I’m writing now from a hostel in Ahipara. It’s the first town after Ninety Mile Beach–the first section of the trail. Many who know me, know I was looking forward to Ninety Mile Beach the least of the whole trip. I keep my outlook positive(ish) by considering it a rite of passage to earn the rest of the trail. (Which means it’s as terrible as the rest of hiking New Zealand is great) Now, mind you, we all have our different loves and dislikes. I very much dislike hiking in sand. I want to go to the beach to play, not get a calf workout. So, the name, Ninety Mile Beach, is enough to explain how little I anticipated liking it. (It’s not ninety miles, by the way; it’s 100 km)
After our day of logistics in Auckland (Monday), we took the 7:45 a.m. Intercity bus to Kaitaia via Kerikeri Tuesday. It was a bit unpleasant to have to again resolve myself to 4 hours in a bus and then another two in a different bus–but there’s no other reasonable option to get north. So we boarded the bus and hunkered down for another day of transportation. We did enjoy looking at the new wildlife–there are beautiful, large birds all over the place, and every animal on the island recently had young, so there are tons of cute clicks and ducklings and calves and colts. And of course!! Sheep! Everywhere! Hundreds of sheep–all with lambs. The ride was physically uncomfortable, but at least there was beautiful and interesting scenery. Halfway, the bus stopped at a small German cafe. I had to go to the bathroom, so we bought a slice of wonderful moist chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate pieces on top. 🙂 Very satisfying. (Don’t worry, our diet is going to start eventually) Upon reboarding the bus, I discovered the seats could lean back, so the trip became quite a bit more pleasant.
When we got to Kerikeri, we got off the bus and the bus drove away. We did not understand what happened, and panicked that our packs were going away on a bus without us. Turns out the bus left and a much smaller bus came back to take us the rest of the way north–they moved our bags at a different location. In my opinion, the seemingly grumpy bus driver could have explained that better and saved G and I a spoonful of panic. We boarded our final bus and managed the last stretch of cramped, uncomfortable transportation.
We arrived in a parking lot in Kaitaia around 2 p.m. and started walking north. We decided to have another hot meal before hitching the rest of the way to the Cape, but we didn’t like our options. In the end, the last restaurant in town was a KFC. I don’t like KFC at all and G has never had it, so we picked there to eat. The chickens all came from New Zealand, so I pretended like that’s the same as free range. After our dinner, we got back on the main road and walked out of town. We got a hitch right by the last business.
We were nervous about hitching, but we managed to get a ride after a few minutes. The gal who picked us up was named Jenny and she took is part of the way and left us in good spot to get the next ride. We talked about New Zealand and global politics. Later, Georges said he didn’t understand more than ten words she said (she had a very pure kiwi accent–even I struggled quite a bit). We waited at the spot she recommended for about 6 minutes before an RV/camper pulled over and offered us a ride. Inside we met Mark, his wife and their two teen daughters. The took us the rest of the way to the Cape. It was a lovely chat–talked lots about each of us and our hobbies, as well as the Te Araroa. The further north we drove, the more and more beautiful things got. We thought the north part of the island would be flat ish, but it is rocky and hilly and mountainous. It just runs into the ocean. The last stretch of the ride was so unbelievably curvy even Georges got really car sick. The couple driving us was kind enough to take us all the way to the very top of the cape–where the lighthouse is.
I don’t know why I was expecting something different but we arrive at Cape Regina to find a small parking lot with bathrooms and a DOC display of various trails leading down the beach. That’s it. G and I took our time deciding what to do next (getting over the carsickness….) It was already 5 p.m. and the first camp site on the trail was 6.5 hours of hiking away. We could stay in the holiday park a bit south of the cape and start the hike Wednesday, or we could hike a little bit and try to find a safe spot on the beach. Ultimately, we decided to try our luck on the beach.
