Hello from the Brown Kiwi Hostel in Auckland! It feels like it was just yesterday when we flew here to start the journey. And now, we have walked a total of 593 kilometers, or 356 miles, to get here again! About 20% done!
As usual, it has been an eventful 5 days.
When we last wrote, we were taking a zero day in Waipu because of the epic, atypical rainy weather NZ was having. Well, it continued. The major themes for this week were weather, terrain, timing, private property, NZ hospitality, and sandflies.
During the past 10 days, we have seen a single day of sunshine. That's ONE day. Out of TEN days. (Actually, today on our zero day, it is sunny of course). It wasn't always raining, but often enough for it to be annoying and for us and our shoes to never dry out. We pretty much wore our rain gear the whole week. Kiwis say this amount and for this many days is unusual. Good for farming, bad for hiking.
Our one day of sunshine
Besides the rain, the wind has been pretty insane as well. We sustained winds between 30-50MPH, with gusts up to 75MPH! When we were heading up to some cliffs, we asked a farmer if it would be safe. He cheerfully said, "the wind is blowing from the west, so you'll be blown into the cliffs instead of off the cliffs!" Definitely reassuring. We posted a wind video on our YouTube channel that helps you visualize.
With the wet weather comes mud and deep river crossings. My "fall" count is up by 4 thanks to the slippery, steep and muddy trails.
This was described as a rock-hopping "stream" in our trail notes.
Thankfully, we were in a section with only about 20K (12 miles) in the forest (Omaha & Dome forests), so the mud was short-lived, but it still made an impact.
The rest of our walking was on roads (about 100K/60M), beach (25K/15M), farmlands (10K/6M) and maintained trail paths (35K/21M).
The road walking was not so bad this time around. Maybe because it was again through a lot of coastal communities with drop-dead gorgeous houses to marvel at (we've already picked out several to buy). Our only gripe about the road walking is that as we got closer to the city, the shoulders got smaller, the traffic more and the cars gave less room as they were passing us. So some of our road walking was downright dangerous. We have polled the kiwis about which side of the road to walk on and it seems the consensus is to walk against the traffic. Fun fact, telephone poles in NZ are concrete.
Not as many, but still some unique mailboxes!
The beach walking was again not my favorite. But it wasn't my feet complaining this time. The days we were on the beach were days of intense wind. Walking into the wind and getting pelted by sand is not fun. The only cool part about this beach walk was seeing all the fairy terns, an endangered NZ native bird (couldn't get a good picture because they pretty much blend with the sand!)
The maintained trail paths we encountered in this section were very welcomed. Sometimes they were paved, sometimes gravel and lots of nicely laid steps! You could tell we were getting closer civilization and Auckland as lots of these paths were given lots of TLC.
Our biggest problem this week was with timing. The worst thing you can do while long-distance hiking is have a plan. But, this section required some planning because of the tides. We often found ourselves rushing through sections or not taking snack breaks to make the low tide. And we got it wrong almost every time.
On Monday when we left Waipu in the wind and rain, we knew we had a 1.5-mile section of beach walking that could only be safely done at low tide. I looked up the tide times and thought I read low tide to be at 2:48pm. At 1pm, we stopped for lunch about 3 miles before the beach section. Our Canadian hiker friend Marilyne texted us and said she made it through the beach safely, but told us to be careful at one of the spots. Then added, "hurry, high tide is coming!" Guess who mixed up the tide times??? We practically ran the next 3 miles to get to the beach and it ended up being a really pretty section:(
Mangawhai Cliffs--that we would have liked to spend more time going through
So we got to the beach, assessed that it was still safe to traverse and went forth. My heart was pounding the whole time, but we did fine. At the end, a lady came up to us and said she was watching, was very worried for us and glad we made it to the other side safe and sound.
A little nerve-wracking traversing rocks with the waves coming at you
After Marilyne gave us a lesson in tides, we prepped for the next day, which included about 9 miles on the beach with 3 stream crossings. We gave ourselves enough time, but noticed each stream crossing got deeper. The last one was waist deep! Our Italian friend Matteo reached it 2 hours after us and it was impassable.
