Paihia to Whangarei or “The Fast and the Spurious”
Just south of Paihia, hikers need to negotiate the first of Te Araroa’s many water crossings, this time in the form of the Waikari Inlet. Owing to the fact that I’m a terrible swimmer when I have a 20kg pack on my back and that a private charter boat was both expensive and time consuming, we opted for the Opua Ferry which saved us somewhere in the range of $97. After embarking for the short journey across the harbour, Vince roamed from car to car in search of a lift, the first of three that would take us to the obscure settlement of Waikari on the fringe of the inlet’s tidal flats. Once again, our luck prevailed and we were waiting no longer than 30 seconds for each of these lifts, the last of which saw Adam towed behind us in a boat. This brought us back to the official trail, from which it wound through a rural village before delving into Russell Forest.
Apart from a short section in which the trail navigates the shoals and shallow pools of a pristine creek, the forest was fairly unspectacular. The original configuration of the trail had seen it traverse a much greater portion of the forest, however this has since been closed in order to protect the magnificent Kauri trees from disease and, it is hoped, from eventual destruction. We spent the night at a small, spartan shelter in the middle of the forest, fairly pleased with our total of 26 kms in spite of the unavoidable sacrifice of time that our circuitous route back to the trail had involved. It was a peaceful evening spent listening to some old school tunes, a huge contrast to the frenetic energy of the town we’d left behind.
The following days would see a stark transition, both in the nature of the trail itself and in my perception and philosophy toward the trip as a whole. At this point, the Te Araroa begins to consist of greater portions of road walking. There are two notable results from this change. Firstly, you begin to increase the average distance of a day’s travel. Road walking is quick (usually about 5kms or more an hour) but comes at the expense of your feet. The high impact of repetitive foot strikes on the hard packed surface equates to throbbing pain in foot arches by day’s end. Additionally, at this point the Te Araroa appears to become a little self-conscious. In an attempt to balance the monotony of the road sections, the trail leads you into some specious detours through tracts of pseudo-wilderness. There were highlights however, including an impressive hill climb with spectacular views of the surrounding coastline and some lovely farm country with some disturbingly curious cows. On the flip side, the trail also marched us through a tidal estuary where we wallowed through 2.5kms of hot mud and mangrove roots. It is easily the most ridiculous section of the trail to date, one which I could easily have gone to the grave without seeing and be entirely cool with it.
At this point, I became somewhat fixated on covering distance. With Adam’s departure already looming large in our team consciousness, I began to predict (with an amount of inaccuracy, I might add) our eventual progress. In response to this, I wanted to push harder and longer each day in order to cover as much ground as possible, an outcome which seemed entirely plausible now that we’d left some of the more difficult terrain behind us. It turned out to be an unsustainable attitude in light of the laid-back style we’d unofficially adopted for the trip, a fact which became apparent in a sparkling moment of clarity one afternoon. We’d just crossed an interesting footbridge spanning an estuary and rounded a bluff to come face to face with a magnificent stretch of golden sands and turquoise waters. Vince announced his intention to go for a swim, to which I replied that he should make it snappy, as I wanted to cover distance before the end of the day. Immediately after making the statement, I felt like the King of the Douchebag Empire. The whole point of this trip is to enjoy it, something that becomes impossible if you’re moving too fast in response to arbitrary goals of distance. I resolved then and there to dispose of the idea of making distance and meeting goals of progression, and instead to focus on the journey itself. If you can’t spend time taking in the sights and experiences that the trail has to offer, an epic journey such as this ceases to have a point. I laughed as Vince stripped each article of clothing except his T-shirt and plunged bare-arsed into the surf (Dutch people are odd… don’t let anyone tell you differently) and later apologised for being a prick.
The following days saw us approach trail life at a slightly more leisurely pace. There were further brushes with magnificence (a smattering of jagged, mysterious islands lining the coast and some enchanted meadows in which we camped) and with pointlessness (a pine forestry which had been completely leveled of vegetation, more of a glimpse of the apocalypse than of nature). Overall, however, it was relatively pleasant and fairly smooth sailing. We passed through the villages of Matapouri, Ngunguru and Pataua, towns experiencing the zenith of their annual population due to the holiday season. Eventually, we came within striking distance of the city of Whangarei, opting for a small diversion there in order to resupply our dwindling food stocks and rest our feet. We were blessed to make contact with Maxine and Ian Hillier, friends of my family who are living abroad currently but happened to be in their hometown of Whangarei for a short time. They were exemplary of the incredible welcome we’d been shown at all times by Northland locals, allowing us to stay in the flat under their house and providing us with food, beer and lifts into town. This was all despite the fact that they had an incredibly hectic schedule during their short stay and we were very grateful for their time and hospitality. It was a blissful sojourn on the flanks of the Whangarei Harbour, and there was a certain synchronicity to the event given that my mother had stayed in the same spot some 20 or 30 years earlier when she’d travelled the country.
After a pair of epic sunsets over the water and the unrestrained consumption of corn chips, we decided to hit the trail again. Adam’s departure was steadily approaching, as was our eventual destination of Auckland. Finally, glimpses at the map were beginning to feel less depressing. There was, however, much work to be done.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.