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?

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.

A long overdue update: Christchurch to Wellington

Detailing my travels from Christchurch southbound then northward towards Wellington.

Nugget Point

  I left Christchurch at the end of August and traveled further south. My first destination was to Dunedin, a city known for it’s architecture, hilly geography, and is the home to the University of Otago. Dunedin gets its name from, Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. After spending two nights I left for the Catlins, an incredibly underrated, rural and gorgeous part of New Zealand. I spent an incredible three days down there based in Owaka. I stayed at the Split Level hostel with manager, Jean Pierre, a South African transplant who migrated to New Zealand when he was 27. Jean manages the hostel full time but is also a member of the local fire brigade as a volunteer firefighter.

Wild, untamed Catlins

  There’s so many sights in the Catlins that it’s nearly impossible to write them all down, some popular tourist destinations and some only accessible with local knowledge. The easiest way to see much of the sights in the Catlins is to drive along the Southern Scenic Route. On my way to the hostel, I stopped by Nugget Point on the northern end of the Catlins coast. The point gets its name from the rocky islets known as The Nuggets that surround the lighthouse. From Owaka, I headed to Purakanui Falls, then the Matai/Horseshoe Falls, then to McLean Falls. Of all the falls, McLean had to be my favorite due to the opportunity to climb up the falls (for those with a keen eye, you can climb up the waterfalls to the tree that hangs over the falls themselves, be very careful, don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning).

The Heron Lodge

  From the Catlins, I continued west to Invercargill; I didn’t stay long enough to see anything there unfortunately, then continued to Manapouri, the lakeside town where you can take an overnight cruise in the Doubtful Sound. The cruise itself was an amazing experience, and what made the experience even better was that you can kayak around the sound with a guide. Fortunately for us, it was drizzling that day, so there were waterfalls cascading off the cliff sides everywhere, a gorgeous sight to behold when you’re on the water. While in Manapouri, I stayed at the Freestone Backpacker 10 minutes outside of town. Jimmy the manager built the 5 timber lodges in the style of huts complete with gas stove and iron fireplace. The Heron Lodge (click through for description of the lodging conditions) is the only lodge with dorm bunks for $20. It was here where I met my friend Any, who runs the website, Island lullaby (it is in German). After spending three days in Manapouri and doing a horse trek with him, it was time to move along to Te Anau (only 20 minutes drive away from Manapouri) the lake side town where most travelers base themselves for the Milford Sound Cruise or the famous Milford Track multiday tramp. Continuing on with my travels for the West Coast, it was imperative that I visit Wanaka again to see my friends -which whom I hadn’t seen in five months- and attend a mate’s birthday party.

Beautiful day on the West Coast

  I arrived in Wanaka around midday to perfect, sunny weather, very characteristic of Wanaka and was in the mood for some quality food and drink. So I parked my car at my former work hostel -it was surreal seeing that place again, so many great memories were made there over the summer- and headed over to Relishes Café. It was great seeing them again and even better catching up with everyone at Paul’s birthday. As much as I wanted to stay longer in Wanaka, I needed to continue on for the West Coast. Only spending the day and one night on my friend’s couch, I made my way up highway 6 for the Haast Pass and the West Coast, but not before running into some travelers I stayed with in the Freestone Backpacker. After catching up, we all agreed we’d travel together to Franz Josef and ultimately take a guided tour on the Franz Josef Glacier. The drive through the pass was incredible, as the sights were vast with snow capped mountain ranges, dramatic valleys, rivers and of course, sand flies! Driving, lots and lots of driving, we eventually make it to Franz Josef and stay at a rather large hostel that doubles as a hotel, Chateau Franz: Sir Cedrics Backpackers. With $20 for a bed, free popcorn, dinner, breakfast, AND wi-fi, this was an incredible come up. This backpacker was massive and can host a large amount of travelers, we were lucky enough to arrive to a minimally occupied 9 bed dorm room. This place had many amenities readily available for cooking a decent meal for the four of us so we did take advantage and made a decent pasta dinner which consisted of real, fresh ingredients.

Okarito
Jérémy at Okarito

  Come next day, we head into town for our heli ride onto the glacier. Now, the West Coast is notorious for having constant wet weather because it is a temperate rainforest, but we were lucky enough to be welcomed with two glorious days of unadulterated sunshine, glorious, glorious sunshine; which made our tour of the glacier a real pleasant experience. The next day we went to explore the area of Okarito and walked the coastal track. Unfortunately this day was overcast and cloudy with light rainfall so we couldn’t see the mountain ranges we were advertised, but we enjoyed the track for what it had to offer. After spending a total of four days in Franz Josef, we continued northward towards Greymouth. This time, we experienced what wet weather on the West Coast was like: torrential downpours then light rains, then torrents again. We had planned on visiting the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, but due to the poor weather conditions we decided to head for Nelson; I really regret not making it towards Karamea, because I had heard many great things about the area.

