A Long and Winding Road: Kerikeri to Whangarei

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Day 11: Kerikeri to Paihia, 21km

With chilly temps and rainy skies, yesterday’s rest day was everything I could have asked for. And today I woke up relaxed and ready to get back on the move. The walk from Kerikeri to Paihia certainly wasn’t the longest, hardest, or most exciting stretch we’ve done so far, but it was beautiful nonetheless. We followed a paved road out of Kerikeri until entering the Waitangi Forest where we followed a super mellow gravel road through the gentle vegetation. We eventually popped out onto another paved road, crossed the Waitangi Bridge, and arrived at The Pickled Parrot hostel in Paihia.

Crossing the Waitangi Bridge

The majority of New Zealand’s residents live on the North island, so the trail tends to cut through a ton of little towns. As a result, a lot of our camping has been at designated camping areas or cheap tentsite hostels. It’s quite a luxury but sometimes I feel like we’re cheating, even though it’s really the only option! Once we get into the less populated, more mountainous spots on the South island we’ll be camping in the more traditional backcountry backpacking setting I’m accustomed to. But for now I’m enjoying a warm chair and full kitchen every 4 or 5 days!

I usually stuff all the tent pieces in my tent bag, but accidentally stuffed the tent bag in my sleeping bag compression sack this morning, so I just shoved the tent into my backpack. I had also carefully laid my rain fly on the driveway to dry this morning in Kerikeri. So when I went to set up my tent this evening and noticed the absence of a rain fly, I made the heart dropping realization that I had in fact left my fly on the ground in Kerikeri. Especially in a wet environment such as New Zealand, a rain fly is pretty crucial. I kind of panicked. But before I could totally freak out, Clea and some other friends helped me contact the Kerikeri Holiday Park. And whew! They had my fly. So I hitch-hiked my dumb ass all the way back to Kerikeri, grabbed my fly, and hitch-hiked back. It’s seriously too easy to get a ride around here. These two young guys picked me up and we got to talking about heli-skiing, determining that I need a friend who flies helicopters. They let me out and I get in another truck a few minutes later. I asked the driver what he did for work, and turns out the dude flies helicopters. No way. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to lock down any heli-ski lifts, but I was appreciative of the lift back to Paihia, fly in hand. I can promise you I’ll be making sure that damn piece of fabric is in my backpack every morning from now on!


Friday, November 17th, 2017

Day 12: Paihia to Waikare, 29 + 10 bonus kilometers

On the vehicular ferry from Opua to Okiato

We left Paihia around 9am and cruised along the Opua Coastal Walkway to the car ferry loading dock. The route was a casual dirt track along the forest by the coast. The vehicular ferry takes you from Opua across the Veronica Channel to Okiatio. From there, we could follow Aucks Road directly to the junction with Russell-Whakapara Road, or we could jump on the Okiatio to Russell Walkway. The walkway would add on a few extra kilometers, but takes you through wetland, bush, and around cliffs instead of a paved road. Naturally we chose the nature route. We ascended and descended sets of stairs as we hiked through thick, wet forests, along boardwalks, and crossing roads every once in awhile.

Boardwalking in the wrong direction
It’s chill though

About four hours later, we arrived at a random boating club near the town of Russell. Something didn’t seem right. We hadn’t seen any Te Araroa signs for awhile, and had just been cruising along this nature path. We finally checked a map and turns out we had walked about 10 kilometers north towards Russell, the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. Dammnnniittttt! Of all days to go the wrong way, of course we fuck up when we’re carrying a full 8 days worth of food supply. Oh well! Thanks to New Zealand’s hitch-hiking magic, we got a ride back the 10 kilometers to the road junction we totally passed, and continued on our way.

The next 17 kilometers were definitely a long haul along a paved road. As we walked in monotonous silence, I enjoyed a few solid hours of much needed introspection. We’ve been having a lot of endless walking time in between more exciting sections of the trail. I have found the time to be perfect for asking yourself a deep question and truly exploring the answers. Not only does time seem to pass faster when your mind is occupied, but I’m absolutely diving deeper into my ideas than I would normally. It’s pretty cool.

Eggs by candlelight

Anyway, we eventually arrived at Sheryl the Trail Angel’s house in Waikare. Sheryl is an incredibly generous local woman who lets TA walkers pitch a tent on her property and use her facilities. We’re sleeping in a field with the cows and horses, and are currently eating fresh, boiled farm eggs by candlelight…feeling right at home in this rough-around-the-edges but adorable Northland farm house!


Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Day 13: Waikare to Oakura Bay, 20km

It’s 7:40pm and Clea and I are currently at Whangaruru Beachfront Camp in Oakura Bay. We are laying on a slightly slanted but super comfortable double bed in the back of an old ambulance renovated as a camper van, digesting each of the 9 delicious curries we sampled for free at the Curry Cup, a friendly competition held by the Kiwis here for a local fishing tournament. If there were ever a moment of wondering “what the hell is my life” in the most hilarious way possible, this is it.

The rain started around midnight last night, and hasn’t stopped since, not even for one single tiny minute. I suppose we were overdue for some proper non-stop New Zealand sky water, I’d be a fool to think we’d be lucky enough to somehow miss it. We spent extra time this morning talking to the lovely Sheryl, hoping our tents might dry at least a little bit before we stuffed the wet, muddy fabric into our wet, muddy packs. We thanked Sheryl and her husband Peter for their hospitality, and went on our merry, wet way down Waikare Valley Road. We almost missed our turnoff, but after yesterday’s 10 kilometer mishap, double checked the map and got on route. For the first 4 kilometers we tramped directly up the Papakauri Stream.

Tramping up Papakauri Stream
Very soggy. Very wet. Very pretty.

After all the rain, and with the rain continuing to fall, we were consistently wading through water mid-calf to mid-thigh deep. Makes for slow but adventuresome tramping! Just when my fingers started to feel cold and tingly, we popped back on a trail and emerged at the DOC Shelter. We were totally soaked when we stopped for a snack and quick warm up, necessary I guess as my lips were apparently turning an unusual shade of purply blue. After awhile we sucked it up, stuck ourselves back into our sticky rain jackets, and booked it up the old forest road to get some blood pumping. By the time we got to the junction with Russell Road, we were just as wet and just as cold as before, so we glanced at the maps and kept moving.

Is blue a good shade on me?

Camping options between the road junction and the beginning of the next track were limited. We ran into the Australian couple and their group from Tramp-Inn, and learned they were camping in Oakura Bay. Initially we intended to walk at least 5 kilometers further, but our potential B&B was booked, and the other campsite was another 6 kilometers passed that! And let me point out that by this time we were still walking in the pouring rain, now alongside a paved road getting splashed by cars, feeling pretty pathetic and probably looking even more pathetic than we felt. By the time we passed the sign to Oakura Bay, Clea and I were both totally over the day. Now if you’re in the woods and it’s raining, you don’t really have a choice; you make do with the wetness, accept the change of environment, and laugh at your misery. When you’re cold and soggy on the side of a road watching dry, warm people pass you as you slowly make progress towards a camping area, you choose the camping area. The Whangaruru Beachfront Camp only had tent sites available, so we paid our dues and went to kick it by the kitchen in hopes the rain would let up.

Hiker trash some might call us

We changed into dry clothes and sat outside chatting and reading, smelling all kinds of amazing things coming from the kitchen. Turns out there was supposed to be an annual fishing tournament that was cancelled due to weather. Each year they do a curry cook-off, and we showed up just in time! I think they felt sorry for us backpackers looking so pathetic and wet, eating couscous with peas, even though we were totally happy. Regardless, they let us try all of the curries and cast a vote. New Zealanders are seriously awesome people. Meanwhile, another tramper’s tent pole broke and the owner told her to sleep in the laundry room.

Our only instructions were to not play with the sirens
Cozy ambulance bed!

When she walked by us on the porch, clearly having not set up tents yet, she asked if we wanted to sleep inside somewhere. The rain did not look like it was going to stop any time soon, and a warm, dry night of sleep was irresistible. So she offered us to sleep in her old ambulance which she had redone like a mobile camper.



