Friday, November 24th, 2017
Day 19: Marsden Point to Uretiti Beach, 13km
We strategically planned a leisurely half day beach walk to follow up our enormous Thanksgiving feast. Plus my knee and Clea’s ankle were begging for another bit of rest, so we only cruised 13 kilometers today. We slept in a little bit, I called to say happy thanksgiving to my family back in Missouri, and hitched a ride up to Marsden Point from a super nice guy named Mark. From Marsden Point, we casually strolled on the beach along Bream Bay until we hit the mouth of the Ruakaka River. The water was too high to cross, so we dropped our packs to wait for low tide. Clea made some progress in Lord of the Rings while I passed out for a fat nap. I woke up two hours later and realized I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my thighs, which were bright red and blotchy. Uh oh. I put aloe on them ASAP but I have a feeling they’re going to hurt tomorrow. My tan lines are out of control. Anyway, a few hours later the water was low enough for us to wade across. Soon after, we arrived at the Uretiti Beach campsite, stretched, cooked dinner and chillaxed. Sometimes you need more than one lazy day to get yourself geared up for more action. I’m all about it. I also apologize for the lack of pictures in general on this post. To be quite honest there just weren’t too many moments on this stretch that were calling for a picture!
Saturday, November 25th, 2017
Day 20: Uretiti Beach to Sentinel Rock, 34km
Back on the hiking grind! We covered basically 20 miles today with a combination of beach, road, pasture, and track. We stopped at a café in Waipu so I could use the WiFi to download the rest of my book, and to have an excuse to eat a mean savory scone. People are always so curious about our trek, we for sure stick out like sore thumbs with our massive packs and dirty clothes. The owner of the café came over and gave us 3 of yesterday’s muffins to fuel our hike! I’ve never been so stoked on muffins before. We ate one and saved the other two for dessert. Most of today’s walk was beautiful but relatively uneventful. We almost got ourselves horribly lost in the pastures on the way to Bream Tail. So many rolling green hills and so many baaing sheep can be hard to navigate, especially when you’re tired and hungry! Fortunately we only had to illegally hop over one fence to get back on track.
Determined not to pay for camping tonight, we found a spot on the beach to pitch our tents, cook a tasty dinner, and eat what turned out to be amazing peach banana muffins. We set up at low tide and Clea is pretty confident that our tents are far back enough, but I’m not totally sold. I might get woken up to a flood like the third class passengers on the Titanic but only time will tell.
Sunday, November 25th, 2017
Day 21: Mangawhai to Pakiri Beach, 30km
I did not get swept out to sea by high tide last night. I did, however, have a dream that the ocean flooded my tent. So even though I was actually dry, I spent the whole night in between my dream and reality, waking up and looking at the water. It was super weird. Dreams are weird. I always seem to have extra bizarre, extra vivid dreams when I’m backpacking. Probably because I’m so wiped every day I sleep so deeply! Anyway, today was another long day on another long beach. We cruised down the road through Mangawhai Village, and followed a gravel road through a pine forest before reaching the beach again. We took a long lunch break before beginning the 17 kilometer trek down the beach. I made sure to put sunscreen on my thighs, and reapplied to my neck and shoulders. My mistake this time was proceeding to lay down in the sand. When I sat up, I had sand literally caked on me everywhere. I don’t totally mind sand, but it’s not the most comfortable feeling to have little sand grains fucking everywhere, in all the creases, under all of your clothes, in your ears, mouth, water, etc. I tried rinsing off in the ocean, but even after a quick rinse, I was still rubbing sandy sunscreen into my pores. Clea kept laughing at me because I was clearly so uncomfortable. Having grown up by the beach, Clea is pretty unbothered by excessive sand, unlike myself apparently, struggling. It was funny in hindsight.
