Trail prep and a few hangups

Hello, hello! It’s time for an update! It’s now September and that means fall is coming, it also means that I leave for New Zealand (again) in November. Two years ago, while I was living in NZ a few mates and I decided to trek the length of the north island. I’m coming back to complete the south island portion of Te Araroa, as well as incorporating other trails while hiking the main vein; ambitious as it is, I’m keen to do it. Food on my person is probably the concerning factor here, as there are spans of days where you can’t resupply; that also means longer days. We’ll see how we go.

The thing with thru hiking is that we hikers create a significant amount of rubbish. From throwing away old beaten trail clothes and shoes to food packaging, our lifestyle plays into the whole, “throwaway culture” we would like to reduce.  Like most people, I’m concerned about reducing my carbon footprint, yet here we are… I just find it hard to reconcile hiking and creating (what I think is) a heap of rubbish. If someone can help me think through this or even suggest a way to reducing one’s own carbon footprint your input is greatly appreciated!

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cash us ou’side, how bou’ daah.

So remember when Tommo and I went to Yosemite over Memorial Day weekend and made asses of ourselves? It gets better, we went trail running too; but nowhere around other tourists. C’mon, we’re not like those trail runners… /s

That weekend consisted of us cowboying it out in line to get a camp spot at the notorious Camp 4 site. Yeah, camping in line to get a tent spot.. let that sink in. But two free nights, i’ll take it; and probably do it again.
Our first day consisted of a 37.8km (23.5 mi) hike consisting portions of the JMT, Nevada Falls, Illilouette Falls, Glacier Point, and Four Mile trail. Barefoot bouldering, cowboy camping, making trips to the shop, drinking beers and eating burnt baked beans for dinner, a perfect weekend away.


Music by: SBTRKT

Giant Spider Island has been pretty sweet.

Since arriving in Australia in February (wet season) it’s been quite the adventure: from working and living in the Northern Territory for nearly half of of the year, Helpx-ing with Stephen Rose and working with his nursery, to Mullo and giving me my first job in Katherine, staying at a naturist compound in Adelaide River (thank you Rick and Keith!), working at Nitmiluk and working with some of the most incredible Jawoyn people, to going vagabond down the west coast. I’m currently in Broome, our next stop is Perth.

Kerikeri to Ngunguru

    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?

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Over the next few days, there will be stories posted from life on the trail. Sadly to say, I won’t be able to complete the South Island on my current visa, money’s run out and I’ve used up my working holiday for NZ. So the plan now is to work in Oz and make some dinero, come back next season and complete the Southern portion lighter, better gear, smarter, and wiser.

Ahipara to Kerikeri and how I garnered my trail name

We walked from the Ahipara holiday park to the Herekino trailhead eight kilometers outside of town. We hiked the saddle, then made our way to the Old Diggers Road, we continued on until reaching an old forestry road, on which we set up camp. We camped along the track at the abandoned logger huts where Kem and I built our own shelter out of fern fronds, but the rain had penetrated through and through and I ended up sleeping the in broken down hut for the rest of the night. Tomorrow we continue on. I’m sick of rain.

 

start the Herekino!

 

camping in the rain at the old forest huts.

 

Our shelter. Didn’t work as well as i thought

The mud. Just accept the mud. Granted that the Raetea Forest is in the subtropical north, it is inevitable that it will heavily rain and you will become very muddy. This 18km beast throws you some serious leg work, as you’ll be steeply climbing through some of Northland’s highest peaks. Up and down, up and down, roots, vines (which I have nothing but spite for), and of course, more mud. Slipping and falling is difficult to deal with while tramping; you’re tired, you’re hitting your “wall” and you just want to set up camp, it happens. I (frequently) reached my tolerance for the mud and demanding terrain that was Raetea and flipped my lid out of frustration and exhaustion; thus my mates dubbing me as, “Angry Caesar” for my trail name. I enjoyed recalling back and laughing about how terrible a time we all had in that forest, how miserable our feet felt- “WHAT’S THE SAFE WORRRRD!?!!!!”, and how hearing each other’s cries of frustration sadistically reassured us that we weren’t alone through it all. Upon reaching the end of the track and passing through the three ‘oceans’ of mud, you’ll pass through a farm with many barking dogs. Praying that none of those chain leashes don’t break, you’ll come out to Makene Road. It was here where we set up camp after exhausting ourselves climbing out of the Forest, you win this round Raetea.