This was the first of three stream crossings on the beach.
Our last tide-dependent situation came with the Okura Estuary. We tried to time the tide adequately, especially because the trail notes said to cross it within 30 minutes of low tide. Well, we got to the crossing about 1.5 hours after low tide. We crossed some of it, but when we came to the largest part and suspected deepest part (trail notes said hip-deep at low tide), we opted for the road walk alternative. We didn't want a repeat of our last failed attempt at an estuary crossing.
This was the easy part of the estuary crossing
I am happy that we'll be off the coast in our next section and won't have to pay attention to the tides!
There was also a short section closed for logging Mon-Fri from 7am-4pm. We went around instead since we couldn't time it right. Just another timing headache!
4) Private Property
As we starting nearing Auckland, we started crossing more and more private property. For any long-distance trail, it is an incredible feat to come to property agreements and allow public access. Being it is still a newer trail, the Te Araroa Trust (organization in charge of the trail) has and will still have a big task at hand. For example, there was a disgruntled property owner in this past section out of Waipu (Brynderwyn). Other hikers reported razor wire, covered trail signs and barking dogs. J & I opted to do the road walk alternative, but our friends crossed with no problems. It seems to be resolved now. Another example was a section of farmland where the markers led to the tallest and steepest part of the farm. This person was clearly saying, "sure you can walk on my land, but not without trial and tribulation!" You can definitely tell which owners are more willing than others. We've talked to a few of them along the way and it's very interesting to hear their take. I wonder how things will progress as the trail grows in popularity year after year.
5) NZ Hospitality
We've continued to rely on the goodness of the Kiwis to survive this trail. Because we are crossing so much private property and also trying to time the tides right, it is harder and harder to find good camp spots. On the AT, there was so much information in the guidebook about where to camp, whether at established or stealth sites, and it was almost always free. For this trail, there is very little information and it has been wrong from time to time. Like the time we hiked 15 miles to a camp spot listed on our map to find out it was no longer there and we had to tack on another 10 miles to the day to make camp. Also, camping is hardly ever free. The other night, we paid $42 to camp. To camp!!! There wasn't even a picnic table! And often you have to pay extra for a shower! Bloody ridiculous!
With that being said, we often rely on locals and their lawns or extra beds. It still costs money (koha or donation), but it is often the nicer option because we get to engage with kiwis and learn more about the culture. It is exactly what we wanted. For example, we were trying to make it to Dome Cafe before it closed at 5pm and we got there at 5:02. But, they said they were expecting us (Marilyne told them we were coming) and stayed open. Then the owner also let us camp on his property and drove us the next morning around the closed for logging section! People here are generally so nice (although we are getting more and more strange looks in the Auckland region). When we were walking through Mangawhai Heads, we were stopped 5 times by people wanting to talk about the hike! One guy (Paul) even invited us to his house for beer (and tea for me)!
Paul even let us invite our friends over too
Even the cats in NZ are friendly! We slept at this guy Alan's house in Mangawhai and he let us sleep inside because it was raining.
We also met this lady jogging on the street and 15 minutes later when we reached her house, she was standing outside with 2 pieces of "Christmas cake" for us!
No matter that neither of us like fruitcake, but we will eat anything when we're hungry!
I heard so much about these little buggers before we got here and I can assure you they are just as terrible as any biting insect we have in the US!
So, I think that about sums up our last 5 days. Despite the weather, we really enjoyed this section. We are leaving the eastern coast and heading inland, so we will miss the ocean views and homes.
Along the coast near Auckland, there are all these hidden bunkers and artillery in the cliffs ... Such cool history
We are adding to our "homeless" image
Thanks to the rain, the pohutukawa trees (NZ Christmas trees) are really blooming well this year and we have loved seeing so many of them (especially now that J got some good allergy meds)
First amphibian we've seen in NZ
Labels: International Travel, Te Araroa (TA)