Friday, November 10th, 2017
Day 5: Herekino Forest Track, 20ish kilometers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
Day 10: REST DAY IN KERIKERI
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!