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!