential rain hits. The next day with all my gear wet it takes me forever to get ready and Pim patiently waits. He notices the river (Kaniwhaniwha) has risen markedly from the night before but the rain had eased somewhat so we head in and up~ and the bush is magestic...! The elevation was gradual and gentle (and a short 8km) and the atmosphere in the rain and mist was something else. After a bit of monkeying around taking photos at the top (with ZERO view, freezing temperatures and high winds) we head down to the hut a further kilometre and get dry and have lunch. It was only 12.30pm and I was itching to carry on, but the wind had really picked up - and though it was probably glorious weather down below we were literally surrounded in cloud so we decide to sit tight for the rest of the day, dry our gear and stay the night. "want some chocolate?" I say "oh no... you brought that for you, I won't take it! It's my philosophy to be completely self reliant and not take anything from anyone" (not a good time to mention that I had run out of cooker gas and was hoping to have some of his to cook breakfast.) So early the next day I pack and because he wants to take his time, I say goodbye and head down sans breakfast (I am such an awkward weirdo sometimes, I'm sure he would have shared if I had asked!!). I was one and a half days from Waitomo where I would be seeing mum and the dog Stella, so was intent on being 'self reliant' and worked through my plentiful non-cook ration instead... though I missed my oats!
I camped up that night after a long slog down the other side of Pirongia, in the mud where weird man-made footbridges and walkways would appear where there was good trail and ample drainage underneath only to disappear so you had to step into a pool of mud. That night before the sun had gone down I was snuggled in my sleeping bag and I went to sleep with the evening chorus of a nearby kokako~ bliss!!
The next day was only 21 km to Waitomo~ and I emerged from the bush mid afternoon just as mum parked up. Stella went crazy when she saw me :) Together again!! We stayed at a doggie friendly motel, and I sit down for a rest only to have Trump news dominate the telly. I want go crawling back into the bush immediately!
The Waitomo 17km is a relatively difficult track (I took it slack pack, but was hardly running!!) and I meet mum in Te Kuiti for lunch, a finally cuddle with Stella and a 900km selfie! 😄
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: 1 Pim the Dutchman, and notes from hikers past in the hut book in Pirongia
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: Ooph, too many to count down Pirongia. Even the Doc workers I met on route had a chuckle "fell over, did you?" Funny guys...
Number of cries: a couple, one was with the anticipation of seeing Stella (and of course, mum) heading into Waitomo
Kg of rubbish picked up: nothing of note, just a wrapper here and there. Drop off points were: Otorohanga (motel)
Homes for the night: Day 35: Ben and Fieke's place on the outskirts of Hamilton (half day: wedding) Day 36: at the base of Pirongia Day 37: Pirongia : Pahautea Hut (half day: weather) Day 38: around the 875km mark, in the bush with the birds! Day 39: Otorohanga Motel, with the fam Day 40: Half day from Waitomo to Te Kuiti, following into the Te Kuiti track in the afternoon
Food highlights: the wedding food was to die for. And the cheese~!!
General Highlights: following my gut about Santa- what a good man, who has been through a lot and hasn't lost his heart. The wedding, the dancing, Ben and Fieke, the confidence I'm building on every day.
General Lowlights: missing out on a view from Pirongia.. I'll be back! The general judgy vibe of the wedding guests.. though I guess, who the heck am I? and what the heck am I wearing?!
Song predominantly in my head: Wagonwheel. (That damn wedding~ they must have played it a hundred times!! Haha!)
Things I learned: not every km is made the same. Mantra for the downhill of Pirongia: "every easy metre is a blessed one" there is no 'right way' to slice or each cheese according to the cheese maker himself! (Though I very much doubt he means it's ok to take a bite out of a hunch of cheese on one hand and a hunk of salami in the other~ which I do on a regular basis for lunch...)
Number of days with dry feet: a couple, surprisingly! Weather: Pirongias awful, the rest be a few showers in Hamilton, great! Body: feeling good~! Spirit: feeling strong and light again Question unanswered: when will I be free of the mud~? And when I am, will I miss it?!
900km selfie (actually 912, but who's counting!) w mum and Stella!
I make it out of Auckland!! It takes a while longer than I had hoped with bits and pieces (namely the IRD and some paperwork to them owing 😅) keeping me in Auckland. But on the 1st of November the pack finally comes back on, and it feels great heading South again on my journey. This time with no plans to head back to work ~ for at least a few months! No more half-timer now, REAL thru-hiking!! I start in the afternoon so take it easy with a leisurely 15km from the base of the Hunuas to Mercer- taking the opportunity to warm up the body to hiking again, crawl under a few bridges and pick up a load of rubbish along the way. And I had heard great things about a motel/pub called Podge's Place in Mercer who offers free camping and hot showers to TA hikers, so I decide to check it out. Podge's partner and self-proclaimed "Walker Stalker" Sandra's eyes widen as my pack and I enter her premises. I am very swiftly ushered in shown her trophy of hiker photos, given the tour and led further into the pub to meet the locals. This is where I first meet Bad Santa: "Bad Santa, this is Shelley, she's a massage therapist" "awwhhhhaaaa uugghhhhhhhhuuuuu!" in feigned pain clutching his neck. "Just the person I needed to see- give me a massage?" "Ok, shout me a beer?" this is the start of this unlikely friendship between Richard AKA Bad Santa, a coal crusher and pub resident and I. We talked into the night, I stuffed my face with deliciously fatty pizza and have photographic evidence somewhere of me giving Bad Santa a back and neck massage.. (totally contraindicated of course, massage should NOT be given to those under the influence of alcohol...) while he serenaded me with Rod Stewart and in the wee small hours (about 9.30pm) I started to say my goodnights. "Awww, you're lovely! Wanna come to a wedding with me on Saturday?" "um... Thanks, I'd love to but I'll be (further south) in Pirongia by then..." "That's where the wedding is!!!" 😳😑😅 "I only have this tshirt and shorts...." "ah, mate! It's all good. I'm going in jeans- no one will be dressed up" "huh... ok then!" and so I had a random date for a wedding.
