Good times, confusing times and enlightening times - Auckland to Whangarei (feat. Vipassana)
After the weekend of Pirongia, I returned to Auckland on Monday morning thanks to Matthew. I spent the day organising extra gear to be stored with Jenny Hirst, getting part of my phone fixed and printing the updated trail maps for the rest of the walk. In the afternoon I caught a ferry across Auckland Harbour to Devonport on the north shore and walked a short distance to Geoff & Lisa Mead's house. I met Geoff & Lisa a few months back in the middle of the South Island and it was fantastic to hear about their latest adventures cycling 2000km through Europe, as well as their TA experiences after we went separate ways. Thank you guys so much for inviting me over!
On the day up to the Okura Estuary I had a personal tour guide, a few actually. Geoff accompanied me for the first 23km from Devonport to Long Bay. We followed coastal pathways, beaches/rocks and some roads. We expected to get a bit wet but waited out the worst of the rain and only got showered on a few times throughout the morning. It was very cool to get some local knowledge and history of the places that we were walking through. At Long Bay we met up with Lisa (Geoff's wife) and Peter, my host for the next evening, and from there we all walked the 5km up to the Estuary on an easy walking track, then we walked back to the Long Bay carpark. That evening I stayed with Peter and Jenny and was once again fed well. Thanks to these kind folk for hosting me and holding my extra gear/mountain bike while I finish the walk!
Peter drove me around the Estuary the following morning. He dropped me at the start of what would be an easy walking track through some lush bush full of Kauri trees in order for me to reconnect with the TA after a few kilometres. The trail then followed some beach and mushy farm tracks to a road. It was then a few hours road walk around to Orewa Beach. Half way up the beach I stopped to resupply my food, then about 5 minutes after paying for it all I received a message from Rob offering to buy me some groceries in return for the information I gave him on tracks in the Waikato Region. I was making good time and could make it to the Puhoi Estuary so the offering became beers at the Puhoi Pub and a bottle of rum! My streak of luxury sleeping continued that night with Lance the Puhoi man offering a place to stay.
Lance had work the following day so kayaking up or down the Puhoi River wasn't a possibility, instead I continued north to see how far I could get before I would return to Puhoi in time to go to the vipassana course. The day consisted of slippery farm tracks, logged forestry roads, normal roads and intermittent rain...a good opportunity to ponder. At about 2:30pm I was considering what to do about sleeping. As I was standing at the end of a road reading about a potential campsite, Noeline whom is quite visually impaired saw something that resembled an orange road cone and came closer to inspect. To her surprise it turned out to be me with my bright orange pack rain-cover. A quick conversation about places that I could camp led to an invitation to stay with her and her husband Tony just a few metres down the road, and once again I was sheltered from the storm that came in overnight. It totally blew my mind how friendly, interested and generous this couple were to me, after only a 2 minute conversation! I had a fantastic evening sharing some of my experiences with them and failing at Tony's Australian music quiz. Though, he didn't know who Paul Kelly is so I think we're even.
I waited for the heavy rain to cease the next morning and was away by 9am. After crossing the SH1 I climbed up a metalled path into the Dome Forest. I reached a lookout platform where the track changed to 'tramping standard' and with my incredible ability to fall over often, I slipped within 10 metres of the platform. Standing up and assessing how muddy I was, I saw that one of Sam's hiking poles (I left mine in Hamilton because both are now missing the 'stopper thingos') had snapped. I think the motto of this trip could be "If you're going to fall down, make it expensive!" The whole incident was probably a blessing in disguise as a hawk landed in a tree just a couple of metres above me and stayed for a few minutes. Following that it was a slow tramp through to a forestry road that led to a stream crossing, then up to a ridge through forest to connect with a clay-waterslide of a road. I then followed road to reach a brand new Te Araroa track. Rob had given me a heads up that it was only marked with orange tape and not formed or cut. The first 20 metres was fairly straight forward, then the track turned to descend into a mud gully. I slipped and slid a few metres, then I slipped and landed on a gorse bush, then I slipped and slid about 5 metres...all within the first 50 metres. The third fall knocked my left arm out of the shoulder socket as I landed, almost fully dislocating it. I stood up again, in mud that gave very little traction on a steep slope. With no more orange tape in sight to show me the 'way', I decided to go back and around to where the trail previously went. That would only happen after I almost dislocated my arm again when pulling myself up on a tree to get out of the gully. I worked out that going around and connecting with the old track would work out to be the same distance as the new track if I didn't do the 14km road walk to get around there. That was justification enough to see if I could hitch, and with a bit of luck I had a ride in the first car to come past. The guy was going a bit short of where I needed to get to but didn't mind driving up and dropping me off. It was getting late in the day so I had to hoof it up and over Mt. Tamahunga, then descend through farmland and onto the road for the final 4km to the Pakiri Holiday Park, making it there just on darkness.
