Blogging’s a Beach in the Rain

Thank you all for reading the adventures of Georges and me.

Unfortunately, I fell behind. It is very hard to blog on our days off. Usually we have just an evening with wifi and electricity; even when we have a day–it is hard to take care of myself and my needs and also find the time and energy to blog. We took an extra day in Waitomo exclusively so I could blog, and it is all I have done. I started with yesterday and blogged backwards, getting the easiest stuff out first. I’ve made it back to Auckland but there is a chunk of time (5 days) between Helana’s Bay and getting to Auckland that is just going to have to be a highlight reel.

Accept my apologies, and pace yourself through all the postings coming now–it could be a long time until the next set.

Our last view of Ben

It came as Jock (the grandfather gained) drove us up the mountain road the next morning. At the time we didn’t know if we’d see Ben, the French guy with the heavy pack again. We held out hope that day that he would maybe catch up. But he didn’t. And knowing how strictly he planned to keep to the trail and how loosely we would in the coming weeks, we know now that we won’t see him again.

When we drove by I leaned over the back seat and waved big until I couldn’t see him anymore. He didn’t wave back. I don’t know if he knew it was me or even if he could see me.

Bye, Ben; safe travels and Godspeed.

Jock dropped us at the start of the next forest track after taking us to the top of the mountain and telling us about the his family’s origins on the land. The track has faded from my memory. I remember the end, though. We came out to the corner of a fence, electric and barbed. We didn’t know if we were on the right path or not as we had selected between two forks in the path half an hour earlier. We climbed the fence and headed down a foot path that turned out to be more likely an animal path. Coming out onto a steep hill peak, we looked out over a farm from the middle. On the next hill over I thought I might faintly see a marker, but this fence would have taken us more than an hour to reach because there was a very steep valley between the two hills. Looking at the GPS, we confirmed that we were not on the path. We decided to head for the paved road we could see on the other side of the farm. As respectfully as we could, we made our way to the road. Thankfully we didn’t meet anyone from the farm and in about 45 minutes we reached the road. We turned left and in fifty meters found the trail marker for the end of the correct path. Realizing we had turned the wrong way, we hiked back the other way.

We followed the road over another huge hill and partway down before coming to a sign marking the start of the next track. It crossed through private farmland and followed a small stream to an estuary. It was a pleasant, short track. Soon we were at a beach and followed it to the longest foot bridge I have ever seen. The water was only a meter or so deep, but the bridge stretched from one side of the inlet to the other. We crossed it–not seeing any fish or birds–and ended up on a small beach access with a sign ending the track. We consulted our trail notes and deduced we were now supposed to walk along the muddy beach until the trail lead off of it. This wasn’t so bad, but the area was rather ugly and all the houses on the beach had run electric fences next to where we walk. These fences were clearly human height only, so it just seemed rude to me. We uncertainly found a road leading off the beach and followed it–no trail markers anywhere in sight. We followed a sandy road through some of the flattest land I’ve ever seen–and it was so unexpected after all the hills. The road took us to the next track–we had hoped to camp before this track, but based on the sign we had just enough time left to finish the track before dark.

We hightailed it through. It was a beautiful section. It had a wide, mowed and maintained path which wound through the hillsides like they were curtains. The ocean, beaches and cliffs stayed with us on the left and the right side of the track gave us hills, forests, cows, sheep, fences…the full variety. We met a few people on this path who said they were cycling the Te Araroa. They explained they had a support vehicle and they biked what they could and hiked the rest.

We continued through this windy track and began to run out of steam toward the last couple hours. We curved around each curtain fold in the massive hillside, enjoying the views, but hoping each would be the last. Finally, there was a last and we arrived at a road. The GPS guided us to a free campsite which turned out to be great. It was just a community park, but it had a table and bathrooms and a free grill. We found the grill to be really cool and cooked our pan of noodles on it. The site was right next to a small beach and was separated from the road by trees. It was a really nice find for so late in the day. It was a cold camp, but we were satisfied with the progress made while the sun was still up.

