Puhoi, Day 22

11-22-17

We left our lovely dry pine wood bower early and headed uphill. It always seems to be uphill first thing in the morning. Before long we ran into Rebecca from Colorado, Lincoln from Australia and Felix from Germany. They had just filled water at the house we were passing as the owner had flagged them down as he drove off to work and told them where the spigot was. I knocked on the door and before we could fill anything, Sue, his wife, opened the door and invited us to her back deck for tea and coffee. Two hours later, several cups, and every hiker we could round up later, we’d had the most delightful morning break so far. She and her husband were originally from England but loved New Zealand and they loved hikers, which is good for us as their house is right on the trail.

On Sue’s deck. Christian, Jamie, Emma, Scott, Anja, Coyote, Sergio.

At a lovely spot near a stream, but with lots of sun, MacCliver spread out all his wet gear and it was the beginning of a true hiker yard sale. As folks came in we all spread out our stuff and dried it, laughed a lot and used our solar chargers to charge phones.

Yard Sale!

The rest of the day was a mix of short road walks and muddy tracks that eventually took us to the little coastal town of Puhoi. Lots of hikers converged here and we had fun connecting and reconnecting with everyone at an outdoor shower. We went in fully clothed and slowly stripped off whatever we were comfortable with stripping off. Shoes got thorough cleanings as did our filthy bodies. What a crazy and very public scene! No photos please!

Fellow travelers. Mooooo!!!!

That night we all had dinner at the pub in town and some of us hiked back up the ridge to camp and others camped right in town at a war memorial park. Another wonderful and crazy day on the TA. But we’re all so clean! I don’t know how to act.

Lots of fence line walking.

The Dome Cafe, Day 21

11-21-17

I left Pakiri Beach a bit before Coyote and Sergio and caught up to MacCliver and Katie at the bridge in town where they were filtering water. I hadn’t seen them in days and it was so nice catching up with old friends. Three weeks is a long time after all. Then we climbed up together as the trail went cross country in deep, dew soaked grass. It wasn’t much different from being rained on. We were soaked halfway up the hill. But the bucolic beauty of the climb made up for the soggy mess of our shoes.

Katie and MacCliver in the soggy pastures.

Once we’d reached the ridge we plunged into jungle again, mud and vines to rival the Raetea of two weeks ago. In no time our clean, wet shoes were filthy with mud and still wet! Coyote and Sergio caught up to us and we all stopped for lunch at a helipad near the summit. We were shooting for dinner at the Dome Cafe, still quite a ways away, and as we were running out of food, we needed to get there before they closed at 5pm. So I blasted off with just a quick bite and started running Trail!

Lunch at the helipad. Sergio, MacCliver, Coyote and Katie.

Mud, roots and vines only allow for a certain speed even when you are running, but my pack weight was really low at the end of my resupply and it was totally fun. There were still plenty of places where I could barely hike at a crawl, swinging down slick slopes by fern trunks and the supple jacks. I eventually got to a forest service road crossing where a sign was posted that gave an estimated time for the next section as 4.5 hours! I’d never get there in time to order dinner for everyone. I hiked a bit up the Trail and thought better of it, turned around and headed down the lumber road, which looked like a quicker way to the Dome Cafe.

On the forest path.

Two hours later I was at the Cafe at 4:15pm, just 15 minutes before they shut down the grill and ordered burgers for everyone. They weren’t cheap, but they were, no joke, the best burgers I’ve ever had! Totally worth the run. Coyote showed up at 4:45 after making the same decision to take the forest road as she thought I’d gone the long way and she wanted to make sure we got dinner. Great minds think alike! And Sergio, who took the actual Trail made it in at 6pm. He’d been in awful mud the whole way! He claimed we’d cheated, and of course we had, but settled right down once we placed a big, juicy burger down in front of him.

Katie and Gaeton at the Dome Cafe.

We were dead tired and crawled off a short kilometer from the Cafe and bedded down in a lovely duff covered bit of pine woods, right next to Emma and Anya. Emma is a possum trapper from the South Island whose Trail name is Turtle Shell, and there’s quite a story to that name, but not for here. Anya is from Switzerland and took the lovely Trail name of Te Anyaroa. Which means “The Anya Trail.” Love these folks!

Turtle Shell and Te Anyaroa in camp.

Pakiri, Day 20

11-20-17

We left Waipu late, enjoying a leisurely morning. Once out of town, the first section of trail was a forest path, the Langview Track, which was steep and slick with the mud of the past few days of rain. From the top we could see beaches stretching north and south and the mountains we’d climbed a few days ago.

Marlen’s little dog had a hard climb of it and needed us three to give it some shade and love. We’re all dog starved on trail.

