Today was a short day considering we had left Kerikeri relatively late in the morning. Rather an uneventful day, we made our way to the Waitangi Forest track and cruised on through, taking only the length of a full day. The track itself takes about 4 hours to complete for the average walking speed, but we’ve managed to arrive into Paihia sooner than expected. Getting to the Waitangi Holiday park was a mere walk across the bridge from the renowned Treaty Grounds where the treaty was signed on February 6, 1840. Taking a slow evening, we ate our dinner (fish and chips) as the setting sun illuminated the islands before us. Seeing that golden radiance reminded me of the countless times I’ve watched the sunset on ocean beach back in SF.
The start of the next trail required us to catch a ferry to cross the inlet to Waikare in the morning. We had an early start, around 5 am, to walk the Opua coastal track to the wharf. When you’re walking along the coast and you watch the sun rise before you; as simple as it is, you appreciate all the small things that make that moment special. The morning hues, the warmth of the sun, the smell of the water, the sand crunching under the weight of the moment, it all remains with you even when it becomes a memory. Reaching the wharf, we settle ourselves on the dock and I grab a quick breakfast of coffee and a mince pie, a staple breakfast whenever we reach a town. As the morning drew on, more and more T.A hikers arrived some familiar, some new. The ferry we were waiting for wasn’t the typical ferry per se, rather a basic means of transport. When it came to boarding, there ended up being 16 people with their gear and a dog (our dog) all packed neatly into an inflatable fishing boat.
The boat ride through the Waikare Inlet was a quick (and much appreciated) boat ride to the start of the Russell Forest Track. From here it was 18km on foot through the bush and through some of the best river walking on the trail, up through the Papakauri Stream. Many of us kept getting lost through this portion because trail markers weren’t clearly obvious. It was here where we met (and would meet again), G.O.D initials for Gareth Owston-Doyle, a Kiwi walking the trail for charity, notably Fostering Kids NZ; he’s a funny one because he hates walking. He’s got a givealittle page setup, so feel free to donate and support his cause. The stream walk tapered off and the trail continued onto a walkway that intersected with the road; out of the bush and onto the road, this situation would become very familiar to us later on. It was getting late in the day as we exited the bush and we needed to find a spot for camp. Fortunately, we spotted our potential sleeping spot in Oakura Bay, a small, sheltered bay 45mins east of Whangarei and 3 hours north of Auckland, a beautiful spot that’s off the beaten path.
At this point, a few of us stopped by the local dairy to grab dinner, comprising of fish and chips and kumara (sweet potato) wedges while the others scouted a place to sleep. We were super blessed when we came across a camper trailer set up in front of someone’s house. We looked around for the owners, but they weren’t home. One of our teammates called them asking if we could stay and they said yes! They also mentioned that there’s a hot shower that we could use, it’s really surprising how welcoming and hospitable Kiwis up north really are. That night all six of us: Kem, Domi, Liz, Sophie, Gareth, myself, and Molly, our group dog, fitted ourselves comfortably within this one camper van. We all fell asleep rather quickly from the sound of waves crashing a few meters away from our trailer. Today was a really long day for us, we started at the Waitangi camping grounds and ended up a few kms off trail; for newbies into through hiking, we totalled 31km, we did alright. The next morning, we left a koha (donation) in their mailbox as a thank you for their hospitality.
Awaking to the sound of waves crashing and the warm embrace of the sun set the tone for the day, a good one; a phrase I’ve become very fond of. We make our way back to the trail to begin the Morepork-Onekainga track, a section en route to the Whangarei heads, but not before stopping by the dairy to grab some snacks for breakfast. The track itself was nothing glorious. The track was laden with gorse and other undesirable vegetation, private land, and patches of pine plantations until we reached the Whananaki estuary, the coastal walk was a welcomed change of environment. The foot bridge was an appreciated change of pace, allowing yourself to slow down, taking in the air, the sun, and reflections off the water below. The rest of the day felt like we were walking in a dream, I hadn’t realized that we reached another connecting portion that brought us to the township of Matapouri. We called it quits here for the day. We went to the nearest dairy for a break of fish and chips. I had asked the girl at the counter where we would be able to stay, and she recommended that we stay with a host right across the road. The guy owning the property loves hosting travelers, as he already had a family from Australia and one other T.A hiker aside from us.
In morning we awoke to an overcast and cloudy sky. Checking the forecast, rain was imminent so we quickly had our breakfast and made out way onward. Probably half an hour into the walk, the rain caught up with us as we passed through the Matapouri Bush Track and into the town of Ngunguru. En route my phone had gotten soaked inside my rain jacket without my knowledge, everything in it was gone. All the pictures, the notes, the music I had listened to since I left the states, all gone. Oddly enough I wasn’t too upset about it, the only thing I wished survived were the pictures I took the day before. Speaking metaphorically, a part of me died that day, but I was content with that, it was a shedding of my old self. It was rather early in the day when we decided to wait out the storm. As we entered the town we saw a sign on the side of the road for accommodation geared towards backpackers, Mila’s Caravan and Backpackers. We kept that place in mind as we made our way to the dairy for some solace from the rain (and a pie). Mila’s was a sweet set up as she had a caravan that could sleep four people comfortably, a fully functioning bbq grill, and her large garage served as our drying room. Rain continued throughout the rest of the day but it failed to dampen our spirits to take advantage of the grill to cook our meals. It’s the small luxuries y’know?