Anyway, we passed over Te Arai Point, which apparently is where all the old people go fishing and middle-aged people go for surf lessons. We passed by some sick coved beach areas for swimming too, but kept going down the beach. From the top of Te Arai, the beach really didn’t look that long. But beaches are deceptively big. We walked for what felt like forever in the soft sand. Whenever I thought I might be getting close, I’d walk for another 30 minutes. I did discover how useful trekking poles are as air drumsticks though! Its really hard to dance and walk at the same time, but poles make great instruments for grooving, even if I look like a complete idiot. I couldn’t care less. Finally we arrived at Pakiri Beach and made our way to the holiday park. I was more than happy to get a few days worth of sand off in the shower, and sneak in a solid stretch session in the nice, green grass. Our other trail friends were here too! I was stoked to see them.
Monday, November 27th, 2017
Day 22: Pakiri to the Dome, 26km
Hip hop HOORAY FOR FORESTS!!! I cannot express to you how much more I enjoy romping through the woods than cruising down a road. There has been quite a bit of road walking recently, which is just part of the journey I suppose. But nearly all of today’s hike was through the mud, roots, grass and trees of the Omaha and Dome Forests. And I loved it! The day started with a muddy trek up to the summit of Mt Tamahunga. The mud was nothing compared to Herekino or Raetea, but slippery and squishy enough to add an element of excitement, and to slow down the pace! From Tamahunga, we proceeded to climb for what seemed like eternity towards the summit of the Dome. The terrain was thick, dense jungle-like forest following the ridgeline steeply up and down. The sun was out and I was sticky, but I threw in some headphones and totally got in the climbing groove!
After so much flat beach and roads, I was having a grand old time crushing some vertical gain. I will say the summits on the Northland are less than climactic, considering they aren’t even 1000 feet tall. The summits are more or less a clearing where you think you can’t go any higher; knowing when you’re actually at the top is a whole challenge in itself because you can’t see anything for reference! Totally different than high alpine summits but exciting in its own right.
The 25 kilometers to the Top of the Dome Café literally seemed like they were never going to end as I walked up, then down, then up, then down again, and so on for almost 9 hours. My glutes and hammies were getting a dope workout, in addition to having a spectacular adventure in the bush. Aaalllll about it dude. Unfortunately the café was totally closed by the time we got there. No brownie for Jenni! Bummer. We continued up the road, hoping to find a spot to stealth camp, when a car drove by and offered us to camp on their property where they have mowed a space for walkers! They found us totally by chance, but totally saved us! The woman brought us a ton of fresh water, and offered us showers too. I declined the shower because I had one yesterday, god forbid I get too clean. People are seriously too nice here. I love this place!
Tuesday, November 28th, 2017
Day 23: Kraack Road to Puhoi, 26km
I always know it’s time to get up when the bird chirping becomes an orchestra of energy. Today was no exception. We left our perfectly mowed spot of grass earlier than usual to allow time for hitch-hiking into Warkworth for a much needed resupply. I thought I was improving in my resupply skills, but somehow continue to go over budget. Maybe it’s time to rethink my purchases. It’s not my fault I was raised to have expensive taste. Nor is it my fault that the Pascal Party Pack of candy is so damn delicious. A quick detour into town had us back on the trail around 10:30. The first few kilometers were on a gravel road that fortunately had some decent hills to get the sweat going as we approached Moirs Hill. From there, we jumped on the Dunns Ridge Track which was a bush walk combined with a very odd, confusing route through pastures, only requiring one sketchy hop over a barbed, electric fence. The Dunns Ridge Track runs right into a swinging bridge entering onto the Puhoi Track. These lasts few kilometers were on a comparatively nice, stepped trail through a peaceful, green, perfectly shaded forest littered with pine needles, which reminded me of home. The track ends at a quaint recreation area by the Puhoi River with a bridge leading over to a general store and little pub. We found our friends Tim, Hannah, and Georgia at the pub, joined by the handsome fellow American named Matt who had caught up to us on the trail today. After trying my first battered muscle at the dairy in Mangamuka, I have been determined to try as many battered muscles as possible. As your new local battered muscle connesouir, I had to order a few with some chips. News alert: the Puhoi Pub has delicious chips and wedges, but their fried muscles are sub par! So far nothing has beaten Mangamuka’s cheap but huge, juicy and salty muscles! Either way I enjoyed the treat. You can also freedom camp here, so Clea, Matt and I found a nice patch of grass to set up camp and stretch for the night. Solid day in paradise.
