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The forests, the darkest hour and the finish - Paihia to Cape Reinga

Okay, let me fill in the final days of the walk…

From Pahia I had an easy day walk through Waitangi Forest to reach Kerikeri. Despite having a rest day very recently, I found myself feeling very drained of energy and wondering how I’d get through the final section of forests. The owner of the hostel was going out fishing around the Bay of Islands the next day and offered anyone interested a spot on the boat for $25 to help with the cost of fuel. That was enough to convince me to take another rest day with the hope of restoring my energy.

Six people from the hostel were on the boat, including Tony, the owner. Surprisingly, I caught the first fish… a Terakihi; apparently the biggest one Tony had ever seen. A few hours of trying to ignore the fact that I felt horrible out at sea and I gave in to lying in the cabin while a couple of the others chundered over the edge of the boat. That day I remembered all to well why I hadn’t been on a boat at sea in over a decade. I caught 4 Terakihi that day, and overall we caught 11 Terakihi and 1 King Fish, which were distributed between everyone staying at the hostel. The local shop will batter and cook your fish for $1.50 and I had the best Fush ‘n’ Chups I’ve ever had that evening.

Feeling a little fresher, I set off towards Puketi Forest the following day. The first 24km followed the Kerikeri River before crossing farmland to reach the Puketi Forest Headquarters. Due to the forecast of heavy rain I made the decision to take the wet weather bypass and followed roads for another 20km to reach a campsite on the southern edge of Puketi Forest. That evening I met Lukas from Germany who was hitch hiking around, living as cheaply as possible and trying to do plenty of tramping.

In the morning the weather looked decent and I decided I would cut back into Puketi Forest and rejoin the trail. Lukas had asked if we could walk up the river together. As we set off up the valley, Lukas said he’d been thinking about how he wanted to see Cape Reinga at some point, and asked if he could walk there with me, suddenly I had a walking companion. We crossed a river and made our way up a stream that runs through what the notes described as a gorge. I didn’t think it was that dramatic…although, I could see that the water would rise quickly in heavy rain. Once we climbed out of the stream it was 4WD roads and main roads for the rest of the day until we found a place to camp right before the start of the Raetea Forest.

We woke up to rain the next morning. Lukas was still learning how to pack up efficiently which left me lingering in the wet and impatient to get going. After passing through someone’s backyard and narrowly avoiding the dogs on chains we found ourselves squelching up a badly marked track…until I realized that we were on the wrong side of the first peak. After backtracking to no avail, I decided that we’d bush bash our way up to the peak. Fortunately pigs had done some of the trail making up to the peak already…we just had to fight the Supplejack vines. Personally, I really enjoyed the whole Raetea Forest, and Lukas did as well, despite struggling physically. It rained almost constantly, the mud was deep at times and the forest vegetation was beautifully lush. We met 6 SOBO’s on our way through and all of them had incredibly high spirits. After seeing a few negative Facebook posts about this forest it was nice to meet people with positives attitudes. It’s just a forest!

Lukas and I made it through Raetea in 8 hours flat. Lukas looked as though he was about to collapse from tiredness and said he didn’t know how much further he could make his legs go. I asked him to walk another 10km of road before we’d find a place to camp. A guy named Sam pulled up in his 4WD and asked where I was going. After a short conversation he said that we could stay at his place about 10km up the road. Lukas’ spirits lifted immensely with the knowledge that we’d have a place to sleep out of the rain. I’m fairly sure Sam doesn’t actually live in the place he gave us for the night. It was basically a hut full of old junk, a mattress with rodent droppings on it and a dusty drum kit. Nevertheless, it was a roof…with only one major leak.

After the wet day before, I didn’t have too much trouble convincing Lukas to do another near 30km walk so that we could make it through to Ahipara and be done with the forest section. Roads took us to the start of the Herekino Forest with some spectacular views along the way. The start of the forest track turned out to be very steep and slippery, which reminded me of times in the Ruahine Ranges. Close to the only peak throughout the Forest Park we met Huw (like Hugh) and had an amazingly positive chat. The remainder of the forest section was mostly on very old 4WD roads and then through a beautiful Kauri sanctuary to reach the main road into Ahipara.

Lukas was thankful for a rest day in Ahipara after three 30km days on fairly rough terrain. We stayed at the YHA/Holiday Park where we met Sandra from Holland as well as Jake and Megan from Australia.

