Between the west and the east coasts of Northland lies a belt of subtropical forests. Te Araroa runs over the Ocean to Ocean Trail to get from one coastline to the other. A heavy storm damaged this stretch about 3 months ago, turning these beautiful forest walks into challenging mud-and-dense-bush crossings. And we are not going to lie about it. It was brutal.
First in line is the Herekino forest. As soon as we entered the forest, our pace fell down to 1-2km/h due to the dense vegetation, slippery mud and fallen trees on the track. Luckily, Herekino is beautiful. Even though walking days were up to 11 hours long we did not even nearly feel as battered down as we did after a long day on the beach. We saw our first big Kauri trees and listened to the wonderful concert of all those exotic birds on the forest (some sounds made us wonder what sort of voice boxes those birds have, and really they sound like computers from the 80s breaking down).
The Kauris once covered all of Northland and this must have been an impressive sight. It’s really sad that the European settlers took these giants that can grow thousands of years old down. They are trying to get them back but just as it seemed that the trees were recovering a fungus called Kauri dieback disease struck them and kills them off. All hikers have to wash boots in between trails to avoid carrying it in. Stepping on their roots is another no go.
Out of Herekino and on the way to Raetea we literally almost bumped into a wild pig because we were checking out a unicorn-like white horse on the other side of the road. Both we and the pig had a moment when our hearts skipped a beat when we realised the presence of the other. Luckily the pig just ran off into the bush. Avoid staring at those pretty white horses while tramping in NZ, they’ll trick you.
In the rumours, Raetea forest track has been named on the hardest ones on the entire trail. And waw, even with everything we heard it still went over our imagination. With a lot of height difference and a LOT of mud, Raetea is brutal. One hurdle and one kilometre at a time, we slogged through.
Our crucial mistake on Raetea was to stop at the Raetea summit on a clear day instead of pulling through. A bit of rain was predicted so we figured we’d be fine. As we woke up at 6 however it seemed like the monsoon-season had begun. Two hours later we were soaked and cold and the trail had transformed into a creek. Water reached up to knee-deep and covered pretty much the entire track making for many, many wades before reaching the end. It was so satisfying to make it out of there, can only imagine the feeling we’ll get in Bluff. It’s really nice to have Patrick and Serena with us too.
We had a short day after the Raetea forest to visit the Kauri sanctuary and stay at Apple Dam campsite. To avoid making the same mistake twice we pulled through the Omahuta and Puketi forests in one long day. It took us over 12 hours to make the 30km including a 5km wade through the river and a climb on the ridge. The walk was gorgeous, but at times we were unfortunately too exhausted to really enjoy it. The next day it was another long haul into Kerikeri where we rewarded ourselves with pizza and beer. We saved our resting day for beautiful Paihia.
Temperatures during the nights have been dropping steeply so sending those warm clothes away was well euh… Preliminary. It’s about 5 degrees and very humid, especially in the mornings. Those merino long johns, beanies, liners and gloves were severely missed. We’ll be keeping them with us for the next stretch down to Auckland. Freezing your *ss off in a subtropical forest, who thought?
We feel that our bodies are slowly adjusting to the level of activity. Both of us have lost quite some weight and we are constantly hungry, resulting in munching sprees whenever we pass by a shop or a roadside cafe. Since we haven’t even made it 10% of the road yet we need to keep that weight up. Sugar and fat? Yes please, burgers for breakfast!
And for the rest of the day: shower power, taking care of our angry feet and preparing for the next stretch. And maybe, hopefully, a dolphin or two passing by.