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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.