Jacee and I
Jacee and I at Cape Farewell

  Nelson was a nice break from the wet weather. From Franz Josef, we had picked up two more travelers Jérémy, from France and Jacee, from Malaysia. Resting up for a bout two days, I took Jeremy and Jacee to Takaka and Puponga. Playing tour guide, I took them to the places I had been before: Pupu Springs, Cape Farewell, Wharariki Beach, and the Rawhiti Caves. It was great revisiting these beautiful places with fresh, new eyes to experience them. Our first stop, Pupu Springs, the water was the same clean turquoise color as I had remembered it to be. We continued to Cape Farewell. Windy as ever, we took in the sights of emerald rolling hills, dramatic cliff sides, and turquoise ocean water of the Tasman. We then headed over to Wharariki and had lunch in a cave where we watched the waves break upon the massive land formations that stand along the shoreline. From Puponga, we made our way to the cave in Takaka. The hike was a demanding one as much of the track needed maintenance, but due to its remoteness work has yet to be done. Upon arriving at the cave, the sound of our footsteps and the constant drip of water resonated throughout, making the cave not only a visual sight, but an audible experience as well. Making our way back to Nelson, the sun had begun its descent behind the mountains making the drive up Takaka Hill a spectacular yet difficult drive in the dusk. After adventuring through Nelson and the surrounding areas, it was time for Jacee and I to make our way back to the North Island. We hop on to the ferry and sail our way back to Wellington.

A moody Wellington

It was here where we parted our ways as she needed to be in Auckland for work. Following the same route as I took, Any, my friend from Manapouri, arrived in Wellington only a few days after I had arrived. He too continued up to Northland where I plan on heading. It begs to mention that I had been approved for a five month visitor visa so that a few mates and myself can walk the Te Araroa trail, the track that spans the entire length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff; roughly a 3000 kilometer walk. I’m basing myself in Wellington for the time being so I can take care of logistics and plan accordingly what my next step will be. Over the next few months I will have limited or no internet access at all, so this blog will have random updates from life on the trail.

Stay tuned in for our adventures from the Te Araroa; adventure is what you make it, so go out and do it!

Thanks for reading,

Caesar.

Continue reading “A long overdue update: Christchurch to Wellington”

All is Silent.

Christchurch provided to be a place that I’ve drastically underestimated. Upon arriving, I immediately thought, “oh shit, this place is bleak,” and, “this place has nothing going for it”; but talking with locals and digging into Christchurch’s history, I’ve grown to appreciate what this city has and will have to offer. It was here where I’ve managed to work various jobs in construction, landscaping, and even glass manufacturing (the most interesting job I’ve had so far). A friend and I both scored a steady job at Metro Performance Glass, New Zealand’s largest producer of windows for the South Island. The entire time I’ve been working here I realized I’ve attempted to passively work one job while gaining experience for myself, as if my departure from a job wouldn’t affect my coworkers, but as soon as I began working at Metro, that passivity soon began to turn on me.

My role at the factory was a general hand labourer. I was placed in one of the most busiest and physically demanding departments in the factory with my supervisor, whom I worked beside. In the production process, when glass is cut from the stock sheet and beveled, it was one of my responsibilities to unload numerous batches of glass, some of which had over 200 pieces with varying thicknesses and heights, that were to be “toughened” or tempered at the furnace. Weeks into the job, I still had in mind that I’ll be leaving the job soon anyway, so what would the point in befriending my coworkers? Alienating myself from the rest of my coworkers was the worst decision to make. Though my title limited my range of skilled work, my work ethic had drastically expanded my responsibilities. A month into the job, I was managing machine malfunctions and organizing sheets of glass that were to be loaded into the buffering machine, all the while working alongside my supervisor (he’ll be known as, “super” from here on), the one man team became two. Throughout the duration of my employment, I began to get to know and bond with my coworkers, I actually liked working along side them! This is where my internal struggle began. What was I to do, make friends with these guys, work as hard as I can for my coworkers, and then bail on them whenever it was convenient for me, or do I remain here and work as a “general hand?” I struggled with these thoughts, but in the end I ended up choosing the former over a permanent job offer. In a way, I could feel the disappointment from my super because as much as he denied that it wouldn’t matter to him if In left, him having another skilled worker managing our department made it easier on both of us, the disappointment is what really hit close to home. I realize that I’m coming of age where I’d like to find a career that I actually enjoy, I’m searching for my vocation and it wasn’t found at the factory, I needed to push on. The guilt of leaving my coworkers behind is a fucking pain to manage, but if anything, its presence means that I did do my best at what I was assigned to do, and that in itself is gratifying.

It’s the middle of August, my visa expires in October, and I still have much of the south to explore. Majority of July and August have been two intensely introspective months, rife with personal, relational, and career development, all of which I can’t be without. These past two months have placed a strain on my relationships with not only myself, but with everyone around me and the ones back home. In desperation to decompress and mull over everything, I needed to escape from Christchurch for a weekend. I had recently taken a trip to Methven to visit some friends whom I made back in Wanaka during the summer. While there, my friend Kem and his coworker Tom (hodor), both work at the Mt. Hutt ski field, brought up the idea to hike the entirety of the Te Araroa Trail. Without any doubt in my mind, my intuition was saying, YES, YES, YES!!! and I heeded its beckoning.

So now that my plans have shifted slightly away from Australia, I need to restructure and take care of business so that I may stay in New Zealand on a visitor visa this time around. We are planning on beginning the trail in November.

Mt. Sunday
Footbridge to Mt. Sunday (Edoras)