933,857 Steps (713 km)

Auckland to Mercer

I flew a plane today.

Not for long, and not well. But I did fly a plane. Today (December 1) was, like most recent days, an unplanned experience. Well, it was planned as something otherwise and then turned into skimming the surf 300 ft above the Tasman Sea, yards from the cliffs north of Raglan.

I strayed off course and could not be better for it. My plan when I awoke was a casual 25 km walk to Rangiriri and a hotel stay. But that hotel went out of business, I slept in, was tired, and Jim had a better idea.

Jim took me flying in his Aeroprakt 22 LS “Foxbat”. Many years ago he developed and opened the Mercer Airport, moving most of the historic Mercer hotel to its current locale at the airport where it houses a backpackers (think hostel) and setting up a flying school and skydiving operation. After 30 years flying jumbo jets across the Pacific for Air New Zealand, today he greets guests, teaches flying, and every now and then offers a guest the chance to go up for a birds eye view of the New Zealand countryside.

I arrived at the Mercer late last night after 4 days and 120 km hiking south from Auckland.

On November 27 I had a leisurely morning, swimming in the pool at the Pullman, giving my ankle some love in the hot tub, preparing and mailing my bounce box, and enjoying a lovely breakfast with Jorg and Marylene who arrived with Rory in Auckland the afternoon before. It was lovely to catch up with them and reminded me that, regrettably, it has been weeks since we have walked together. That afternoon I headed south on a 20 km walk away from Auckland in the direction of the Auckland airport, ending the afternoon in the charming Ambury Park surrounded by paddocks of sheep and goats. Here I set camp next to two American women, WeeBee (Alaska) and Mary (Georgia), who are keeping a solid pace on the Te Araroa having started the day after me.

The next morning (November 28) we all rose early, packed up tents and loaded up our packs minutes before a heavy rainstorm appeared. Mary and WeeBee headed out in the rain while I huddled in the public bathroom and nursed a second cup of coffee and hoped the rain would pass. It didn’t. So, after an hour lingering next to a urinal, I found my dignity and started a long, wet walk through some marsh, sewage ponds and gravel roads for 26 km towards Manakau, another Auckland suburb. These last two days were pretty uninspiring walks except they exposed me to more modest neighbourhoods than I had seen in the suburbs north of Auckland: small houses, lacking views, gardens unmaintained, people getting by with what they have in the shadow of the city.

Before 6:30 am on November 29, I exited the suburbs and entered the countryside, still walking alone, towards forests. It was a lovely day of walking down country roads, up steep pastures and well maintained trails. The sheep were ubiquitous and the cows were inquisitive, watching my every step. I drank a lot of water this day and, still feeling dehydrated, stopped in Clevendon for an extended rest and the chance to rest my feet with a cool drink in my hand before marching onward towards a 35 km, 12 hour day to finally camp under a Kauri tree on a quiet ridge above Cosseys Gorge. Too tired to cook, and short of water, I opted for a chocolate bar for dinner and fell asleep shortly after my tent was pitched.

With rain in the forecast I woke up at 3:30 yesterday (November 30) and figured it would be best to get ahead of the rain (and the 5:10 am bird calls) and head out early for a 39 km hike to Mercer. This was an epic day highlighted by some beautiful views overlooking water reservoirs serving the region. My earliest start, my longest distance and a mixed bag of a trail that had long patches of muddy steep bush, foot-pounding asphalt, capped by an evening walk through windblown grasses atop a  riverside dike. After 14 hours I finally arrived at Mercer, exhausted and dehydrated. Within an hour Jim had me settled in a room with a cold beer and a warm bed. I fell asleep immediately after working out my plan for today’s walk.

That walk didn’t happen. Instead I took the opportunity to fly. After Jim produced a map, together we sat down to figure out our flight path before hopping into the plane where I helped do a pre-flight check, flipping switches, turning levers and nodding a lot.

Flying at a low elevation, in a plane that is one big window, over the same terrain I have walked the past month provided yet another perspective on this journey: a reminder that every situation in life can be viewed another way. There are multiple truths to consider and every plan can be improved by circumstance as much as by design.

Stop yourself. Literally and figuratively. That’s how you get to fly.