(Stay tuned for a follow up of Wedding Crashers on the next episode of shellsonthetrail.weebly.com)
The next day I headed out early, checked my maps, my compass, my GPS, Google Maps and official trail notes before figuring out finally where to go. Perfect walking weather and feeling good! It was great to see the hidden spots I'd spent years driving past: the historic Whangamarino redoubt- a site of significance during the Maori wars, Hampton Downs raceway, the Waikato river bank with all its twists and turns and obstacles! It was getting dark as I was heading south of Rangiriri. I found myself in a paddock full of freakily curious steer but I needed to bed down for the night~ I went into an empty paddock, closed the gate behind me and relaxed in the knowledge that there was at least some separation between me and frisky bovines. At 1.30am I woke, to my horror, to some very heavy breathing. It sounded as though they had somehow gotten into the paddock and I was surrounded by them! I relaxed~ in the 5 minutes it took for my delerium to subside nothing disasterous had happened, so I soon drifted off again. In the morning I found that they were in fact still on their side of the fence- but plastered as close to the fence and me as they could. So much for privacy! 😅 I was packed and ready to go by 6.45am, didn't want to get caught by any irate farmers! And by 7.30am I had reached the 750km mark~ a quarter of the TA done!! I high fived myself and carried on.
I followed the Waikato and the trail as it miandered south through Huntly West (and the most cop cars I had seen in a small town, ever) and then further south west towards Hakarimata forest. I had no idea that this place existed and what a paradise, so close to home!! There was relatively little mud, the Kauri, the views and the fact I had the place to myself~ I huffed and puffed up the stairs with the pack and it opened out to a magnificent view looking north "oh my f@$"king god! &$@?&! @"&$?!!" (My language has taken a turn for the more expletive since I have bee on trail... and I had the place to myself, right?! So why not utter a few exclamations in honour of the view?) I turn the corner to a bench where a stunned looking dude around my age was staring at me- this tortoise shaped bad-mouthed bright red (with exhertion) half Asian. Bahaha! I gave apologies and we admired the view together~ he does this walk every day!! How cool would that be? He headed back north and I carried the track on south towards another 15kms or so until just before the summit and the stairs down towards Ngarawahia and camped up for the night. AND THOSE STAIRS!!! The next morning I headed to the trig and admired the view with what seemed half the town who, on a Friday morning were streaming up and down these stairs of death (amazing, beautiful stairs but STEEP and LONG). I was very glad I was going down and not up, but I was super impressed with Ngarawahia~ the psyche of fit very strong here, not at all the P-heads I had imagined :P (sorry...)
I keep following the Waikato the next day south, having fuelled up in a pie, sandwich and lamington at the Bakehouse Cafe, charged my phone there and dried my tent in the sun (folks of Ngarawahia wondering who this weird drifter was). Followed a bike path, then past the meat works 😳😑, the smell putting me off meat for life (or till that evening at least) then into Hamilton where I meet up with Chris of Te Araroa Facebook group fame and we walk the further 6km into town sans backpack ("slackpacking" is just the best!). Made it to 800km folks!!
800km selfie!! W Chris :) in Hamilton
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: 1 Aaron (North-bound- who has now subsequently finished, Wooop!) and all the faces of fellow walkers who have come before me on Sandra's Walker Wall of Fame
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: none of note... am I getting better at this~?!
Number of cries: hmmm, not doing better at this LOL
Kg of rubbish picked up: LOADS <5kg Drop off points were: Mercer food plaza sneaky styles
Homes for the night: Day 31: (Half day) Podge's Place in Mercer Day 32: Somewhere just south of Rangiriri on farmland, with some steer... Day 33: In the Hakarimatas Day 34: with Christopher and his family in Hamilton
Food Highlights: Podge's Place pizza and Alice, Chris' lovely mum's Chicken and beautiful fresh salad meal in Hamilton. With beer...
General Highlights: Discovering the Harakimatas and its views; dropping the pack and running the Kauri loop. The amazing horsey cuddles I received from four humungous horses, and getting past my fear of steers following so close behind me!!
General Lowlights: working through a general emotional malaise.. it's a long way to walk by yourself!
Song predominantly in my head: Time to Smile, Xavier Rudd: "packing my things in my bag today, heading south through my country again. Summer is coming, it's time to smile~"
Things I learned:
Don't leave me tax paperwork till the night before I leave for an epic 3+ month hike... 😐
Never forgo an opportunity for a flush toilet. Like a toddler or geriatric.
I want to live life striving not to regret anything: pause and respond rather than reacting to things.
People look at things, (and me!) through their own filters and I have no influence on that. I can only try and improve my communication and be true to myself (woah... deep!)
Number of days with dry feet: most! The weather was amazing! Weather: as above Body: body a little creaky from not walking for so long..! Spirit: a bit battered, but healing Question unanswered: what is life going to be like post trail?!?! 😩😳😬
7 days of work and I was ready to get back on the trail again - Pakiri to my hometown of Auckland! I had been warned that this was a particularly muddy section - through the Omaha forest and up and over Mt Tamahunga and through the Dome forest; and I had set myself a tough timeline of 26km in half a day and they were right: it was 'will I lose my shoe in this?!' muddy, but it was a perfect day and the views over the beaches to the east and the farm and forest inland were spectacular. Also getting to the Dome cafe for 9pm for a shower and a bed at friends' (Stephen and Kumi's) was also a big motivation to smash this section out.
Being a woman, walking on my own had never made me feel vulnerable before, but when I felt eyes on me as I was stepping off the road and into the farmland ascending the first mountain I was suddenly on edge; - a man had watched me creepily as I had passed and he started following me down the road for about 50m till I reached the trail head. This had me doing an Olympic style fast walk waddle and had me looking back a few times until I was sure he hadn't followed any further...
More mud and gorse and fantastic views later I was back on the road and I was finding myself again entering a daylight-only forest at 5pm. It said on the trail notes that it would take 6-7 hours... ! so I messaged my friends and told them it was near impossible to get there so I'd find a spot in the forest but they insisted - they had dinner for me and they didn't want me camping out! So onwards I went. I stumbled out at 9.30pm... having kept poor Stephen and his dog waiting a while! But god, that shower, the food, the company and that massage chair made it worth it!