So alas, here we are, snuggled up like the two coziest, happiest trampers ever. Dry for the first time all day, grateful for the acts of kindness, and ready for another beautiful day on Te Araroa tomorrow.


Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Day 14: Oakura to Whananaki, 31km

OMG BEDS ARE THE SHIT! I slept so well in our little ambulance last night. Our day started off well-rested and dry, but took a disheartening turn due to a progressing ankle pain Clea has been dealing with for the last few days. If anyone understands how upsetting a random, annoying, unexplained injury can be when you’re otherwise feeling healthy and fit, it’s me, and my heart was breaking for her. I wish I had a magic wand to instantly heal miss Clea’s Achilles, but unfortunately I’m just a regular bloke with no special powers. She decided to hitch-hike to the Whananaki Holiday Park for a rest day while I powered through the next trail segment. Choosing to miss a day on the track is never an easy decision, but there comes a point when your body calls the shots and you’d be damned not to listen. Fortunately Clea is an incredibly strong, independent, intelligent woman who cares enough about herself and her goals to make the hard but right choice to spend a day nursing her heel. She also is amazing and understanding enough to handle herself for the day, so I set out down the road by myself, anxious to get to camp to provide moral support and smiles.

Curly and the view after Helena Ridge

I put some headphones in to bump some Dead jams during the uneventful road walking section until I was joined by a happy middle-aged man with curly graying hair, short shorts, Hokas, and a tiny pack. Turns out he’s a trail running Kiwi named Curly who left a week ago in attempt to set a record for tramping the TA. Anyone who can talk running with me is an immediate friend. We cruised at his very fast pace (I’m definitely starting to understand the benefit of small light packs) and chatted about life and outdoor activities all the way through the Helena Ridge Track, a mixture of forest track and open fields. A clear endurance athlete with a super positive attitude, Curly most certainly inspired me to move fast and not limit my realm of possibilities as far as personal fitness goals in the future go.

Morepork Forest Track
Slippery stream crossings!
A happy me

Anyway, at the beginning of the Morepork track we ran into the familiar group I’ve been seeing for almost a week now. I snarfed my bag of trail mix and kept on the move, trying to keep up with Curly without being too intrusive. The Morepork Forest was nowhere near as muddy as the Herekino or Raetea, but slick and slippery nonetheless.

Expansive meadow views got me feeling groovy


Eventually I popped out of the forest into a beautiful, open meadow with expansive views of the ocean in the distance. As awesome as the forests are, every time I come out of the trees into a meadow I am overwhelmed with a sensation of freedom, similar to how I feel in the mountains. We still have a long ways to go before we’re back in an alpine environment, but I’m absorbing every ounce of liberation in the Northland.

I got to Clea faster than expected. She had been resting her ankle and reading at the Whananaki Holiday Park all day, and making friends with this adorable man named Tom. They say a huge part of trail magic is the people, and I believe that wholeheartedly. The overly generous Tom offered us dinner, and proceeded to cook beef stir fry with rice and red wine which Clea, Curly, Tom and I absolutely devoured. What a treat!!! Like seriously what an amazing man Tom is to spoil a group of strangers; he said he wants to ensure a solid spot in heaven. He gave us advice on just about just about everything in the way a loving grandfather would. I went to bed with a full belly and satiated soul.


Monday, November 20th, 2017

Day 14: Whananaki to Ngunguru, 25km

Whananaki Bridge
Whananaki Coastal Track
Dead pine trees along the coastal track that smelled like Colorado

This morning Tom walked us across the Whananaki Bridge and took our picture before parting ways. Fortunately Clea’s ankle improved enough for her to hike! HOORAY! From there we followed the gorgeous Whananaki Coastal Track which curved along the oceanfront past adorable, unique beach houses before popping out on another road. I got stung by a bee for the first time, at least from what I can remember. That shit hurts! Anyway, because the TA is a relatively new trail and there are so many towns on the North Island, unfortunately many segments have to follow roads for miles until the DOC can figure out better connecting tracks through nature. So we walked along the road until reaching the food mart in Ngunguru where we snarfed down an ice cream cone and called for our ride across Nikau Bay.

Our ride is coming!
James and his boat

Our ride across Nikau Bay came in the form of a little boat driven by a middle-aged male Kiwi local named James who offers rides across the bay as the TA happens to pass through his property. Little did we know he was about to deliver us in paradise. Our acceptance of James’ offer to camp at his place was almost immediate upon arrival. Right next to the water but tucked behind tropical trees, James had built a beautiful open kitchen and dining area for trampers in the huge green yard below his house, complete with showers and toilets, kayaks, a fire ring, a garden, a picturesque swing, and a camping cabin. He told us to pitch our tents anywhere and make ourselves at home, which we did promptly. Soon after we cozied up, our trail family from the last few days arrived. James provided all of us fresh eggs from his chickens and access to any of the vegetables in the garden, which everyone gratefully accepted.

Happy swinging

Later that evening, James brought me and Clea a cold pale ale and took us out for a beautiful nighttime kayak ride around the bay. For the first time since arriving in New Zealand I was actually able to see some stars! I’ve either been asleep too early or it’s been too cloudy. Lots of firsts today. But yeah James was not only an unbelievably generous host, but he hung out with everyone all night. He is a super honest, genuine person with incredible outlooks on life, an interesting history, and great conversation skills. His place is almost too good to be true! A true paradise.


Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Day 15: Nikau Bay (James) to Taiharuru, 32km

James’s Tramper structure
James’s kitchen area where I devoured my breakfast of luxury

Man I didn’t think James’ place could be any more magical, but that was before today’s breakfast. First of all, I slept like a baby after our late kayak adventure. Secondly, I saved my eggs from yesterday and cooked them sunnyside up with white cheddar, sausage, and sauteed kale straight from the garden. Thirdly, James joined us for breakfast with a huge pot of coffee!!!! COFFEE!!! I haven’t been drinking the amazing black juice because it’s expensive, takes too long to make, and quite frankly I’m enjoying the caffeine break, so the bitter cup of heaven this morning really got me going. I slowly ate my delicious meal, which beat my usual Clif bar by about 25 million, postponing my inevitably departure of this tropical haven. Eventually we packed up, showered James with thank you’s, and began yet another long road walk.

Horses along the Mackerel Forest Track. Neigh!

Of the 25 kilometers between James’s house and Pataua, the 4 kilometer Mackerel Forest Track was the only section of rolling, grassy trail. The other 19 kilometers were along a mellow paved road. There was hardly a cloud in the sky as the hot sun pounded down on my shoulders all day. All I can say is thank god for headphones. Nothing like some Phish or Nick Jonas to get in the road-walking groove.

Crossing the Taiharuru Estuary

We timed ourselves perfectly to be walking across the Taiharuru Estuary at low tide. Always one for great descriptions, Clea said walking through the muddy, sandy water was like the perfect combination of 90 Mile Beach and Herekino Forest. I agree entirely.

Peaceful dinner at the Taiharuru Walker’s Camp

After the estuary, we followed signs to a Walker’s Camp. Historically we know little information about campsites until we’re there, and this was no exception. We walked up a driveway for awhile before the handwritten signs sent us on a seemingly random track through the grassy hillside. The track was leading into a gorgeous, open valley amongst pastures full of turkeys, cows and horses that seemed like a trippy and strange approach for a typical holiday park. We kept thinking we’d pop out in some magical kingdom full of fairies and butterflies, but alas we found ourselves at a little cabin situated in an open, green paddock with a picnic table, outdoor stove, and random white outdoor sofa. Inside the cabin were two beds, a shower, a sink, coffee, tea, a cooler full of snacks and soda, honey, books, and other assorted items of the like. Turns out this 16 year old kid Louis lives up the hill with his parents, and built this structure as a camp for TA walkers! He asks to put $15 in the honesty box for your stay and enjoy yourself. How fucking cool! Shit like that makes wonder what the hell I was doing when I was 16.

