Saturday, November 29, 2014

Days 1-4: 100 Kilometers From Cape Reinga to Ahipara

New Zealand has 11,000 kilometers of coastline, and we have now walked along 1% of it. We have walked 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of NZ and start of the Te Araroa, to Ahipara. Almost all of that was on the beach, including 90-mile beach, which is not actually 90 miles, despite the name. When Captain Cook sailed by 90-mile beach, he opted not to stop, calling it a desert. I would like to challenge Cook's impression and argue there is more to 90-mile beach than sand. But you'll just have to read ahead to find out.
DAY 1 - Cape Reigna to Twilight Beach - 12K/6.6M
We left Main Street Lodge on Thanksgiving Day at 9am on the Sand Safaris Tour. This is the best way to get up to the starting point at Cape Reigna. Tours leave everyday and are consistent and cut you a deal since you are only going one way. Plus, you get a bit of history on the area and the tour buses drive on 90-mile beach, so you get a good preview of what's ahead.
The tour also includes the use of their boards to go sand boarding, something neither of us have ever done. It was a nice bit of excitement racing down the sand dunes while lying on a boogie board.
Around noon, we arrived at Cape Reinga, where the Tasmen Sea collides with the Pacific Ocean. The native Maori people of New Zealand believe Cape Reinga is the jumping off point for souls upon death. The power of this spot with its dramatic cliffs dropping to the wild seas was pretty breathtaking.

We took obligatory pictures and video at the lighthouse (no longer in operation since the 80s) and the sign post that tells you Bluff (our ending point) is only 1400 kilometers away as the crow flies. By foot on the TA, it is 3000 K away!

And at 1pm, we officially hit the trail. 
Right when we dropped down to the beach, we experienced the trickiness and danger of high tide. We had to scramble over slick rocks while the ocean threatens to sweep you away! This high tide section is inevitable when you get a ride to the trailhead with the tour companies because of the time you arrive.

After we survived our first encounter with high tide, we weaved on and off some bluffs and desert areas, doing just 6.6 miles that first day. We camped at Twilight Beach and feasted on chicken noodle bowl for Thanksgiving dinner.

DAY 2 - Twilight Camp to The Bluffs - 28K/16.4 miles
It rained most of the night, but the rain subsided about an hour into our hike leaving just cloudy and threatening skies most of the day, until a short hailstorm in the afternoon. We started off on a 4WD track on a bluff, then dropped down to the infamous 90-mile beach. 

So, 90-mile beach, where we would spend the next 3 days walking. Who doesn't love beaches? But do you love them when they are missing the Margaritas, lounge chairs and relaxation? And you have to walk? For 60 miles straight? With a full and heavy pack?! Neither J nor I have done extensive hiking or camping on a beach and most other TA hikers complain about the monotony and harshness of the beach. We concur. It is monotonous. It is hard on your feet, making the same strides over and over again. It is hard on your body when weather comes in and the wind whips at you, the sun burns you and the hail pings you. It is hard on the mind when your landmarks include dead fish, driftwood and rubbish. 

But we made the best of it, playing games like, what's that object in the distance? Let's take a million guesses until we reach it hours later (Clara - you are right, we should have brought a monocular!). You know that saying "objects in the rear view mirror appear closer than they are." This is true for the beach. We see things for a REALLY long time before we reach them. Your vantage point is miles away. Sometimes we joke if we will see that object today or tomorrow. It is sad when we see it the day after tomorrow!  

DAY 3 - The Bluffs to just past Hukatere - 37K/22 miles
Sand, sun, crashing waves, salt air, shells, seagulls, jellyfish, tour bus (5 to be exact), sand, sun, crashing waves, encroaching high tide, sand crabs, rubbish, bottles without any messages, seaweed, cars driving by (14 to be exact), motorized bikes (7 to be exact), sand, sun, crashing waves, DEAD STINGRAY!, DEAD BLOWFISH!, OTHER WEIRD UNIDENTIFIED SEALIFE!, DEAD HAMMERHEAD SHARK!, sand, sun, crashing waves, torpedo. Okay, that last one was a lie, but our tour bus driver said that a stolen torpedo did wash up onto 90-mile beach one time.

We were lucky that the weather was favorable on day 2--no hail, wind at our back and the sun was in and out. Our strategy was to break every 2 hours. And, we opted for iPods in the afternoon. But still the beach dragged on.
We stopped briefly at Hukatere holiday park to refill on water. We were planning to camp there, but got there earlier than we predicted and had a few miles left in us, so kept going. Great spot though! Literally an oasis in the desert!