500km Selfie w Stephen. There is a great view behind us...!
The next day was another hefty one - Dome Valley to Puhoi, and I also wanted go back up the Dome Valley track to check out the view that I had missed in the darkness the night before so after his morning run and a wonderful breakfast, feeding their alpacas and having a tour of their beautiful new home/ B&B, Stephen and I made the extra ascent and took the 500km selfie together. "oh, she'll never make that distance by today..." it was 11am by the time we got back to the starting point for the day, and the Dome Cafe owner had his doubts. I'll show him....! Up and over Moir Hill, some more mud, a cute lamb encounter and then I accidentally/on purpose got myself lost and ended up wandering through the most magical forest between the 521 and 524km marks... If it wasn't for the horrendous cow-shit/mud mixture, the big trespass signs and electric/barbed wire fences I had to scale and sneak around to get back on track I would recommend it to others. Do not be Shelley and take that path over the broken stile folks. Bad TA hiker. I still have no idea what route I was on with those orange triangles but I was expecting pixies to come out and join me - it was so pretty!
This got me behind and running again to make it for beer and food and a kayak posse of two (mum and her kayaking friend Richard) waiting for me at the Puhoi pub. The perfect calm night, the perfect tidal conditions - it was a wonderful 7km paddle to Wenderholm to finish off a 34km day :) Now the conundrum. Do I go home with mum?! Or camp up and wait till late morning for the perfect tide? - I decided to consider mum the perfect trail angel (not cheating), went home to sleep in a bed, cuddle the dog and head back the next day in time for the tides.
Wenderholm was stunning, on another perfect day. And I practically had it all to myself~ through Waiwera then Orewa where I bonded with Annora over pies and horses. Going further inland, I noticed the urban sprawl and the massive changes to Silverdale. The rubbish on the roads, the speeding - yep, I was back in the big smoke. The Spur Road down to Stillwater had me scared! The tight turns and little leeway meant that I was running, listening for cars and crossing the roads to give myself room to keep safe. Maxine from the campsite drove past and offered to take me down to the village but I declined- as long as I was down before dusk I'd be ok. She also mentioned that she had a hall for TA walkers to stay in for free, on mattresses with a hot shower! My plan previous to that was to carry on and try and cross the Okura estuary at midnight (low tide). The safer/lazier option appealed by the time I had had a beer and fish and chips at the boathouse. Waiting till lunchtime the next day was A OK with me ~ :)
The next section I had done previously with a friend Jo a number of years back. It's a lovely bit of coast. I took two partial days to complete it, having an amazing lunch prepared by Andreas in Murrays Bay, tackling, and losing to the tides and scaling rocks I really shouldn't have after a few wines... till Mairangi Bay. The next day walking with mum till Milford - then With Meesh and Jezz till Takapuna, crossing on the Devonport ferry at night and meeting with Pete (of 90mile cred) to his home right next to the trail in Mt Eden. The next morning early we were joined by another friend Karla and his Mum Denise for an early (non pack) walk up the mountain then down for great cup of joe. Mum joined me later that morning and we headed through Cornwall Park to Ambury park and I continued on from there through towards the airport.
6.30am 600km selfie! w Karla, Denise and Pete
Amelia then joins the story! A good friend over a number of years I supported her though her 100km trail walker challenge so it was lovely for her to come and pick me up and feed me and offer to take me back after a good night's rest (ok, not so great cause we stayed up late watching a Julia Roberts movie hahaha!) Knowing us, it wasn't surprising that we ran late so we decided public transport would be the go - I hit the trail at roughly the right number of Kms away from the other side and continued on towards the Botanical gardens. Work beckoned so Mum (jeez, mum has been spectacular - Uber mum if you will...) picked me up and the next day, late in the afternoon we dropped my car and pack off at the start of the Hunuas, and dropped me off where I left off - and I ran/walked the 27km to get to the car before nightfall.
The plan was to leave my car at the end of the Hunuas, Clayton who I was walking this section with me would pick me up, and we would leave his car at the start of the Hunuas, trek in for a day and a half and be out by the late afternoon of the second day. All went to plan (albeit I left a few key things like tent pegs at home), Nachos dinner care of Clayton was awesome, weather was perfect... UNTIL I realised with a couple of hours left of the hike that I had left my keys in HIS car - back at the start of the trail. Ok, so here starts the Comedy of Errors.... Clayton is very good with this piece of news - and even if he wasn't, he's already given me his last peanut slab... so... we hitch, or something? We soon come across two women, a little girl and a dog on a day hike~ the dog carrying the remains of a picnic on her back. We chat a little - we explain our (my) quandary and straight away one of them - Melody offers to drop us back to Clayton's car, a 35 minute drive away, but kind of on her way home. Easy! With that solved we relax with them by the river, have a tour of the school (Dilworth Rural campus) and watch with envy as Neeve jumps with unbridled joy in the sprinkler rigged trampoline. Now all the bags we were carrying - Clayton's and my pack, the dog's pack and the one Melody was carrying were in a pile outside so with Clayton, we start loading things in. We drive off, stop by an amazing strawberry farm selling frozen yoghurt and get to Clayton's car. We unload the car. "You left this" Melody says. She pointed to the bag she had been carrying and that I had put in the back seat. IT WASN'T HER BAG, it was her friend, Hayley's bag!! My heart drops - classic Shelley accidentally steals someone's bag, trying to be helpful...! But, we are driving back in that direction, my car is just outside Dilworths... all good. We say our goodbyes and she drives away - we have the bag to take back to Hayley. We get in the car.... and nothing... no movement, no engine action what so ever. The car is DEAD.... No reception, no phone battery, dead car with a bag that needs to get back to its owner FML. I start hysterically laughing. Clayton is calm, but much less amused... we do manage to charge my phone just enough and find reception to call the towing guys to come rescue us. In the meantime Hayley is worried that her possessions are with complete strangers, and Melody hangs out at the end of the road and gets worried when we don't follow her out the dead end street... she comes back. She is concerned for us but we reassure her that help is on the way - and despite the long way, she takes the bag back to her friend 35 minutes in the