Takeaways and Ocean Breaks
After cutting our teeth on the Northland forests, we were ready for anything Te Araroa wanted to throw our way, but we have spent the last week relieved to find that what was in store was gorgeous coastlines and all you can eat fish and chips!
We've been traveling south along the Eastern coast of New Zealand and the Pacific Ocean for ten days now, an interesting hiking challenge as the coast is steep, riddled with bays and estuaries, and by no means straight or flat. Our reward for this has been some of the most spectacular ocean views (think Big Sur), and two days of rest and relaxation for Christmas.
The section started as we organized a boat ride through the Bay of Islands to a little used landing in the mangroves. We savored the wind and spray as the kilometers ticked by at the speed of the motor boat, and enjoyed a 25 km day where we only had to walk for 15! We made up for it the next day though, as we clocked our longest day yet, 32.5 km (or just over 20 miles!).
We slept that night and the next in beautiful (and dry!) pine forests, left over from former forestry operations, appreciating the change from the muddy dark of the true New Zealand "bush".
The coast of New Zealand is absolutely spectacular in this region of Northland. We spent our next day hiking along rolling, grassy ridges which dropped away in shear cliffs to hidden bays of white sand and turquoise waters. Although Andrew was a bit incapacitated that day by painful blisters, his pain was forgotten as we doctored his foot atop a breathtaking ocean clifftop, and ended our day with fish and chips and the classic New Zealand favorite - hokey pokey ice cream! When we asked a New Zealander what was in hokey pokey ice cream we were told promptly - "well, ice cream, and...hokey pokey!".
Another wonderful thing about New Zealand is the people, and we can't begin to express how genuinely kind New Zealanders really are. Our next two nights were spent in the gardens of two BnBs owned by supporters of the trail. We were invited into homes out of the rain, gifted home made treats, cooked a wonderful breakfast, and enjoyed the best hot shower we have had all trail! The shower was especially welcome as we had just attempted the first half of an estuary walk, not quite at low enough tide, and had slogged through quite a bit of mangrove mud - leaving us all a bit stinkier than usual.
New Zealanders are also very open to hitch hiking, which has helped us to get around towns and back to the trail, though on a hitch back to the trail after our first bnb, Alexa met with her first trail accident. Having survived the actual hiking without incident thus far, she managed to get her finger caught between two closing car doors! Luckily the finger was unbroken, just badly squashed and after some doctoring by Andrew and Simon, we returned to the relative safety of the trail.
We have found a kindred spirit in a solo hiker from Holland, Simon/Sietse, and have enjoyed hiking with him throughout this section. Conversations tend to go in circles when you spend 24 hours a day together and it has been refreshing to have a new brain and perspective with us for this section. We all left our bnb the next morning, muddied ourselves again in the estuary and then road walked over Kauri mountain with eagerness and full bellies toward the biggest physical challenge of this section as the sky filled with rain clouds.
A steep descent down battered lava rock dumped us at the northern most end of Ocean Beach. At the southern point is Bream Head, where the Te Whara summit looms in the distance; its peak hidden within a cloud. As we slowly approached, the rain kept steady as the tide pushed us further into softer sand making sure we earned every step.
The trail operates in mysterious ways, and as we neared the end of the grueling beach walk, the blanket of gray clouds peeled away. We were greeted with sun and blue skies, as well as a much needed water resupply at a picnic area. A group of fellow TA'ers had stopped for lunch here and were taking advantage of the sun to dry out gear. We chatted for a bit and dried out ourselves, deciding to find a spot up ahead to have our lunch.
Though as quickly as the trail relented, the passing clouds revealed the towering Te Whara summit. This menacing looking peak would be next, and as they don't believe in switchbacks, we would be climbing nearly 1,600ft in just over a mile... straight up.
Man, was it amazing! We had lunch just a bit up the very steep track and pushed to the summit revealing a breathtaking campsite. The setting sun dappled through the clouds, with a clear view of the beach we had just conquered, the massive, grassy dunes, and rolling farmland for as far as you could see. We spent the evening with new friends, resting our feet, and enjoying the view with a hot meal. Though, sadly we had to leave the next morning, the descent had equally rewarding views.
One day later after a swim in the Pacific and a few more beaches, forests, farms and cliff tops we reached the town of Mangawhai where Alexa's parents had gifted us an airbnb cottage to spend Christmas (Thank you Steve and Cathy!). We have spent these two glorious days off stuffing ourselves with fresh food from a local farmers market and enjoying the comforts of beds and laundry machines. We look ahead to a New Years in Auckland, and whatever adventures TA holds for us as we continue South.