Free women of the flowers

Anyway, we took showers to wash off the stinky estuary mud, and because nobody else was anywhere in sight, decided to frolick around naked in the grass and delight in the solitude. Another TA trail angel providing us with our own valley oasis! Fortunately Clea spotted a woman walking down the hill in time for us to throw some clothes on. Louis’s mother Susanne was a sweet lady who seemed happy to have us there, and we told her how impressed we were with her son’s idea. After we stuffed our faces with ramen and tried to cook this random egg Clea found in the woods (which turned out to be disgustingly rotten, don’t ever trust unknown forest eggs), we played Bananagrams until the sun went down. Now we’re both laying on our own beds listening to the 363,388 mosquitoes buzzing and the mystery animal creeping outside the window, feeling happy and fulfilled. I can’t wait to eat breakfast with this view tomorrow and hopefully I don’t become one giant mosquito bite overnight.


Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Day 16: Taiharuru to McKenzie Bay, 25km

I slept so deeply in that cozy ass bed that I managed to have a nightmare. I can’t remember what it was about, but I woke up hyperventilating and weirdly screaming; Clea and I are officially really good friends now that she’s witnessed one my midnight terrors. Anyway, I survived the night with minimal bites, and the mystery animal failed to bust into the cabin so that’s all groovy.

Inside the walkers cabin
Morning lounge time

I was awake before Clea and noticed blue skies above so I read outside for awhile until she woke up to join me for a marvelous cup of instant coffee. Aside from our one night in the forest, this was really the first morning we had to ourselves. We took our sweet time packing, soaked up the beautiful weather and peacefulness of the valley before cruising out. A short uphill road walk with incredible views of the ocean and distant mountains lead us to a grassy, forested track over Kauri Mountain. An hour later we arrived on top of the steep, clay descent down to Ocean Beach. Realizing high tide was coming in, we decided to read and sunbathe for an hour before starting our journey down the beach. Not being in any kind of hurry whatsoever is such a liberating feeling! Ocean Beach was a significantly shorter, much more scenic, and noticeably softer beach walk than 90 Mile, landing us at the base of the Bream Head Track.

Ocean Beach
View from our lunch spot

I’ll take hot sun over cold rain any day, but HOLY FACK THE SUN TODAY WAS TOASTING MY BRAINS! The heat and humidity slowly turned my body into what felt like a giant bucket of popcorn butter as I climbed the exposed, grassy slopes and sticky, forested stairs to the summit of Bream Head (Te Whara). Dying for a snack and a break from the gallons of sweat oozing out of our pores, we dropped packs and scrambled up to a lunch spot with probably the best view I have seen thus far. The bright blue ocean stretched beyond the horizon in front of us, encompassing distant islands and crashing waves onto the tan shores far below. Positioned on the middle of a forested ridge, there were massive rock faces with vegetated tops and steep cliffs in both directions. Behind us were rolling green hills speckled with tiny buildings and miniscule animals. The view was truly breathtaking, and our perfectly leisurely lack of a schedule allowed us to simply sit and exist in paradise until we satiated ourselves with nature’s beauty.

From Bream Head we undulated along the heavily vegetated ridge, up and down hundreds of steps, and over roots, passing multiple false summits before topping out on Mt Lion (Matariki). Only mildly sticky but severely stinky, we began the descent into Urquharts Bay which involved well over another 1000 steps. You know stairs might kind of suck and destroy your knees in large numbers, but they’re definitely better than a long, super steep, muddy downclimb!

Descending into Urquharts Bay

My joints rejoiced upon returning to a flat, smooth road which led us the short distance to The Green Bus Stop, another quaint camping area for TA trampers in someone’s backyard. We found Tanya, Dave, Hannah, and Georgia (most of our recent trail family members) cooking dinner and relaxing in the humble camp complete with fresh water, free farm eggs, a toilet and shower access. Hungry from the day’s hike, I quickly pitched my tent and proceeded to cook my current favorite meal: this amazingly flavored Malaysian ramen with peas and shiitake mushrooms. This particular batch was phenomenal with the addition of a cracked egg. Mmmmmmm. After dinner I walked up to the owner’s house to pay and ask if she could open the can of mangos I found in the free food box. I wound up having a long, interesting conversation with Jenny (she has a cool name) about reasons why people are seeking out adventures like the TA, and the general shift in attitude towards what’s important in life these days. I swear we have been encountering the coolest, most generous trail angels recently, I feel so lucky! I am also very much looking forward to a rest day in Whangerei tomorrow, my knees need a break. Tomorrow also happens to be Thanksgiving (at least in the southern hemisphere) so we are planning to do nothing but feast. It will be epic.


Thursday, November 21st, 2017


Grill master

I AM SO STUFFED WITH DELICIOUS CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI AND PEPPERS AND KUMARA AND BREAD AND BOYSENBERRY APPLE PIE!!! Clea and I fully succeeded in creating an epic Thanksgiving meal for ourselves during our off day in Whangerei. I know it’s technically only Wednesday in the States and that Kiwis don’t exactly celebrate Thanksgiving, but today was the third Thursday of November so it only seemed appropriate to prepare a feast and celebrate our gratitude for the amazing life we are living. The timing also worked out perfectly with our resupply to spend the day touching base with everyone at home, resting our muscles and joints, and stuffing our faces.

Anyway, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about the truly important people and parts of my life so I’ll share. Just so you know, this is written more for me than for anyone else I am grateful for the opportunity and ability to travel, to have worked hard at a job I loved to earn enough to fund a trip like this. For having a true, meaningful friendship with someone like Clea who supports me, encourages me to be honest and genuine, trusts me, and is crazy enough to spend months on the trail with me. For having two incredibly loving, understanding, and supportive parents who are always helping me learn to trust myself and follow my dreams. I am grateful for Dandy whose enthusiasm and excitement for my adventures keeps me going. For Tyler and Logan and any other family member who might think I’m nuts but love me anyway. For Maria for loving my dad as much as she does. For Jack for finally showing my mom the kind of man she deserves. For all of my crazy ass friends who share the stoke with me on all different levels, who laugh with me, cry with me, climb bad ass mountains with me, and push me to be a better person, better friend, better mountaineer, and so on. For my peer mentors who have taught me how to splitboard, understand avalanche safety, and climb, trusted me, and been patient while I learn. I’m exceptionally grateful for all the families I have babysat for who have become like second, third, and fourth families to me. For all of their kids who I have been lucky enough to watch grow up. I’m thankful for the strangers I’ve met and will continue to meet on the TA who start conversations that spark new perspectives on the world and my place in it. And for all the people who love to pick up hitch-hikers. I’m thankful for everyone who is a part of my life in any way, because every relationship is unique. I give and receive something entirely individualized from each person I interact with. Whether it’s repeated or instantaneous, happy or sad, simple or complicated, all of these interactions play a role in shaping the person I am and continue to grow into. And that’s fucking cool.

I’m grateful to know so confidently what makes my heart full. To wake up everyday and know how and where to find my strength and happiness. To be so passionate about the things I love to do. To have an excellent education been provided my whole life. I’m thankful every single day for my health and physical ability to walk, run, hike, climb, ride, etc. I’m thankful as hell for Dr. LaPrade who fixed up my knee two years ago, and to Nate and Lyndee for being the best physical therapists in the world. For my parents and friends for physically and emotionally helping me through that whole shitty recovery.

I’m grateful for mother nature, for the mountains, high summits, challenging rock, long sketchy routes, fresh air, alpine lakes, beautiful trails, fresh snow, sunshine, wildflowers, soft breezes, and trees. For trail runners, sports bras, hiking boots, hydration packs, backpacks, snowboards, splitboards, trekking poles, ice axes, crampons, helmets, harnesses, ropes, and aaalllllll the other gear that keeps me alive. And for all the geniuses who design and create it. For sunscreen, bug spray, arnica gel and chafing cream. For topo maps, compasses and mapping tools. The list is endless. I could seriously write a novel about everything I am grateful for, but I’m passing out from a food coma.


Creatures of the Northland Forests: Ahipara to Kerikeri

Friday, November 10th, 2017

Day 5: Herekino Forest Track, 20ish kilometers

Walking into Herekino Forest
Crazy trees!