opposite direction to her home... !! We finally get the car going, thanks to Clayton's insurance and we head back to my car. AND I COULDN'T MAKE THIS UP, a cop is at my car taking notes and looking VERY stern indeed. Now I'm still in bundles of nervous giggles but I pull myself together and go and talk to him - turns out the farm lady who I had asked about parking my car near her house had only seen me in my shorts and t-shirt, and as I said I was going into the Hunuas she got worried when I hadn't come back. She hadn't seen my humungous backpack with all my life sustaining objects inside it. Two cops were at my mother's door across town and they were very close to sending out a land search alert. Luckily mum and I had been in contact shortly before, so she knew not to be worried, but what a drama! To make matters worse, I had let my Warrant of Fitness slip (walker's brain) and my two front tyres were close to bald. Luckily the Sergeant was more concerned for my safety so let me off with a stern warning to get those things seen to (as I since have!!) so all in all a pretty action packed last three hours of the Hunuas Experience!! It's lovely to know that there are people that care enough to alert the authorities when worried, and I'm so glad Clayton took it in his stride - walking with me there are bound to be some happenings or other >_<
Fellow TA Hiker sightings: Loads! Yen from Singapore came to stay Will, Tyler Brandon Paul at the base of the Hunuas - USA? Gregor the German in the Hunuas Nikki, the kiwi in the Hunuas Tumble count: Dome valley darkness and slippery low tide rocks on the eastern bays delivered a few good ones! Number of Cries: one... processing my Uncle Bob's recent death and revisiting the loss of my dad, his brother RIP :(
Rubbish picked up: around 2kg - bits and piece and a huge blue paddling pool on the waterline that I wrestled with in the wind into a bus stop to hopefully be picked up and given a new lease on life. Drop off points: Home, Rothesay Bay bus stop >_<
Homes for the night: Day 23: Stephen and Kumi in Snells Beach - giving me a ride to and from the trail despite the mud! Day 24: Home sweet home post Puhoi night paddle Day 25: Stillwater campground Day 26: (half day) Home sweet home Day 26: (half day) Karla and Pete's house in Mt Eden Day 27: Amelia's house in Lynfield - ride from (and almost back to~ lol) trail Day 28: (half day) Home Day 28: (half day) In the car in the middle of nowhere - south of the Hunuas! #nosleep Day 29: Upper Mangatawhiri Dam Day 30: Home sweet home!
Food highlights: This leg included great home cooking everywhere! so it was a hard one, but Nachos a la Clayton nudges forward with his gooey chocolate brownie to finish.
Being so close to home, friends and family! Being able to go to a memorial for my Uncle, a beauty contest to support a friend, go to a concert, do work and life admin and get spoilt by people letting me stay and wanting to join me for bits :)
Getting to see bits of Auckland I never knew were there - Stonefields! The back and beyond of the Hunuas and the Puhoi track - and the beauty of the Wenderholm section ~
Getting a bit of publicity! The local paper ran a story about my walk
Having to be so dependant on the tides for the Eastern bays section~
Being bogged down with life admin. Yes, WOF done, banking, tax, paperwork - all the things I'd been meaning to do... for years... lol.
The Post Hunuas drama - though we can laugh about it now! Actually, because of the people - it ended up being a highlight :P
Song for the leg: Wherever I May Roam, Metallica
Things I learned:
Last leg was all about surrendering to YES. This leg was about getting comfortable with saying No~ Having over-planned then realising I was ahead of schedule meant that to be true to my mission I had to let plans go and let people down and that suuuuucked. But old Shelley was a lazy/clumsy people pleaser - either burning myself out or not pleasing anyone! So this is still a major work in progress, but getting more comfortable with doing things for me.
Check my pack twice/three times! I think I got a bit complacent on this leg and ended up leaving behind sandals, socks, tent pegs and KEYS - and lost/found again my licence and credit card... It all worked out in the end, but was a hassle for more than just me... need to get my head in the game now that I'm leaving Auckland and not coming back till Bluff!
Number of wet feet days: all of them (this should really be changed to number of dry feet days... 0 haha!) Weather: a few showers but predominantly sunny, still and HOT! Body: can feel a little ligament niggle in my right foot, but otherwise strong Spirit: a little melancholic, but motivated :)
Questions unanswered: what's it going to be like now~ about to be a FULL TIME trail bum?! No more flitting back to home sweet home~ excited!!
So off we go, my new friend and I; over the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere (all 395m of it!). I have to say, the view along this coastline was spectacular. The day was sunny and still and the cliffs and coastline we were following looked out towards the Poor Knights and the vast Pacific ocean. The company was light and breezy and the topics of conversation ranged from deep and serious to borderline batty, where my dark jokes were returned with even darker funnier quips and silences were natural. I was hoping to catch up with Fletcher from Sustainable Coastlines for an "on the trail" interview, but alas the timing wasn't right so I put away my comb and mascara (jokes) and we carried on southward. We came into Matapouri - a place I used to romp around as a kid growing up in Australia, where my Uncle Eric and Aunt Margot had their bach. There were summers my family would go and explore the hills, the rock pools, feed the neighbourhood horses and get delicious NZ ice cream, so it was great to be back again. I convinced Matt (didn't need much effort for this) to step off trail to have an obligatory pie and coke at the dairy and have an explore. The Mermaid pools are a must on such a perfect day! Being a weekday (oh how lucky we were!) we had the place to ourselves - and it was the perfect cool down/clean off break we needed, and so worth the cliff scramble to get there.
On the way back we ran to my uncle's bach (which I found out recently he had built himself!), took photos and I had a little reminisce before we grabbed our packs from the dairy where we had left them and continued on our way. And then came the Matapouri bush track. Oh the Matapouri Forest.... I left a lot of shit behind here - I wailed (he talked with control) with the pain of our past relationships, we processed childhood experiences, belted out a few show tunes and went from strangers to an old bickering, teasing couple in the space of those 7 short Kms. I drew strength from the magnificent Kauri tree Tane Moana, and I fell in love a little - with him, and more deeply with myself. In the short amount of time I knew this man, I felt heard and understood more than I ever had. Was it the power of the forest? Who knows, but following bigfoot that day through the bush was pretty magical - I had let the trail in.
