Exactly two years ago today I started off on my biggest hiking adventure ever! The Northland section of the Te Araroa Trail (TAT)in New Zealand. The complete trail is 3000km from one end of New Zealand to the other and can be walked in either direction but South bound tends to be more popular. I was only doing 500km but still this journey on foot was a few months in the planning and my first adventure since going from Normal to Nomad.
I started at the very top of New Zealand, Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet. The first hundred kilometers was mostly beach, to be specific, Ninety Mile Beach. This a a beautiful wild stretch of coastline and I probably witnessed one of the most magical sunsets ever on my second evening here. But this section was very monotonous and pitching a tent was difficult in the soft sand. I stopped a night at Hukatere Camping Ground and booked a cabin which was a treat after my first few nights in my tent. Gabrielle who owns the place is super nice and she invited me to have dinner with her, her nephew and a friend that was visiting. I had good company that night. I had met a German couple, Nina and Andy, on my very first day and we crossed paths over the days I walked this beach, we spent one night camping in the same location and we met up again at the end of our first one hundred kilometers, Ahipara.
Ahipara, shops and a decent bed were a welcome sight. I spent three nights at Ahipara Backpackers and Holiday Park which I can high recommend as a great place to stay. I hadn’t been to Ahipara before and I wanted to check the place out and catch up with some locals that are friends of a friend. I managed to track them down by asking around and they were lovely enough to show me around including taking me up to the gum fields for an amazing view of Ahipara at sunset. Ahipara is a gorgeous Northland town and a great summer holiday spot.
I left Ahipara with a young Swiss couple I had met at the holiday park and the three of us started the next leg of the journey, the Herekino forest. This forest and the next were said to be pretty rugged and they weren’t wrong. There was so much mud, up and down with a really steep descent at the end. What we thought would take us about 8 hours took us 11 and we were shattered by the time we reached out destination for the night, Diggers Valley. We had organised to stay with a guy called Peter and his lovely wife. Peter picked us up from road and we arrived at his house to find two more hikers, that had arrived early, and a great feast that we were not expecting. To stay here was a koha (donation) which was so generous of this lovely couple! The three of us left them NZ$20 each.
Due to the challenging nature of the walk the day before I decided to skip the next section of the trail knowing that there was no accessible water for the next two days and I wasn’t sure I was up for the challenging of repeating the previous day two more times. Knowing your limits is important when in the outdoors and I wasn’t afraid to admit that this was beyond mine. So I hitchhiked from the end of Peter’s driveway into Kaitaia where I was fortunate enough to be put upat the Orana Motor Inn for free, dinner and wine included! It was a favour I called in that I never expected to take up but I was so glad I got a chance to. I had a great meal in the restaurant and enjoyed a night in a super comfy bed. I also had a chance to explore the small town of Kaitaia, and found the Dalmatian history here interesting, especially what I saw in the museum. My grandfather came from Dalmatia (coast of Croatia) with his parents as a child. His father was a gum digger who worked in fields not too far from here.
From Kaitaia I caught a bus to Kerikeri and checked in to the Kerikeri Holiday Park. I managed to find a nice little spot by the river to set up camp for the night. I had much of the day to spare so took a walk down to the Stone Store and you wouldn’t believe it but I came across my Swiss friends who had carried on to the next forest but found that so challenging they hitchhiked the rest of the way to Kerikeri. They spent the night at the same place as me and the three of us headed off again together the next day to Paihia. This was a much easier walk than we had first experienced together and it was nice to finally be in the Bay of Islands.
After arriving in the Bay of Islands my German friends had been in touch as Andy had to fly back to Germany to his unwell mother. So Nina and I organised to met and continue on the trail together. It was nice to have a new trail buddy. Our next stop for the night was with a lady who lived near the beginning of the next section, the Russell Forest. It turned out she was the friend of one of my friends mum and had previously lived in the same area I had grown up. A small world. The next morning she dropped us off at the beginning of the Russell Forest and on our way we went. The next few days were fantastic! The Russell Forest was gorgeous and walking the river was slow but pleasant. We stopped a night in Whananaki and stayed at the Whananaki Holiday Park in the cutest little cabin frequented by TAT hikers. This place has the longest foot bridge in the southern hemisphere so it was pretty cool to walk across that. This was also the place we first met a new TAT hiker, Nobu from Japan. From Whananaki we carried on to Matapouri, part way with Nobu. This was one of our wettest most miserable walking days but one of our coolest stops for the night, Tui Cabin. A totally private cabin in the bush. From here we carried on to Ngunguru where my grandparents use to live so it was a place I was very familiar with. Here we stayed at Nikau Bay Camp and Cabins. Turned out James who owns the place is the brother of someone I use to work with. Again a small world!