Chur! Today was too mickey! After a quick stop at the tiny corner store to pick up Band-Aids I forgot to buy at the supermarket yesterday because I was too blinded by delicious food, we bid adieu to Ahipara and set off for the Herekino Forest. A two-hour jaunt along Roma Road put us at the entrance to the mysterious forest. The stoke level sky rocketed immediately upon seeing the bounty of bright green leaves and hearty trees. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy my feet, joints, and soul were to get off the flat beach and into the forest.

The forests here are absolutely nothing like what I’m used to in the states. Clea and I kept having trippy, shocking moments of truly realizing what a different world we were in. Everything is so lush, so thick, so so green. Plants with huge flat pointy leaves, tall palm-like trees with weird curly antennae, gray and white striped trees, enormous ferns, fake-looking tree boxes made of bark and long thick green leaves that look like something a rich housewife would buy to decorate her fancy new patio, and massive Kauri trees with crazy gnarled roots.

Massive Kauri tree!

The list of variety could go on forever. Vines were hanging all over the place in the perfect spots to trip on or choke yourself, various types of birds were chirping, and mud was everywhere. I had heard about the forests being muddy, but I suppose I underestimated the gravitude of the muck situation. The first flight of stairs was covered in sticky mud so we immediately put on our gators. The first few miles were pretty tame. We ran into Pete and Cassidy, a Vermont couple we’ve been playing leap frog with for the last few days, and joined them for lunch by Rangiheke Stream.

Munching by Rangiheke Stream

The trail rolled up and down vegetated hills with enough elevation gain mixed with humid forest air to actually get a sweat going. My Rocky Mountain running muscles were stoked to finally be woken up after what felt like an excessively long nap! A few more kilometers into Herekino, the trail got steeper and the mud got deeper.


The moving was slow as we slipped and slid all over the place, hoping each time you put your foot down your boot wouldn’t get sucked off. The sticky, wet, brown goo came up to our calves at times, but we were managing to get through pretty well until we hit a gap. I wouldn’t call it a river, but rather a deep, wide puddle with a giant slippery rock in the middle. I wasn’t sure which route to take, but chose the visually sturdier right side. My right foot went down alright, but as I tried to step up onto the ledge out, my left foot slipped and I sank up to my knee. Naturally we both burst into laughter as I struggled to get out with two boots on.

Laughable struggles
Squish squash squoosh!

Eventually I succeeded and we marched on. Clea fell straight on her ass soon after, another gut-busting event to crack up at. The trail got so steep and slick at one point, a rope had been installed to aid you down.

Aid rope reminiscent of descending Little Bear Peak in Colorado! Lol

Some may say the trek through Herekino was tough and awful, but I found the whole thing ridiculous and hilarious. Eventually we emerged at this charming hand-built hut called Tramp-Inn. Some family owns the building and the surrounding property which happens to be open, rolling, rippled grassy hills mixed with forested areas and beautiful views into the distance. They offer their bunk-room style cabin, toilet, and clean running water to trampers with a request to put $10 in the donation box. I jumped at the chance to rinse off our absurdly caked boots, gators and bodies before indulging in a lengthy stretch session overlooking the countryside.

I spy Tramp-Inn, a beautiful retreat after Herekino
An oasis for sure!
Inside of Tramp-Inn

There must be about 8 other people here, so everyone made dinner and swapped stories. This one 50-year-old Australian couple recently sold everything and is planning to spend the next few years exploring the world, starting with a marathon of thru-hikes. Inspiration for real! Anyway, today was sick and now I’m tired. Most everyone is asleep and at least 3 men are snoring, one of the perks to a personal tent but hey, it’s all part of the adventure eh?!






Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Day 6: Takahue Route to Raetea Forest, 25ish kilometers

Squish, squash, squelch, schmuck, schluck! I thought I’d seen some pretty nasty feet in my life, but that was before I saw mine after two days of walking in deep mud! Like holy shit the gnar is real. Clea summed the situation up perfectly when she described her feet as Halloween decorations: deathly, shriveled, pale and decaying. I chose a light weight hiking boot while Clea chose trail runners, and so far they both seem to have their pros and cons. Boots are more waterproof but less breathable, which means they can take awhile to dry. Sneakers get soaked immediately but dry quickly. Regardless of what shoe you choose, I can basically guarantee you that after 9 hours of romping through the Raetea Forest your toes will be drowning, gasping for air. You can try to step carefully or find a drier way around one of the hundreds of muck boardwalks, but you will fail. With some skill you can for sure avoid falling in, but you will inevitably accept your fate, give up trying to stay clean, and emerge with every surface from the knee down caked in dirt. Between the large, slippery, gnarled roots, super steep slopes, and hip-high butt-busting steps all lathered in goop, tramping in the Northland forests becomes an epic lifesize game.

How would you cook a worm if you had to eat it?
An example of the ancient feel of the Raetea Forest

The Raetea Forest had a unique personality compared to the Herekino Forest. Aside from a few new types of trees, everything in the Raetea Forest seemed to have moss, vines or leaves growing on its exterior, creating an almost ancient ambience. Where vegetation in the Herekino Forest felt young, fresh, and bright, the Raetea was a darker, wetter, denser green that seemed to be dripping old plant life from its surfaces.

The trek from Tramp-Inn to the Raetea Forest was another 3 hour road walk amongst gorgeous secluded farmland, ending with an hour walk along the old, grassy Takahue Saddle forest road. The journey through the woods to our campsite undulated up and over some of the highest peaks in Northland including the Raetea summit (744m) and the Kumetewhiwhia summit (638m).

On the Raetea summit, 744m

Excluding the obvious difficulty of the mud I mentioned earlier, navigating through the forest is quite challenging. The vegetation is so huge and so thick, you cannot see any landmarks in the distance. We passed maybe three viewpoints total looking out of the forest, and aside from obvious mountain shapes, there were no distinguishing features. It just looked like rolling hills covered in broccoli crowns. I now understand too why trails are called tracks over here. In the US, we are spoiled with artfully constructed and beautifully maintained trails, even in the wilderness. Here a trail, or track as they say, can sometimes look like a built trail, but can also look like a giant mud swamp or bootpack over trees and around roots. Clea accurately called the track a “loose suggestion” of where to go. Regardless, I enjoyed the adventure walking and learning a completely new type of terrain. We managed to find a private little campsite in the forest, our first real backcountry tent spot of the trip! We were both cold, wet, muddy and very happy while we ate an early dinner and fell asleep to the birds sounds of the forest.


Sunday November 12th, 2017

Day 7: Raetea Forest to Apple Tree Camp, 23ish km

I woke up this morning again to the sound of rain drizzling on my tent. So far we have been incredibly lucky with weather, so I crossed my fingers things would clear up while I packed my gear. Fortunately the rain died down just in time to put away my tent and force my feet into my wet muddy boots. I slapped my muddy gators onto my calves before we sent it through the rest of the Raetea Forest.

Popping out of the Raetea Forest

A few hours later we popped out into a gorgeous, open, green meadow overlooking more forest and rolling, rippled hills. We descended to Makene Road through someone’s backyard full of adorable barking doggies attached to their leashes. Thus began another lengthy road walk through the village of Mangamuka to our campsite. It wasn’t just any old road walk through a village though because there happened to be a local dairy a few miles down! We rolled up, took our boots off, sat in the sun, and chowed down on battered muscles, fried potato wedges, and ice cream cones while our feet dried out. Our friends Pete and Cassidy were only a few minutes behind and joined us for this magical lunch treat. After lunch we crushed another 13 kilometers along a gravel road to the Apple Tree Camp, a sweet flat grassy area perfect for the 7 of us who eventually arrived. Following a very necessary stretch sesh, Clea and I joined Pete and Cassidy for a cruise down to the Kauri sanctuary. Kauri are these absolutely massive trees suffering from endangerment. For scale, we were able to stand up in the hollow interior of a fallen kauri, they’re huge. Their bark feels and looks like rock, and is so thick it seems almost fake. We got back to camp, stuffed our faces with noodles and potatoes for the 3rd night in a row, and retreated to our tents. Another perfect day on TA!