Wednesday, November 29th, 2017
Day 24: Puhoi to Stillwater, 33km
There was something about today that just felt light, unhurried, and overly positive. It’s almost as if my body knew today was going to be exceptional when it decided to wake me up earlier than usual. We were packed up, fed, and walking by 7:30 which is early for us! Instead of spending $50 to rent a kayak to float the 7 kilometers down the Puhoi River, we chose to splurge at the pub last night and do a short road walk this morning. We weren’t quite aware that we’d be walking alongside rushing morning traffic on Highway 1, but there’s nothing quite like noisy semis blazing past to wake you up. Fortunately we reconnected with the trail a few hours later.
Somehow Clea and I wound up going 20 minutes in the wrong direction…seems to be a common mistake. At least the wrong way was through a pretty forest! Eventually we got back on track and walked through Waiwera to the beach, which quickly turned into a super fun morning of rock hopping! We followed the coastline up and over these awesome, Martian-looking rocks, past tall caves, scrambled around mini boulders and water pools interspersed with sandy beach, and navigated around wet, muscle-covered rock ledges. There was almost an apocalyptic feel to the rocky coast, which made for a fantastic, meandering adventure. The rock ledges eventually gave way to the flat, sandy Orewa Beach which overlooked the cliff-perched houses in the beautiful town of Orewa. This town was absolutely gorgeous with its cliffs, sprawling ocean, perfect sand, and distant islands.
Eventually Orewa Beach came to an end and the concrete Orewa Estuary path began. For a pedestrian and cyclist walkway, the estuary path was vegetated and pretty, but by the time we reached the Silverdale stores and oddly familiar housing developments our feet were tired. I checked the time and it wasn’t even noon! We only had about 10 kilometers to our destination, so we popped into a little café and split a spinach and feta muffin mainly so we could poach their WiFi without getting any questionable looks. We wound up sitting at Jamaica Blue for about 2 hours, putting off the beginning of another road section for as long as possible. To my excitement, we ran into Hannah, Tim and Georgia shortly after setting out. As we all stood at a street corner discussing our acceptance of the laziness of today, a lady came out and delivered all of us a free batch of frozen pork broth! I’m a sucker for free food. I buried the frozen cup deep in my pack in hopes of preventing the blazing sun from melting it, also praying it didn’t start melting pork juice all over my stuff.
I jammed out all the way down the road to Stillwater, one of the most calming, relaxing places we’ve been to yet. The Stillwater Motor Park offers free camping, showers, and kitchen to walkers! They also have a trampoline which I took full bouncy advantage of. Our new friend Matt, our old friends Tanya and Dave, a couple from Italy, and a couple from England were all here! Talk about feeling like a trail family! We all walked over to the Stillwater Boat Club to indulge in a beer and conversation. Clea and I haven’t been buying drinks or coffee on this trip for a number of reasons, but something about having all 12 of us at a table, one day away from Auckland, in a gorgeous town with hot, sunny weather felt like a reason to celebrate with a cold pale ale. A beer has never tasted so good!!
Eventually my tummy started yelling at me to feed it, so we mobbed back to camp to cook up some tasty ramen in our free, spicy pork broth. Complete with some peas, those noodles made me so happy. Oh, you know how we have Starkist flavored tuna packets in the states? Well New Zealand has their own brand of packages tuna that throws Starkist out of the fucking water with legit chunky, rich tuna flavored in combinations like Lemon Sesame Ginger and Green Salsa Verde. Highly suggested if you ever find yourself in New Zealand looking for tuna. Anyway, after dinner I balled out in another sick jump sesh on the trampoline. Matt eventually joined me for a quick bounce, followed up by some great conversation whilst swinging at the playground. Talk about a throw back to being 7 year olds playing after school. Before I knew it the stars were out in what appeared to be a clear night! We laid in the grass, listening to the crazy birds, talking about life and looking at the southern hemisphere stars. I think I recognized Orion, but he was upside down. It’s totally possible it was an entirely different constellation, but I’m not an astronomer. Anyway, a beautiful, magical day was followed up by a beautiful, magical night until my yawns got out of control and forced me to sleep.