Next was Nguguru, after a long road section and emotionally taxing evening it was a relief to put the pack down and rest for the night. The next day we met with Bob? who's wife was one of the first to do the trail with him being support person. He directed us to a 'magic box' with a combination lock for TA hikers to help themselves to the contents~ We had all we needed so didn't make the short detour, but I thought that was lovely - a short distance on we stopped by the home of Hilton and Melva, trail angels who are active on the FB site, take in strays like us and are always there for advice for us newbies. It was great to chat, take a photo and finally meet the wonderful couple.
Road walking turned to the Forestry section of Mackerel forest and then back onto road. We were both feeling rather despondent by that stage - and between bouts of singing, arguing, dancing and laughing we we continued up the road separately towards Pataua North. And here we met with our next trail angles! The first car stopped, and a guy leaned out and asked if I wanted a cold Steinlager as I teared up and quivered a weak "yes". As I was enjoying that slice of heaven, the next car pulled up - Toni and Ross, what a sight for sore feet! They offered us a bed once we got to town, and as the sun was getting low I gratefully accepted. Here they showed us what pure kindness is: a hot shower, meal, beer, great conversation and a warm bed. They even showered us with snacks and the biggest breakfast anyone could ask for!
Our next trail angels came soon after at the base of Kauri Mountain track and the start of Ocean Beach. "You have any Maori in Ya?" "no... I'm half Japanese" "Ahhh - I knew there was something in Ya!" and so began the conversation which would lead us to our home for the night, with a night of entertainment, playing Gin (cards) late into the night with Colin, his son Chris and his grandkids, Harry, Ziggy and Lara.
After Oceans beach we scaled the Whangarei Heads and hit some horrendous weather - the word "bomb" comes to mind - and classic Shelley "oh, I don't need to put on my rain jacket"... we slithered off the mountain, a couple of drowned rats and found shelter, a lunch room AND a dryer in the local toilet block!
Our next mission was finding a way across the Whangarei Harbour. This was to be my terminus for this leg, but I was having way too much fun and we were ahead of schedule, so decided to try and rearrange a couple of appointments (my clients are so awesome!) and push on through to Pakiri. We came across Neil and Moira and her dad Ron in their front garden and with just the hint of a query as to how to go about crossing, they offer to take us across - refusing petrol money but graciously accepting our offer of coffee across the other side :) A beautiful beach walk followed which took us a little inland and back out onto the cliffs above Mangawhai Heads, where my friend was waiting to take me in. We were joined on the beach by Holly, a brave, worldly Tasmanian who was looking for a place to stay. "um, Aaron. You know how I said someone else was with me? Is there room for one... more...?" And Aaron graciously agreed on all three of us decending on his amazing studio/workshop/ home.
One more section to go, past the heartbreaking real estate developments gouging its mark on the historical and ecological significance of Te Arai Beach, a bit of swimming and heartracing cliff jumping at Te Arai point then leaving Holly soaking in the sun, Matt and I headed down Pakiri Beach. More rubbish picking upping, more chats, more laughs till we came to an awaiting mum and dog and a car ride to reality, home.
This leg has been hard to write about - so much emotion and vulnerability, and though it's a nice place to explore of my psyche, it's also not a place I need to dwell in too much; But it definitely gave me a good dose of what this journey has in store.
Matt: the British Army Infantry section commander responsible for weapons and tactics training who couldn't navigate himself out of a paper bag, hahaha! Who carried hair gel and electric trimmers and a whole bunch of heavily laminated trail-notes that some Italian in Paihia had dunked in the spa and made partially illegible, this Matt kept me entertained from Whananaki, over the Whangarei heads and down to Pakiri beach where I reluctantly stepped off trail to get back to work, and it is this Matt I have to thank for putting up with my emotional purging <though he caused a fair amount of it himself :P> The decision to walk my own walk and not follow him south was tough and bitter-sweet, but it felt right as I released bigfoot back into the wild to get lost, wet and whinge his way south alone.
Km: 308 - 477km Fellow TA Hiker sightings: 3! Two German girls on the way to Hilton and Melva's, and Holly the Tasmanian at Mangawhai Heads. Tumble count: Don't remember any award winners~ Number of cries: Bahahaha! Loads, what a cry baby ;)
Kg of rubbish picked up: at least 5kg - with the gallant help of Matt we picked up everything from bags, shoes, crates, rope and we dragged it all off Ocean Beach and Pakiri Beach. Drop off points were: Ocean Beach rd - outside an unsuspecting resident's house... (next to their rubbish for pick up). Mangawhai Heads township Pakiri Beach - the bin outside the campgrounds
Homes for the night: Day 16: Nguguru - oh the respite for the tired soul! Day 17: Lovely Toni and Ross at Pataua North Day 18: A caravan just by Oceans Beach, with the crack up kids Day 19: Freedom camping on Bream Bay - what a place~ Day 20: Found an unoccupied plot with shelter and flat grass "turn your head torch off, we'll get caught!" Whinging pom pipes up... Day 21: Great food - Crumbed chicken and pasta! Fun night at Aaron's, a ride to and from the trail and some well earned beer~ Day 22 (half day): Home wistful home.
Food Highlights: A toss up between the Tom Yum soup with Udon noodles, capsicum, fresh broccoli and tinned baby corn (thai) and the sweet chilli Snapper (fish) curry on mash.
General Highlights: The people and their amazing kindnesses the boat ride across the Whangarei harbour! Waking up and skinny-dipping to the sunrise at Bream Heads The solo swim at Ocean's beach - a moment of reflection :) My newly found friendship in Matt
General Lowlights: Narrowly missing an Orca pod sighting in the Whangarei harbour Almost drowning in the Ruakaka River! (but then being rescued by a kayaker) - no, we were fine, we were headed to a big detour after attempting the ford and getting up to our chins (bags on heads) before deciding to turn back. Kayaker saved us an extra 7km thank goodness! Leaving the trail
Song predominantly in my head: Colours of the Wind, from Pocahontas - which still makes me ball my eyes out when I listen to it!