Monday, November 13th, 2017

Day 8: Omahuta Puketi Forest Track, 24km

Ahhhhh yes, I am truly starting to understand the beauty and simplicity of trail life! Per usual I woke up naturally to the sound of rain around 6:30, checked today’s map and trail notes, packed up my sleeping bag, rolled up my pad, ate a bar, taped my feet, and shoved all of my gear into my pack before dismantling my wet tent ASAP. Finding a good pack-up system, especially in a tiny ass little tent, most definitely took some practice, but the routine is finally becoming quick second nature. The process reminds me of learning how to transition a splitboard; the first few times take forever as you find an order for all the moving pieces, but once you’ve done it enough times you get a hang of it and stop looking like such a noob. You also get sick of being cold and learn to hurry up so you can GTFO!

Tramping through the Mangapukahukahu Gorge
Casual thigh-high wading

We cruised out of Apple Tree, down Blackbridge Road, and popped out at the Mangapukahukahu Stream in the Omahuta Forest. If you wanted another confusing Maori word to fuck up, there you have it. You more or less walk in the Mangapukahukahu Stream, crossing from shoal bank to shoal bank, or wading in thigh-high water. Just like the mud, eventually you just have to accept that your shoes will be fish bowls, there’s no way around it. The rich foliage and green trees jutting out from either side of the stream were so pretty I basically forgot about my wet feet. Eventually the stream meets up with Waipapa River. We crossed the Waipapa and climbed up onto its banks where we’d traverse the next few miles of treacherous, slippery track. The “trail” flowed up and down the steep banks, forcing you to go slow otherwise you’d slip and eat shit onto a rock or into the river. I loved the mind game and jumping from root to root, nothing like some dicey wilderness walking to spice up the day. Unfortunately another thru-hiker hadn’t been so lucky. We came up on a woman who’d fallen and busted her knee pretty bad. As a newly certified Wilderness First Responder, of course I start playing worst case scenario and the full patient assessment system through my head. Thankfully none of that was necessary. Clea and I provided whatever extra supplies we had and offered our best advice to keep it clean and to eat lots of Ibuprofen. She and her hiking buddy felt comfortable walking out themselves, so we took their information just in case, and went on our way.

Soon after, we crossed the Waipapa, said goodbye to the river, and entered the Puketi Forest. To our surprise the Pukatea Ridge track was dry!!! And to my enjoyment, the track was steep!!! Finally a long, dry, steep ascent! I was stoked. Steep romping with a heavy pack is my fucking JAM dude. We were able to take our gators off and get in the groove mobbing up Pukatea Ridge through a very peaceful, young Kauri grove. We did become increasingly aware of how gross we smell after we started actually sweating, but we all stink out here, who cares?! When we finally stopped for a late lunch, there were so many bird noises happening it sounded like a bird brawl was going down. The Puketi Forest, by the way, is incredibly light and airy compared to the other forests we’ve been through. The only weird part was the hundreds of possum traps, many with nasty possum carcasses hanging by their necks.

Mmmmmmm possum

Apparently possums have migrated from Australia and are a hazard to the bird population, so they’re getting whacked. After lunch we popped out of the woods and followed the gravel road to the Puketi Forest Hut and campgrounds. The forested road would have been totally serene if it weren’t for the strangled possum bodies every 20 feet! The traps just snap their neck and leave them dangling, so cute! It only seemed appropriate to jam out to Phish’s “Possum”, and come up with more relevant lyrics. Sorry Trey, our version is better.

9 kilometers later we arrived at the Puketi Forest HQ. We set up our tents and cruised over to the warm Puketi Forest Hut where we found Pete and Cassidy, our other German friend Heinz, and this girl who’s been around for the last few days but I don’t know her name because she hardly speaks. I grubbed hard on vegetable soup with potatoes, stretched, and passed TF out.


Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Day 9: Puketi Forest HQ to Kerikeri, 25km

Just because I’m missing winter doesn’t mean I don’t fully intend to stay stoked and informed on snow. I read my nightly chapter of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain before bed and dreamt of snowboarding all night! Then I woke up to sunshine for a change and felt so lucky to be alive. Time to turnoff my snow brain for the day and let the birds welcome me back to my awesome New Zealand reality!

Rolling pastures. You can see sheep if you look closely.
Bay of Islands View

We set out from the Puketi Forest HQ towards Kerikeri. We were so distracted by the thousands of baa-ing sheep being herded that we walked a mile past our turnoff. I’ve never seen or heard so many sheep in my life, but let me tell you that it’s beyond entertaining. They sound like what I would imagine a giant preschool full of toddlers on Molly would sound like. Totally insane. Anyway, we found the proper stile into Puketotara Farmland and walked between random rolling pastures full of sheep and cows. We followed farmland fences all the way down to the Maungaparerua Stream, walked along the stream through random backyards, creeped on the insides of the houses, and crossed a cool swinging bridge before meeting up with the Kerikeri River. The Kerikeri River Track follows the river in a more domestic forest setting, passing Rainbow Falls and the old power house from New Zealand’s settlement days.

Swinging bridge
Rainbow Falls

By the time we reached the Stone Store, New Zealand’s oldest standing house, our legs were exhausted and our stomachs were growling. We’ve been walking almost 20 miles every day for the last 9 days straight and our bodies could feel it. All we wanted was fish and chips, and sleep. We hobbled our way into Kerikeri and freaked out when we finally saw a sign for Calypso’s Fresh Fish and Chips.


We want HAM on the $10 special which includes 10 fish “bites” and a shitload of chips. Throw in some tartar sauce and we stuffed ourselves to the brim. So much food we could only eat 9 out of 10 bites but oh well. So deserved. Of course it started pouring rain as we walked to the Aranga Backpackers Holiday Park to check in. We watched shitty New Zealand reality TV in the lounge, waiting for a break in the rain to set up our tents. I finished off the night with half a mint Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar. Goodnight!



Wednesday, November 15th, 2017


TODAY WE REST!!! We’ve covered 226 kilometers, or about 140 miles, in 9 days without stopping. Giving our bodies a rest day will be crucial if we want to walk for 4-5 months straight. With multiple grocery stores, an outdoor store, a public library, and coffee shops, Kerikeri is a perfect place to resupply, reset, and revitalize ourselves before the next 9 day trek. So I’m spending the day calling family, checking emails, writing my blog, and eating. Always lots of eating. NOM NOM NOM! For those of you actually reading my shit, I hope you’re enjoying it and not being bored to death. Totally open to feedback too. Ok cool! Look forward to another post in about a week!

Cape Reinga to Ahipara: Beach Walking

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Day 1: Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach, 12 km

Have you ever dreamt so vividly that you spent the morning figuring out whether or not the dream was actually reality? What about a recurring lucid dream where you are controlling and experiencing a situation that feels both familiar and like a fantasy? As the lighthouse at Cape Reinga came into view before my eyes in real time, I felt like I was in the middle of the trippiest lucid dream known to man. Cape Reinga is a sacred Maori site, where newly deceased Maori spirits come to begin their journey to the underworld. Cape Reinga’s lighthouse also marks the start of TA. I’ve been looking at images of this lighthouse for almost a year. The beautiful white tower against the bright turquoise blue of the Tasman and Pacific oceans has been the background on my phone for months. In my mind I had artfully created the experience of being at this significant place over 7000 miles away and then bam! There I was standing right in front of it. Doooood!! I’m actually here. I’m actually doing this. I am quite literally living my dream. Nobody forced me to be here. Nobody handed me a plane ticket and a bunch of gear and said “GO!” I made this happen. And I’m fucking psyched.