I loved this day.

776,235 Steps (593 km)

Reotani to Auckland

Ebbs, flows and the spaces in between. 

A rhythm has set itself into the past eight days: ebbs and flows in pace, people, terrain, expectation, contemplation, accommodation and, yes, tides. There are times when life gets ahead of us, and there are times when we get ahead of life. Neither is a terribly happy place if we are so arrogant as to believe we deserve something otherwise. This journey is a reminder to embrace the whole – not to chase down the high points or circle around the low points.

I left Reotani on November 18 and I arrived at the Pullman Hotel in downtown Auckland on November 25 where I am taking a rest day (November 26). This post covers a nine day period and 200 km of walking, resting and kayaking that I am not going to breakdown in detail as I have in past posts. That’s a tedious task when approached over nine days. Instead, this go around I am reflecting on some themes that have presented themselves during this stage of the journey:

The tide needs time to do its thing, and so do we. 

Waiting for a high tide or waiting for a low tide was a reminder that our schedule is not always our own. You can’t rush the tide. This can work out well, though. It provided a licence to kick back and enjoy an unfortunate combination of sauvignon blanc, several beers and cider at the charming Puhoi Pub. This was also a chance to get to know Lance Smith, who not only hosted me that evening and provided a warm bed in a charming loft, but also supplied, prepared and joined me on the next days high-tide kayak trip down the Puhoi River and shared perspectives on Neil Young – he also paid for my cider! The same was true two days later, when I spent hours resting at a campground in Stillwater waiting for the tide to lower. Time spent napping, booking an Auckland hotel, and the finally meeting up with Serina (Canada), Eef (Belgium) and Per Jonus (Norway) as we anxiously scoped out route options for a waist-depth wade across the Okura River, which can be safely crossed only at low tide.

People come and people go and… oh, here they come again.

There are moments when a competitive instinct – or simply a motivation to do it “well” makes  me aware of my relative progress: Am I keeping up? Am I ahead? There is no such thing. In this journey, nobody is truly ahead or behind because it’s every traveler’s own journey. People take their own pauses, for their own reasons, and eventually we meet up again. As happened between Faby (Germany) and I on a couple of consecutive days, we don’t say bye, it’s safest to assume we will bump into one another for no particular reason: unscheduled, unplanned, and always on our own time. This elasticity of pace is really awesome. It is uncoordinated and free and void of technology for the most part. While I have still not run into Rory, I have heard from him, and I did meet MaryLene the morning after my last blog post as I was boarding a boat to cross to Marsden Point. Later that same day I ran into Moritz – he had managed a boat ride the previous day- and introduced him to Faby – a fellow German. Jorg, yet another German, has made regular outreach as well. While I have had a solid dose of walking alone the past 8 days, I have never felt isolated, as the flow of people is steady – even though their individual paces are their own.

The pace and distance traveled each day don’t matter.  

I have not walked consistent distances, times or pace the past 8 days. Some days call for a long day, some call for a fast pace, some invite many pauses: to capture a photo, to stare down a cow or fifteen, to dry feet in the sun, to confirm directions, to soak feet in a stream. Others call for a heads-down push through kilometers of road. The daily pace and mileage, as a result, ebbs and flows based on the terrain and my temperament. About the only constant is the start of my day – always on the trail between 6 and 6:30 each morning.

Be accommodating about accommodations.

Because I don’t look more than a day ahead on the trail map I truly have no idea where I will be sleeping more than a day ahead. At this point I aim for the best accommodations possible: free camping being the last resort. Backpackers (hostels) seem to offer the best balance, followed by a private cabin at a holiday park, a bed and breakfast or hosted accommodation, an apartment and finally a quality hotel like the Pullman in downtown Auckland. What I really liked – I didn’t think I would – was staying a night in camper #33 at the Takapuna Beach Holiday Park in the Auckland suburbs. It was super-cozy and spacious and clean and the cafe next door accommodated me with a late night fish and chips (after closing) and a subsequent early morning coffee (before opening). Both were excellent, hot, and served with a friendly smile. Not camping in a tent has many advantages: it’s easier on the tent, it’s easier on the back, it’s drier, it affords a quick start the next morning and relaxes the pace of the next day. There will be many nights in this journey where a tent will be the only option. In the meantime, enjoying what comes along works out fine for me and also for others who are more tent-minded. I heard from Faby, Jorg and Serina different experiences in recent days where they asked to set up tents on property only to be invited to sleep in the house – and most often offered food and such.

