In the past four days we hiked from Cape Reinga to Ahipara and covered 102,5 kilometres on the Te Araroa Trail.
Total TA kilometres: 102,5
Philippe: The first step on the Te Araroa Trail
Nadine: Arrival at Cape Reinga
Philippe: Blisters and an inflamed tendon
Nadine: The feeling when a blister burst in my shoes
Please note: The stated kilometres are approximate. The hiking times are pure walking times, without breaks. On average we take 1,5 – 2 hours breaks during the day. The smiley’s describe our mental, the muscle arm our physical state. 10/10 is the best.
You find our actual pictures from the trail on Instagram.
Day 1: Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach Camp
12,16 kilometres, 3h30min
Before we could do our first step on the Te Araroa we faced a bigger challenge: hitchhiking from Auckland to Cape Reinga. On the one hand we wanted to save the money for the busand on the other hand we wanted to directly dive into the Kiwi culture. And we were successful. After six rides, (4 x Kiwi, 1 x Southafrica, 1 x France) we had only 70km to go until Cape Reinga. We spent the night with a lovely family of seven. We couldn’t have wished for a better start. It’s been a long time since we spoke that much and about so many things. Southafrican politics, economics in New Zealand and thousands of other topics. For the first time in my life I shot with a hunting rifle (260m, got the target) and we feasted on self caught fish – so much about vegetarism. But if we’re guests or the hunt didn’t take place in the supermarket we don’t say no.
The next day we stuck out our thumbs for the last time. Three rides (2 x Kiwi, 1 x Netherlands) later – it was a wonder with this sparse morning traffic – we reached Cape Reinga before noon.
It felt surreal standing at the same spot like 6,5 years ago. So much has changed. I didn’t feel very excited or anxious – maybe because we’ve been travelling for 1,5 years now – but the thought of the 3000km in front of us and all the experiences we’re going to have was mind blowing. Did we ask ourselves questions like “Are we going to make it?” or “Do we like hiking really that much?” Yes, sure. But were there any doubts? No, not really. I’d rather go with my mottos “Everything is gonna be alright” and “step by step”. And if we won’t make the whole trail? Who cares anyway. We’re going to make the best of the 3000km ahead of us.
Ah, yes. We did some hiking too. Just 12km, but we were very happy about that. The additional 2 litres of water and too much food weighted heavily on our shoulders. The short day was spectacular thanks to the amazing coast line which enhanced our mood and moral. Despite the sand – did I mention that I gate sand – in the shoes, socks, shorts, in the eyes and between fingers, toes and the butt.
Our Te Araroa adventure mentally began when we left Hobart (Tasmania, Australia). As we drove further away from the city I told Philippe that this will surely not have been our last time in Hobart. And our stay in Tasmania became longer unexpectedly, as our departure to Melbourne was delayed by two hours (a crew member had had health issues and they had to fly in a replacement from the mainland). We still managed to catch our connecting flight in Melbourne, though. On the plane we ate our last home baked cookies, as we feared they might not get through the strict New Zealand biosecurity control.
I got my first glimpse of New Zealand by spotting Mt. Taranaki, whose peak pierced through the clouds. Soon afterwards I saw Mt. Ruapehu in the distance as well. After arriving in Auckland we directly drove to our hostel in the centre.
Two nights and a busy day later (buying food, gas, NZ-sim, storing excess luggage) we were on our way North. It took us one short bus ride out of town, a total of nine hitches, one night at a hospitable Kiwi family and, more than 400km to finally reach Cape Reinga. New Zealands northernmost point and the beginning of our Te Araroa hike.
Vivid memories of our last visit (6,5 years ago) came back and I felt extremely happy to be back in New Zealand. But frankly, I also felt a bit overwhelmed and daunted by the thought of having to walk 3000km, an inconceivably long distance. I told myself what I’m probably going to tell myself a couple of times throughout the next 4-5 months: “One step at at time.”
And off we went. The sun burnt on our necks, the wind blew breezes of fresh sea air in our faces and we were on our way.
Our first hiking day was rather short, but we were thankful for the gentle start. Our backpacks were quite heavy due to our food for six days and 3,5 litres of water. The last weeks were dry up here and natural water sources are scarce on our first 100km. So we will carry lots of water the coming days too. It’s all training. 😉
Day 2: Twilight Beach Camp to The Bluff
28 kilometres, 6h20min
Today we experienced the first rain, underestimated the tides and were invited for tea by the king of 90 Mile Beach himself.
The rain had already started in the night and kept me awake from 3am. The day started promising. We wanted to start early to profit from the lowish tide but only got out at 8am. The last kms before the 90 Mile Beach led us over a hilly coastline before we climbed down to the beach, where we would hike the next 80km. The rain stopped too and it seemed that it would turn out to be a nice day. We walked past dead animals (10 puffer fishes + 3 sea gulls), always an eye on the approaching waves. We only had to make a few detours into the dunes.
But full concentration doesn’t last infinitely and suddenly the waves caught us on a 300m long stretch, where seconds before there was no water. Our reflexes were good enough so that we started to climb some steep dunes. But the flood was not impressed, reached our knees and threatened us to tear us into the sea. For one moment I saw Nadine falling backwards into the water. It didn’t happen but it wasn’t over either. The only solution was a sprint. The water was faster again. This time it filled our shoes with sand and reached sensitive body parts. We survived but went on with bare feet. At a small creek we had lunch and washed our socks and shoes, so that we could walk faster again.