Things I learned:
Sucking on leaves helps when you've run out of water, but don't suck on manuka leaves, you just get a mouth full of nutty vegetation instead.
I'm not cool enough. I sent a friend request to Harry on Facebook so I could tag him in a photo I had taken. A 16 year old with 1,623 friends (seriously?!) I am still waiting with bated breath to be accepted >_< Ahahahahaha!
It's ok to wholeheartedly say YES! - with my Japanese upbringing, and a fair amount of Kiwi mixed in, I usually refuse the initial kindnesses of others -"Oh, I couldn't Possibly!" and wait patiently for the second or third offer.... Toni and Ross taught me that kindness is a gift you should savour and accept with humility and gratitude the first time round :)
Cliffs and the water below are not my friends. It took me forever to jump a modest cliff into the sea below, but I did it. I'm more of a scardy-cat than I thought.
Number of days with wet feet: ALL Weather: on and OFF! haha, but the storm atop Whangarei Heads woke us up! Body: feeling good, albeit a little fatigued Spirit: soaring Questions unanswered: Will Te Araroa make me stronger or drive me crazy? I'm looking forward to seeing which one!
Back on the trail, solo and on a beautiful part of Northland! Paihia to Opua was a majestic part of coast that had beach walking, rock hopping, boardwalks and stunning views. Opua wharf was also the place I had come with my mum and Gran 6 years earlier to scatter part of my Grandfather's ashes - a special place I was glad to visit on my walk of the country.
From Opua I had the choice of getting a $100 boat ride across the Waikare connection or taking the $1 vehicle ferry and walking the connection adding 24+ km to an already hefty bit of walking... Now, $99 can get me a lot of powdered mash and beer, so went with the vehicle ferry and what ensued was 24+ km of extra walking... Something I had to motivate me was a certain Brit who I knew, from chats on Facebook, was a few hours ahead. Now, damn him - this is where my decision not to hitch any part of this walk (the official trail) was solidified. A car pulled up into a driveway and I was running low on water so I asked if I could fill up - and he ran me up to the house to fill up my water bladder and he mentioned that he had come along side another walker, a brit full of tattoos earlier that day, and that he had offered him a ride but he had refused. He said he would have offered me a ride but knew I would refuse him too~ FML. Hahaha! So my fast crumbling resolve not to hitch (even this asshole extra waikare connection) was strengthened purely for pride.
The next day, after I had dried my tent from the rain in the night and had a lovely breakfast in the sun, I was feeling stronger, and soon entered into Russell forest. If you ignore the car graveyard leading up to it (If you're missing a car in northland, chances are its remains are there...) it is a magical forest and the trail follows up through beautiful bush, a stream and several waterholes.
Once out and back on the road I caught up with a farmer who was fine with me camping up and having the trail meal of my dreams behind an old dilapidated outhouse just as the sun was going down. Sleep came fast that night!
Day 15, I had a LONG day of road walking ahead - I had realised that the 'few hours ahead' walker was actually, after all my mermaid frolicking and Instagramming the the day before, now 20km ahead, so there dashed my dreams >_< so, I got comfortable and started trucking on. Running low on water again, I passed a house with its family outside - as the little girl handed me the bladder she asked if I was walking the length of New Zealand to lose weight. With feigned hurt I asked if she thought I needed to... ah, kids ey?
Now this next story will stay with me for the rest of my life - I was passing Mokau Marae, where there were some workmen, and in the field opposite was a horse that was standing by the fence, dead still except for the occasional kick of the hind leg. As I got closer I saw its leg was tightly wrapped around a loose piece of fencing. I know NOTHING about horses and jumping into an unknown paddock with an unknown horse was not on my to-do list that day... I got one of the workmen to help and with great gusto he lept into the paddock with me cowering behind him for protection. As he approached, he scared the poor animal to distraction so I thought the only way to solve it was for him to get some wire cutters. As he was away getting them I slowly approached the horse and I could see her eyes closely watching me. She let me come closer and soon I was stroking her and she started to lean on me a little, then started smelling me and then nibbling on my ear!! This was going to work! I slowly stroked down her body and though she hesitated at first, all the while watching me, she let me lean down and unwind the wire from her back leg - success! I was so touched that she would trust me like that; it was a special moment~
I was in my own little horse-saving, instagram taking bubble walking along the coast again, when I was invited in out of the rain by a farmer who let me have the last of his special Chinese green tea while he showed me round his old cow shed conversion and he told me stories of the area, his time owning the extensive valley farm and his days visiting his daughter and his rich in-laws in Japan. Having bade our goodbyes I realised I had gotten a message from Matt; the Brit had called it a day earlier that afternoon and was waiting: with BEER. Now, beer to me is like 'Chicken' to McFly and it suddenly boosted me to tackle this last 15km. Only this 15km was from sea-level to 260m (in the first two Kms) then into the challenging Morepork forest - described in the notes as DAYLIGHT ONLY track. It was 5pm. No worries! hahaha, and so began a 4hour run, scramble, tumble, updating Facebook experience into the darkness until I see a tall shadowy figure of the handsome Englishman. "just another 1km to go" he says as he drives away towards the camp once he guided me onto the road. (The campsite owner was worried about me so lent him her pick-up, which, OF COURSE, i refused to get in) 3km later I staggered into the campsite, cabin all organised, coins for the showers procured and hot food and cold beer waiting. Heaven.
Km: 244-308 Fellow TA walker sightings: One, with beer. Matt the Brit. Number of tumbles: pretty good until nightfall in the Morepork forest! Number of cries: Zero! Kg of rubbish I picked up: <1 but awkward. A bucket, few plastic bags and bits and pieces Drop off point: Paihia/Opua Beachside Holiday park
Homes for the night: Day13 (half day): rainy miserable night under grabby trees on a roadside hill Day 14: Just out of the Russell forest, in farmland behind a derelict outhouse! Day15: Whananaki North Holiday Park with Matt & Tom, the lovely heartbroken Manchurian
Food Highlight: Has to be the salami and canned chicken cantonese stir-fry with onion and capsicum (previously fresh and very heavy LOL) on udon noodles with black sesame and chilli sprinkles on day 14.