The hill is always longer than you think – and worth the climb. 

My younger daughter, Gwen, advised me once to “use your bum muscles” when cross country skiing. This has proved to be some of the best advice ever. There are periods in this walk where the amount of vertical climbing is overwhelming: the demands on the leg muscles to push forward and up – with the added burden of a laden backpack – then down and up and down again, are made so much easier engaging the “glutes”. I repeat Gwen’s words often when I am making my way up yet another hill, towards yet another stunning vista of farm pasture, rolling hills, coastal beach or gleaming coastal reef. Hills slow you down, but always deliver something – even if it is just the satisfaction of having put the hill behind you.

(De)commuting in slow motion.

One of the interesting dynamics of theses last days was the gradual, but steadily increasing presence of massive and glamorous homes as I approached the city. What started as hilltop vacation properties overlooking the sea evolved to clusters of the same and, eventually, walled stretches of beach bordered by house stacked-upon house. This isn’t specific to New Zealand, I get that. What was interesting was the experience of walking into it: having it unfold step by step, bay by bay, kilometer by kilometer, day by day. For me it begged some questions: who lives here? why? for what purpose? I don’t have any good answers yet. Perhaps seeing it in reverse in the next few days as I walk away from the city at the same pace will answer these questions.

Black Diamond has swung into the good column.

The walking pole I broke on day four was a huge inconvenience and more than a bit of a disappointment in the Black Diamond brand. I had spent very good money on these walking sticks and to have one break on the first day of hill climbing was not what I bought into. Well, after some brief back and forth and exceptional effort on the part of Black Diamond’s New Zealand distributor (thanks Emma!) I now have a replacement set of terrific (carbon!) walking poles. A big upgrade from what I had, and a near-painless resolution of a problem.

Except…

The last two days in the city have been stress-ridden. Physically and emotionally. The emotional part centres around my lost cell phone (and most of the past week’s photos) en route to pick up my replacement walking poles yesterday morning. The energy and time spent worrying about where the phone was, how I might get it back, what it would mean in terms of cost, reloading GPS was debilitating. This is a reminder that, while I have got much perspective from the past few weeks, little things continue to bring me down when they don’t need to. Earlier today I got a replacement phone and all appears fine – except for the photos. I remind myself that I am not doing this to collect photos – I am doing it for the experience and the perspective it provides. I will chalk this episode up as a costly reminder of that.

My ankle has had no significant pain in recent days, thanks to regular icing, resting of feet etc. But it is weak. I had a massage today and the massage therapist aggressively worked the muscles on my left side (same as ankle). It was extremely painful as she worked the tightened muscles all the way up my left side. Really, really painful. Apparently my legs are handling the duties my ankle isn’t, and getting messed up in the process. I will need to watch this carefully. She recommended taping it up to prevent some of this overcompensation by the leg muscles, which I plan to do starting tomorrow. Staying at the Pullman has been very relaxing and I am now (post-phone-freakout) taking the opportunity to air out, wipe down and repack my gear and do laundry.

Finally, I have a new best friend who goes by the name of magnesium. This stuff is magic in a bottle. Having run 9 marathons and tons of shorter running races and all the training associated with that, I am embarrassed that I did not discover this stuff before now. It eases and prevents muscle pain and cramps like crazy. AND it provides relief from “worry”!  Yes. Relief from worry. I don’t recall taking it yesterday morning before the cell phone fiasco, perhaps that is the real lesson here…?

I will aim to post within 4-5 days next time. This last 9-day window has proven too much of a gap to capture the feel of each day’s experience.

  • 776,235 Steps

514,436 Steps (393 km)

Kerikeri to Reotani

I am down with whatever.

Taking it as it comes and being rewarded every day summarizes the experiences of the past week. It appears that the best way to manage expectations is to simply not have any.