Thursday, November 30th, 2017
Day 25: Stillwater to Auckland, 40ish kilometers
600 KILOMETERS DOWN!!!
Whew! Today was long. This morning all 12 members of our rad, motley, oddball crew of hikers gallantly rolled out of the Stillwater Motor Camp like an enthusiastic line of baton twirlers in a festive Christmas parade. We’d heard rumors that the upcoming Okura River crossing could get up to neck deep so we all decided to cruise together and wait for low tide. I apologize now that I failed to collect photo documentation of the following events. We arrived at the Okura River an hour before low tide, but Clea and Matt dropped packs to scope out the water depth. I stood on the shore watching my two fully-clothed friends slowly wading into the water like lost ducks. Turns out the water only came up to mid-chest, but at that point they both decided to fully immerse themselves as they searched around for a shallower crossing point. As Clea slugs out of the river dripping from head to toe, I turn right to see Klaus, our middle-aged Italian friend who is one half of the Silver Hikers duo, approaching wearing nothing but his backpack and a pair of tiny blue underpants. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched just about Everton strip down to their boxers, granny panties and sports bras in preparation for what turned out to be a relatively mellow river crossing. Nothing like a giant group of hiker trash in their underwear simultaneously mobbing across a river holding their packs above their heads like giant babies. Well congratulations to us, we successfully made it across dah reevah!!
The rest of the way to Auckland was 20 kilometers of random bits of suburbia including neighborhood streets, cool rocky coastal walks, and beach segments. The humidity was pretty brutal, and the concrete jungle was lengthy, but thank the lawd we finally made it to the ferry crossing from Devonport to the city. If you want to talk about feeling out of place, imagine 3 rugged, dirty, stinky backpackers amongst a large group of clean, nicely dressed, business-like city folk. While there are tons of “backpackers” in Auckland, it’s pretty easy to spot a typical backpacker from a hiking backpacker who’s been through the Raetea Forest and spent the last three weeks sleeping with the sheep. Returning to the city was quite the trip, having begun our journey here almost a month ago. Same sleek, clean city, but very different, dirtier, wiser, stronger adventurers. After another hour of walking through the city feeling like totally overstimulated children at a candy store gawking at everything in sight, we arrived around 7pm to the YHA Matt had booked and kindly invited us to join. Well, turns out Matt’s reservation skills from the forest aren’t the greatest and he had actually booked a hostel in another town about 250 kilometers away. Fortunately we were quickly able to find a vacant triple at the BK Hostel nearby before we all completely turned into hangry, feral creatures.