We hiked out to the lighthouse and got our necessary photographs. Then we hiked back a bit and started down the cliff trail. We were nearly running down the cliff in our need to reach the beach and find a safe spot to set up camp before sunset. Still, it was a sweet sweet hike. I read one of the signs at the top that had explained that this part of the sea was where the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean met (which we knew) and that, to the natives, this incredibly turbulent patch of ocean–where the huge waves ran perpendicular to each other until exploding in completely unpredictable places–was representative of man and woman meeting and the resulting birth of new life. This was pretty cool to think about while hiking down and watching the amazing behavior of the ocean. We were not merely at a pointy bit of land sticking off a large continent; there was nothing but vast ocean all directions except one–back into New Zealand. Super cool.
Georges was the first to fill his shoes with water. 😛 At the bottom of the cliff we bouldered a bit to reach the sand. I don’t know if the trail went this way or not. It could be, that in our haste, we missed a turn off; but we pointed our heads toward the sand and guessed the rest. Georges made a risky guess at a particularly tough water jump and slipped in–unhurt and all dry except his socks, shoes and bit of pants. I made it safely at a different place. 🙂
As soon as we hit the sand we started looking for a place to camp in the dunes. We startled a medium-sized, black wild pig with half a dozen cute black and brown piglets that ran off into the brush. Neither G nor I realized there were wild pigs here, so we marveled at that fact for a bit and then wondered if our camping idea was safe or not. We decided since the pig ran away, we were probably safe. We found a suitable spot in the dunes as the sun neared the horizon and rapidly set up our tent for the first time–finally!! We ignored the high number of pig and piglet footprints in the sand as we gathered rocks to stake our tent. As it turns out, Georges hasn’t actually used this particular tent; so we (in a hurry) figured out which poles went where and which lines went where. Skipping dinner, we made it into our sleeping bags by sunset. Our first night in the tent was much longed for (after so many hours in airports) and it really was great to finally be there, backpacking the Te Araroa.
Then came the pigs. I wasn’t afraid of them; in fact, I watched them through the night as they circled our tent and sniffed our gear. I lay awake considering the pigs eating into our tent, the ocean overcoming the dunes and drowning us, an unknown stream rushing from the cliffs and drowning us, the absurdity of this whole trip, the coldness in my sleeping bag…all the usual, really. At one point a pig began pressing up against the tent by our heads, so I woke G and let him know there was a pig there. G, the gentleman that he is, lifted his head enough to ‘brrrrrrr’ loudly at the pig and kiss me on the forehead before going restfully back to sleep. I was happy. I was even still happy a couple hours later when the wind picked up and I became terrified the tent would collapse on us. I finally woke Georges again to ask if there was a possibility of the tent collapsing–though I understood the physics of the tent just fine and knew quite certainly that is was possible and quite likely the tent would collapse on us–G, the gentleman that he is, woke enough to assure me it would not collapse on us. As the sides of the tent continued to beat against us, pushed by an unforgiving wind, G sat up a few minutes later and said, “Well maybe I’ll check the stakes.” Going into the freezing wind in his boxers and rain coat, Georges could be heard for the next twenty minutes grunting sleepily and banging together rocks. I followed his headlight as he walked to and from the tent, hoping he wasn’t going to stumble into a wild pig’s house and scare a mama pig into eating out his throat. When he finally crawled back in, the tent walls were indeed much more taught and quiet. He said, “I found some more parts of the tent that should be staked, and I buried the stakes deep in the sand.” He then crawled happily back into his sleeping bag knowing he had saved the day.
By 6 a.m. I could no longer wait for the sun to rise. We got dressed, packed our sleeping gear and ventured out to the dunes. All was well, but unfortunately the outer tent was soaked with condensation. Since we were in the shadow of a cliff, the sun wouldn’t hit us for a couple more hours. So, very strategically, we broke camp without allowing the wet tent to touch the sand or the dry inner tent (which, until then, we didn’t even know could detach from the outer tent). Putting the wet tent in my pack’s outer mesh pocket, we were ready to start our first full day of hiking. We walked out of the dunes and found the ocean–still wild and blue–and the sunshine. Smiles instantly lit both our faces and we headed south.