In contrast to prior days of this trek – which were all beach or all forest – the past six days have been a diverse variety pack of discovery. Each day a little present that unwrapped itself without prejudice. I appreciate each for what it is, and only for what it is. These have been full and physically challenging days, but positive and pleasant. Very different from the stress of the beach and forests before.

After a rest day in Kerikeri November 10, I headed out to Paihia on November 11, strolling along the river path, a charming country road, and onward into the Waitanga forest. It was a lovely 23 km walk along a well developed forest road that spat me out onto a golf course, the Pacific Ocean, and a leisurely stroll into Paihia and its many touristy cruise and helicopter adventure offerings. This walk was calm and scenic and set me in a very positive frame of mind for the days ahead. I bunked down in a tiny hostel cottage with a group of 20-something Germans who made some brief conversation before heading out for the night – just as I was heading to sleep.

There is absolutely no need for an alarm clock here. The birds start chirping at 5:10 – an hour before sunrise – and given their volume (audibly and numerically) I awake each day just as early. November 12th I strolled along to Opua and a waiting water taxi that took me through the Waikare inlet and an afternoon wading in the middle of Papakauri Stream. I really enjoy walking in the streams. It requires focus and attention and makes no demands on the pace of the walk. Reminds me of the escape you get on a challenging alpine ski run – when the worries of life have no space to thrive because your attention is demanded by the immediate physical challenge. At the end of the day (24 km, plus 10 km in boat) I stopped on a piece of cleared land to tent for the night. Setting up my tent I was greeted by a peaceful and easygoing Maori gentleman who indicated the forest I was camping in was his family’s land. Apologizing for my trespassing, he cut me off, said I was more than welcome, offered me a night in his house and offered his own apology for his barking dogs. I declined the friendly offer – since my tent was already assembled – before falling asleep to the barks of his excited dogs as he approached his home on the hill above me.

I continue to be be struck by the welcoming nature of New Zealanders. For someone who struggles, and feels immense stress to make conversation with people I do not know, I find myself engaged several times each day in stress-free chats with complete strangers. I think this is born of acceptance and a sense of safety that I feel in this transparent and supportive society. I think this is healthy for me especially. And, I appear to be “wearing” my new outlook; curiously and unconsciously somehow inviting dialogue. One thing that has happened to me in the last several days is that during sections of road walking I continue to get unsolicited offers of a ride. Speaking with others I have hiked with, this is unprecedented. While none of them report any such offers, two or three times each day a car or truck will pull to a stop on the opposite side of the road from me, offer me a lift and engage in a chat about where I am headed, what they are up to, where they live, where I am from etc. I now look forward to these conversation and they feel natural and intuitive in a way I have never felt when encountering strangers. Rory figures I am putting out a welcoming vibe. Maybe after 46 years I have found it in myself to do that. It feels comfortable and healthy and I like it. I will take it as it comes like the rest of this journey.

The morning of November 13, I continued on a 32 km walk that had a little bit of everything: road, farm pasture, forest, coastline and ocean vistas. I eventually made my way to Whananaki and the friendly hosts Tracy and Mathew at the Whananaki Holiday Park. They were delightful and gracious hosts and put me up in a private cabin where I was able to get some quality sleep. I also met Martin. Martin is doing the Te Araroa also, he is retired, lives in Reno, and is an experienced long haul hiker who has completed both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail since retiring. He shared his frustrations with the challenges of the earlier forests, which was affirming to hear from such an experienced hiker.

November 14 was another delightful solo walk through forest paths and pastures, ocean views and eventually a road walk into Ngunguru where I had no idea where I might sleep that night. At the store in town, after chatting with Bob (the store owner) I was directed to a campground in Tutukaka, 5 km up the road. Exhausted, I started the march down the coastal road before coming across Bellmain House B+B. Faced with a choice between more walking and setting up a tent or a warm bed and hot shower I opted for the bed and shower and the delightful company of Marion and Graham.

I had barely I unstrapped my backpack when my phone pinged with a message from Rory, who was with Moritz and Jimi at the other end of town staying at the Whangarei Hilton. I joined them for dinner, caught up, had a tasty dessert, and headed back later to my bed at the Bellmain. Once again, Jimi proved himself a comforting and gracious host.