The next day was straight up the beach and onto roads that led into Mangawhai. I loved the easy, fast walking and breathing coastal air. I met Rory (one of the very early southbounders for the new season) as I was walking into the town centre. The locals gave me a graceful welcome by throwing food out of cars at me on two occasions and yelling things at me on three other occasions as I walked up to Mangawhai Heads. I went to the Holiday Park and faith was restored by the owner who chose not to charge me for staying because of the walk. Thanks!
The following day was quite wet. It started out with some sun as I climbed up a walking track above cliffs and then the weather changed as I walked through farmland, slipping in some deep cow-crap-mud which covered my legs and arms on the way out to the road. It was raining pretty hard when I arrived at the road and showed no sign of stopping. I wanted to do a longer day distance-wise and decided to follow road through a valley rather than using lots of time and energy on climbing to a ridge with views of the clouds I'd be in. For the next 3 hours I walked in almost constant rain. I stopped for a pie at the Waipu bakery and refuelled myself for the walk up to Ruakaka. While I was in the bakery a young American guy spontaneously came up and gave me $10...a sign that I rock the homeless look? You're welcome The Fred Hollows Foundation! Moving on, I followed more road and then beach to reach my destination by late afternoon.
In the morning I diverted from the trail, which follows the beach and followed the road up to the shops in Ruakaka to meet with Jory, another SOBO that I've been interested in following progress on. Jory is walking the trail and attempting to utilise natural materials that he can make himself as much as possible, and also trying to do it barefoot. It was really interesting to hear about his perspective from the trail so far and how much he is attracting unwanted attention from media outlets. We had a solid chat for over an hour before I realised the time. I walked out towards the beach to rejoin the trail in heavy downpour and wind. The beach walk up to Whangarei Harbour didn't take very long with 60km tail winds pushing me forwards. I reached the 400km mark exactly (which is where the trail crosses the harbour), then walked south until I caught a ride(s) back to Puhoi to stay with Lance and Brigitte.
Lance had the day off as planned so we walked the brand new Puhoi Track in the morning and at 4pm went down to the Puhoi Estuary to kayak up the Puhoi River into Puhoi Village (have I used the word Puhoi enough?) which I hadn't been able to complete the first time I was there. Thanks so much to Lance and Brigitte for being truly welcoming, generous and so much more!
The next day was spent getting the previous blog updated before Lance drove me over to the Vipassana Meditation Centre.
I'm not going to go into detail about my personal experience with the vipassana course as I feel it's a conversation that should be had in person. I'm also somewhat hesitant to make an impression on people who haven't experienced it (and might consider doing so) because going into the course with pre-conceptions had a big impact on my experience. I fully encourage anyone to give it go and commit to being there for the full 10 days. It's a challenging experience but anyone that has a real go will finish with some level of better understanding. Personally, I experienced confusion, turbulence, clarity, understanding from a different perspective, affirmation and total enlightenment.
As for the course centre and how it ran... The setting was amazing as it's located in a valley completely surrounded by native bush where there's plenty of bird life and no busy roads nearby. The living is very comfortable and my expectation of only eating salad for 10 days meant that I was thrilled to find out there was a huge amount of food served. It was really interesting to see how people acted when there is no communication. Without any opportunity to create opinions about others, everyone is respectful and courteous which gave me the feeling of peaceful community. Thanks to the volunteers and people that keep these centres running. I'm so grateful that things came together and I had the opportunity to attend a course.
As I mentioned, there is 400km before I reach the Cape. I'm looking forward to embracing what I have left of this trip and the beauty of Northland. Hopefully I'll have access to a computer between now and the end for another update.
Bhavatu sabba mangalam!