Sunday, December 21, 2014

Day 25 (Zero Day) and Northland Stats

Today (Sunday), we took a planned zero day in Auckland. Besides our regular town chores (blog, laundry, resupply, phone calls), we also treated ourselves to American football and American pizza!

Since today is Sunday in NZ and Saturday in US and the American football schedule has Saturday night football, we lucked out. So we tracked down a place that was showing the games. And it just happened to be Sal's Authentic New York Pizza!! Thus we enjoyed our $30 (!!!!) pie with football to boot.

Sometime this past week, we completed the "Northland" section of the trail. Of course I have some Northland stats for you!

500K / 300 Miles
Rough Breakdown of Ks/Ms
178K/106.3M of road walking
139K/83.4M of beach walking
120K/72M of forest (jungle) walking
30K/18M of farm walking
14K/8.4M of river/estuary "walking"
13K/7.8M of boat rides
6K/3.6M of gravel path walking
21 days
1 (semi-forced) zero day
16 nights in a tent
5 nights in a bed
7 showers
6 falls for P (this means I was on my butt)
1 lost toenail (P)
7 holes dug for "business" for J
7 holes dug for "business" for P
3 servings of fish and chips
1 meat pie
5 hitches
Favorite Section: toss up between Mangawhai Cliffs and city park through KeriKeri
Least Favorite Section: the unmarked sections that make us scratch our heads ... Oh wait, that's been almost everyday. Okay, if we have to pick - Raetea Forest
Best Breakfast: Top of the Dome Cafe after the Dome Forest
Best Lunch: Vinny D's Fish & Chips in Pahia
Best Dinner: The Pizza Barn in Waipu

Just in case we can't check in before the holidays, Merry Christmas to all AND Happy Boxing Day!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Days 19-24: 193K From Waipu to Auckland

Hello from the Brown Kiwi Hostel in Auckland! It feels like it was just yesterday when we flew here to start the journey. And now, we have walked a total of 593 kilometers, or 356 miles, to get here again! About 20% done!

As usual, it has been an eventful 5 days. 

When we last wrote, we were taking a zero day in Waipu because of the epic, atypical rainy weather NZ was having. Well, it continued. The major themes for this week were weather, terrain, timing, private property, NZ hospitality, and sandflies.

1) Weather
During the past 10 days, we have seen a single day of sunshine. That's ONE day. Out of TEN days. (Actually, today on our zero day, it is sunny of course). It wasn't always raining, but often enough for it to be annoying and for us and our shoes to never dry out. We pretty much wore our rain gear the whole week. Kiwis say this amount and for this many days is unusual. Good for farming, bad for hiking. 
Our one day of sunshine 

Besides the rain, the wind has been pretty insane as well. We sustained winds between 30-50MPH, with gusts up to 75MPH! When we were heading up to some cliffs, we asked a farmer if it would be safe. He cheerfully said, "the wind is blowing from the west, so you'll be blown into the cliffs instead of off the cliffs!" Definitely reassuring. We posted a wind video on our YouTube channel that helps you visualize.

2) Terrain
With the wet weather comes mud and deep river crossings. My "fall" count is up by 4 thanks to the slippery, steep and muddy trails.

This was described as a rock-hopping "stream" in our trail notes.

Thankfully, we were in a section with only about 20K (12 miles) in the forest (Omaha & Dome forests), so the mud was short-lived, but it still made an impact.

The rest of our walking was on roads (about 100K/60M), beach (25K/15M), farmlands (10K/6M) and maintained trail paths (35K/21M).

The road walking was not so bad this time around. Maybe because it was again through a lot of coastal communities with drop-dead gorgeous houses to marvel at (we've already picked out several to buy). Our only gripe about the road walking is that as we got closer to the city, the shoulders got smaller, the traffic more and the cars gave less room as they were passing us. So some of our road walking was downright dangerous. We have polled the kiwis about which side of the road to walk on and it seems the consensus is to walk against the traffic. Fun fact, telephone poles in NZ are concrete.

Not as many, but still some unique mailboxes!

The beach walking was again not my favorite. But it wasn't my feet complaining this time. The days we were on the beach were days of intense wind. Walking into the wind and getting pelted by sand is not fun. The only cool part about this beach walk was seeing all the fairy terns, an endangered NZ native bird (couldn't get a good picture because they pretty much blend with the sand!)