Mark’s house in Whangarai

The next morning we continued up the road. We enjoyed all the beach houses for sale and read all the posters describing them. After the road we went though a tiny community path/forest track to end up in a different community. The tiny track was like walking through the park rather than on the road.

Once out in the next community, we went to the small shop and bought potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and gummies. Leaving the shop, we turned the wrong way and hiked quite a while before G demanded to check the GPS. Oh well. We hiked back the other way and found the correct turn off.

We followed a dusty road for a long, boring time and enjoyed our gummies.

Neither of us can remember anything about the next track, so I suppose there was nothing interesting in it. At the end of the track we walked down a road into a town that was very, very windy. We bought ice cream, but half of mine was blown off the stick in the wind. We got a hitch from a woman who was returning to Whangarai–our next town–from a garden club at the beach. We enjoyed chatting with her and afterwards G and I both admitted to each other that we had killed/captured several spiders that were crawling on us from her gardening supplies in the car. The gal took us into Whangarai and showed us the neighbourhood we were headed to. She dropped us off at the next closest grocery store and bid us farewell. We resupplied and bought a couple snacks–bananas. Then we walked back to Mark’s house.

Just in case I didn’t mention Mark earlier (because I’m blogging backwards), he gave us a hitch to Helena’s Bay and offered us a place to stay when we made it to Whangarai. That’s where we were headed. We waited in a park across the street (kind of like stalkers) until Mark got home from work.

Mark had a house with many rooms. He welcomed us and explained how everything in the house was done and used. We showered and did laundry. G went back to the grocery store in his neon yellow swim trunks and bright blue down jacket to get food for dinner. I cooked steaks and sweet potatoes and green beans and carrots and we had rolls plus desert pancakes. Yum. We sleep on mattresses in the lounge but not before enjoying a bit of TV. Mark was the only one home in his family and he even left for part of the evening to go work out. It was comfortable and homey. Here, Kiwis don’t think twice about inviting you completely into their lives and leaving you with full reign of their homes.

It’s amazing how much you can fit into a day

The next morning Mark drove us to the edge of town and we walked from there to a good hitching spot. We hitched a ride from a woman originally from Argentina and she drove us to a village called Whypoo (it’s spelled differently, but I only remember how to say it). We walked into Whypoo as it started to rain. We stopped at a shop to pass a few extra minutes not in the rain–hoping it would pass. The rain did pass and we found really great sale prices on gummies. I decided they are worth the weight and loaded up on a bunch of bags.

We continued out of town. Road, sunscreen, road, rain gear, road. All the traffic was headed the other way, so we couldn’t hitch. We trudged along and I sang about how much I’d love to have a horse to ride, or even a cow. Soon the road began traveling parallel to the coast. Out to sea we could see a couple really tall islands. My song changed to being about the castle on the island where there was a school and cows to ride. Pretty boring road section.

We followed markers off the road toward to sea. At the end of the perpendicular road, we found the signage for a track through the estuary, but it didn’t look very fun. We couldn’t actually see the ocean. There were huge sand spits about a hundred meters from us.

To build the scene,

  • there was an ocean (which we couldn’t see) then, travelling inland,
  • presumably a beach (which we also couldn’t see),
  • then a tall sand spit (like a really big hill of sand),
  • then a wide, shallow river,
  • then the esturary (wet mud that is sometimes underwater, with tiny growing mangroves)
  • then a meter ‘cliff’ of thick beach grasses, then
  • a fence (electric)

Supposedly we were supposed to walk alongside the land and the muddy part. No path, of course. This seemed like a waste of time and effort and we considered backtracking to the road which also traveled parallel to the ocean and river. We decided to follow the marker.

Dumb idea. We spent several hours maneuvering this weird, frustrating terrain–changing between mud and tall grasses and electric fences. No fun.

We also didn’t know how to get off. There were no markers or path, so we eventually just turned inland and started making our way out. A woman came out of a nearby beach house and told us to come through her yard.

She was very kind and chatted with us about the lack of trail behind us and the daunting one in front of us. She said sad hikers like us are constantly getting confused by that river ‘trail’ and never able to figure out how to get back to the road. As for in front of us, we knew it was another mountainous jungle track. I was not looking forward to this and G’s knee had been really hurting him. With this lady’s help we made a new path that kept us close to the cliffs and ocean instead of taking us through the jungle.