The lighthouse at the tip of Cape Reinga





Two nerdy hiker chicks posing at the lighthouse














Once I got the seemingly psychedelic effect under control, we started off on the first stretch of TA, Te Paki Coastal Track. Following stairs and a grassy dirt trail we descended to Te Werahi Beach. Having ignored the tide schedule, we found ourselves on our first bushwhacking adventure up a scrubby, grassy, planty hill to avoid being thrown onto sharp rocks at high tide. You’ll have to excuse my lack of accurate plant names for the time being. I’m sure I’ll learn proper terminology eventually, but for now I’ll be using descriptions like “that big, flat-leafed plant with pokey tips that looks like the top of a Palm tree but isn’t”. We passed through some undulating red and orange Mars-like dunes and some more shrubland before hitting Twilight Beach.

Peachy Martian dunes

We climbed up the stairs at the end of the beach and arrived at the Twilight camping area way sooner than we had anticipated. Woohoo! 12 kilometers down.

Looking down Te Paki Coastal Track to Te Werahi Beach



After a few necessary hours of downtime in the blazing sun, the ocean was begging us to come and play. We stripped down to our adorable hiking thongs and paraded into the turquoise waves, yet again giggling like toddlers. I grew up spending spring break on the beach in Florida, but have been lost in the mountains for so long I nearly forgot how refreshing the salty water feels. Aside from the astonishing blue color, the huge waves of the Tasman Ocean knocked me off my feet as they constantly crashed onto the shore in rows of 5 or 6. Despite our best efforts to keep our underwear from coming off and floating away, the tide was too strong so we had no choice but to go commando. We probably should have known better from the get go. Of course right as we changed into our birthday suits, a pair of two dudes floated over and said hi. There was a brief moment of disbelief when we discovered one guy was also from Colorado. I will tell you that trying to have an introductory conversation with two total strangers when you’re butt naked in ankle deep water is beyond distracting. Sorry I’m not sorry!

Josh and John, our Colorado and Scotland buddies

The number of tents had quadrupled by the time we returned to camp. Clea and I spent the evening chatting in our trousers and jumpers with our new Colorado buddy Josh and his Scottish amigo John.  I could already tell that we would be meeting some seriously rad, interesting people on this journey. But it’s time now for sleep.



Tuesday November 7th, 2017

Day 2: Twilight Beach to Maunganui Bluff, 28km

This morning we had a short hike through scrubland up and over Scott’s Point until descending the stairs to 90 Mile Beach. These particular stairs are on the cover of the Te Araroa guidebook and provided another intense lucid dreamlike moment. I recovered much more quickly this time. Once down the stairs, we began our first long day of beach walking. I felt lucky to have our second day of blue skies and warm weather, knowing all about the inevitable rains of New Zealand in our future. I wasn’t so keen on the backs of my legs, which looked like two flaming hot Cheetos. Apparently New Zealand sits perfectly under a giant hole in the ozone, so the sun is uber crazy intense. I had thought hey, I’m in the alpine sun all the time, one little bottle of 30spf will be plenty. Well, I thought wrong. I hadn’t put any sunscreen on my kneepits or calves, and I fried like a pickle. Too hot for pants, I had to hike my gators up past my knees like a giant dork to protect my legs. And as for the rest of my exposed skin, I was reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours and still feeling like a glowing tiki torch. Needless to say I will be purchasing 3 times as much sunscreen at our first resupply.

Stairs down to 90 Mile Beach from Scott’s Point

Soooo we set off on our first 28km stretch along 90 Mile Beach in the beautiful weather and torching sun. As someone who is used to hiking and running up and down mountains, walking on flat, hard sand for miles on end is a pretty serious change of pace. A change of pace that quickly started to kick my ass. It seemed natural to walk barefooted on the beach, and I was fine for a few miles until the bottom of my left foot began to burn. As we pulled over and set our packs down, a huge wave cruised up and tried to steal our packs, nearly swallowing Clea’s phone whole. Considering this was not the first time the ocean tried to eat our shit, we learned to set our packs down way further away than seems necessary. So after saving our precious belongings from the hungry water, I sat down and revealed the massive, deep blister on the ball of my foot. The sand must have been rubbing in all kinds of weird ways. I was forced to put on my Chacos. So we kept walking down the peaceful, yet monotonous beach until I felt a stinging sensation on my inner ankles. I am not one to stop just to baby pathetic injuries, but I knew I couldn’t destroy my feet on day 2. So we pulled over, extra far from the water. And omg! Whaddya know I’m not a wimp! Sure enough my Chacos had busted three bloody blisters on my left side and one on the right. My poor left foot was looking so so sad. I couldn’t go back to barefoot and Chacos were a no-go. My only option was to rock my dorky new hiking boots and striped socks. With my socks peeking out between my pulled-up-past-the-knee gators, my skort, sunshirt, lame sunglasses, and trekking poles, I looked like Jenni Gerard, the Ultra-Geek Hiker Nerd from Colorado. I embraced my new character and waddled my way to Maunganui Bluff.

Jenni Gerard, the Ultra-Geek Hiker Nerd
Embracing the character

Maunganui Bluff camping area was another open field with a shower, toilet and small shelter. The only downside was getting stabbed by tiny prickles if you dared to sit or walk on the grass. We were already seeing familiar faces around the campsite, our TA family starting to come together. I was writing by my tent when I saw a bike roll up. I imagined it must be our handsome Swedish friends from the bus to Kaitaia who were bikepacking TA. Before I could walk over, I saw a very attractive man walking towards me shouting “Jenni?!” I was confused. Do I know anyone who would possibly be here right now? How does this stranger know my name? Getting closer, he asked if I was the American blogger Jenni. Well yes, that’s me, I think? Do I have a reputation already? Turns out this stranger from the Netherlands is also bikepacking TA and randomly joined up with our Swedish friends. They had all stopped by the campsite for a break and lucky for them, and for us, got to have a lovely little reunion. I’d be lying if I said Clea and I weren’t a bit disappointed to watch them ride off into the sunset, but all good things must come and go. So instead of spending the evening swooning over sexy foreign men, Clea and I had another dinner date with each other before sending off to sleep.


Wednesday November 8th, 2017

Day 3: Maunganui Bluff to Utea Park, 30km

Welp, the weather gods most certainly delivered us rain last night! I brought a brand new, ultra-lite one man Mountain Hardware tent that was gifted to me by my momma’s boyfriend. I hadn’t set the thing up before leaving, so I was slightly alarmed when I realized the fly didn’t cover the foot end of the tent. Like most ultra-lite gear, the material is super flimsy and seems unreliable at first. So I absolutely had my doubts about whether or not I would wake up in a puddle, only trusting that Mountain Hardware knows their shit. When I got woken up by pouring rain shortly after midnight, I dove straight into an anxious panic about the tent. In the morning I was exhausted but pleased to discover my little flimsy shelter handled the storm like a champ. The only wet item was my left boot which had somehow gotten pushed out of the vestibule. Rain was still falling as I started packing up and taping up my sad feet while they were still dry. I felt extra sorry for my fucked up left foot getting shoved into a gross, wet boot, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbled today. Boots, rain pants and rain coat on, I was ready for day 2 of 90 Mile Beach.

We walked really far on a hard, flat, sandy beach. 30 kilometers, or 18.6 miles to be exact. Eventually we arrived at Urea Park which happens to be a little camping lodge run by an adorable, charismatic Kiwi woman named Tanya who makes delicious blueberry smoothies. I indulged in a hot shower to rinse off the layers of sunscreen, bug spray, aloe, Arnicare Gel, and sand accumulated on my skin over the last few days. There were quite a few other thru-walkers here, and I felt much better to know that I wasn’t the only one getting her ass beat by the beach. The communal kitchen looked more like a retirement home as we hobbled around stiffly and blistered fueling up for our last extensive walk on the sand. Needless to say, I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight!

My footprint cape…gotta dry somehow!
Sure is beautiful













Thursday November 11th, 2017

Day 4: Utea Park to Ahipara, 31km

We walked really far again on the hard sand of the desolate 90 Mile Beach. Eventually we cruised into Ahipara, stoked to give our feet a rest. We hitch-hiked into Kaitaia to buy groceries at the Pak&Save. Hitching a ride is seriously SO easy. Clea stuck her thumb out and we had a ride within 10 seconds, it was magical. At the store I wanted to buy literally everything in sight after having eaten only bars and ramen for the last few days, but you can’t forget you have to carry everything you buy. I was able to exert a little tiny bit of self control…The YHA Holiday Park in Ahipara is a perfect place to resupply and reset yourself before the forest tracks. A cute, clean, groomed hostel with grassy tent sites, the YHA offers a kitchen, nice bathrooms, laundry, and free WiFi. I felt like a princess. I chatted with cool surfer dude from Jackson, WY and a photographer from Germany, and snarfed some pasta before hitting the hay.