Step one: take our fucking packs off. Step two: shower off the sticky. Step three: find food, lots of food. As a group of three Americans, we couldn’t resist the suggestion for Sal’s Pizza where we ordered three different pie flavors and swapped slicesso we could really amp up the pizza experience. When our one and a half giant, greasy pizzas arrived hot and fresh out of the oven, Clea proceeded to detach her melty slice too soon as we watched all of the toppings slide straight off the buttery crust. We ate every morsel faster than you could pull apart two pepperonis. Step four: find ice cream. We walked around the streets by Sal’s with no success. I was determined to find a cone, and thus began the epic Ice Cream in Auckland Saga. Earlier today I passed probably at least 5 various gelato and ice cream stores, so I assumed I’d have no trouble. Well you know what happens when you assume…you wind up walking another 4 kilometers around the city without any milky deliciousness. Eventually I asked someone for the nearest ice cream store. He sent us to this over-the-top gourmet ice cream parlor where you are seated with a number and expected to pay at least $10 for a gold-coated ice cream cone topped with lacy, creative chocolate structures that look like they belong in a fine art exhibit of ice cream. Never have I seen such a thing! I was intrigued, but am much too simple of a woman to need such extravagance. So the hunt continued to no avail. My last resort was to buy some beers and a pint of low grade mint chip ice cream from the grocery store. Five minutes after leaving Countdown, we walked past a yoghurt store. A yoghurt store as in frozen yogurt. As in the self-serve froyo place with toppings and all! Aka everything I ever wanted! How did we walk right past it?? I don’t know but I said fuck it and, grocery store pint in hand, filled up a bowl of froyo, which turned out costing $9. So after all that, I still wound up spending $15 on mediocre ice cream. And it was so worth it. As we walked back to the hostel we passed Sal’s Pizza. And guess what is DIRECTLY across from Sal’s. That’s right, a rolled, Coldstone style ice cream shop with 30 different flavors. Right there, across the street from where we ate. I almost bought a rolled ice cream just on the principle, but walked my baffled self back to the hostel. The rest of the evening was spent hanging out with Clea and Matt in our triple dorm, killing the pints, drinking tasty beer, and cracking ourselves up like three 13 year old BFFs at a slumber party. We giggled and gorged and chit-chatted right up to 2am, which, with a regular trail bedtime of 9pm at the latest, felt like the latest night ever. It was worth every penny, every calorie, and every step it took to get there.
Friday, December 1st, 2017
Day 26: REST DAY IN AUCKLAND!!!
Still at kilometer 600
Fuck yeah dude zero days are the tits. When you’re literally walking all day every day, like your 9-5 job is literally just to walk, you truly come to appreciate a full day of gluttony, relaxation, and brief reconnection with the cyber world. Your muscles, joints, stomachs and souls thank you for the break too. The day began with another failed attempt to sleep in after our late night slumber party. Clea departed for her doctor’s appointment to check on her Achilles situation, leaving me and Matt to wander the streets and pretend to be city folk for the day. The weather was absolutely perfect, hot sun but cool shade with less humidity than recent days. I lugged Matt to the storage place to help me retrieve our post-hike clothes bags Clea and I stored a month ago. We stopped for a quick coffee and delicious berry compote muffin at the Whale’s Tail before heading back to the hostel for a solid planning and research sesh for the next few sections of trail and our upcoming 5 day Christmas paddle down the Wanganui River. Sometimes it’s hard to start reading about what’s next because there is SO much dope shit to see around here I start getting OVERSTOKED WITH POSSIBILITIES!!!
Per usual, hunger started to creep up so we set out on a mission to find me a delicious pulled pork sandwich. I know today was supposed to be a zero day, but with such pristine weather I think our legs subconsciously wanted to be moving. We walked around downtown Auckland for over an hour looking at menus before narrowing down options and eventually choosing Al’s Café. God forbid I just ate at the first restaurant and missed a better option! My pulled pork sandwich was fucking tasty but the best part was sitting next to a Kiwi named Stuart and his Australian friend Adrian. Stuart had heaps of beta for hiking suggestions, and also happens to know someone who lives in Wanaka and does ski patrol/search and rescue and skis all the backcountry around there. Stuart said he would put me in contact with this guy so I’m already starting to lock down connections for touring partners and jobs when I cruise down to Wanaka for the winter! Word. I’m stoked.