The next morning, November 15, I started out late but well-fed (Marion prepared a hot breakfast!), trailing behind Rory and Moritz before catching up with them at lunch midway towards Patua. This day was mostly forest and road walks, but long (32 km). In Patua Jimi was waiting for us next to the estuary where we set up our tents next to the Hilton and enjoyed a hot meal and a movie before retiring to sleep in a windy overnight rainstorm.

The morning of November 16th was delightful. The wind and rain was replaced by blue sky, bird songs (at 5:10 am) and the promise of an early start. I headed out on my own, ahead of Rory and Moritz, figuring my pace would be slower as my ankle had become swollen in recent days. Some 30 minutes in to the walk I met up with Martin once again. He and I turned back from the path through the estuary after a local gentlemen explain it would be waist deep water ahead of us to cross – even at low tide – so we opted for a longer (but drier) road bypass to reconnect with the trail later. I sent Rory a heads up, but am still unsure how he and Moritz made out. Anxious to hear as I have yet to hear from them over a day later. The rest of that day was country road, forest road, a welcome beach walk (this time along the clear waters of the South Pacific), a peak to peak, up and down scramble over Bream Head, a leg-numbing descent to Urquharts Bay and finally a brief road walk to Reotahi. The views of the ocean and surrounding valley from the peaks of Bream Head were absolutely spectacular. At Teotahi, Martin and I said goodbye as he headed onward to Parua to camp the night while I opted to take a rest day (after 28 km) and rent an apartment in Reotani to nurse my ankle and wait out a heavy rain forecast for the next day.

I am sitting now in this beautifully appointed, warm and spacious apartment (November 17), listening to the thunder and rain pummel the roof and windows of my amazing apartment above the garage of today’s hosts, Lil and Ron. I am showered and clean. My ankle is starting to take a normal shape thanks to an ice pack prepared by Lil last evening. Later today, Lil is going to drive me up the road to do my grocery shopping and banking. My clothes are in the laundry and I am feeling really good about a lot of different things. Happy with the diversity in recent days walks, the friendly and comfortable interaction with strangers I continue to meet, the courtesy of my hosts each day, and the many good things that can happen when you start each day as a tabula rasa: a blank slate. Happy to be down with whatever each day presents to me. Especially when it is an icepack for a swollen ankle.

Next post will probably wait until Auckland, where I am planning my next rest day. Expect that will be in 7 or 8 days time.Lots of photos of amazing scenery accompany this post. 

290,026 Steps (221 km)

Ahipara to Kerikeri

Some people are so poor all they have is money.

These are the words carefully lettered onto the back of what I am calling the Whangarei Hilton.

Let me explain.

On November 5th I departed Apihara in the early morning to begin my four day trek through “the forests” across the island to the town of Kerikeri. There were many reports that this leg of the journey was treacherous and muddy so I was prepared for something extra challenging. Walking up the road for a few kilometres was beautiful – a sunny morning down country roads gently up hill towards the mountains and forest beyond. Entering the Herikeno forest I was immediately deluged with rain for a short spell, and then a world of hate that lasted for two full days. The beach storm of the previous days proved to be a cakewalk in comparison.

This two day trek was the worst thing I have done in my life. Also, it was the best thing. Thick jungle (they insist on calling it “forest” here) and mud-soaked, steep, slippery and dark trails through nothingness. The thick brush and forest blocked out the horizon, the sky, and any semblance of a vista. It was a dark, wet, slippery purgatory that devastated my body with cuts, scrapes and cold.

About a third of the way through on this same day, while taking a lunch stop and inspecting a broken walking stick (BTW, thanks Black Diamond!), I was met by Rory. Rory is a tremendously happy and congenial 20-something New Zealander who made great conversation and a welcome sounding board to commiserate with about the state of this section of trail. He also helped me gain understanding of a few birds and proved himself a great navigator to keep track of the trail markers. We struggled physically for the day and managed to descend through a steep mud-soaked descent out of the Herekino forest before camping for the night. Another 11 hour hike (27 km) behind us.