Our reality for 60 miles on 90 Mile Beach

Cape Reinga is Definitely Not Close

Sunday November 5th, 2017

The deceptively complex task of transporting myself from Colorado to the start of TA in Cape Reinga became a beastly 6 day journey of its own variety. You’ve already heard about the sky adventures that landed us in Auckland, which happens to be a beautiful, clean, sleek, oceanfront city with an obscene amount of dank Asian food and expensive stores. Our original plan was to spend a few days in Auckland to clean up last minute details and ship ourselves resupplies and a bounce box. We soon realized that having arrived late Friday afternoon, we would have to wait for the post offices to open Monday, which meant we couldn’t catch the bus north until Tuesday. Neither of us are really city people at all, so we weren’t totally amped on the idea of 3 full days moseying around Auckland, despite it being truly pretty enjoyable and calm for a city. Regardless, life happens so we set out Saturday morning to crush some errands. We got our backcountry hut permits and fuel canisters at Bivouac Outdoor, bought a new power bank, printed out resupply information, unsuccessfully tried to find a mini version of Yahtzee, and looked at expensive diamond jewelry because why not. After devouring some phenomenal Thai yellow curry, we returned to the hostel. We had only spent one afternoon in the city and were talking about alternative, faster shipping options within minutes. We knew the trail would pass back through Auckland after 600km, and further research revealed we could easily find resupply points along that stretch. Which meant we could wait to send ourselves resupply packages until we returned to Auckland. Which meant we could catch the bus Sunday and shave off 2 city days. But what about our bag of extra clothes? Some post offices accept packages “Poste Restante” which means they’ll hold a box for up to 2 months. You pick up your bounce box at the post office and ship it, or bounce it, to the next post office to pick up 2 months later, and so on. Determined to start hiking ASAP, I found the National Mini Storage in Auckland which happened to have a backpacker’s locker available for a reasonable price. Boom! Problem solved. Sunday bus tickets were purchased immediately as our stoke levels raged. On the walk back from the storage place, we cruised by an “inner city backyard” where various groups of people were serving free dinner! And not like in a food kitchen. Apparently there’s just a community of people who run a garden and serve free home-cooked dinner to the city sometimes. They also run a community fridge where people can bring unwanted food and take whatever might be there. I found the whole concept to be inventive, inclusive and resourceful. Get it Auckland! We went to bed with full bellies, clear consciences, and ready-to-go packs.

Is there really such thing as too much food though?

I was so excited we had found a resupply solution that would get us on the road 2 days sooner that I totally forgot about the 40+ assortment of granola/energy bars, beef jerky, and tuna packets I had brought from the states. I couldn’t possibly imagine throwing away perfectly tasty American snacks, but I knew keeping all of them would come with a cost. A cost of about 10 pounds of extra weight for the first stretch of the trail. Between my passionately deep love for beef jerky and being on a tight budget for the next few months, you better believe I chose to keep my meat and granola. So we set off to catch the bus Sunday morning with heavy packs and huge smiles.

The InterCity bus from the Sky Bus Terminal in Auckland took us to Kerikeri, where we hopped on another bus to Kaitaia. 6 hours through beautiful, lush, green, sheep-filled countryside flew by as we chatted with a Danish pair and a Swedish pair both trekking TA. Our level of excitement soared so high I’m surprised the roof didn’t bust straight off the bus. Arriving in Kaitaia we met another thru-hiking couple who were clearly dominating the ultra-lite game. Their tiny little packs made me incredibly aware of how heavy mine was going to be, and how happy I would be eating my Maple Bacon Beef bar in a few days. So whatever, consider it weight training. I had bigger fish to fry than standing around comparing pack sizes, like how to get from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga when public transit doesn’t exist between the two. You can sign up for a guided tour of Cape Reinga and pay a stupid amount to play tourist for an hour, or you can stick your thumb out and hope for the best.

The woman at the storage place had given us the motherly warning to be careful as we hit poverty outside of Auckland. Having participated in service trips, one in the countryside of Costa Rica and one in a shanty town outside of Lima, Peru, I have seen consolidated communities of legitimate, extreme poverty. Compared to the obvious wealth in the clean, well-maintained city of Auckland, the spread out homes in the Northland countryside certainly share a simpler, less affluent character. But that said, hitch-hiking wasn’t sketchy in the slightest and turned out to be mad easy. Perhaps we had the small advantage of being two decently cute, still relatively clean American girls, or maybe everyone here is just super friendly and helpful. Literally everyone I have met, walked by, or looked at so far in New Zealand has been full of genuinely happy smiles and positive energy, it’s incredible. I haven’t been to the DMV here yet, but I bet if I did the employees would turn my frown upside down.

Clea working her magic

Anyway, we walked for about 10 minutes before a black truck driven by a seasoned Northland Kiwi man pulled over and delivered us a few miles up the road. 5 minutes later, we hopped in with a Persian guy on his 8th year in NZ. He dropped us off at a convenient store where naturally I bought some candy and Clea checked the tide schedule for our upcoming trek. Walking maybe 10 minutes up the road from the store, our happy homie Pip swooped us. A giant, middle-aged Maori dude with tattoos, sweatpants, a leather jacket and the funniest little red leather cap atop his curly black hair, Pip chained-smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and rambled about the government. We could hardly understand a word of his mumbled Maori-accented English, but regardless enjoyed his company and appreciated the ride 80km closer to the Cape. We quickly managed to hitch the next ride with one of the first cars to pass. Two young German travelers let us and our packs squeeze into the backseat. The language barrier was rough, but we tried to converse with the curly haired dude wearing a v-neck, nice jeans, and black Thug Life hat until we reached our destination.

A short downhill walk later, we arrived at Tapotupotu Bay. Pronounce that however you want, I have most definitely been butchering every Maori pronunciation, it’s embarrassing. Tapotupotu Bay is a gorgeous beach cove with campgrounds and bathrooms. Campsites here are totally different than the US. Typically in America, designated camping areas consist of individual tentsites with a fire ring and obvious place to pitch your tent. Here, a campground is just an open field with one common shelter so you can setup anywhere and share the structures. I’m super into the open system, it’s conducive to a camping community rather than just a private camping experience. Still, I’m very much looking forward to more private backcountry overnights!

The view walking down to Tapotupotu Bay







Our first campsite at Tapotupotu Bay







Clea and I splashed around in the ocean for awhile, giggling like toddlers. Pure joy. I set off to explore some nearby rocks while Clea meandered down the beach. Teeny tiny little snails covered the rock surface along with colorful shells and muscles. I noticed this pink pigment that I thought might be some cool mineral, but upon closer investigation, the substance was identified as pink bird shit, which made sense when I saw the hundreds of birds flocking on the nearby rock. After awhile my bare feet started to hurt so I turned back. I sat down with Clea and we talked about why we’re here and set some personal goals for this journey. I’m lucky to have a friend and adventure partner who encourages finding a deeper purpose to things besides just having fun. She puts meaning to life’s events and inspires me to be the most genuine version of myself. Yayyyy Clea!!

Soooooo after all that, we ate Ramen, stretched, and went to sleep to the sound of the ocean. When we woke up tomorrow we’d be a short hour walk away from the true beginning of Te Araroa.

