We finally earned the amazing views we dreamed of when we thought about backpacking through New Zealand. The night was uneventful. Cold but flat. We packed the tent and left camp around 7:30. We filled water and hit the trail. Thirty minutes into our hiking we arrived at the freedom camp site, and the first time we had to cross the river. The river looked more like a stream at that point so there was no issue crossing. We found, at the camp site–which was nothing more than a widened piece of the path right before the trail lead away from the river–Pete, a German couple, and the Dutch couple. It was a crowded area and we certainly wouldn’t have fit even if we had made it there the night before. Plus, I think our site was way better.
It was cool to catch up to everyone again. They said in the middle of the night a group of men on horses rode through the middle of their tents with dogs–pig hunters. We left them all as they continued to pack camp; our early departures are the only tool we have that compares to their speed as hikers. Minutes later, though, I realized we had another mountain in front of us. Sucky, sucky, first-thing-in-the-morning-again sucky.
Well we climbed to the top. Pete passed us part way up. I trudged along, but G and I both thought I was doing much better than I had been previously. Again the trail was lined with kill traps on every other tree plus boxes on the ground. We still didn’t know exactly what the intended victims were, so we kept our eyes open for evidence of a dead body. After the trail began to level out, we found out what was being hunted. Well, Georges walked right past without noticing, but I saw it. Hanging by its neck from the white box on the tree; its legs partly stripped of their flesh and it body limp with death. I let out a loud, very girly scream and, immediately turning my back on the animal, became stuck on the spot with the shocking image burned into my eyes.
G came back for me. The body didn’t seem to bother him too much, and he escorted me–back to the trap–past and on up the trail. Before fifteen minutes had passed, I became completely desensitized to the dead and rotting bodies hanging from the trees and strewn out across the path. They were everywhere. All in different states of rot and dismemberment. It was hard work to avoid stepping on the bodies and guts and even harder work to avoid stabbing them with our trekking poles. It was pretty gross. (And makes me reevaluate my affection for the color gray…)
The forest was soon over. We reached a road and knew we were out of the forest paths for the time being. It was rainy but not quiet raining full out. Pretty cold. Picking up the pace, we hiked briskly up and down the hills of the forestry gravel road. We passed Pete soon, as he has hurt his left foot and was very slow on the road. The road was wide and kept the jungle a good distance away from our faces. There were no views through the trees, but we could see the foliage starting to change–slightly less jungle and more pines.
Shortly before lunch time, we arrived at our major goal of the day, Puketi campsite. A real campsite maintained for use by weekend car campers. This was the campsite that was 25 k from the previous campsite that we didn’t stay in because it was not a good spilt if kilometers. Unfortunately, arriving at this site, it was only midday–a very early end. We decided to have a long lunch and figure out a plan for the rest of the day. We cooked lunch because we had used one of our tortilla lunches for dinner in the waterless forest section–mashed potatoes and peas. The camp site had water, toilets and showers. With the access to water I also made a bunch of my dehydrated chocolate peanut butter (which Georges doesn’t like) for lunch. The Dutch couple and Pete soon arrived.
Pete was staying in the hut at the campsite because of his foot. The Dutch couple, like us, felt it was too early to stop hiking for the day. Studying the maps, I identified a picnic area just outside Kerikeri we might be able to reach if we hustled. Leaving the campsite we would be hiking through a few farms and across roads–should be fairly easy going. Everyone but us planned to have a rest day in Kerikeri; we planned to go through Kerikeri to Pahia for our night in a hostel.
After lunch we took advantage of the bathroom facilities, and I did some laundry in the sink–knowing it would dry quickly tied to the back of my pack; the sun was coming out. After a two hour break we left the camp and headed out for our forest-free section.
We saw our last palm tree about twenty minutes later. The scenery changed dramatically. We had been hiking through cold, wet, cloudy, suffocating jungle for days. Now we found ourselves strolling leisurely down forestry roads through tall pines and wild fields. Soon it became a country road and we passed a few grand houses and small field of cattle. A little over an hour after leaving camp, we found our first farm track.
We climbed over the makeshift stair built for us to cross the fence and started up the grassy hill. At the top of the hill a beautiful and wonderful sight met our eyes. Sheep!!!!!! Thousands of sheep and lamb as far as we could see. Spread over hundreds of acres, rolling hills, lush valleys–it seemed they traveled around in smaller communities, making the landscape seem unobscured by the dozens of groups of sheep and lamb. It was so cool. In every direction were cute baby sheep frolicking and napping in the shade of taller grass. Cautiously, their parents eyed us or continued peacefully grazing.
With happy smiles, the lenses switched on the camera and a bounce in our step, we headed off through the field. The trail was marked with random sign posts atop each hill on the horizon. They were painted white at the top and with the regular orange marker. We carried on through the fields–heading toward each new marker and climbing over each new fence. We took lots of pictures and couldn’t get over how cute the sheep were (ok, maybe that was more me than G). We saw one black lamb in all our walk, but we couldn’t get a good picture of him as he played. It was unbelievable we had been suffering up a jungle mountain only that very morning, and were now peacefully strolling through grassy fields of sheep and flowers. We had not a care in the world.
Soon enough it was time to leave that farmland and road walk to the next. Though this section got a little bit boring, it was such a relief from the mountains. The sheep were behind us and now we saw cattle of all ages, breeds, sizes and hairiness’s. For a couple hours we walked down this nice country road until we reached the next stretch of farmland we were to pass through. No animals in sight so we didn’t know if it would be cows or sheep in the land.
I don’t think we were ever sure exactly which animal belonged in the pasture, but about an hour in, we weren’t thinking about cute sheep anymore. The views had turned breathtaking. I’m not sure you should ever get to see something so beautiful in life, but if you do somehow manage to earn that opportunity, you definitely shouldn’t get it without hiking days of jungle mountains first. Every previous step instantly became justified.
I’m not really sure how to even describe what we were seeing. Letters and words are so weak compared to the views. We did see our first view of Bay of Islands from atop one of the hills. That meant we had finally done it. We had hiked from the west coast ocean to the east coast ocean. It was beautiful, but also incredibly satisfying.
Using the views as energy, we hiked and hiked and hiked. We decided we could make it to that picnic area outside Kerikeri if we pushed ourselves. We crossed our first suspension bridge as we met the Kerikeri river. From there we followed annoyingly along the riverside for another hour or two (rivers take a long time to get from point A to point B). Though we were definitely frustrated we couldn’t walk straight across the field we were circling, the bulls inside did look a little unfriendly. Pushing our legs further, we kept going.
Finally we made it to the picnic area!!!!!! And it was a really trashy roadside pullover. We didn’t care yet. It was half past 6 and we wanted to sit down. There was a sign describing the track and I enjoyed looking it over–seeing the Ocean to Ocean track we had just finished. Knowing the sun would set soon, we started looking for a place to camp. The picnic area could have worked, but we found an idealistic patch of grass a bit further down the trail. We asked permission to camp there from the nearest house and put up our tent, for the first time so far, on a patch of flat, soft ground. 🙂 🙂 🙂
G made couscous for dinner while I set out the sleeping bags. (We learned that couscous can’t simply be left to cook, but must be stirred…burned it a bit) After a good meal, we tucked in for the night. Not quite warm, but flat. Very sore, but happy. Very, very happy. Tomorrow we planned to have lunch in Kerikeri and then push on the Pahia. 🙂 All was good.