Our choice to make our own path was a good one. We had lunch at a beautiful public beach and enjoyed road hiking through cool houses and farms. One farm had all black and white sheep. Like each sheep was black and white–it was cool to see. They were probably bred to be just like that. In the last two km, we got a hitch to the next track.

We followed a farm road for a long time. Up over the hills and into sheep pasture. We left the road and stuck to one of the most clearly and deliberately marked trails we’d seen. This was obviously a farmer who did not want us straying from the fence line. We followed the fence deep into the sheep pastures. All the little lambs fled from us as we stomped up and down the great hills they call home. One of the last hills was so stupid steep that I was actually afraid I might fall backwards down the hill. Sheep live in weird places. (And New Zealand is unbelievable hilly!!!)

We crossed a fence and found ourselves in a tiny bit of jungle in the middle of the fields. We walked through it and up the side of another steep hill–because apparently every day needs to have at least one steep jungle climb–and popped out at a road. The trail lead us across the road and into another track. We entered somewhat weary. We saw the road running parallel to the track and wondered if we might be better served on the road. We decided to stick to the path. In about three minutes, we saw one of the best views we’ve seen. We were on a cliff walk. We followed the newly found ocean from a hundred meters above and looking down on the beautiful teal blue water where we could see underwater rocks and coral forests. Out into the water were the islands I had been singing about in the morning had grown and greeted us with their full size. We loved each step as we wound around the coast and looked out over the cliffs. The path was wide and well maintained. We cruised through it, loving every bit. There were a few private properties with a variety of cool looking houses. It was a very secluded place to live.

At the end of the cliffs, we came out to a short beach section–where many outstanding shells were collected. We followed the beach for a kilometre or two and then crossed back over a grassy cliff section to get to the next beach. This was a weird area that was accessible by car–people were there having lunch. The path was mowed grass like a corn maze, but there were mowed turns that didn’t have any signs or markers indicating which way to go. It was like a grass maze. Eventually, G and I selected different paths. (I knew mine was better 😛 ) I said I’d see him at the beach! My path cut directly down to the beach below. I have no idea where Georges’ took him. I do know, that as I sat patiently on the beach waiting for him, he started shouting my name. I shouted back, but got no response. I couldn’t tell from where he was calling and I couldn’t think of why he would call unless something was wrong. I wasn’t lost, I was on the beach. Fighting off panic, I began following foot paths a few meters from the beach back into the grasses, then returning and following another. I had no idea where his path would come out. I tried shouting to see if he was ok, but didn’t get a response. Finally, he came trapping out of the trees on to the beach and scolded me for not responding to him.

Steaming from the ears, I asked why he had called out if there was nothing wrong and he wasn’t even on the beach yet. Though he saw the stupidity in what he had done, he refused to admit he shouldn’t have shouted. I told him never scream unless something is wrong and left him to change his shoes.

We then hiked half a dozen more kilometres in the beach. We arrived at Mangarai heads and cut inland to a road. Exhausted and running on fumes, we made it to the campgrounds and paid for a spot. It was expensive and nothing but grass and a sink was included, but we didn’t have the energy to go anywhere else. We did enjoy having dinner inside a building, even if we sat on the counters in the kitchen (against what the signs told us to do) to do it. It’s cold outside here. All the time.

I mean, if no one’s around, do you really even need pants??

The next morning we headed out before the sun could find our tent. Walking up into the rest of the village we found a lovely road of shops and cafes. We couldn’t resist ourselves and so stopped in a bakery for breakfast. I’m not culturally ignorant, I’ve just never had savoury pies. They are delicious. Mine had steak and cheese inside, G’s was bacon and egg. We also got a baguette of bread and split it after our pies. We walked the rest of the way through town and followed alongside the road to Mangarai.

This was a bigger road of shops, but all we needed was a bathroom. We found the town bathrooms and discovered our first fully electric bathroom. They were like spaceships. You pressed a button to enter and then walked in. A voice from above then explained that the door was locking and we had ten minutes to complete our business. After ten minutes the door would automatically unlock. Leaving me to do my business, the voice turned on elevator music to keep me company. It was pretty cool.