Although I had discussed with Lukas that I was okay to walk not too far apart and camp at the same place before starting the walk up Ninety Mile Beach, I felt a lot of pressure within me that I needed to finish the walk by myself. As we walked up the beginning of the beach I realized that I needed a couple of days of walking alone, and left a message in the sand as Lukas was about 500m behind me. This alleviated the pressure of me having to make sure he was keeping up and also meant that Lukas could walk at his own comfortable pace. I thoroughly enjoyed the first 44km day up the beach. I met a few SOBO’s and also a couple in a 4WD who brought me a jar of peanut butter that Lukas had sent with a message and also a beer. By the end of the day sand had gotten all through my holy shoes and it wasn’t until I stopped to make camp that I realized my feet had some serious blisters. It rained during the night and my tent was somehow still leaking which meant I got very little sleep.

I think the second to last day of walking can be referred to as the darkest hour. I woke up to a soggy tent and packed up in between showers of rain. The blisters underneath my feet were full of liquid, which meant I felt every step. I began walking up the beach and by 1pm I felt like I had been walking for around 12 hours. Every step had become excruciating and stopping to talk to someone made the pain even worse. It was torturous to know that I was so close to finishing what I set out to do, but still in so much pain. One of the most trying moments came upon me about 8km from my intended destination when a Maori guy rode up on his dirt bike just behind me and revved the engine, which scared me enough to make my legs buckle. As I continued to walk he rode next to me in bucketing rain and told me that it’d take another 4 hours to get where I wanted to go as well as other facts about him that I had absolutely no interest in knowing. My inner restraint worked hard to keep a smile and I hoped he’d leave soon so that I could focus on walking as fast as possible. When he did leave I pushed hard to reach the end of the beach and begin the final 4km climb over cliffs. I climbed to the top of the cliff and looked back on the beach with great relief. I continued to push hard but found myself having to concentrate on slippery sections of rock and clay. I made it to the Twilight campsite where Christian and his wife and Benjamin and Vanessa were keeping dry under the pagoda. I am quite sure this day was the longest day I have ever endured.

After sleeping under the pagoda because I didn’t want to sleep in a wet and leaky tent I woke up to rain. Considering the state of my feet and the poor weather I decided to stay at the campsite for a day in the hopes of recovering and then being able to do the final 12km in nicer weather. It turns out Lukas wasn’t all that far behind me and arrived at the campsite around 11am. He wanted to continue on to the Cape so we agreed to meet in Kaitaia. In the afternoon couple of DoC workers showed up at the campsite to do maintenance and gave me half a smoked fish. Cheers!

The final day on the Te Araroa Trail… My feet improved dramatically with the days rest and time spent on draining all of the blisters properly. The morning looked nice but a big rain cloud closed in as I walked up Twilight Beach. Somehow I missed all the heavy rain by what seemed like a few hundred metres. I climbed over a strange kind of clay/sand hill to reach the final beach. I didn’t realize there was a river crossing right before the last beach. I was there at what must’ve been pretty close to high tide as I found myself in waist deep water. The sun came out for the last 2km along the beach and then up the final climb to reach the main track that leads hundreds of tourists to Cape Reinga everyday.

To be honest, I didn’t really feel anything upon arriving at the end of the Trail. I’m not really sure what to make of the whole moment… Maybe I was and still am a bit surprised that I didn’t feel anything. I hung around waiting for the rare opportunities to take photos with no one else standing near the signpost before picking up my pack and walking 2km down the road to find a spot where I was able to hitch from. And then it was over…

I spent the next week catching up with friends that I made towards the end of the journey. Big thanks to Lance and Brigitte, Jenny and Peter, Greg and Darlene and Sam, Ingrid, Will and Dwayne for letting me stay once again.

A few stats about my journey: I spent almost 11 months in New Zealand, of that time 5 & a ½ months were walking days covering a total of 3296km. The total elevation gain and loss was around 108,000m…the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest 13.5 times. I had all but 3 toenails come off. My right shoulder was dislocated 3 days into the trip from a mountain biking crash. On the North Island, a knee injury stopped me from walking for 3 weeks. Just south of Hamilton City my right foot was broken in a place I wouldn’t have suspected such a thing to occur. This injury halted the walk for 2 months.

I will do another post about my experience reintegrating to life at home and reflections of my time in New Zealand.


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