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Te Araroa – Kerikeri to Whangarei Heads

or the beautiful Northland East Coast…

So as you know, Day 11 is a “Zero Day” (a day with no kms done) in Kerikeri, and I start back on the trail the 12th, nice and early on my way to Paihia. It is a very easy and 20km between Kerikeri and Paihia, a nice way to get the legs going again. And I am lucky with the weather, it stays nice and sunny during my walk, even if the wind is strong. I am feeeling a bit heavy on my mind today and the easy track is quite suitable for letting the mind wonder … I get to Paihia early in the afternoon, but I am forced to stop because the next water taxi to the end of the Waikare Inlet leaves tomorrow at 12. So I book in the YHA backpackers (yeah, right) and kill time watching the Lord of the Rings in the afternoon.

Day 13: I have a lazy start as it is only 8 km to Opua, where the water taxi leaves from. I meet up with two other hikers, Rob and joss, from England, with whom I had planned to share the water taxi fare with. So we hike together the very lovely coastal track to Opua and get ourselves a coffee at the marina cafe, waiting for our ride. It is a nice 20 minutes boat ride to the end of the Waikare Inlet, and a good way to do 10km of the trail! Then the track takes us up into the Russell Forest. I get ahead of the guys and walk alone. The forest is a real jungle, i almost get lost a couple of times, but then it is a river walk, up the Papakauri River. Stunning. The bush is nice and lush, the river no deeper than up to the knees, and the weather cleared up nicely. It is fabulous! I meet up with a German hiker, Faby at the shelter. I decide to walk out ot the forest to find a place to camp. Faby and I end up pitching our tents along the Russell Road, by a bridge. We are joined later by Rob and Joss. a few showers in the evening, but nothing major. It is nice to meet new people on the Trail.

Day 14: A lot of road walk today. I walk mostly by myself as Faby is way faster and Rob and Joss have a later start. The weather is OK, still just a few showers but nothing too heavy. The wind is strong but not too cold. Road walk is part of the trail… but not always nice… I find some parts quite dangerous on those narrow NZ roads, and it is hard on the joints… I am happy when the trail finally leaves the asphalt to get onto a gravel road with no traffic. It is uphill for a while and the views are fantastic. I meet up with Faby again at the top where the trail takes the Morepork-Onekainga Track in the forest. A nice long break to have lunch and dry all the gear, then we start up again. The forest track is harder than I expected, with lots of steep ups and downs … I pass the 300km mark, YAY!!!! and I am happy but exhausted when we finally reach Whananaki Holiday Park … after 33km, my knees and feet are hurting … Matthew and his wife, the owners of the Whananaki Holiday Park are what we call “trail Angels” … people along the way who are aware of the Trail and very helpful to thru-hikers. We are offered a cheap cabin and a cheap meal (burger, chips and beer) a free shower and free wifi… They are so nice!!!! Matthew is trying to keep track on how many hikers stop at his place, and we are apparently number 53 and 54 of this year!! Rob and Joss arrive a bit later and we all share our trail stories around a nice meal …. the magic of the trail again!!!!

Day 15: The track starts right at the back of the campground, going over the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere: the Whananaki footbridge, 395m long … awesome! then it follows the Whananaki Coastal Track, and I am completely charmed by this walk. And easy 4WD track going up and down along the coast and offering stunning views of the bays down below … The weather is overcast, and my mood a little grey as well. It is a good track to daydream …. Then it is on the road around Matapouri, and up into the Matapouri Forest. Beautiful Nikau Palms and fern tree forest. I meet up with faby again in the little village of Ngunguru. We walk the road to the Riverbank B&B, onwed by two other Trail Angels, Hilton and Melva, who let hikers pitch their tent in their garden for a koha (donation). Again, wonderful people! We are joined later by Rob and Joss. The weather turns bad in the evening so we all hide from the rain in our own tents …