We followed the roads through the town and out into the country. I talked to a heard of cows for nearly half an hour while G waited patiently in the grass up ahead. Later, G was caught by an old lady walking to her mailbox as he snuck along the side of the road taking pictures of a huge flock of wild turkeys. She asked if he didn’t have those where he was from. I heard him say, “In the supermarket.”

The country roads took us then through a pine forest–my favorite. After a few more kilometres we re-arrived at a beach. We would have 13 km on this beach and then be at another camp ground. We had lunch under the trees and I changed into my beach clothes. At first I was going to wear shorts, but then I decided, who needs pants?! I’ve got a tan to work on. With sunscreen applied comprehensively to Georges and to my ears and nose, we started the beach.

13 km is a long walk. 13 km on a beach without people is a very, very long four hours.

By the time we got to the campgrounds we were exhausted. Always exhausted at the end of days. We paid for our grass and set up our tent. Dinner, dishes and bed.

 

Lost in a Field of Broken Dreams

I got lost. Leaving the campsite we bought ice creams for breakfast. We followed a blacktop road for a couple of kilometers and then headed across a grass paddock to a….(ba ba ba dum!) super steep grass hill!! Georges and I had a disagreement as we were climbing the fence and Georges headed up the hill first. I gave him plenty of time to be gone and then headed up myself. Partway up the ladder-like climb I reached a patch of trees with all dirt underneath. I had been following a foot path and the fence line. Now, though, the fence I had followed for almost an hour turned ninety degrees and the foot paths were gone due to the dirt. I scanned the grass which began after the few trees and couldn’t find any clear path. There were a dozen paths in the grass, but I was in a pasture and none of the paths looked like people paths. I searched frantically for a marker. I returned to the last marker I had seen–on a fallen tree just as the dirt started. Typically you can see he next marker from the last marker. I scanned and scanned but couldn’t find anything. I moved to the end of the dirt and scanned again. In front of me (above me) the hill continued–another 100 meters to the crest. The field had been narrow, but here where the fence turned, it opened up huge. The fence line in the other side continued straight up the hill, but was completely overcome with big bushes of thistles and couldn’t be seen as it pushed over the top. I hadn’t seen the map in a couple days (I was giving Georges a chance to practice his navigation skills). The only thing I knew about the section is that G read ‘follow the fence straight up the hill’ from the map laughing at the Te Araroa’s lack of gentle hill climbing paths earlier that morning. I didn’t have the GPS as Georges decided several days ago that I shouldn’t have control over his ability to check where we were. I didn’t even have the phone with the New Zealand SIM card. I looked down the hill toward the street we had left; should I go back?

I remained in the dirt, knowing I shouldn’t leave the spot I know is correct, in case Georges came to look for me. I looked up the hill; should I go to the top and search for a marker where I had a better view? I looked down the turned fence, should I continue following the fence?? I knew the ocean was to my left, where the turned fence went. Was our track today supposed to go toward the ocean or inland??? I worked to stay calm. Well, ok, I gave myself a minute to be scared; then I worked to stay calm. I had waited for a while, so I decided to try to find the way. I split the difference and went diagonally up to the top of the hill–keeping my eyes scanning for any marker. I looked behind me and saw there was a marker on the corner of the turning fence intended for people doing the trail in the opposite direction. Ok.

I was following what footpaths I could, but I knew they were made by cows. The path lead me through and around huge thistle bushes. When I got to the crest of the hill, I looked in every direction. Nothing. It looked like maybe there was a cut in another level of hill two kilometers away, on the horizon toward the ocean. The crest of the hill I stood on had another small crest behind it and then a little down and it continued up at a less steep climb for a while. I scanned the entire horizon. Please let me find a marker. A foot path through the field–something.

Nothing. I headed back down and then up to a different part closer to the ocean–looking for a path or a view of a marker. At the top, I again found nothing. For an hour I searched–never leaving sight of the dirt patch with the last marker in case Georges retraced his steps. Up and down the super steep pasture; through and around big thistle bushes. I walked to the full length of the crest of the hill from every direction.