Nina and I parted ways at this point and James was kind enough to organise for me to take a short cut through his neighbours property. This required meeting up with the neighbour and heading off around low tide to get across the mangroves and on to the road just a few kilometers from Pataua. This saved me about 20kms of road walking so I was super thankful to have been able to avoid that. I spent a night with hosts Hugh and Ros at Tide Song Bed and Breakfast . Hugh took me out fishing for snapper that night, he caught one which we enjoyed for breakfast the next morning before I headed across the estuary in a kayak they loaned me as the tide was too high to walk. From here I made my way down to Ocean Beach with no plans on where I might stay. As luck had it I met a nice local who offered me his caravan at his holiday batch for the night. He wasn’t even staying the night, he gave me instructions on where to leave the key the next morning and left me to it. The kindness of strangers can be quite humbling! The last part of this section was the Bream Head Trail via Peach Cove Hut. I think I counted about 3000 stairs on this trail, including the 500 down into Peace Cove Hut which you must come back up to return to the trail. But what a fantastic track with some amazing views. And at night I could hear the kiwi calling from my bed in the hut. By now I was close to Whangarei and ready for a few days break at my dads so after walking down to Urquharts Bay I caught a ride with some strangers who turned out to be friends of Ros and Hughs, again small world. They dropped me off at Parua Bay and from there I hitch hiked into Whangarei.
Nina happened to have a few days to spare so she came and stayed with me in Whangarei and we decided since we had missed out on enjoying Matapouri due to the bad weather we would take a drive out there and see what it was like in the sunshine. Whale Bay was the spot to hang out and we enjoyed a relaxing beach day. The few days rest went fast, again Nina was on her way as she was expecting Andy back from Germany and it was time for me to carry on with the last section of my journey. I started from the Uretiti Beach DOC Camp and headed south to Waipu Cove, it wasn’t the most exciting walk that day but Waipu Cove is a great spot to stop for a night and I enjoyed my stay at the Waipu Cove Camp grounds. From here I headed to Managawhai through some farmland and then along Mangawhai Walkway which is a gorgeous leisurely walk along the cliffs. It was in Mangawhai that I met up with Nobu, the Japanese guy Nina and I had met a few weeks before. He and I decided that we would walk together the rest of the way to my final destination, Orewa. So the next morning we set off along the beach to Pakiri. After ninety mile beach I discovered I am not a fan of long distance beach walks and this was another one of those days. My feet were killing me by the time we got to the Pakiri Beach Holiday Park but I am glad we got there when we did as the weather packed in that night so we decided to stay put the next day.
It was a good decision as the hike out of there was a tedious one over Mt Tamahunga and we were not even sure where we were going to stop that night. We walked further than planned as there was no where to set up camp and I was getting low on water so we stopped at a house to ask for some. Not only did we get water but a bed for the night, free beer and a platter of delicious snacks all given to us by some more kind strangers who were only too happy to offer us some comforts for the evening. After a good nights sleep we were off again heading to Dome Valley. I had been into this region before and felt confident we could get to the trig and there would be enough room to set up camp for a night there and there was. We were getting close to our destination with only two days to go. After a hearty breakfast at the Dome Valley cafe we headed further inland to spend a night camping on the lawn of a goat farm owner. Just about every goat had a bell on so there was not much sleep to be had with bells tinkering all through the night. The last day was getting to Orewa, my final stop in this journey. Nobu and I enjoyed a good days walk to Puhoi and found some other hikers along the way who were happy to give us a lift from Puhoi to Orewa as we were not stupid enough to walk the main highway with the amount of speeding traffic we would encounter.
Arriving in Orewa was a little bitter sweet as this amazing journey had come to an end but I felt such an enormous sense of achievement at the same time. For anyone that has ever done a hike this big will know the challenges and joys it brings. I can recommend that if it is something you have thought about doing it then think about it a little more and then go for it!
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Never forget You Only Live Once, Karllie 🙂