Day 16: It rains all night, sometimes quite heavily, but it is clear again in the morning. We are all up early, each with a different plan for the day. Rob and Joss need to resupply with food so will be going back to Ngunguru. Today is a very long road section, so I take on Hilton’s offer of being dropped off at the start of the Mackerel Forest Track. It makes me avoid 13km of asphalt road this morning, and considering how my hips/knees/feet are hurting, I think it is good for me to have a shorter day and avoid some road walking. Faby is a purist and doesn’t want to skip a single step of the trail. Good on him. It starts up a interesting conversation between all of us about hitchhiking and walking the whole trail and where the limit might be in between…. I will not go on about this here, but it is a very sensitive subject among thru-hikers … So, anyway, I get a ride to the start of the forest. It is not a nice forest … heavily logged, the trail is in bad shape. Because I start early in the morning, walking through the high grass still wet from the rain, I quickly end up completely soaked from the waist down … well. Never mind. There are two river crossings to do anyway. Thankfully the forest track is short and the rest of the day is on the asphalt road. I get to Pataua early afternoon … and right at high tide… so the crossing of the Taiharuru estuary is not possible for me today. The campground doesn’t really appeal to me, so I call the Tidesong B&B to have some infos about the area. I get offered a cabin for free to spend the night, so I can wait for low tide tomorrow morning. Awesome! I get to the B&B around 3.30pm, and take everything out of my pack to dry … but maybe just over an hour later, Faby shows up (I told you he walks fast!!!) and tells me the guy from the B&B can take him across the estuary on a dinghy, so I don’t think twice and pack my bag and jump on as well… Again, very nice people (they are house sitting for the owner of the B&B who are walking the trail as well!)and thanks to Andy, we have a fun time rowing across the estuary and save waiting for the low tide crossing tomorrow … So, when I thought my day was finished with walking, I find myself climbing up Kauri Mountain just before 6pm … The views are absolutely stunning from up here… but we don’t linger, we need to find a place to camp, and it is not looking good (either cow paddock, private property or just not flat at all). Faby is exhausted after almost 40km, so we pitch our tents in the first flat spot we find … which turns out to be somebody’s backyard … but they never knew we were here (I’m not even sure there was someone in this house)…

Day 17: It started raining in the middle of the night and this time doesn’t stop in the morning. we start walking at 7am, all wrapped up in our rain gear. The trail goes down Kauri Mountain to take us to a gravel road and then to Ocean Beach, the beautiful long beach on the east coast of Whangarei Heads. As usual Faby walks much faster than me, so ends up quickly far ahead. The rain has stopped and the low grey coulds in the morning light, the strong wind, the sound of the ocean and the fact that there is absolutely no one else here gives a sort of gloomy and sombre atmosphere that i enjoy very much. it is good to walk on a beach again. At the end of the beach, the trail climbs steeply up the hill to follow the Bream Heads track. With this weather, I can see that I am going to be in the clouds up top. And as I go up, the visibility quickly goes down to about 20 meters, the wind gets stronger and stronger, and the rain starts again … Luckily, the bush around me gives me a good protection against the elements. Outside of the fact that it is a steep climb, it is a very easy track, with quite a lot of stairs to help along the way. I don’t really pay attention to where the track goes, as there is only one big trail to follow so far, and at the top of Mt Lion, I don’t really think twice when the track turns left at the end of some stairs. The track is wide and well formed, with some orange markers. I walk as it must be the way. And suddenly the track stops and I find myself between a big rock and a cliff… hum… strange … I take a second, look back, yes, there are orange markers there, so I decide to climb over the rock (almost as big as me) to see what’s on the other side… well, once on the other side, I see nothing but a cliff …I feel a bit lost and have to climb over that rock again to go back. The rain comes down by the bucket, the wind is really strong and I have to hold on to a tree not to be blown away… I can’t help thinking that it is exactly in that kind of situation that people die … I obviously took the wrong way, it is windy and slippery, I am balancing on top of a rock with a cliff on each side … well done Marylene. I make an effort not to panic. Lower my pack down first, then my poles, then myself, slowly… I finally go back into the bush, ready to walk all the way back down and wait for better weather. Then I notice that there is another trail, not as obvious, that turns right just before the end of the stairs… THAT is the right way… So I keep on walking for a bit, but my heart beat is still up and my legs slightly shaky … I sit down for a while and get some food and water in myself. Finally I keep on walking, thinking that nothing can possibly go wrong now… until maybe 30 minutes later, as I go up the next hill, I hear thunder… My first thought is “no fucking way!”, my second thought is “it won’t be an electrical storm, it is not that common by the ocean …” and then boom… lightening, thunder, lightening again … so then my third thought is ” OK, now I’m fucked”. I want to go down but those bloody stairs keep going uphill… I’m on a top of a hill with ocean all around, in the middle of a thunderstorm … Well done Marylene, again! The stairs finally head downhill and I forget about my knees and feet and just go as fast as I can. The good thing is that I am in the dense bush. I find Faby waiting at the edge of the bush, he didn’t want to go out in the open paddock in the storm. So we both wait for the storm to pass. And walk to Uruquarts Bay, soaked to the bone. Nothing there to camp. In McKenzie Bay, we find another trail angel in the person of Douglas Chowns. He provides a place to camp for TA hikers. He receives us, wet and cold, in his house and offers us the best cup of instant coffee I have ever had in my life … teehee … Then it is unreal, the weather clears up nicely, it is sunny and warm, we dry all our gear and spend a lovely afternoon in the company of this extremely talented painter. Was it this morning that I thought I was going to die twice????

Day 18 and 19: days off in Whangarei!!! I need a good rest, my legs are hurting so bad after all that … and I am out of food. So usual deal: resupply, blog, laundry, and rest those legs!

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