We walked back to the hostel and killed a few more hours at the hostel before heading out for a night on the town. Turns out Clea hurt her Achilles and needs to take some time off from hiking, so we figured if we’re stuck in the city, why not boost morale and get into the city spirit. Our friend Heinz also happened to be in Auckland so he met us for some incredible burgers and beers. We eat a gross amount of food on rest days, my stomach is a bottomless pit. Being the hiker trash we are, we knew drinks would be too expensive at the bars so we bought a few beers and sat on a bench at the Auckland Viaduct, talking and people watching for awhile. A few IPAs later we decided to say fuck it and go dance at a fancy club. Wellllll apparently Chacos don’t quite make the Auckland club scene dress code so we were sadly turned away. Sorry, next time I guess I’ll remember to pack stilettos in my backpack. Rather than feel any weirder about that situation, we went on the search for a grungier place to dance and found ourselves drinking cheap whiskey and sweating balls as we danced to amazingly bad pop remixes in a hot, grungy backpackers bar. It was perfect. A few hours went by and as 2am rolled around we remembered we weren’t in the states where everything closes too early. Tired from the day of gluttony, we started walking back to our hostel which happens to be located in a part of town with a hundred strip clubs and random bars. Just when we thought our night was over, somehow we found ourselves in a super weird but awesome karaoke bar. Before we could even finish our drinks, we were shuttled next door into an apparent gay bar with half naked men dancing to heavy house music. Soooooo far out of our element I still am confused about how we got there, but we got down with the beat and made some unforgettable, uncharacteristic, very unhikerly memories before finally getting to sleep around 5am. Thank you Auckland for being perfectly weird as fuck, but endlessly entertaining.
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Day 27: REST DAY NUMBER TWO!
Based on how tired and blobby I was today, I can confidently admit I am getting too old to party like that. But I have no regrets and sometimes you just gotta let your freak flag fly, especially when you are presented with the rare opportunity to explore the night life of a foreign city. All we wanted to do was eat and sleep, so that’s what we did. A salmon cake, some chorizo flatbread, scrambled egg toast, and oodles of coffee at Bestie Café brought the 3 of us back to life, momentarily at least. We had given ourselves enough energy back to walk to Auckland Domain Park where we found the perfect tree, laid down, and passed the fuck out in the warm sun. I was woken up to the noise of what sounded like a drone or a remote controlled car or something buzzing by. But when I opened my eyes, I didn’t see a drone or a little boy’s toy car. In fact, I would never in a million years have imagined waking up to a 10ish-month old baby with a bucket hat cruising by in a tiny baby version of a white Land Rover. This baby was just chilling in the car as her dad controlled its direction. It was absolutely hilarious! Like hey honey what do you want to do today? Oh, how about we put Lucy in her Land Rover and take her for a quick spin around the park! Totally normal.
We followed up our naps with the rolled ice cream across from Sal’s Pizza that we missed the other day. Bangkok’s Rolled Ice Cream is a must! I got Coconut Oreo and Chocolate Cake in a chocolate dipped waffle cone with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and white chocolate pieces. They make the flavors by pouring ice cream mix over the flavor item (like an Oreo or brownie) on a cold stone and chopping until it mixes and freezes. The mixture is then flattened out and rolled into little logs and stuck in your cone like a flower. So rich. So tasty. And I hear if you roll your ice cream instead of scooping it, you’ll actually lose weight too!
From Bangkok’s we collected our baggage and began the Uber trek to Mike’s house. Mike is this random middle-aged Kiwi who met Matt at a grocery store a few weeks ago and has been storing his extra bag. He and his wife, Marcia, live in a beautiful, beach front home just outside of downtown Auckland, and invited me, Matt and Clea to come over for a barbeque dinner and spend the night. I don’t know what I did to deserve such high class treatment, but between the view, comfortable bed, shower, barbeque chicken, sausage, salad, potatoes, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate and red wine, I felt like a princess. By evening I was feeling back to normal so I even had a chance to go for a long run by the coast, AND sneak in some burpees! Walking burns calories, but I have been craving the cardio. Matt runs too which was awesome to have a fellow inspiration! Mike gave us plenty of hiking information for our upcoming trek, printed out maps for us, and spoiled us rotten. I am going to sleep tonight feeling overly grateful for the kind, generous, pay-it-forward attitude of all the people we are encountering on this journey. I am also very satiated with tasty grub and most definitely ready to get back to my amazing, comfortable life in the bush.