The next morning, November 6th, after a night of rainfall, Rory and I continued on towards the Raetea forest. On a sunny morning we walked through some forest lands, some small farms in an idyllic valley before coming across Rob and Joss, two hikers from England on the same trek. We continued to cross paths with them throughout the day. This was the day of, and in, hell. The worst, most dangerous, exhausting day of my life. It made the Herekino hike the day before look like a Sunday stroll. It had more of everything: more mud, more pointy sticks, more steep endless ascents, more roots, more puddles, more barbed wire, more cuts, more of everything unholy in this world. And it went on forever. It was almost 14 hours before Rory and I got to our end destination, State Highway 1. That is where and when, alas, we came upon the Whangarei Hilton.

Rory’s uncle is Jimi. Jimi is a busker, a free spirit, an honest talker and a generous, warm soul. Jimmy lives in Whangarei in a “housetruck”, which amounts to a large customized home on wheels. Jimmy and the housetruck were waiting for us at State Highway 1 –  at a roadside pullout next to the river. After two long days of distress in the forest, we dragged ourselves under moonlight to this Hilton on wheels. Within an hour I had a hot shower, a warm bed a hot meal and a cold beer and the charming company of the host, Jimi. He shared his home, his food, his spirit and his outlook on life and happiness and what matters – and I loved every minute of it. Thank you Jimi. You are amazing.

The morning of November 7th was about drying out and resting achy muscles, with the aid of a hot breakfast in the company of another traveller (Moritz, from Germany) complete with bacon, eggs, toast, spaghetti and hot coffee, before I set upon my next adventure: hitch-hiking! I have never done this before in my life and had more than a little anxiety around the matter. It all worked out, though. I caught four rides to get between the Hilton and Kaitai, where I picked up some food for dinner, some missing provisions, and some wine. Some interesting conversations throughout and two invitations to stay at people’s homes if I ever needed. The welcoming and trusting attitude of so many of the New Zealanders I have come across is remarkable. I am hoping that more than a little of that rubs off and sticks to me when I return home to Canada. Later that night we were joined once again by Jorg, who made his way successfully through the Raetea Forest a day behind us.

Rested up and well fed from dinner the night before, on the morning of November 8th Rory and I set off again into the remaining two forests of this leg of the journey to Kerikeri. After meeting up with Mac, a hard-core minimalist NZ hiker who just finished the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA, we made our way down farm roads, blue skies, and “friendly” gravel tracks in the Omahuta forest. In late afternoon I enjoyed a peaceful, independent walk though the Mangapukahukahu stream for several kilometres and then Rory and I marched along the bank of the Mangapa River and an overnight camp site. Here we met up again with Rob and Joss and together we enjoyed some light conversation, shared our frustrations around the Raetea forest and warmed ourselves around a fire. This was a long (10 hrs, 30 km) but stress-less day that did much for my outlook on the rest of this journey.

Waking up to a chorus of birds the next morning,  on November 9th we broke camp early to tackle the Puketi Forest – the last hurdle before Kerikeri. This was a cakewalk! It was sunny, the trail was relatively dry and fast and shortly after noon we were out of the woods (figuratively and literally). After a very brief lunch break, Rory and I headed separate ways as he headed to stay overnight with a family friend and I aimed to log a 40 km day all the way into Kerikeri. This was a beautiful and scenic walk through pastures full of sheep and cows and vistas overlooking the Bay of Islands and the Pacific Ocean below. A sunny and scenic afternoon of postcard moments that reminded me of the softer appeal of this country. Heartening and calming.

Coming into Kerikeri I met up again with Moritz and we walked together for a while along the Puketotara Stream and the Rainbow Falls on the Kerikeri river. While Moritz  took some time to rest at the falls, I marched for another hour into town, 40 km and 11 hrs, to crash and rest at the Kerikeri Holiday Park along with Jorg who has been held up here with an ankle injury for a couple of days after having to exit the forest by hitch. Today (November 10th) I am resting, organizing my bounce box and provisions, and will head out again tomorrow for a lesirely 25km walk to Paihai on the coast and beyond. Marylene, Rob and Joss are also here this evening – good to see everyone making their way forward and out of the forest!

My takeaway from this leg of the journey? Many of the hikers are at a point in life where they are coming to terms with what is next for them. Seeking some insight into who they are – really – and what direction that might take them in life beyond the journey itself. What I think is interesting, and affirming, is that Jimi is the one who recognizes that all of life is that journey – and he has found a path to happiness and contentment that he is following in his house truck while the rest of us march in the mud with our eyes to the ground instead of looking into ourselves.