A Place Far, Far Away

Cinderella and Belle ready to send

I had anticipated the physical exhaustion and mild confusion resulting from a 47 hour travel adventure to the other side of the world, but could never have predicted what a long, strange trip crossing the international time zone would actually be. Late Halloween night, Clea and I donned our over-the-top sparkly, couture Walmart Belle and Cinderella costumes before stepping foot into JFK airport. I don’t believe anyone is ever too old to wear a ridiculous Halloween costume; I find refreshment in the ability to not always take yourself too seriously. So we checked our backpacks, glided through security, and in true holiday form, went straight to the bar for some tasty eats and a tequila shot. A couple celebratory drinks later we boarded flight 127 and made ourselves at home as we embarked on the first leg of what would be the longest, weirdest travel experience of my life thus far. Dinner was served soon after our midnight departure, and nothing seemed strange yet as we dozed off and on between numerous movies. When we landed in Vancouver 5 hours later, I was sleeping like a brick, hardly even noticing that we had stopped. We stayed on the plane until its second takeoff, when the time change started to really fuck with us. For 14 hours straight we sat on a completely dark plane, watching movie after movie amongst bits of random sleep and seemingly random meals. Is it nighttime? Didn’t we just sleep through a night? Or was it a morning? What day is it? My watch says its 8AM but they just served us beef noodles and red wine? Why is everyone looking at me weird? Oooohhhhh riiiiigghhhttt I’m still wearing my Cinderella costume…it seemed totally appropriate when I put on the dress almost 24 hours ago. I guess most passengers aren’t used to seeing a glowing princess strutting towards the lavatory or awkwardly stretching by the flight attendant station at 8AM on November 2nd. We could have felt weird about it, but Clea and I fully embraced our reputation as the “mountain-climbing princesses”. Because why not?

Finally, only 21 hours but a day and a half later we landed in Manila, SO stoked to get off the plane. To whoever sits in 42J and 42K next, I hope you like glitter because we left behind 50 pounds of silver sparkles just for you! Belle and Cinderella made one final trek through security before saying goodbye so Clea and Jenni could go play around the Philippines during their 14 hour layover. Redressed in our usual garb, we took a taxi into downtown Manila for some exploring. Despite feeling like a sticky, melting candle due to the heat and humidity, Clea and I found a quiet, lush, green garden oasis in the city perfect for some yoga and stretching. We killed a few hours channeling our inner art historians at the National Museum, strolled through an awesomely open and green, busy central park, and snarfed down some delicious but definitely questionable meat at a tiny quick-stop joint. Based on our waiter’s eagerness for selfies with us, I got the feeling they don’t see a lot of white chicks rolling through. I’m stoked we got to be an exception. Jet lag started to set in mid-afternoon with 7 hours still left of our layover, so we cruised back to the airport and passed the fuck out until our next flight.

Clea holding a pose in the garden







Beautiful parks and gardens in the Philippines







Nap time in Manila







The 6 hour flight from Manila to Cairns, Australia felt like 2 seconds because I managed to sleep the whole time. YAAAASSSS! We switched planes in Cairns for the final 4 hour flight to Auckland. Never have I ever been so ready to be at a destination. One National Geographic and a blog post later we landed. I only had one momentary panic attack when I realized my birthdate was backwards on my visa, but I got through no problem. One short Sky Bus ride to our hostel seemed like a breeze after nearly 2 full days or airports and airplanes. The Choice Backpackers Hostel has a prime location in downtown Auckland, right near all the shops and restaurants on Queens street. Our 8-bunk dorm room was simple, clean and felt safe for sure. A shower wasn’t even enough to rid us of all the glitter, but at least we were clean enough that our bunkmate Lewis wanted to join us for beers. We cruised over to Father Ted’s Irish Pub (apparently you can find an Irish Pub in just about any country) and finally started to soak in our new reality. After walking around the city for awhile, we bought some takeaway beer and wine and spent our evening chatting with our new Australian friend in the hostel lobby until sleep was prudent. And alas. I laid down on my fresh linens provided by the front desk, stretched my body out, and tookoff on one last flight to Dreamland.

Choice Backpackers Hostel, Auckland
A painting from the National Museum in Manila that sums up how we felt after traveling

Sup doods?

Welcome to the Rootin’ Tootin’ & Dootin’ Adventures of a New Zealand Thru-Hiker! I am your author, Jenni, here to bring you chronicled stories of my journey with my beautiful friend Clea as we tramp Te Araroa, New Zealand’s longest and newest trail. Whether you are reading this blog as a friend keeping up with my  travels, a fellow TA thru-hiker searching for useful beta, a potential thru-hiker of any long walk seeking tips or advice, or just a rad person wanting to read about other rad people doing rad shit, I hope you thoroughly enjoy yourself and find what you’re looking for.


So what the hell is Te Araroa? Te Araroa translates to “The Long Pathway”, a perfectly simple and accurate description of the 3000 km (roughly 1800 miles) trail spanning from Cape Reinga at the very top of New Zealand’s north island to Bluff at the bottom of the south island. For conceptualization purposes, I like to think of Te Araroa (TA) as a Kiwi sister to the Pacific Crest Trail in the United States, that is in basic terms of being a multi-month, long-distance hike through varying terrain. Beginning with a 60 km coastline walk along Ninety-Mile Beach, TA winds through dense forests, farmlands, towns, river valleys, volcanic mountains, high ridges and across rivers and oceans. While the official trail was connected and finished in 2011, TA holds a rich history of New Zealand and a bright future as trampers travel from all over the world to walk its length.


But…why? What reasons do I have for hiking 1800 miles in a country I’ve never been to before? I have asked myself this question about 500,000,999 times. My friends and family inevitably also wanted to know why this trip became something I had to do. So after many conversations and deep sessions of personal thought, I determined there is no singular, dominating reason, but rather a collection of goals, dreams, emotions, and ideas that are constantly changing and growing in direct relation to the events, relationships, interactions, experiences and environments of my daily life.

My first response to the why question is simply why not? Why not save money and go spend a year exploring a country on the other side of the world I’ve never been to before? Do I have a full-time job stopping me? No. Do I have kids or a pet to take care of? No. Am I in a committed relationship I don’t want to lose? No. Is there a deadline on “settling down” that I need to make? Definitely no. So why not? I’m an adventurous, outdoorsy, motivated, independent 26 year old mountain girl who’s been living an active life in Colorado for the last 7 years. I know what makes me happy, what my passions and strengths are, and what areas I need to focus energy for positive growth. I know I have a degree in Design Studies from the college of Environmental Design at CU-Boulder. And I know I have the ability to achieve whatever I set my mind to. What I don’t know just yet is where these components overlap in terms of a sustainable future that will have a meaningful impact greater than just my own personal benefit. Sure, I could work relatively easy, non-committing jobs forever and earn just enough to support my snowboarding/splitboarding addiction (among many others) with a little left over. But in my heart I know I have a deeper purpose than just kicking ass for pure recreation. Between serious knee surgery, two years of living in a small ski town, a failed attempt at the whole relationship thing, a degree that seems to look better on paper than in application, and about a million possible ideas, I have simply been struggling to “figure it all out”. So when the opportunity to explore New Zealand (with my best friend!) popped up, I saw a chance for change, for a new force to be applied and send myself in a new direction.

Is there a notecard with my life’s purpose written down sitting on Te Araroa waiting for me to walk by and pick it up? No. However, I do believe the physical, mental, and sometimes emotional challenge of walking 1800 miles will provide an avenue for some serious introspection. I have been backpacking basically my entire life and fell in love with the clarity and serenity I feel being disconnected from the outside world. With everything I need on my back, the backpacking life is simple. You walk, absorb the beauty, eat, sleep, wake up, absorb the beauty, and repeat. You live in the moment. Imagine living in a space for 5 months where you’re not thinking about work, your stupid Comcast bill, taxes, the huge, expensive dent in your car from the rock you hit at the trailhead last week, how you’re possibly going to afford that new Jones Airbag, or why that hottie you met at the coffee shop last week hasn’t texted you yet. None of your brain space is taken up by any of these pieces of normal daily life. As long as you have food, water, and a place to camp, your mind is free. The physical part of walking every single day will be a challenge at times too, but I love a solid sufferfest because I know the natural high is next level afterwards. I am beyond stoked to see what I discover about myself on the trail in this inevitably free mind space, after a long, intense, and absolutely beautiful adventure.