Long Walks on the Beach
Everyone enjoys a walk on the beach, but how about five days of walking - on the same beach! We are proud to say that yesterday we completed the first official section of the Te Araroa - 90 Mile Beach.
Early Sunday morning we left Auckland, traveling by bus to Kaitaia and then grabbing a ride with Northland local Arthur to the trails start at Cape Reinga. Or almost. One must actually walk quite a bit from the parking lot to the lighthouse jutting above the meeting of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, and our excitement built with every step. Once at the lighthouse we took our obligatory starting the trail pictures, and were off.
Our first afternoon was spent hiking over spectacular bluffs and along twilight beach, just reaching our campsite in time for a phenomenal sunset. We settled down for our first dinner on the trail, but were quickly swarmed by mozzies (aka mosquitoes) and retreated to the relative safety of our tent. We were soon off to sleep under the stars. Not long after though a shuffling at Andrews feet had us both bolt upright! In true New Zealand form, not a bear, but an vaguely embarrassed possum had chewed his way through the mesh of our tent and was enjoying his own dinner of cashews and chocolate peanuts. He apologized and shuffled off. We had learned an important lesson about keeping our food double bagged and safely tucked away tight for the night.
The next morning after repairing our tent and climbing some dunes and bluffs and Manuka forests, we descended onto the vast expanses of (not quite) 90 Mile Beach. At first the excitement of actually being here, the perfect empty sands, the dunes to our left and waves to our right kept us moving ahead, but as the monotony weighed in, we started an audiobook and soldiered on.
Although some would call it boring, the sameness of the beach, with the distances in either direction disappearing into a hazy mist, has a kind of mystical fascination to it - as if just beyond sight you might just drop off the edge of the world. The real trouble with the beach though is the sand - it's like cement. And due to campsite locations and limited water, days two and three on the beach were 17-19 mile days, leaving our feet bruised and blistered. Still, we relished the beautiful campsites, the company of our new hiking friends (3 Germans, 1 French, 1 Korean, 1 Czech, and 2 Americans also started their thru hike the same day as us, along with a few others just out for this section), and the friendly New Zealanders who we met along the way.
We opted to take two days instead of one for the last stretch of beach, giving our feet a bit more rest and allowing us time to do things like collect a lunch of Tua Tua (clam/mussel like shellfish easy to pick up along the beach), and take a few sandy naps. Our last day on the beach brought rain, and although a change of pace, we were glad it was our shortest. With two hitches we found ourselves back in Kaitaia at a motel to rest, resupply, and de-sand our possessions. Unfortunately the previous night a criminal act had knocked out all the electricity in Northland, so we were forced to wait until 2p for hot showers.
Today we start another 5 days in the northland forests - a rough section prone to mud, dense forests, and hard to follow trails that have condemned a few TA hikers to needing rescue. We'll let you know how we fare when we reach Kerikeri!