From Ahipara we managed to pick up a few hikers, some fellow TA trampers, some just doing a day loop. There where Germans, French, a Belgium and a hardcore American guy also known as Papa Oats who had walked the Appalachian Trail before. So in this fairly fit and intelligent bunch we felt safe. The sun was out and the 8 km road walk seemed like nothing, the conversations kept our minds busy and we even learned some French, although I felt like they were really just after my chocolate. After 90 mile beach we were just too eager to get into the luscious, native forests. I love forests and I have explored them high and low and the New Zealand ones have always given me a fairy tale feeling but boy was this a very different kind of fairy tale. People had warned us about the muddiness but as it hadn’t rained in the past days we didn’t think too much of it, to be honest we didn’t think much at all, we just talked and laughed all the way to the entrance of what would turn out to be a death trap! Ok so I hope I have really set it up because I really want you to understand how crazy it was. So let’s start with the insane incline for the first km yes it was hard and we quickly lost our friends as we had the heaviest bags and I take a long time taking one step at a time up those steep muddy slips. After the climb it seemed to straighten up more and it was actually pretty pleasurable, some ups and downs a little bit muddy but nothing I couldn’t get around. We filled up our water at the river and had a brief lunch, everything seemed fine. We had planned to camp somewhere in the mountain as there was supposed to be a campable spot at some point along the way.
As we kept walking and walking and walking it became clear there might not be anywhere to camp for all of us. And then it started raining, and then we realised we had to walk all the way out which would mean we would have to walk in the dark. By this point we had met up with one of the Kiwi guys, Rain who was hobbling from his beach walking blisters and had been left behind. We decided the only thing to do was to push on. It got muddier and as the trail descended it quickly became a long mudslide. It was really dark and we only had our head torches to see and we were stuck in a seriously bad situation, hungry, cold, wet and destressed. At one point I went tumbling down one of the mudslides, my poles up in the air, my heavy bag pressing me downwards and the mud impossible to control I was an upwards turtle shouting in the night. I’d had enough, I wanted out, I was ready to give up on the whole trail all together and as my weakness grew I just kept rolling face forward down the mud. It was a real mess, I had no control on the track or the tears mixed with mud and sweat on my face, and we still didn’t know how far away we were. But we did make it. Suddenly there was an opening in the forest, the rain had stopped and the moon shone on some big green rolling hills, we were on a farmland! We were saved.
I can’t really remember putting up the tent or throwing together any food (couscous) Somehow we woke up the next morning, warm in our sleeping bags with the sun drying the wetness. Our friends had set up camp at the same place earlier and where thrilled to see we made it. So as we chatted and let the sun dry our tents, we slowly regained our strength and healed our traumatised bodies.
Luckily we only had a simple, calm road to our next forest and we decided to stay the night just before starting on that, it was getting late and we weren’t ready to go back in, although it couldn’t possibly be as bad. And we found the most amazing place to stay to. A guy called Kelly invited us in to his newly bought farm with his awesome barn house. He gave us warm tea, homebrewed beer and even horse rides on his amazing horse, Boy. It was so incredible to be there and to meet him and have his kindness, it give my adventure a new meaning and life again.
Raetea forest was not going to be the same fail as Herekino that was for sure. We were going to get out the same day. Well it was hard, really hard but this time we were more prepared. It didn’t rain and even the incredible hard 700m climb up to the highest peak of Northland didn’t batter us to much, ok it was like super hard, there was fallen trees everywhere and you literally had to cling on to anything you could grab hold of including cutting grass but we made it up alive and happy. The view was incredible and totally worth all the fighting and climbing. We had lunch on the clearing and I even got naked for a quick photo snap of freedom.
The rest went well, but getting out in the evening was amazing. As the clock is ticking and you know you only have an hour before dark you get a bit desperate and the feeling of real claustrophobia sets in plus there is no end to the mud and the walking is slow if you don’t want your shoes wet. Our camp among the bulls on the top of the hill was amazing and we felt exited only having one more forest to go. Not talking about the notion of Kerikeri getting closer, the food and shower fantasies were getting more and more realistic.
Again we had a day of road walking, but this time we hit a dairy and boy did we hit it hard, burgers, chips and chocolate and soda drinks disappeared in an instant leaving us in a nice food coma. With this new energy we managed to walk for another 13 km even a bit in to the new forest.
Puketi forest was a piece of cake after all the endured hell. It started with 2.5 km river walking. It was incredible. We just walked in our sandals letting the refreshing clear stream play with our feet, it was a real healing feeling, both mentally and physically. It was warm and so beautiful. It was really like a fairy tale. As we ate lunch and swam we talked about being river people, building hanging houses and swinging from vines and eating wild goats. It got a bit harder towards the end and we struggled a bit to find campsite as we kept scaling the side of the mountain on a steep and dangerous incline. And holly sh….. there were so many dead possums, it was disgusting. Seriously the incredible effective traps were placed straight on the track as if the possums would be walking on them. There was decomposed possums, headless hanging possums and just the smell of dead body’s everywhere, kids look away. It was a murder scene like no other. I counted over 20. Our campsite was modest and covered in roots and leaves but we managed to secure a semi flat section by laying down some old fern leaves.
As we had pushed ahead the day before we only had a few km left in the forest, some pretty steep bits but still we were out on the 4WD road in no time. We chatted and the walking went fast and we even toyed with the idea of getting to Kerikeri the same day, but as it was 37km away all up we decided to just see how far we got and set up camp and rather have a shorter day the next day. But we ended up going all the way after all. There was a lot of farmland walking, along fences housing sheep and curious bulls but we weren’t allowed to camp anywhere on private lands and with no house to ask in sight we just powered on through and even when we found a semi hidden flat spot, what seemed far away from the actual farm lands we still got kicked off by a farmer (nicely) so we thought to hell with this lets just go to Kerikeri. We started to fly the last 7km hoping to hit the city before dark. We only stopped to ‘mooh’ with some awesome crazy bulls and look at the incredible impressive rainbow falls, seriously it looked like a spaceship with water falling off it. Crazy stuff. It got dark as we reached the Hone Heke lodge where our hiker friends awaited us with ovation. We had caught up with them even though they had been a half a day ahead for the most part of this trail.
I can’t describe how good the shower in the evening felt or how good the rest day today feels. We washed our clothes, restocked our food and relaxed with good food (junk food) and beer. In the evening Anton cooked amazing meat balls. I feel great right now. It has been a tough week and I keep balancing between being sure about this, tired and homesick. Now we are going through to Bay of Islands and for a while it should be easier. The weather has been really good to us since Herekino forest and I’m like super tanned. (it looks like I’m wearing a white short diving suite).