Should check in again in 4-5 days time.

132,546 Steps (101 km)

Cape Reinga to Ahipara 

Today I had bacon and eggs.

Four eggs and an entire packet of bacon. Something to do with an extraordinary craving for protein. Nutella and peanut butter get you so far, but protein helps with muscle recovery and I sorely require just that. I am also halfway through a six pack of beer (Sleights Gold Medal).

The past three and a half days have been great. So far, it seems, the plan of not having much of a plan has worked out pretty well.

On Saturday, November 1, I shared a ride to Cape Reinga with a French woman by the name of Marylene, who is also doing this trek. She and I headed off under a picture perfect blue sky for the first day (12 km) mostly independent of one another but found times to chat at rest points on the way as well as at the campsite at Twilight Beach. There we were joined by Jorg from Germany who is also in for the long haul and started a couple of hours behind us. After watching the sun set over the Tasman sea, I was quick to sleep in my tent only waking at 3 am to step outside and see the Austral sky in full, cloudless glory. A carpet of stars laid out before me. An awe inspiring moment reminiscent of a past camping trip in South America, but more spectacular when appreciated a second time. A perfect end to a picture perfect day.

The following two days were all about beach on the right and sand dunes in the left.

Setting out early on the morning of November 2, I followed behind Marylene and Jorg at my own pace, coming upon 90 Mile Beach after a 2 hr early climb and descending wooden steps. The beach is deceptively challenging owing to the constant wind, sand blown into shoes, creek crossings that threaten to get feet wet, and surges in the surf that risk the same. My preoccupation has been keeping my toes dry to fend off blisters.

Speaking of ailments, my peroneal tendinitis (the product of an ankle sprain in the months leading up to this trip) has abated. Only to be replaced by a rotating list of aches and pains in knees, hips, shoulders, back and feet. The good part is that none of these pains are chronic, they function as a relay such that the pain from the morning leaves and is replaced by a new ailment in the afternoon etc. My hypothesis is that this is conditioning and that over the coming days my body will adapt to new strains.

So, back to November 2: This day ended at The Bluff (27 km hiking) where Marylene, Jorg and myself set camp again and had an early bedtime. I woke up early on November 3, at 3:45 am and considering that rain was in the forecast I made a choice to break camp and start walking early, heading out by 5 am in pitch blackness, seeing glimpses of the sea in my headlamp for the first 90 minutes. This was a very immersive and surreal experience. Being mindful of what I could see but also what I could not. Special feeling.

This feeling was shortly interrupted by the heaviest, thickest, windiest, torrent of rain I have experienced in my life. Like having a bucket dumped upon you for 2 hours straight. Not warm tropical rain. Rather, cold antarctic air squeezing the water from tropical breezes and drenching everything in its wake. My shoes were immediately soaked (so much for dry feet) not to mention my shorts and legs. My head and torso were covered in Gortex and remained cosy but this did little to alleviate the numbing pain emerging in my feet.

I continued on, and on, and on, replenished by a blend of nutella, cocoa, instant coffee and Edam cheese to charge through 11 hours and 47 km before arriving in Waipapakauri where I rested up in an actual bed in a private room at a holiday camp and recovered and slept off an epic day.

I awoke on November 4 at a reasonable hour and thanks to the push the day earlier had a leisurely and uneventful three hour (13 km) stroll down the last of 90 Mile Beach to the town of Ahipara where come 10 am I enjoyed a latte, internet, replenished some food stores and picked up BB+E (Beer, Bacon and Eggs). I have spent the rest of today settling into a new backpackers, enjoying BB+E, and resting my body for the 123 km of forest trail that starts tomorrow, crossing from the Tasman to the Pacific side of the North Island in what is reportedly a treacherous and challenging leg. The crazy part? I feel totally up for it.

Jorg and Marylene have just shown up and are staying in the same hostel sharing stories of their last 2 days. Nice to reconnect with others who are sharing a coon journey. They are staying here tomorrow to rest up and replenish but I am sure we will continue to run into one another.