Georges and I woke early in our 8-person dorm, but stayed in our bunks until all the other 6 people (very young) left. We showered and shouldered our packs. Applying sunscreen, we walked down to the wharf to locate our water taxi. We hung out waiting until 12, when we had be told to meet the boat. Around quarter to 12, a guy got on the taxi with a group of guys and looked as though he was going to leave. We ran down to it and caught it just in time. The driver said he thought he was picking us up in the next town down the coast (though we had clearly stated we would meet the taxi in Pahia when we made the reservations….). No damage, though. The other guys had hired him spur of the moment to take them to Russell (the city on the opposite coast to which the car ferry goes), so Georges and I got a free ride there too. The ride was great. Very relaxing and beautiful. The ocean is bright blue and the coasts are covered with wild forest.
Appropriately named Bay of Islands, there are dozens of islands poking straight up into the sky. With the captain we discussed having light weight gear and learned about this bike ride he is doing in the US next year. It’s a bike ride down the Continental Divide that has its own route and everything. (I can’t wait to do it!!!!! Next adventure for sure!! And I’ve got a special bike riding bestie I’ll be inviting 😀 )
The last third of the taxi ride was far from any towns or other boats. We coasted into a thick mangrove forest kilometers from any coast. It was incredible to see these pretty trees growing all alone far out in the sea. Finally, we arrived at a…well, there was no dock. It was just a tulip garden. The captain grabbed hold of some tulips and held the boat steady for us to hop off. He also took pictures of us as we got off and walked away for some marketing for the company.
As he left and we arrived at the road, we were finally back into the hike. Looking around, we were in the middle of nowhere. There was a gravel road running parallel to the ocean and a perpendicular one we were intended to take. Things were flat (very nice). There were no houses in sight or really anything but the roads and some cows.
We started off. And then stopped so I could go to the bathroom. Then we started off again. And then stopped to change shirts. And then we started off again. And then stopped so we could put in more sunscreen. Then we started off again. And then we stopped to put on our hats and get a drink. Then we started off again. And then we stopped because there was suddenly a large bull in the overgrown ditch next to the road–on the wrong side of the fence. And so we started off again very quietly and quickly. Making it safely by we started somewhat more purposefully down the road. But then we stopped to take pictures of a few particularly cute calves…..all in all we covered one kilometer in the first hour and a half…
Some might have found the walking dull. We stayed on the roads and passed the occasional house. Mostly more cows–more out of the fence; one hated us so much she jumped straight over the fence to get back in her pin. But I enjoyed it. The scenery was completely new. Things were hotter and more dry. And it was downright flat. 🙂
We wove our way along the road until it crossed a bridge over the river. The trail notes told us we would soon be entering private Maroi land which is not accessible to the general public and took much treaty and negotiation to allow the trail to pass through. As we entered this land the road continued, though it became smaller and less cared for.
I had been quite excited about seeing this part of the trail–private land reserved exclusively for the Maroi people, raw nature, right?? It was greatly disappointing. The forest seemed blatantly disrespected. There were dozens of cars (stolen) which had been gutted and destroyed, some burned out, left to rot the forest. It was a disgrace. Other heavy metal tools and machinery had also been left like the cars.
We lost the trail at one point. It had been clearly marked and the road had only just faded into a wide foot path. Through needle bushes taller than us, we forced ourselves one way–screaming in pain–and then back. Then back again. Eventually we found where the trail moved forward and we pushed on.
The hiking from there out was much more rugged. We did 5 km in a stream. Unlike the previous stream hike, this stream was much more undisturbed. There’s something really cool about walking through a stream that isn’t accessed by its banks–like the ultimate way to see the wild forest in its full native-ness. The rocks in this stream were large boulders and the deep parts, though the water was crystal clear, faded from view. (Still no fish or eels, thankfully)
We met a new German couple, Christian and Maria, halfway through the stream. Poor folks looked absolutely terrible. No trekking poles and huge packs. They were very unhappy and considering giving up on the trail. We chatted with them for a few minutes, but we were racing the sunset to get out of the forest (just like always…) Interestingly, when they introduced themselves, I remembered seeing their names on a ribbon in the first set of terrible, satanic forests. There has been a small message of support addressed to them at the peak of Ratea (the highest mountain). I asked if it was for them or a coincidence he said it was probably for them. (Small world, right??)
Moving on, we soon lost them to the burden of their packs. We were very glad to finish the stream section because it had been so tedious and took a long time. It was beautiful, but we couldn’t have safely camped near this section. A few meters after turning away from the stream, we arrived at a wide open grassy area with a DOC shelter–an awesome camping location. But too early in the day. We felt we could make it out of the forest if we pushed on. Our plan being to ask if we can camp in someone’s yard once we were out on the road again.
After the shelter the trail became a broad jeep track. Rivers and streams always run through the valleys of land formations, so we would now be climbing out of the valley. At least the road was good as we began our evening ascent. We finally got out of the forest with about an hour before sunset. The first few houses looked uninviting and the people seemed to stare dirtily at us. We kept walking. Soon we were at a main highway and we figured we might as well hitchhike while we walked. There weren’t any cars, and there weren’t any houses. I really dislike the stress of not having any idea where you’re going to sleep that night….one car passed us–no ride. Shortly thereafter we saw a small truck coming. I wasn’t sure there’d be room for us, but Georges always says, “Nothing to lose!” (Well, that’s what he means; he says some unusual set of words that remind me English is his fourth language….) Wonderfully, this little blue truck pulled over and the gentleman, Mark, happily offered us a ride. We accepted a ride to the next point we would leave that main road, 7 km or something. Mark told us about current events and the rugby World Cup standings. When we arrived at our parting, Mark gave us his address and phone number and told us we were welcome to come to his house when we were in Whangeri (our next big town) and we could do laundry and stay there if we wanted. ((Awesome–pure Kiwi))
The sun was really getting low in the sky as we waved good bye and turned to see where we’d be hiking next. It was a mountain next to a beach–of course. The map showed some houses there at the foot of the steep hill, and we weren’t sure if there were any houses further up. Despite several ‘No Camping’ signs, we decided to ask one of five or six houses standing by a small, beautiful public beach. What else were we going to do???
Cautiously, we approached the row of houses–hoping at least one would loan us a patch of grass for the quickly approaching night.