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.
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.
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.
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.”