Te Araroa – Ahipara to Kerikeri
From West Coast to East Coast… or from Hell, to Heaven and through Purgatory…
Day 6: Herekino Forest. I had heard from other TA hikers that the Forests of Northland were muddy and difficult to hike through… well… so I expected a hard day… well, let me tell you that what I imagined was not even close to reality… I hike with Jorg again today, as we both took a day off yesterday. We get to the entrance of the forest and a Department Of Conservation (D.O.C) sign welcomes us with : “Wet and slippery track, take care”. Thanks D.O.C … but that is an understatement… The Herekino Rorest Track is one of the most challenging hike I have ever done… It starts muddy strait away… and maybe for the first 3 hours I kinda enjoy it, even the hail storm that surprises us in the first hour… but the enjoyment level falls to nul about halfway through the day… Mud is difficult. Physically: trying to avoid the deepest puddles so you don’t get your feet completely soaked and don’t lose a shoe in there; You have to watch carefully every step, detour on the side, and there are a lot of trees down; When you take one step, you go back half of one because it is so slippery, and it gets down right dangerous when the terrain gets steep… the downhill is quite a mission… Mentally: being caked with mud all over, having wet feet all day, mud up to your knees is notsomething I am used to ; and most of all, making such slow progress is hard on the mind … 2 km/h is the fastest pace possible… I am trying to keep a positive attitude ( I CHOSE to be here!) and I am very happy to finally get out of the forest and onto the 4WD track of the Kaitaia Walkway… It took us 7hours to get through. Now it is about finding a place to camp. The weather doesn’t make it easy as there are a lot of showers, and it is not before 5pm that we decide to pitch our tents on the track near a stream… we are joined by two New Zealanders also doing the trail.
Day 7: between the Forests, short day for me. I am tired and sore from yesterday, so idecide to take it easy today and will not go into the raetea Forest. I just walk 3 hours to the entrance of the forest. The guys keep on walking. I am not going to go through this hell again today, my body and my mind need a rest. just before the forest, a little 4WD track boarded by prayer flags leads up to a sign saying “ASHOKA ECO-VILLAGE”. That piques my curiosity and I go and check it out… an eco-village would be a good place to stay! but the place is abandoned…. the overgrown vegetation and the state of the buildings (just two small houses) shows that it has been left unattended for a long time… but everything is still in place… the dishes, all the little objects of decorations, books and magazines, all the way to the soap on the bedroom sink… as if someone had left just for a short time, and actually never came back… I am not quite sure about the energy of the place, so I dry my stuff and have lunch and think about staying here or not… But I don’t want to walk further, I know then it is getting in the forest and there will be no water available. So I stay, and quite enjoy it. Everything in this place is about Buddhism. Prayer flags, mantras on the walls, and I read a handwritten book of buddhism teachings. i spend the night under an overhang roof to stay away from the morning dew. I will try to investigate more about the story of this place… i am still very intrigued about it…
Day 8: Raetea Forest – hell (hell..o again) Early start, 6 am on the track. I know what to expect today and I want to make sure I have time to go through this forest. It is steep and muddy strait away… but I am in a different head space than I was in the Herekino Forest, and I don’t let the mud get my mental down… I go slow and steady, maybe make a little less effort to avoid the mud, I don’t really care about being wet and dirty anymore… It was overcast when I started but the weather is on my side and it clears up nicely in the morning. it is a lot of ups and downs, and it gets muddier and muddier as I make progress into the forest … By the end, I know I’m almost out and the tracks levels out… it would be such a nice walk if not for all that mud… by that point, the whole track is just one big puddle of mud… I feel like I’m a cow, or a pig… or even a hippopotamus, they like mud, don’t they? Then finally, out of the forest, down through a paddock and onto the gravel road… YES… I made it in a little over 8 hours… and when I reach State Highway 1, I see the best sigh ever: Jimi’s wonderful housetruck parked by the river. He saw Rory and Andrew off from here this morning, and Jorg had stayed with him one day to rest a very swollen ankle. I wash my shoes/socks/pants in the river and sit for a bit. Jimi is heading up to Kerikeri and offers me a ride to the junction of the next road. I accept, I don’t feel guilty to skip those part of the trail on SH1… So at 3.30pm I put my wet shoes back on and start walking again… It is a good 11km to the next campspot with water… Jorg walks with me for a bit, but hitch a ride back with some tourists because he is too much in pain from his ankle. I get to Apple Dam Camp spot at 6.45pm…. completely exhausted… what a day!!!
Day 9: the Mangapukahukahu Canyon … or a day in Heaven!!! Well rested after a good sleep, and in high spirits today. I take my time in the morning and have a 7.30am start. The sun is shining and the bush around me is beautiful. The trail goes down to the Mangapukahukahu stream, and it is about 2.5 km of walking down the river, criss crossing from shoal bank to shoal bank… I am alone in the most stunning landscape. The bush is lush and the river meanders down in the middle, sometimes wide and calm, sometimes narrow and fast, sometimes forming deep pools (quite inviting i must say, but I am not brave enough to take a dip…) I never have to walk in water more than knee deep, and for once I am loving having wet feet!!! Then the stream meets up with the bigger Waipapa River and it is the end of the river walk… I take a long break in the sun, drying everything and having lunch, then starts up in the Puketi Forest. The forest is stunning here. Clear and airy, with Nikau Palms, Fern Trees and some majestic Kauri Trees, which get bigger and bigger as I climb up on the ridge… I find a beautiful camp spot up the on the top of the ridge, and even if it is early, I decide to stay here for the night. A night with the company of beautiful Kauri trees is much more appealing than a night in a DOC campsite… and I have enough water with me to camp here…. Today was just a little piece of heaven after the hell of the Herekino and Raetea Forests….
Day 10: Kerikeri track… or a day through purgatory… Today is a long and boring day…. the track goes through farmlands and paddocks and it is really hot… I know the Te Araroa Trail is as much a cultural trail as a hiking trail, and it must be nice for people from overseas who have never experienced New Zealand countryside to walk on never-ending gravel roads in farmland and get wet feet in swampy paddocks… but for me, I find it a little boring… and i have probably my scariest moment on the trail so far, going through a bulls paddock… I am not used to cows and those guys are very agitated, charge at me and make some rodeo moves butting and kicking next to me… I’m scared to death and try to keep myself from breaking into a run (that would just make it worse) … I walk slow, always facing them…and finally on the other side of the fence, I have to sit down as the adrenaline rush just drained me… far out!!! The highlights of the day are passing the 200Km mark , YAY!! and at the end of the day, the part along the Kerikeri River, with the powerful Rainbow Falls. But by that point I am just exhausted by this long hot and slightly boring day … At 3.30pm I finally reach the Holiday Park where I meet up with Andrew and Jorg.
As I write now, it is Day 11 (Tuesday) and I am taking a day off to rest … The weather is supposed to change from now on, and my mind says “keep on walking!!’ but my body definitely tells me to stop for a day… and I need a day to come back to human state again….