Day 7 (Mon 16 Nov): Kaitaia to North Raetea Forest campsite
Started 7.30am, lunch at Takahue community hall 11.30am, reached campsite 1.45pm, 21k
Pain in the head status: in the last hour of today’s walk, everything was hurting and I was dreading the onset of a migraine – but it never came. Tired as, and hips still aching, but no headache eventuated.
Word of the day: Bucolic, pertaining to rural or pastoral life
Today was another bout of road-walking. We picked up SH1 out of Kaitaia and walked along it for about 5k until we turned off onto a gravel road towards the Raetea Forest, which has Northland’s highest peaks (not very impressive at around 744m). SH1 was easier to walk on than the road out of Ahipara, with a wider shoulder and something of a verge, so I had leisure to observe the drivers of the many cars whizzing past (rather than concentrating on not sliding into the ditch). Most drivers ignored us, fixated on the road; some looked at us with curiosity, consternation or horror; others smiled and waved in solidarity. I tried to encourage those few who gave us space, where safely possible, with an enthusiastic wave. Only one car full of hoodlums shouted out the car windows at us, whether with derision or in support it was impossible to tell. A couple of cars on the gravel road flew by in clouds of dust, dangerously fast, and we later passed them parked up at houses where there was a lot of yelling. This bucolic serene-seeming landscape may have a dark underbelly.
The lighter side of the bucolic scenery included a herd of extremely vocal cows, who were hooting loudly to each other over the fresh grass in their new field like a gaggle of schoolgirls in a bus; hosts of curious calves; kingfishers peering down at the landscape from the power lines; clouds of honeybees thrumming around the flowers of a stand of hangehange (NZ privet); the ground covered with the white fluff from burst seed pods of an old tree, so that it looked like it had been snowing. Roadside trash that may have had the most interesting story was a grey cushion next to a bright blue car fender. Other trash was mostly detritus from takeaways.
Our campsite for the night was not far from the end of the road leading to Raetea forest, although a paper road persists for a few more kilometers. Apparently, a local farmer made the campsite to stop TA walkers freedom camping (and pooping) by the stream that runs through his property. This would explain the toilet, which consists of a calf feeder, a wide metal tub, covered by a wooden lid, like the top of a well. I’m afraid to use it in case I fall in. Tomorrow I might have to dig out the toilet trowel and find a quiet spot in the bush. But there is a sink with a tap and a hose to wash with so it’s well set up. Another set of TA walkers rolled in around 6pm, but they got dropped off here by car. After suffering the road walk with our enlarging blisters, this seemed lame. They’re planning on doing the section to Kerikeri so we will have company for a few days.
Wildlife highlight: At the campsite, we saw silvereyes feeding on tutu berries, which are highly poisonous, not only to humans and livestock, but have also killed several circus elephants in NZ. The silvereyes suffered no ill effects and came back later for more. They have something we don’t.
Quote of the day: Pain is weakness leaving the body (Mr T). Mr T was clearly not a pain scientist.
Day 8 (Tues 17 Nov): North Raetea Forest campsite to South Raetea Forest campsite (near Mangamuka)
Started 7.25am, reached trig at 10.25am, reached campsite around 4pm, 18.5k
Pain in the head status: Didn’t sleep so well and woke early with a sore fuzzy head, which wasn’t fixed by coffee and nurofen, so I took a triptan an hour or so into the walk, just before we started up the ridge. It worked like magic – nagging headache and seediness lifted within half an hour. Yesterday afternoon’s aches and lethargy could have been a migraine prodrome.
Word of the day: Egregious, outrageously bad
Finally, some NZ bush walking. After an hour or so up the dirt road, we turned to walk into Raetea Forest on a proper tramping track, replete with tree-roots, mud and windfall. I immediately felt at home. This is the tramping I know and love.
Tony’s research into this section of the track had warned of egregious mud, brutal climbs and generally horrendous conditions. It just seemed like a regular track to us. Not as high as the Tararuas, but a solid slog up to the first high point, where there was a trig, then the usual undulations, more undul-up than undul-down, as we conquered the peaks of Northland. The mud was present but not excessive, and mostly avoidable; certainly not encroaching in any significant way beyond the toeshields of my boots. There were patches of quite severe pig damage – note to any hunters, there is pork in these hills. But if you want it, don’t approach via Mangamuka, as the farmers at that end will run you off, as they want the bacon for their own freezers.
It did feel like the first honest non-sun-induced sweat of the trail, and I started to smell like a mixture of wet sheep (from the merino T shirt) and salt and vinegar chips (probably not so tasty to other people). We eventually left the shade of the forest, with its abundance of my favourite NZ flower from the rewarewa tree (NZ honeysuckle), to descend through a farm. We rarked up the dogs by walking past the farmhouse and found our campsite for the night, another offering from a local farmer who wanted to protect the environment from pooping trampers.
It was a full house, with six other campers, plus us. We used our water filter for the first time, not trusting the quality of the stream water with all the cows we’d walked past. The farmer who made the campsite dropped in for a chat. We all made plans to stop at the Mangamuka dairy the next day – their burgers are heralded far and wide by the TA community.
Day 9 (Wed 18 Nov): South Raetea Forest campsite to Apple Dam
Started 7.45am, stopped at Mangamuka dairy 9pm, reached Apple Dam around 1.30pm, 18.5k
Word of the day: Copacetic, very satisfactory
Back to road-walking, but were pleasantly surprised to find that SH1 was closed, so for the walk to the Mangamuka dairy we only had to contend with the local drivers and the school bus. We had a second breakfast at the dairy, like hobbits. If only our feet were like hobbit feet. Tony had a burger and I had a toasted sandwich, both of which were copacetic. We also bought Cookie Time 40% chocolate biscuits to take with us for afternoon tea. With all the extra food, lunch never eventuated.
Entertainment of the day was watching a logging truck having a dented wheel changed; advice of the day was a local woman visiting the dairy who told us about the Maori rongoa she used – kawakawa leaves soaked in hot water for insect bites. Tony has a spider bite on his arm that’s looking inflamed, but we’ve stuck with savlon as there aren’t any trees at the campsite. I might be boiling up some kawakawa for tea when my teabags run out.
We turned off SH1 onto another gravel road to take us up to Omahuka forest and Apple Dam (which has no apples or dam), chased by rainclouds that only gave us a smattering of a shower when they caught us. Lots more calves and cows, including one lone lady cow by the side of the road with a huge udder that gazed intently at us, as if hoping we’d come to milk her. We were happy to see some healthy kauri trees, but with news that the Russell Forest is now closed to through-walkers, speculated how long it would be until this track was also shut off. Lots of mahoe with their pretty little flowers growing out directly from the branches, and young supplejack laden with bright red berries.
Personal highlight: peeling off the dead skin from the top of one of my ears, that got sunburnt on the first day. Long tissue-thin strips. Such a good feeling.