 

It’s an easy 7km walk to Mangamuka today. After having a late morning start, we made our way to the Mangamuka dairy to resupply. Instead of carrying on, we ended up staying the night in the backyard that the dairy owner, Eliza, had. Tomorrow we travel to the Omahuta trailhead to start the Omahuta Forest Track. It was here where I had run into Cyril Chapman, a veteran of the 1975 Land March protesting the seizure of Maori land. He had appeared at a panel discussion in Wellington celebrating the 40th anniversary of the march. I was residing in Wellington at the time before we started Te Araroa and was invited to have a listen on what the panel had to say.


 

We started the morning with a proper breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon, a proper meal for a 13km road connection. We make our way to the Omahuta start around 5 and set up camp next to the river, a satisfying end to a tiresome day. That night we had found wild onions growing and improvised a soup consisting of the spices we carried with us and milk powder, so good.


 

This morning we made our way to the apple tree campsite from the Mangamuka Dairy, the road enroute consisted pretty much of gravel road. Upon setting up camp, I went out and explored the nearby Kauri sanctuary. In it were plenty of beautiful Kauri trees to stare in awe at their sheer size. Later that evening back at the campsite, I realized how much I appreciate the lengths DOC (Department of Conservation) and local hunters go through to eradicate possums. They may look cute, cuddly, and downright adorable, but these little bastards can destroy native bush growth within a matter of years. They’re also noisy at night, by that I mean they have this odious “snicker,” they scurry around your tent your for food while you sleep and they screech, dear lord the screeching, not something you want to wake up to in the middle of the night.

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Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary

 

Further along in the Omahuta/Puketi forest, we waded through 5 kms of Mangapukahukahu river before we sat up camp alongside the Waipapa river. Lots of river walking today, for once it was a nice change of pace from just walking in the bush the entire time.

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Domi catching some rays on the Waipapa river banks.

 

Today we made it to the Puketi Forest Headquarters. Beat from transitioning from river walk, to bush track, to gravel road, we were glad to reach a campsite that had (cold) running water, as the past few days were some of the hottest we’ve had thus far. Tomorrow we start a 24 km walk into Kerikeri where our mate Tom will be waiting for us. Tom joined our group at Ahipara but left when we reached the dairy at Mangamuka. It was completely understandable why he left after the Northland Forest section; it was a hard intro to the T.A trail. Considering that this would be our first through hike, most of us were carrying way too much stuff and ill prepared.


 

From the Puketi campground we made our way across more farmland (yeah..) until the trail connected with the Kerkeri river track. The T.A. trail itself runs alongside the river and into the township whereupon it brings you to the magnificent Rainbow Falls. I didn’t have the chance to take some photographs as both my phone and camera were out, but I can remember how magnificent those falls looked from up close. Walking the track brought us through city center. Seeing all the food shops had me tempted to buy anything and everything I could fit into the bottomless pit that is my stomach. Thankfully, I found a burger joint that sold mad decent burgers for $3 right at the entrance of city center; I ended up stuffing myself full with $12 worth of chicken burgers (beetroot never tasted so damn good!). The lot of us stayed at the holiday park on the Puketotara stream, swimming and sunbathing were in the works. Our mate Tom had gotten in touch with us and invited to his parent’s place outside of town for a bbq. Aside from not having to pay for much of the food provided, we still brought what we could offer to make the evening heaps better (lots of alcohol). The sight, let alone the taste of a home cooked meal had us all giddy to stuff ourselves silly. What we experienced, what we ate, was typical Kiwi hospitality that you can run into when walking the trail, thus aptly dubbing Tom’s parents, “Trail Angels.”

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The hunger is real.

Updates from the trail

Cape Reinga to Ahipara

 

Hi my name is Caesar, and I like reeaaally long walks on the beach
 

Day 1

We get to twilight camp around 3, hiked ~12k from the light house at the cape. This is going to be challenging. But, we did find green mussels on the beach, so sea food was had for dinner tonight!

 

theres’s a reason why they call it Twilight Camp
 
Day 2

Hard day. Got up late, started late.  ~32k from twilight beach to the bluff campsite (worst campsite ever). Two more days worth of this before we reach hukatere. It’s raining tonight and it’s windy, fucking awesome. :/

Day 3

Hiked around ~26kms before my body (mostly my feet) succumbed to blisters and exhaustion. Had the worst day as the tide caught us many times and soaked our boots through and through. Had to hitch hike the rest of the way to Hukatere with Hodor, we are so fucked today. Tomorrow should be good as we are getting off this damn beach. 

you win this round

Day 4

Hiked all day today completing the final 32kms to Ahipara from Hukatere. About half way through at Waipapakauri, I meet up with Kem and began talking about how good fish and chips are going to be once we get into town-delerium and hunger have set in, two characters I know I’m going to get to know very well on this trip. Thank goodness the next two days are rest days.

PS: Happy Halloween from NZ!