DAY 4 - Last bit of 90-mile beach to Ahipara - 23K/14 miles
See day 3. The differences were:
1) The wind was not at our backs. It was in our face.
2) Not too many dead fish on the beach, just a few stingrays.
3) I lost count, but we definitely saw 40+ cars. It was a Sunday and we were closer to the access points.
Who knew a beach could be so brutal? Trying to be the optimist that I am, I found one of the benefits to beach walking is that you don't have to navigate at all. Just keep the dunes on your left and the Tasmen Sea on your right and it's all good. But I am glad to be done with beach walking for now. And so are my feet with my 4 blisters and 1 toe nail that is about to fall off.

We are now resupplying in Kaitaia (remember the pronounciation - Ki - long I - tie - a), will stay at the Main Street Lodge again and hitch back to the trailhead in Ahipara. Oh, funny story about hitching. When we hitched to Kaitaia today, a police officer picked us up!
The next 4-5 days, we will be in the forest. We heard this forest makes people wish they were back on the beach, so our expectations are low for fun factor.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First 3 Days in New Zealand

Hello from the future! To be precise, we are 18 hours ahead of you east coasters (19 hrs from Midwesterners, and so on).

We are currently in Kaitaia (pronounced Ki with a long I - Tie - A), which is in the "Northland" (north of the North Island). We took a 6-hr bus ride from Auckland today on very curvy roads. I'm not certain what the speed limit is here, but I'm pretty sure you are not allowed to go below 85 MPH. And the sharper the curved, the faster you have to go.

Anyway, our first few days in New Zealand have been fantastic.

We landed in Auckland on Monday. We thoroughly enjoyed flying Air New Zealand. Their planes are beautiful, the alcohol is free and they have the most creative safety video ever (involves Lord of the Rings). The flight did not seem 13 hrs long.

Our two biggest worries in getting here included the fact we had a one-way ticket and we were trying to bring in 60 dehydrated meals (food regulations were confusing). The airline attendant did question our one-way ticket, but after a call to immigration, we were cleared.

As for the meals, the customs agent took out everything to inspect, asked if we knew that New Zealand did have food available, then sent us on our way. Huge sigh of relief.

In Auckland, we stayed 2 nights at the Brown Kiwi Hostel with about 30 other travelers, mostly from Germany and France. Really nice place centrally located in the city, but surrounded by trees and quiet. We were definitely the oldest of all the guests, so I'm kind of glad we opted for a private room, although everyone was very respectful. Hannes is the manager there and he was super nice and super helpful. We may stay at the Brown Kiwi again when we come back through Auckland.

During our 2 days in Auckland, we got a New Zealand phone number (please note if you call or text our U.S. number, we won't get the message until we return to the states), we food shopped for supplement our dehydrated meals with breakfasts, lunches and snacks in our mail drops, and sent off 5 mail drop boxes at the post "shop" (as they call it) to the South Island. We have enjoyed discovering new foods here, including this 5 lb block of wet dog food. Below is a picture of the contents of one of our mail drop boxes with 5 days of resupply.

Besides trail prep duties, we also had a bit of fun! We have walked all around Auckland, and although we are not city fans, it is a great city. We loved the harbor areas and all the boats. We are also enjoying all the fresh seafood & already had fish & chips twice! Our first day in Auckland, we went to see "Mockingjay" in the theater. We are not typical movie goers and I realize this is not what you do in another country, but it was a little rainy and we were slightly jet lagged (but not as bad as I thought I would be), so this was the perfect choice activity. Don't worry parental units, we will save jumping from the 772-foot Sky Tower for another day.

Overall, New Zealand is very expensive, as everyone told us. But 3 days in and we haven't spent a single dollar. How? Well, J discovered a casino and I encouraged him to sit down and play a hand. I figured he just couldn't pass up saying he played at a New Zealand casino.

Well, he can actually say he played and WON at a New Zealand casino! First hand, no lie, he won. We walked away shortly after that.
A few other observations so far ...

-We always look both ways when crossing the road because we still can't get used to this whole driving on the other side of the road thing.

-The public "toilets" (they don't call them restrooms) are small, but so so clean.

-It is expensive here. The mail drop packages, however, only cost $13 to send! In contrast, it cost $2 to mail a postcard to the US.

-We are slowly learning to talk like New Zealanders with words like "takeaway" for "to go/takeout," "rubbage" for "garbage," "cue" for "in line," and "top up" for "add on."

Well, that's my report so far. We are staying at the Main Street Lodge (hostel) in Kaitia and will take a 3-hr bus ride to Cape Reinga to start the trail tomorrow. And as they say in New Zealand, "no worries."