General Highlights: The horse! Having the whole of the Russell forest to myself, river wading in the dappled sunlight, skinny-dipping! Finding "Let's Go Butt! written for me on the ground by my new friend in front. Having a cold beer and cooked meal and hot shower waiting for me after having done a long 34km into the night/ having a hot Brit come to my rescue (though he got told in no uncertain terms I didn't NEED rescuing Bahaha!)
General Lowlights: Pretty good leg - though thinking I was lost in the Russell forest was disconcerting till I saw the magical orange triangle The last 4 kms of day 15 lasted foreeeeeevvver
Things I learned: With just me as company, I'm pretty fun to be around! Life on the trail is very simple: it's all about the trail, where to sleep for the night, what to eat and where to shit. After it rains a lot my fancy phone doesn't recognise my thumbprint
Number of days with wet feet: EVERY DAY~ but stream walking was fun :) Weather: Showers at all the inconvenient times! - After one particular heavy shower during the long Waikare section I was sopping wet and a pool cleaning truck drove past with the signage: getwet.co.nz. The universe having a right laugh! Body: I did it so long ago, I don't remember! But I think it was good. Spirit: High!
Question unanswered: All the roads have storm water drains or streams along side. All roads are littered with plastic from people tossing stuff out of their cars. How to stop the tossers?!
So Pete asked me what would be the tipping point- where I could say with confidence I would be able to finish this challenge~. I first said passing Auckland: so easy to stop, go back to the life I'm comfortable with. Then I said Queenstown. Nearly there, can't stop now! But during the traipse across the breadth of the country, over three forests and numerous mountain ranges, through rivers and through the muddiest quagmires I could have imagined- I think I've crossed that tipping point. The first 10 days they say, are the hardest: on the unprimed body, on the spirit. Just finishing the first 10 days- not even having done 10%, I'm sure I'll make it though to Bluff (not shit-house Bluff on Ninety Mile Beach folks, I mean the other end of the country Bluff :)) The only thing that concerns me is my timeline. I thought I gave myself plenty of time, but with work and family commitments in Auckland I'm going to find it a challenge to finish before the southern frosts come. I've got to admit, THIS has kept me up at night, but now not the mental or physical challenge of it.
Ah, the Northern forests: very corny, but I really feel I went in a girl (with prematurely greying hair) and came out a woman. The three forests: Herekino, Raekea and Puketi took me through a pretty amazing transformation: I now feel stronger and more confident than I ever have physically and mentally ready for anything.
I came across my very own, very first trail angel on day two of being solo~ my tent was wet and I had run out of water so hadn't had my usual hot porriage breakfast. Around lunchtime I came across the most idyllic stream, and grass bank with a few placid looking cows grazing. I jumped the obviously private property dividing fence and started to make myself at home- spreading my tent out and starting up my gas cooker~ then along comes a farmer... yikes! Now Wayne was the most wonderful human being: kind, concerned, generous. Meeting him and his Dog Zoe buoyed my spirits and gave me strength to carry on, full warm belly and dry tent! Onwards and upwards into my second forest: Raetea.
Solitude allowed me to explore my psyche a little: I felt like Dorothy and friends all rolled into one, walking though the silent forest recallibrating my heart, my brain and my courage in search for OZ... but it wasn't all serious! Next minute I was Super Mario jumping over fallen trees and collecting 1up mushrooms every time I saw an orange marker :)
After solitude came friendship in the name of Andres from Chile. My first Te Araroa met walking buddy! So I had met Andres with Pete on day one- he stumbled into Twilight beach campsite and settled there for the night while we carried on to the beach. We had expected to see him along the beach but didn't, so it was great to see him bowl passed me on day 5 :) He was a fast walker, but a very slow riser so for the next couple of days I would come across his campsite, say hello then he would pass me late I the afternoon. We soon decided to join forces and combine our weaknesses- slow to start in the morning then ALSO slow to walk. Bahahaha!! The section coming up was potentially a hairy one- wading though a stream where the track notes repeatedly screamed: "WARNING! Flash flood area!!" Having someone to joke with and tackle tricky navigation and river bank walking after the two days of alone time was great. But like many of the friendships I'll have on this trail, we walk our own walk, I step off trail and they carry on.
Zero day count: 1 on the 8th of September, the weather closed in and the southerly brought with it torrential rain. Best to watch mtv and relax at the backpackers at Ahipara instead! :P
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: 1 Andres, my partner in crime for this section (with the lingering presence of the half dozen walkers ahead of us ~ footsteps, sign-in books, heresay)
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: 3 1. getting lost on my first day solo and doing the splits down the riverbank! 2. woah!! Falling down a mountain and bending a borrowed walking pole is not recommended! 3. super face plant in Raetea with Andres right behind me- I think I scared him more than myself 😅
Number of cries: 2 Farmer Wayne taking my hands and praying to God for my safety, offering me a place to stay and wishing me the best on my journey...and the wonderful Doggie cuddles from Zoe the dog :) The beauty of the forest and the intermingling feeling of freedom and solitude had me feel-good-balling, perched against a tree in the dappled sunlight :)
Kg of rubbish picked up: < 1 :) great to see hardly any rubbish in the bush. Though the roads and surrounding gutters were a different story... Drop off points were: Mungamuka Dairy Kerikeri
Homes for the night: Day 5: Bottom of mountain at Herekino: pretty wet and miserable Day 6: Middle of Raetea: magical Day 7: Farmland, with farmers blessing, having swum though the longest 4kms of endless mud Day 8: Getting hopelessly lost, ended up camping on a riverbank: dodgy! Day 9: Puketi Forest hut. FIREPLACE and electricity!! Day 10: Kerikeri Seasonal workers hostel Day 11: Mt Bledisloe "No Camping!" Lookout Day 12: There's no place like home xx
Food highlights: udon noodles with fresh stirfried red capsicum, chicken (from a can!), ham (leftovers baby!), ginger and teriyaki sauce and chilli flakes.