The maintained trail paths we encountered in this section were very welcomed. Sometimes they were paved, sometimes gravel and lots of nicely laid steps! You could tell we were getting closer civilization and Auckland as lots of these paths were given lots of TLC.

3) Timing
Our biggest problem this week was with timing. The worst thing you can do while long-distance hiking is have a plan. But, this section required some planning because of the tides. We often found ourselves rushing through sections or not taking snack breaks to make the low tide. And we got it wrong almost every time. 

On Monday when we left Waipu in the wind and rain, we knew we had a 1.5-mile section of beach walking that could only be safely done at low tide. I looked up the tide times and thought I read low tide to be at 2:48pm. At 1pm, we stopped for lunch about 3 miles before the beach section. Our Canadian hiker friend Marilyne texted us and said she made it through the beach safely, but told us to be careful at one of the spots. Then added, "hurry, high tide is coming!" Guess who mixed up the tide times??? We practically ran the next 3 miles to get to the beach and it ended up being a really pretty section:(
Mangawhai Cliffs--that we would have liked to spend more time going through

So we got to the beach, assessed that it was still safe to traverse and went forth. My heart was pounding the whole time, but we did fine. At the end, a lady came up to us and said she was watching, was very worried for us and glad we made it to the other side safe and sound.

A little nerve-wracking traversing rocks with the waves coming at you

After Marilyne gave us a lesson in tides, we prepped for the next day, which included about 9 miles on the beach with 3 stream crossings. We gave ourselves enough time, but noticed each stream crossing got deeper. The last one was waist deep! Our Italian friend Matteo reached it 2 hours after us and it was impassable.

This was the first of three stream crossings on the beach.

Our last tide-dependent situation came with the Okura Estuary. We tried to time the tide adequately, especially because the trail notes said to cross it within 30 minutes of low tide. Well, we got to the crossing about 1.5 hours after low tide. We crossed some of it, but when we came to the largest part and suspected deepest part (trail notes said hip-deep at low tide), we opted for the road walk alternative. We didn't want a repeat of our last failed attempt at an estuary crossing.

This was the easy part of the estuary crossing

I am happy that we'll be off the coast in our next section and won't have to pay attention to the tides!

There was also a short section closed for logging Mon-Fri from 7am-4pm. We went around instead since we couldn't time it right. Just another timing headache!

4) Private Property 
As we starting nearing Auckland, we started crossing more and more private property. For any long-distance trail, it is an incredible feat to come to property agreements and allow public access. Being it is still a newer trail, the Te Araroa Trust (organization in charge of the trail) has and will still have a big task at hand. For example, there was a disgruntled property owner in this past section out of Waipu (Brynderwyn). Other hikers reported razor wire, covered trail signs and barking dogs. J & I opted to do the road walk alternative, but our friends crossed with no problems. It seems to be resolved now. Another example was a section of farmland where the markers led to the tallest and steepest part of the farm. This person was clearly saying, "sure you can walk on my land, but not without trial and tribulation!" You can definitely tell which owners are more willing than others. We've talked to a few of them along the way and it's very interesting to hear their take. I wonder how things will progress as the trail grows in popularity year after year.

5) NZ Hospitality
We've continued to rely on the goodness of the Kiwis to survive this trail. Because we are crossing so much private property and also trying to time the tides right, it is harder and harder to find good camp spots. On the AT, there was so much information in the guidebook about where to camp, whether at established or stealth sites, and it was almost always free. For this trail, there is very little information and it has been wrong from time to time. Like the time we hiked 15 miles to a camp spot listed on our map to find out it was no longer there and we had to tack on another 10 miles to the day to make camp. Also, camping is hardly ever free. The other night, we paid $42 to camp. To camp!!! There wasn't even a picnic table! And often you have to pay extra for a shower! Bloody ridiculous! 

With that being said, we often rely on locals and their lawns or extra beds. It still costs money (koha or donation), but it is often the nicer option because we get to engage with kiwis and learn more about the culture. It is exactly what we wanted. For example, we were trying to make it to Dome Cafe before it closed at 5pm and we got there at 5:02. But, they said they were expecting us (Marilyne told them we were coming) and stayed open. Then the owner also let us camp on his property and drove us the next morning around the closed for logging section! People here are generally so nice (although we are getting more and more strange looks in the Auckland region). When we were walking through Mangawhai Heads, we were stopped 5 times by people wanting to talk about the hike! One guy (Paul) even invited us to his house for beer (and tea for me)!

