Day 10 (Thurs 19 Nov): Apple Dam to Puketi
Started 7.30am, finished 4pm, 25k
Word of the day: Imprecation, spoken curse
Water, flowers and trees summed up the day. We started out from the campsite on a dirt road strewn with white manuka flower petals, descending to Mangapukahukahu Stream, which sounds a mouthful but was an extremely pretty waterway that we walked down to its confluence with the larger Waipapa River. We wore our sandals to walk the stream, which resulted in some imprecations as the finer gravel kept getting stuck under our feet, but the cold water must have done our hammered feet some good. We spotted northern rata spiky flowers in the stream, and pink puriri flowers, and striped red and yellow tubular gloxinia along the banks.
The track then took us alongside the Waipapa River, one of those tracks that looks like it sidles gently beside the water on the topo map but in reality takes you up and down like a brutal yoyo. It then climbed up a ridge into another forest, Puketi Forest, which was a gorgeous mix of almost pure kauri stands, interspersed with mixed temperate forest, looking more tropical than temperate, with nikau palms, huge tree ferns, and trees with large, glossy, flappy leaves, like pate, kohekohe, taraire, and kanono. Any part of the track that traversed the kauri groves was benched, gravelled and stepped – to protect the kauri from trampers of course, but it also had the most welcome benefit of making the walk easier for us. Some of these kauri were big enough to have been standing here for hundreds of years – it was sobering to think that the kauri dieback may spell their demise. I was fascinated by how the kauri bark sloughs off in rounded patches, leaving smooth peach and grey-coloured dents on the trunk. Given my penchant for peeling off dead skin, it was an effort to restrain myself from giving a helping hand to the bits of bark that were hanging partway off the trunks, like scabs ready to be picked.
After the beauty of the forest, it was a downer to be back on a gravel road for the rest of the way to the campsite, and more imprecations were uttered by the other trampers who were walking alongside us, at the new stretches of gravel that consisted of large bits of rock perfect for rolling ankles and digging into sore soles. But after we set up the tent and had dinner, we went on a nature walk around another beautiful piece of bush (it is strange how often going for a walk is one’s after-dinner entertainment while tramping). It was certainly easier to identify the trees when they were labelled – if only they all came with an explanatory panel, my botanising would be exemplary.
Wildlife encounters: Most memorable were the corpses of possums, hanging from their necks in possum traps nailed at regular intervals to the trees, swinging like outlaws to serve as a warning to their fellow miscreants. Sadly, in some cases, it appeared that the corpses were acting as a lure rather than a lesson, with the bodies stripped out to leave nothing much but the furry hide and a feather-boa tail.
Day 11 (Fri 20 Nov): Puketi campsite to Kerikeri
Started 8.10am, ended around 3.30pm, 26k.
Pain in the head status: A bit seedy in the morning after a restless sleep, but put right with the morning cure of nurofen, caffeine and porridge.
Word of the day: Halcyon, calm, peaceful, happy
Slightly delayed start this morning due to a tent pole malfunction which required the surgical excision of a piece of pole string. The first part of the track headed off through farmland, dodging cowpats and thistles. It was not very well marked and without my trusty Navigator (Tony and his phone, with the Te Ararora and Guthook apps to guide our way), I might still be wandering around the rushes looking for a way out.
After plodding along another gravel road, we had a nasty bit of highway walking along an intensely busy SH10, culminating in a potentially pants-wetting frantic dash across a bridge to reach the Kerikeri riverside track. This was an idyllic, halcyon ramble, starting in fields with the smell of cut grass, edging along the river lined with huge totara trees, and passing the photogenic Rainbow Falls. It was a shock to come into Kerikeri, just as schools let out, to confront the heaving masses of commuters, consumers and school children. We hadn’t realised that the Kerikeri Half Marathon was on the next day, so the Kerikeri Holiday Park was choking with hopeful runners, and also a large group of seasonal workers from Vanuatu, who had been stranded here due to COVID-19. We got in long hot showers before they arrived back from work, blessing the owner for giving us proper towels to use. The microfibre Kathmandu camping towels primarily convert the water on your skin from droplets to a finely distributed dampness. What luxury a large cotton towel is. Also delighted in a vegetarian burger for dinner – the patty was deep-fried crumbed cauliflower, all soft and sweet inside and crispy and spicy on the outside. With a side of waffle fries, which must be the new wanky crinkle cut.
Wildlife we startled: half a dozen fat black piglets while walking through the farm paddocks; a pheasant on the side of the road; pukekos at Kerikeri campsite. By the end of this trip, I anticipate we would have viewed a large proportion of NZ’s cows.
Day 12 (Sat 21 Nov): Kerikeri to Paihia
Started 7.50am, ended around 4.30pm, 28k
Pain in the head status: Had my first hypnic headache of the trip, a strange nocturnal beast that wakes me up with a thumping pain around 2-3am. Preventive treatment is downing a strong cup of coffee before bed, but since that would usually mean a night-time visit to the bushes to pee, I hadn’t been taking this. After I got over the confusion of being woken so abruptly and unpleasantly, I found the caffeine tablets I’d brought for just this eventuality. This was very effective, but I did lie awake for a while longer, contemplating the mysteries of life, until I drifted off to dream about strange train travels. Maybe my mind was trying to tell me something – but there aren’t any trains left in Northland. Woken at 5am by the tent neighbours fuelling up for their half marathon efforts.
Word of the day: Fractious, irritable or peevish
It was a fine suburban walk on a footpath (!) out of Kerikeri, with its abundance of cafes, smart shops and expanding subdivisions contrasting sharply with poor cousin Kaitaia. This meant that by the time we turned off onto a quiet forestry road through Waitangi Forest, my post breakfast coffee pee had become a matter of urgency and the discrete cover of the pine plantation was most necessary. The walk was softened by the pine needles underfoot and we climbed slowly through the forest to reach Mt Bledisloe, named after the afore-named Lord and Lady, which afforded an extensive view to the coast and across the Bay of Islands. Fortunately, being the weekend, there were no logging trucks, and until we started the descent to Waitangi on a public road, only a couple of vehicles.
After mocking Waitangi golf course users for their electric golf carts, we walked from Waitangi to Paihia along the coast and found a shady spot beneath a pohutakawa to eat icecreams from the dairy. The east coast beaches are as different to the west coast ones as their towns are: all golden-caramel coloured sand, calm flat seas and gentle lapping waves.
We had 3 more kilometers to get from Paihia township to our accommodation at the top 10 Holiday Park (where we had sent a food box), which was a beautiful walk along the beach and rocky coastline. When we reached the site, we were told that we couldn’t have a hot shower until 6pm because a film crew were filming outside the ablutions block and had objected to the noise of the bathroom fans. To add insult to injury, as we were unpacking on our tent site, the film director approached to ask if we could put off setting up camp, as we were spoiling their shot. I was already fractious from the thought of having to delay my shower, being stinky and sweaty and tired, with sore feet, and was on the point of telling him where he could jump, but Tony was exceptionally gracious and so we obliged. I made up for it by having an extended shower once the hot water was back on.
Behavioural observation: I can’t see any sign that tourism is suffering at the moment. The holiday park is packed. Paihia was full of people – swimming, shopping, eating and drinking. Pandemic and political troubles seem far away in this little slice of paradise.