Whangarei to Auckland or “Pies are a sometimes food”
After our all too brief spell in Whangarei, Maxine dropped us at the inauspicious corner of two anonymous roads at which we had left the Te Araroa. It was hotter than the pits of Hades and we had plenty of vertical gain to conquer before the day was out.
The first obstacle was Kauri Mountain, a modest peak which afforded spectacular a 360° vista of the East Coast before a gentle descent toward the beach. Whether due to the prevailing climatic conditions or not, the ocean on this side of the island appeared to have a different character to that of its westerly cousin. Here, the waves were more rhythmic, orderly. Gazing at the ocean was like browsing colour swatches in a British Paints catalogue with the pale bottle green of the shallows, the turquoise of the breakers and the heavy, stoic blue of the endless Pacific beyond. Waves crashed against small rock outcrops upon which seabirds perched, seemingly oblivious to the foaming maelstrom about them.
We continued to trudge along the beach, at the end of which lay our next challenge, a short but very steep peak named Bream Head or Te Whara (For those playing at home, the letters “Wh” are pronounced as an “F” sound, a fact which can prove amusing in towns with names like Whakapapa). The closer we came, the more the mountain seemed to loom over us. The photos don’t do it much justice, but the peak was topped with a rocky plateau bookended by two spires, lending the mountain the appearance of a huge bat or some brooding, cloaked demon. Ominous portents, indeed.
Just before the ascent, we rounded a small bluff behind which hid a perfect cove, the very epitome of summer. Nestled within its confines was a bounty of buxom, golden-skinned sun bunnies wearing nothing but small bikinis and puzzled expressions due to the trio of smelly, unshaven hikers which had inexplicably appeared in their midst. From here it was straight into a hot, steep and egregiously brutal climb up the flanks of the mountain. We passed by the ruins of a WW2 radar station and were treated to yet more views of the vast sweep of coastline, the outlines of rugged islands barely visible on the horizon, lurking in the mist like unanswered questions. It was an impossibly beautiful day. Even the Marsden Point Oil Refinery to our west looked picturesque with its mountainous backdrop and the pale shallows of the Whangarei Harbour lining its frontage.
If the east flank of the mountain was steep, then the west flank was borderline vertical. Thankfully there was a staircase to ease our passage toward Urquhart’s Bay, where we camped after 18 hard won kilometres. Here we met Dave, another friendly local who gave us a boat ride across the harbour the following morning to the point at which the trail resumes on the opposite beach. The walk was broken by such events as a small river crossing for which we borrowed the world’s most diminutive row boat and traversing a section of nudist beach which somewhat resembled an elephant graveyard.
Shortly, we made it to the town of Waipu. Now that we had reached more civilised areas, our walks were frequently punctuated by visits to bakeries. Essentially, the food supplies we’d recently acquired became mere ballast and our diet changed dramatically. Here is a diagram that indicates our consumption:
We stayed at Camp Waipu Cove, a large holiday park in the eponymous township. I want to go on record here and say that Camp Waipu Cove can eat a bag of dicks and I wouldn’t even recommend it to villainous swine like Josef Goebbels or Bono. It was, by a hefty margin, the most over-priced, over-filled, over-policed location we stayed at during our entire trip. Even a shower cost 50 cents, despite the exorbitant entry fee. I’ve already trashed the place on TripAdvisor (and received a snarky rebuttal), so I’ll not delve into the particulars much further. We did, however, receive very warm hospitality from a group of families who were camped beside us and were insanely interested in our escapades and extremely liberal with their booze and food.
The following day saw us on the most stunning piece of trail we’d yet seen, an amazing cliffside walk bordered by steep declines that allowed for uninterrupted views of the green waters and golden sands below. We pushed on to Mangawhai Heads, taking another rest day there. The roads and beaches continued to make short work of our feet. After leaving the township, it was back towards the coast where pods of dolphins were performing aerial acrobatics and sail ships tracked across the horizion, so white and straight that they looked almost like caricatures of themselves, like a child’s drawing. There was a magnificent campsite nestled amongst the dunes near Pakiri, followed by another pair of steep forest trails.
We emerged from the forest to link up with State Highway 1, camping in a noisy rest area where semi-trailers thundered by for the duration of the night. Sometimes it becomes painfully obvious that the Te Araroa is not strictly a wilderness experience. We had breakfast the next morning at a nearby café where the grumpy proprietor made us aware that we’d need to execute a by-pass due to extensive logging occurring along the following area of trail. For a café built next to a popular trail head, old mate seemed surprisingly hostile toward hikers. Passive-Aggressive signs were plastered around the establishment admonishing hikers for their uncouth practices. He and Vince had an interesting exchange at one point:
Vince: Does it get busy here?
Old Mate: It depends on how many people there are.
As much as we’d have loved to stay and further experience the fruits of his wisdom, we left the café to finish the last portion of trail before reaching the outskirts of Auckland. At some point, I’d concocted the cunning plan that we should bus into the CBD from the most northerly point possible, establish a base of operations, and bus back to the appropriate point each day so that we could walk through Auckland sans packs. And so it was that after a particularly lovely section of graded trails shaded by giant umbrella ferns near Puhoi, we arrived at Waiwera and embarked on the city bound bus.
The coming days would see us march through Auckland, marking our final leg for this round on the Te Araroa. With both Adam and Vince’s departure imminent and my boots held together by nothing more than athletic tape and prayer by this point, it was clear that the end was nigh.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.