Paul even let us invite our friends over too

Even the cats in NZ are friendly! We slept at this guy Alan's house in Mangawhai and he let us sleep inside because it was raining.

We also met this lady jogging on the street and 15 minutes later when we reached her house, she was standing outside with 2 pieces of "Christmas cake" for us! 

No matter that neither of us like fruitcake, but we will eat anything when we're hungry!

6) Sandflies
I heard so much about these little buggers before we got here and I can assure you they are just as terrible as any biting insect we have in the US!

So, I think that about sums up our last 5 days. Despite the weather, we really enjoyed this section. We are leaving the eastern coast and heading inland, so we will miss the ocean views and homes.

Along the coast near Auckland, there are all these hidden bunkers and artillery in the cliffs ... Such cool history

We are adding to our "homeless" image

Thanks to the rain, the pohutukawa trees (NZ Christmas trees) are really blooming well this year and we have loved seeing so many of them (especially now that J got some good allergy meds)

First amphibian we've seen in NZ

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Day 18: ZERO Day

So, we are on an unplanned zero day. No one is hurt or sick. But remember that wet weather I mentioned? Last night, it got epic. Heavy downpours and gale winds. If you google New Zealand news, the wet weather is a top headline. Didn't seem like a good day to hike, as the weather was expected to continue through the whole day.

We remained at the Waipu Wanderers Hostel and so grateful to Steve and Elaine for allowing us to hunker down. We joined them for Sunday Anglican services (which was very similar to the Catholic services we know), then did a "work for stay." We cleaned the hostel just like we would have done at Bears Den or RimRock.

Now we are about to watch an 80s movie and snuggle on the couch with some hot tea (FYI, we are becoming quite the tea drinkers here)!

Days 10-17: 200K From KeriKeri To Waipu

Hello from Waipu (pronounced Why-poo, seriously), where we are staying at the Waipu Wanderers Hostel and had dinner (and NZ beer for J) at the Waipu Pizza Barn (so good!)!

We have traveled another 200K, or 120 miles, putting us at 420K of the total trek. Or 252 miles. 

Before I get into all the gritty details, I have a few PSAs. First of all, thank you for all the blog comments, Facebook messages and e-mails. We love hearing from all of you, especially being so far away and beaten by the trail! Keep them coming! Second of all, we periodically post video clips to our YouTube channel, so be sure to check those out if you want to see some live action.

Here are some overall thoughts about the trail so far. I said it in my last post and I will say it again. This trail is Brutal (with a capital B). NZ is into extreme sports and this trail is extreme. Even the very worst of the Appalachian Trail (think the detours in Maine) is better marked and easier than this trail. We were talking to one of the campground owners and she pointed out that we are really pioneers of the trail. That put it into perspective. It is like doing the AT in 1960. Sure, the Te Araroa Trail "opened" in 2011, but it is still in the making. It is certainly gaining more and more attention (we are unofficially #s 83 & 84 this year!), so hopefully the funding and trail volunteers will follow. Someday, switchbacks and footbridges will be built and the road walking will dissipate. But for now, it remains a choose your own adventure type of trail.

And now onto the details of our last 7 days.

Last Saturday, we left the Hone Heke Lodge in KeriKeri. I really liked KeriKeri and could have stayed longer. It is a cute town with a lot of history, including having the oldest stone building in NZ. However, J really likes Waipu--probably because of the Pizza Barn and McLeod's beer)--so we'll see what ends up as our favorite trail town.

But alas, we had to move on and headed more toward into the next section. During this past stretch, there were a few themes.

1) Water, water everywhere

We returned to the beach for another 15K or so. This time it was on the eastern coast of NZ, looking out toward the turquoise-colored Pacific Ocean. It wasn't so bad to be back on the beach, actually. Although the sand was much softer than the west coast beaches. So my feet didn't hurt as much, but it was harder walking.

