Cape Reinga to Ahipara or “The Treadmill”
“I had witnessed the start; I was sure of that much. But what now?”
– Hunter S Thompson
Hitchhiking to the Cape was as much an adventure as the beginning of the trail itself. In a serendipitous turn of events, a recent acquaintance of mine happened to be on the same flight to Auckland and was also driving north in the days following our arrival. Being the thrifty individuals that we are, Adam and I were grateful for the opportunity to stow away in Ruby’s car for the short (relatively speaking) drive to Northland. So it was that we found ourselves in Dargaville, which from a cursory glance at a map had appeared somewhat close to our intended destination but proved to be a little further out of the way than we had bargained on. Once there, we crafted a sign, thrust our thumbs out and stood in the rain in hope of a lift. It didn’t take too long before a travelling salesman took pity of us and helped us (quote, unquote) “get the fuck out of Dargaville”.
It took a further four lifts, all flavoured by colourful individuals with varying levels of driving ability and risk acceptance to reach Kaitaia, the gateway to the Cape. From there, we took a tourist bus to the northern-most point of our walk, Cape Reinga. According to Maori legend, this location is the last earthly checkpoint for departed souls as they make their way to a higher plane, hallowed ground. For us, it formed a spiritual nexus of sorts also, marking the beginning of our lengthy foot-borne odyssey.
We disembarked the bus at 2:30pm into a tempest of wind and rain, taking shelter in the facilities on the premise to finalise the adjustment of our packs. Shortly, we were standing beside the stout lighthouse, gazing briefly to the point where Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean make their swirling union. After a few photos and very little fanfare, we took our first steps on the Te Araroa Trail. The beginning was somewhat inauspicious, with Adam causing himself a minor mischief in the form of a rolled ankle within 10 meters of the trailhead.
To finally be on the trail was at once invigorating and intimidating. Knowing you are taking the first steps of a 3000km journey is nothing if not unique. The first few hours did not disappoint and we made excellent mileage as we passed the beautiful, rugged headland and proceeded toward a pair of small beaches where the wind tore the surface of the foaming breakers to our right. The weather continued to deteriorate as we continued along the trail, the rain coming in spells and the wind turning the terrain into a vicious sandblaster. We packed it in 12.5 kms down the way once the downpour had truly set in, thankfully having made it to a small hiking camp with shelter and water. This short day put us 8kms behind our intended destination, which had a flow-on effect for the remainder of the section, meaning that we never quite made it to the camps we intended to stay at each night.
The next day, we continued the journey toward 90 Mile Beach, so named because it is about 60 miles long. Despite the misnomer, the size of this stretch of coastline is staggering. Even on reflection, I can’t quite come to terms with the sheer length of the beach. It defies comprehension. If viewed from an aircraft, you may be able to glean some perspective on the length of the thing, but from the ground it is simply impossible.
We knew entering this stretch that the monotony of the landscape would be mentally fatiguing and we weren’t wrong. On the left marches a small berm of dunes, sparsely vegetated and somewhat resembling one of those things you may have had as a kid, a face made out of a stocking that you water and sprouts grow from his head like hair. In front of us was an impossibly wide corridor of sand and to our right the endless blue expanse. This view would remain relatively unchanged for the next 84kms, an incomprehensible distance.
During the day, we marched onward as seagulls dropped shells from a height to divest them of their juicy innards. By night, we camped by a small stream that filtered through the dunes to meet inexorably with the ocean. This routine continued for days, relentlessly. It got me thinking about journeys to the South Pole or across Greenland, my conclusion being that I probably couldn’t cut the mustard on a trek of that ilk.
The flatness of the terrain created consistent pressure on certain areas of the feet, the upshot of which was that Adam got severely blistered toes which dislodged the toenail, despite aggressive taping and padding. Luckily, we are both as stubborn as each other and refused to cut the journey short by hitchhiking as a few others we met on the trail opted to do. Eventually, we made it to the small beach town of Ahipara, an oasis with showers, beds and beer. It was a just reward for what was a remarkably challenging introduction to the TA.
After some rest, recuperation and resupply, we were ready to hit the trail again. From here, we venture into the forest and make our way east toward the Bay of Islands. We’ve completed 1/30th of the trail and are keen for more.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.