“Do you want coffee or a cup of tea?”, asked a Maori man with a huge fishing rod suddenly. A little bit later we sat on the terrace of his small house and talked about the 90 Mile Beach, his ambergis discoveries and his three dogs and two donkeys. He taught us to pronounce Te Araroa correctly (with a rolling R) and showed us how to apply Aloe Vera flesh on sunburns. This short visit not far away from the beach was unexpected again but exactly what we wished for. Pure Kiwi culture! Btw, today we had to ford four creeks and I slowly start to believe that you can count the days you will have dry feet on the Te Araroa on both hands.
I woke up a couple of times during the night and heard our tent being hit by the rain and shaken by the wind. At the break of day when our alarm went off it was still raining. I snuggled into the cozy, warm (and dry) sleeping bag once more and mentally prepared myself for a rainy day.
Luckily, the rain only lasted one more hour and we were soon exposed to the relentless New Zealand sun again. The next five hours we would walk along 90 Mile Beach and were pushed into the dunes by the extremely high tide. Our feet didn’t stay dry for long too, as there were a couple of creeks to cross. When we, after having lunch, were drying our shoes and socks and were waiting for the high tide to retreat, a Maori with three dogs and a fishing rod approached us. He greeted us and unceremoniously asked if we’d like to have some coffee or tea. We accepted his invitation – we wanted to wait anyway – and packed our stuff to follow him. We followed a rugged looking Maori in torn clothes somewhere along a beach into the dunes where we expected a tent. I quickly asked myself if we were walking straight into a trap – you never know. But my gut instinct wasn’t alarmed, and was right.
Instead of a tent, a neat house in a clearing awaited us. “Coffee, tea or hot chocolate?”, asked Peter. He entertained us with stories about his find of ambergris (a small fortune), his two donkeys (which he owns instead of a car), and his tours up and down the beach: the king of the 90 Mile Beach.
This encounter compensated the otherwise dull day. More than 20km just on the beach, no wonder we were getting bored. My remedies were podcasts, which even successfully diverted my thoughts from my hurting feet. 28km untrained and heavily packed let the soles of my feet burn and the muscles on my shoulders harden.
Day 3: The Bluff to Hukatere
30,1 kilometres, 6h25min
On the Te Araroa it doesn’t get boring in the night too. It was so windy that I couldn’t sleep again and the tent almost collapsed in the middle of the night. One tent peg was pulled out. Suddenly, the tent wall stuck in my face.
The wind continued during the day too, blew sand in our eyes and slowed our walking pace. The wind pushed the tide higher as usual and finally forced us into the dunes. It’s not fun to walk in the dunes. The sand is crumbly and the wind (incl. sand) blows directly in your face. Eventually, we gave up and laid down behind a dune, wrapped us in the ground sheet and took a nap. Meanwhile, a thin layer of sand covered our gear and backpacks and stuck to it. After that we tortured ourselves through the endless kilometres on the same beach. The monotony of the same scenery and the four blisters were a torment. Supposedly, the sand and water were the reasons for the blisters. With every step they swelled up and promised a very unpleasant moment in the evening. We overtook the injured hikers from the other Te Araroa group. And they had even more severe blisters. Btw, 9 Te Araroa hikers started on the 28th October. Is that possibly a daily record?
We reached Hukatere with sore feet. But there was a hot shower. A shower has never felt that good. I could feel the sand flushing down the sink.
I felt like a hadn’t closed an eye during the night. A storm raged across our exposed camp and threatened to tear our tent apart. Luckily, our tent withstood the nature force. We only needed to restake one corner in the middle of the night.
The wind kept going throughout the day. Headwind. During six hours salty air and sand blew into our faces and stuck in every crack and on every surface of my body and backpack. Mentally, today was a tough day. Not just the wind, also the high tide put us to the test. We were forced against steep sand walls closer and closer, until we decided to take a long lunch break in the dunes. We took a nap, took care of our sore feet and waited for the tide to change. A welcome reward was the warm shower that was waiting for us at the end.
Day 4: Hukatere to Ahipara
32,3 kilometres, 6h30min
Blisters, nothing but blisters on the feet. The 90 Mile Beach challenges even very experienced hikers with blisters. We both had lots of them too. Three days ago – probably because of the sea water accident – I had caught the first blister and today I gained a few more. The toe socks weren’t of help at all. Probably, it was because of the combo water and sand. Or I hope so, at least.
Tomorrow we have a zero day to let the blisters and tendons heal, to resupply, and to watch the rugby final. After that the tough Herekino forest awaits us, where I don’t want any new blisters at all. Anyway, after 102,5km we finally made it. The 90 Mile Beach was behind us. Yehaaa! I have enough of sand and water for a while. Long beach walks are nice, but then please without a heavy backpack. Go All Blacks.
Sun, sand, water, wind. My feet were sore from the beginning and I was only able to forget them when we had to flee an approaching wave or when my music successfully distracted me. The beach seemed endless. We saw Ahipara from a long distance, but it just didn’t come closer. When I finally felt tarmac beneath my feet I was truly relieved. We walked the first 100km of the Te Araroa and mastered the 90 Mile Beach (reportedly one of of the toughest parts of the Te Araroa).
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