Even when we weren't directly on the beach, we regularly had the ocean and lots of coastal towns in view. We went through an especially pretty section called the Bay of Islands (fun fact, Captain Cook identified 144 islands here and they remain undeveloped). We also walked through some gorgeous coastal towns, like Paihia (Pie-he-a) and Opua (O-poo-a). We've camped at many beautiful spots overlooking the ocean, including the most expensive spot ever ($40/night for 2 people, but at least it included unlimited wifi). It was nice to hear the sound of the crashing waves again!

We passed this beautiful golf course...J was wishing he could play

Sometimes we had to walk through the water. Literally down the river for a 4 miles! 

We also have come across the first of many estuaries. The advice is to walk through at low tide. The first one we walked through, we were impatient and went 3 hours before low tide. I can tell you that was NOT a good choice. We had to negotiate muddy mangroves, we got very wet and it took us longer than it should have. Then, we got a little off course and ended up on private property, where the farm animals were very excitable. seriously, the cows were jumping and the horses were nudging my back. Lesson learned, always obey the tide times.  

Waiting impatiently for the tide to change
An overview of the estuary
Stuck in the mangroves

Excitable horses

I much prefer the estuaries that have a footbridge going over them, like this one, which is the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere.

Sometimes, we had to take a boat across the water. For example, we had to catch a water taxi to cross the Victoria Channel, which cost $100 whether it was 1 person or 5 people!

There was a second section where we had to get across water from Urquarts Bay to Mardsen Bay. But for this one, there is no expensive water taxi. Instead, the trail notes say "beg a fisherman to take you across and offer a koha (donation) for petrol." Once we got into the bay, we asked every person we saw about getting across. The second person we talked with said her son could do it in morning and her father would let us camp on his lawn!

Pointing to where we came from 

Basically, the trail literally walks across water and we have not figured out how to walk on water just yet. More to come!

The last water theme has been the weather. We have had a few days of rain. And even when it is not raining, the tall grass we have to walk through because there is no trail or better yet this is the trail, is wet. Being wet constantly does not make me happy. It's all part of the adventure!
Sopping wet
Clothing never really dries out

2) Fellowship

We've been hiking/camping with 2 other trampers--Marilyn from Canada and Matteo from Italy--and it has been quite fun to have each other's company. They funny thing about our conversations is it usually is about gear. And when you talk gear, you talk weight. But, they use grams and kilograms, while we use ounces and pounds. It's bad enough we have to convert our kilometers into miles (I'm an expert now - divide by 5 and multiply by 3) and meters into feet. I never thought I'd be doing so much math on this trail.

The planning never stops on this trail 

We've also been getting to know a lot of kiwis. Since we are going through more towns, we get to interact more. There are even a few people who let you camp on their lawn, which has been very convenient!

3) Road Walking 

We did about 115K of road walking during the past week. The road walking has not been my favorite. Especially when it's raining. I used to think if I am going to die, it will be on the side of a snowy mountain or crossing a raging river. I now know it will be during a road walk.  But, being the optimist I am, I am trying to find the bright side. 

Road walking means we go pretty fast--we can go 3+ miles/hr.

Road walking means seeing funny signs.

Good thing we were walking with no shoulder
Some people have something against dogs here
Their cars shoot bullets
Still haven't seen one in person
Not even sure what this could be

Road walking means seeing New Zealand's unique mailboxes (or letterboxes as they call them). We've seen all different sizes and shapes. Lots of microwaves, a boat motor and a bat-shaped one, but this one takes the cake. NZ sure takes pride in their letterboxes!

Road walking means passing through towns and tempted by treats. 

Road walking means seeing some beautiful views and houses.

In full disclosure, we have hitched about 15K of the 100K-road walking. On the Appalachian Trail, we call this yellow blazing. Here, we call it "saving the feet."  

I think that about sums things up, but a few closing thoughts/impressions. J's allergies are so bad here. One night he was lying in the tent and proclaimed he might die. We are still perfecting our orienteering skills every day on the trail, getting turned around and frustrated. You cannot stop paying attention on this trail. NZ still hasn't discovered switchbacks and all trails are at a 60-degree angle. Everyone in NZ waves and says hello. No one wears shoes in the coastal towns, even to drive. There are no screens in the windows and doors are left open. 

This is the NZ we are experiencing and we love it!!

My fav kind of trail
My least fav part of trail
More kauri trees
It's a Charlie Brown Christmas tree