It was a long and scary search. I eventually thought I saw enough of a marker to follow the fence from the opposite side of the field as it continued straight up the field. After hiking back to that side, I climbed the hill through the thistles. I followed it down and then saw a marker on the fence–hidden in the needly bushes at the very bottom of the valley. At least I was recalibrated. I stuck to the fence line. Sometimes it would go a long time without a marker and I wondered if I was supposed to head seaward. Some of those times I would drift out away from the fence. It’s a terrible feeling, not knowing where you are or where you’re headed.

In the end I found Georges. He said he hadn’t had any trouble knowing the way and had backtracked his steps eventually, but waited at the top–which was the fifth top and was in the trees so I couldn’t have seen him despite my scanning. Even though I continued to the trees filled with uncertainty, G had waited in the trees watching me, knowing for himself I was safe, but not bothered to call out to me or tell me I was safe.

It was sucky. And the hours lost to me wondering around looking for the way and us arguing afterwards meant we wouldn’t make it though the 11 hour day we had planned. We completed that track through needles and steep hills, then walked the gravel roads to the next section. The next track was 7 hours and no camping allowed–we didn’t have seven hours left in the day. We were trapped on a hilly gravel road with nowhere to sleep for the night. We eventually walked to the house that was at the beginning of the track. We asked permission to camp and were told we could but they didn’t really like being asked. We apologized and thanked them profusely. They told us to continue a few more meters down the track and set up in the goat paddock. We did and didn’t mind the beautiful newborn goats in the field next to us.

Dome Cafe – A tearoom for kissing couples and us

The forest track to Dome Cafe was seven miserable hours of rain. The track was rough and the rain cold.

It takes only a second to read those sentences, but try to read them for seven hours.

Of note, that morning we woke to the goats whose home we’d slept in testing our tent for tastiness. G didn’t know what I meant when I woke him and said the goat was eating the tent, but I quickly explained, in a voice meant to startle and shoo the goat, that goats eat just about anything and it seemed this goat wanted to eat our tent. No damage done. 🙂  Other events included us checking the GPS nearly every 20 minutes to see how close we were (or were not), us eating lunch plopped down in the middle of the trail because there was no better option, and us taking an afternoon break under a cool rock cliff overhang–which we didn’t get pictures of because the camera was stowed safely inside the bag.

As far as the Dome Cafe, the last five minutes of our seven hours were on our first beautifully maintained trail with pea gravel contained in built wooden structures, with stairs and handrails. For us, this came totally out of the blue. Georges got to an outlook and then turned around to see the quality of the trail ahead (beautiful); in wonderment, he turned to call back to me that the trail changed and saw a small sign heading down the track we were coming from that advised hikers that the quality of the trail ahead (behind us) was rough tramping terrain and hikers are advised to proceed only if they have moderate fitness and strong hiking boots.

We got a couple of good laughs out of that before proceeding down our princess path. One good slip on the final set of stairs later (I only trip when the path is made for tourists) and we were in a parking lot for the Dome Cafe. We approached the porch and I stressed that I didn’t think we should go in wet and muddy. We decided to take off all our rain gear and shoes on the porch and leave our packs outside. We went in in our wet socks with our muddy pants rolled up a couple times and left footprints everywhere we walked. Unconcerned with the clash between us and the other patrons–old folks having tea and young couples kissing and giggling–we ordered a couple of hot chocolates right off and then took our time reading the menu. G got a hamburger and I got nachos. We ate for over an hour and dreaded the remaining 6 km over the road we hoped to do. As our wet clothes continued to chill us and the prospect of sleeping inside sank to our shoeless feet, we ultimately decided to hitch around the next road section. And hitch we did.

Our ride took us down the state highway to North Auckland’s bus station. We had a really hard time figuring what bus to get on and how to get tickets. In the end, we just got on a bus and asked for help. Between two drivers, we got tickets and got on board the correct bus to Queens St.. We were finally in Auckland–and, though dryish by this time, were really excited for the hostel shower and laundry.

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