General Highlights: the forests were magical! cool off swim in Puketi Forest the feeling of invincibility doing it solo! (till the reality of the toughness of Raetea set in LOL) sunrise views from Mt Bledisloe
General Lowlights: the last never-ending, soul crushing 4kms of day 6 running out of water so no dinner or towel bath day 5
walking poles broken to date: 2
Song predominantly in my head: I am woman! Helen Reddy
Things I learned: I'm stronger than I gave myself credit for :) walking poles are invaluable. Thanks for the lend of yours Pete! Also I'd be much more beaten up without my gaiters. 1.5l is NOT enough water for two days in the forest.
Number of days with wet feet: all the days 😅 Weather: perfect Body: tweaked right hip, right knee and foot blister but generally getting stronger by the day Spirit: yaaaaaas! Questions unanswered: loads, but who cares?
So this was the day I had been waiting for: unlike the spirits of the departed heading North on their journey, my journey was taking me South. 3008km South, 141 map sections south, around 4 and a half months south (on and off). So with Pete, my friend and walking mate for this section and photos taken, I finally set off from the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga on the 4th of September, my 36th birthday and with us, as we walked down to the first bay, was Daniela and Darren who had dropped us off.
Now, with my humungous pack, and stuff hanging off me everywhere, the first thing to go was a cucumber. It fell from my pack somewhere between the carpark and the lighthouse. Now, this isn't the best start - especially as I'm trying to REDUCE rubbish, not create it...! Next to go was my camera - (now if you have been following the blog, a lot of thought had gone into this camera... >_<) it was just not an option; as I struggled down the manicured path towards the lighthouse with it dangling round my neck. So that went into the hands of my friends who were heading back in their car later in the day <Daniela also sporting an additional bit of bling on her hand on their way back to Auckland- as we find out DAYS LATER that Darren proposed to her once we headed off!! How wonderful is that?!?>
Now navigation was easy, just south along the beach right?! In saying that, most of the first day was not on a beach, but this part we were good at - I was introduced to the magical orange triangle with which (now at day 10) I am dearly fond of. We completed the first day in darkness and at the northern tip of the mighty beach.
The next few days were beach walking. Just this. At times interspersed with water collecting, eating and resting, moaning and dodging high-tide waves but mostly walking on the never-ending stretch of undeterminably long beach. It was wonderful though, the beginning of the journey, getting to know more about Pete and getting a handle on my walking poles and pack. Getting a handle on walking.
Now a funny incident I have to share - though it may be a little too much information for some... keep reading if you dare :D
So, first day of the trail - OF COURSE I get my period. No big deal, I have my menstrual cup <moon cup plug here, - pun... unintentional... they're awesome>. So we get to The Bluff, our camp site for day two, absolutely shattered, cold and with not much water to speak of. I deal with it. Next day was glorious, the sun was out, the water shimmering, and after a while of contemplating the situation: Pete was a platonic friend and all, I finally tell him I'm going for a swim (In my head: have a cleanse, have a cool down and empty this bloody thing out <sorry>). Well he's RIGHT there - to be fair he was quite some distance away, but I am now topless and needing to do my business, so do ask him to go further away?! NO. I just awkwardly try and time the waves and tell myself not to let go of the cup which is now in my hands. So what do I do?! the FIRST wave that hits me it slips out of my hands and into the ocean.... I scramble as only a flustered topless-trying-to-appear-calm woman can, but with no success. I give up the floundering and I come out of the water completely defeated... only to catch a glimpse of a huge white thing bowling past me - none other than the Great Sights tour bus! Bhahahahaha! I try and cover myself, but really, I'm beyond caring, so end up just waving to the surprised/amused tourists. The flashing of the bus aside, it's a bit of a disaster really - what am I going to do for the next couple of days?! I glumly get dried off and dressed, and because I sense Pete has noticed my sudden change in mood, I tell him and he takes it well, though like you, it's probably more information than he would have liked. We put our shoes on, which takes FOREVER with the sand everywhere, and get our packs on. Pete is busy doing something so I tell him I'm going to go down to the water on the off chance I spot the moon cup. There - about 20 meters away from where I entered and exited the water was something on the shore line. I start running and dive at it pack and all, just as a wave threatens to hit it - my moooooooon cup! After at least 10 minutes of searching and 20 minutes of getting ready it had landed itself calmly on the beach. There it is folks, miracles do happen :D Km: 0-104
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: 1 on the first day (not to be seen in this section again, but stay tuned) Andres from Chile
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: 1 mud from head to toe: hilarious!
Number of cries: 3: 1x weird, out of the blue historical ex-boyfriend shit 1x seeing all the rubbish on the beach washed in from the sea 1x super touching moment with a curious fur-seal.
Kg of rubbish picked up:? Around 3-5 Drop off points were: Twilight beach campsite, The Buff Campsite Utea Camp Waipapakauri Campsite Ahipara Food highlights: Had to be the Tikka Masala on the first night, though the chicken freaked Pete out and I was eating it for the next day SOLID. I now no longer eat Tikka masala ;P and though not strictly food - COLD BEER on the 3rd night at Utere Camp/units. OMG
General Highlights: the perfect conditions of the beach on day two the swim minus the drama LOL Finding Utea campsite at Hukatere for that hot shower and cabin and BEER - thanks Pete!!
General Lowlights: The beach. LOL. jokes. It did stretch for miles, so not quite knowing where we were on said beach was a mental challenge. The Bluff campsite toilets. Shithouse. Nothing more can be said. And drinking out of a horse-trough Not seeing the wild horses! The plastic on the beach :(
Song predominantly in my head: 'These Boots are Made for Walking' Nancy Sinatra
Things I learned: I can run with a pack on: running from a wave. I can laugh: losing to this wave I can pee with a pack on: "le pack-on-pee" I'm good at the "yes/No" game and bad at "I spy"
Number of days with wet feet: ALL the days. Weather: Fine, turning to southerly gusts on the evenings of day three and four Body: blister forming under left arch, otherwise good to go! Spirit: Battered at times, but super keen, though did NOT want to learn the words to Ring of Fire, thanks Pete. Question unanswered: Did Darren and Daniela find my cucumber??