Leg 4 – Kerikeri to Ngunguru, days 6 and 7
Friday, 23 August
Mimiwhangata Rd to Whananaki (16 km, plus 3km returning to the trail start)
We climbed the steep 3km road from the DOC camp to resume the trail from Kaiikanui Rd. The view was panoramic and for a short while the sun shone. Hannah was still feeling bad so I held her hand and after a while she held mine back.
We entered the Morepork track and then crossed private land. The weather guaranteed a slippery, squelchy walk. There was not much in the way of views because of the height of the vegetation, and the paths were very steep. It was endurance walking for us on this day, in single file and without much conversation.
I realised that I had not brushed my hair for three days. Gosh, my glamour quotient was sinking rapidly. But stay! Another force was pushing the needle heavenwards again: pole dancing skills. Perhaps you know nothing of trail pole dancing? Instructions: 1) Find a horrible steep and muddy path in almost impenetrable bush. 2) Either ascend or descend path (it does not matter which; the forces of physics apply in any case). 3) Pretend you’re in an arse-kicking contest, during which your legs shoot uncontrollably outwards and upwards. 4) Clasp the trunk of a sapling and use your momentum to spin around it, aided by the weight of your pack. 5) Emit a girly shriek as your nails score the bark and you achieve horizontality. 6) Use the moment of stasis to consider the philosophical aspects of centrifugal versus centripetal force, and which one you may have just demonstrated.
An energetic soul ran Te Araroa trail in 53 days, finishing in February this year. You can read about him here. On several occasions during our walk, Hannah and I have squealed to one another: “He never ran this bit. Ooooo – he couldn’t have. He must have walked/crawled like us.” On today’s section, in the steeper bits, we would have welcomed those special ice-climbing boots, the ones with fearsome spikes on the toecaps. But maybe we are simply prize numpties for starting the walk early in the wet weather.
As we neared the end of the trail, signs included a pink arrow spray-painted on a tree and an orange blob spray-painted on a fern, but we did not get lost, arriving at last with bruises, sore ankles and huge relief in Whananaki. It was late afternoon and we thought about rhymes for Whananaki. Idiotic choice of the day was “Bride of Chucky: Whananaki”. I fear our intellects lacked muscularity at this point, but Hannah had recovered equanimity.
We couldn’t wait to eat at the café. But no! The café has winter hours. This was Friday and food from the menu was available only on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Why Thursdays? Why, I ask you, why? Like Fraser from Dad’s Army, we could only make our eyes bug out a bit and mourn: “We’re doomed. Doomed!”
Our luck at the motel was good. It was friendly, clean and cheap accommodation, and we could wash and dry our clothes. Cell phone reception was poor, though, and we could only get it (and be heard at the other end) if the phone was in a specific place, lying flat on the table, and a left ear was applied to the receiver while speaking was done towards the right. Conversation in this position is a literal pain in the neck, so we kept it short and snappy.
Saturday, 24 August
Whananaki to Matapouri (13.5 km, plus 3km on the road to Tutukaka)
We had a fabulous breakfast at the café. It opened exactly on time, the service was prompt and the food tasty and reasonably priced. Oh the bliss of potato wedges with sour cream and a cappuccino. Oh the joy. If I go on too much I’ll start to sound pathetic and a bit creepy, so I’ll stop now.
While we ate, an old man entered the café for supplies. Without being told, his terrier bitch waited at the door for him. She was dying to follow him inside, but crouched in quivering obedience, waiting with one forepaw raised. After a short while she put it down and raised the other one. When the man emerged, I said, “Your dog is so good!” He revealed that she knows she’s not allowed inside anywhere, because her reward is to rule the caravan they share. “The bed is all hers,” he said. He wore no shoes, despite the cold, and on one foot was tattooed the words “I’m tired”. On the other foot was “Me too”.
We entered the shop to stock up on trail food. Hannah had her sleeves pushed up. “What are those marks on your arms from?” asked the shopkeeper. (“I nearly shat a brick,” Hannah said to me afterwards – but I thought she responded well.) “Um, it’s self-harm,” she said to the shopkeeper. “Oh, I thought you had done it for effect,” was the reply. “No,” said Hannah, “it took years of self-hatred before I could wear short sleeves and show my scars.” We explained we were walking the trail to raise awareness and funds for mental health recovery.
We crossed the Whananaki footbridge, which, at 395 metres, is the longest in the southern hemisphere, and headed for Matapouri. It was a beautiful day and the path was easy, largely following the contour. The sea views were amazing with numerous little coves in the foreground; the water was turquoise in the shallows. In this picture, you can see a shack with a bold promise spray-painted on the side: “Sex, drugs, rock & roll”. I’m not sure the shack has the fortitude to withstand any one of those activities at a time, let alone an unholy threesome. But hey, never underestimate the power of optimism. She’ll be right!
In another cove there was an extremely larney home with manicured lawns at the south end. This place was clearly for toffs. At the north end was a small corrugated iron shed, in which someone had parked an old caravan. This was a low maintenance holiday home (called a “bach” in NZ). I love such quaint juxtapositions.
The trail today was mainly marked with orange posts. I am in love with those posts! Unlike the triangles, you can see them from a long distance. If the whole trail were marked in this manner it would be awfully comforting, but probably much too expensive for the Te Araroa Trust. We did not get lost today, and at only one point were we in doubt for a few minutes about direction. Temporarily, we could not see our next orange post. Then I had a brilliant idea. “Wait!” I said to Hannah, before anxiety struck us with a soggy thump. “Can you see cattle tracks? Those cloven devils’ hooves which have churned the ground to ankle-twisting roughness?” “Yes,” she responded. “Is there a lot of manure?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “OK,” was my solution, “then we follow that lead. Everywhere we have been; the cows have been before us, opening their bowels liberally as they went.” And so it was! Within a few minutes, our next orange pole came into view.
The highlight of the day was in Matapouri, where a horse approached the fence to cuddle Hannah. She was thrilled and gave it a thorough kissing.
There was no camping allowed or other accommodation available in Matapouri, so we decided to walk to Tutukaka, 6 km south. Fortunately for us, a really kind bloke picked us up after about 3 km and dropped us at the holiday park, which was cheap, clean and stylish. What a pleasure today was! It would be really easy if every day tramping was this good, but then, Mind Over Miles would not be about endurance, so we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.