On our way down the other side we met Marlene, a lovely woman who was hiking up the hill, walking her dog. Of course we struck up a conversation and within a few minutes she’d offered us a lift over the next long stretch of road walk. Yippee! We’re not walking roads on this trail! Over the next 45 minutes we made such a nice connection that she gave us a huge bag of fresh lettuce she’d picked just that morning. The ride was good enough to qualify as trail magic, as we hadn’t asked for it, but the lettuce was too much. Two days before, we’d left two bags of fresh spinach in the refrigerator at the Green Bus Stop. This was the third time we’d left greens at places we’d stayed. So the fresh lettuce was the perfect bit of magic just at that moment.

Fresh lettuce in our burritos.

We had lunch under a large tree in the dunes where she’d dropped us off and I took off a bit ahead of Coyote and Sergio and had the next 10 miles of beach all to myself. It was absolutely pristine. I ended up getting my feet wet at a stream crossing and after that, just waded through the intermittent streams. At the end of the beach,10 miles from the start, I waded the estuary and found Matt, our friend from Montana, waiting for hikers coming off the beach to help them navigate a very labyrinthine Holiday Park resort.

Beach into Pakiri

I booked a room for Coyote, Sergio and me, as camping was almost the same price, and then took off my shoes. My dogs are tired. We’d hiked over 20 miles and hitched about 20 as well. At dinner we met Mika, a young woman from Germany who has hiked a good portion of the trail from Sweden to Italy and is now hiking the TA.

Not only are my dogs tired, I’m thoroughly bushed and it’s lights out for now.

Waipu, Day 19

11-19-17

Island offshore.

It rained all night again last night and was pouring when we went up to breakfast with Terry and Jennie. The cottage is so comfortable here at the Green Bus Stop that we all thought of spending another day here just watching the rain come down. The conversation at breakfast seemed to continue right from where it left off last night, thoughtful and deep. From the elongation of our experience of time on Trail, as with any intense experience, to our family backgrounds and the kind of personal sharing that only happens with dear friends, the morning was rich in thoughtful communion. This is part of the magic of the Trail. Connections are seeded, grow and flower in a reality of moments. What lovely people I’m walking with and what lovely people we’ve met.

The vegetable garden at the Green Bus Stop.

Sergio is turning out to be a young man of depth. The more I listen to him, the more wisdom I hear. Coyote’s intellect I already know and appreciate. It’s always worth the time to just listen to her. And now Terry and Jennie have shared of themselves to such an extent that I’m sure they will be with us spiritually for the rest of our hike. Whether or not they know it, we will carry the loveliness of the past few days all the way to Bluff. What a gift.

The view up to our cottage.

Just about noon the rain finally started to taper off and we began to feel the motivation to walk. I don’t mind walking in the rain when I’m in a wilderness and have no other choice, but when you have a warm and dry shelter to weather the storm, it’s worth just waiting till it’s really over.

Coyote and Sergio with a young German hiker we met on the crossing of Whangarei Harbor.

With clearing skies above, we packed up and Terry drove us to lunch and then to our spot on the beach where we to meet Peet, who was to ferry us across the harbor. Whangarei harbor is the deepest in New Zealand and on the other side from us was the country’s only oil refinery and acres of logs destined for China. We crossed in a light chop and then headed off on another long beach walk.

The wind kept us cool and the scudding clouds made for a great visual backdrop to the volcanic hills and pinnacles we were leaving behind us.

Looking back.

After 7 or 8 miles we had to find our way across a shallow section of the estuary at Ruakaka, but our feet were hot and and the wade did them good.

More wading.

After a short walk through town, we were walking down a beach boardwalk ready for another 6 miles of beach walking to Waipu, where we’d booked beds at a backpacker’s hostel, when we struck up a conversation with a couple of local folks, Max and Rosaline. They’d both been in San Francisco for the America’s Cup races 5 years ago and had watched them from the Kiwi headquarters while Katie and I had watched them from the end of the piers at Fort Mason, some of the most exciting racing any of us had ever seen. Well that started the conversation and we talked so long there on the beach ramp, that a rain squall we could see in the distance finally reached us and they invited us to their home nearby for drinks and more talking, offering us a lift to our hostel for the time we’d lost. More rain on a 6 mile beach walk or more connection with New Zealanders? We opted for the connection route and took them up on their offer.

Sergio at dinner.

Hours later Max gave us a lift to our hikers hostel and then to a great little pub in town for dinner. We walked home in the dark and blessed our choice not to hike every step of the TA, but instead opt for anything that enhances our experience of New Zealand. So far it’s incredibly liberating, and tons of fun.

Zero Day at the Green Bus Stop, Day 18

11-18-17

It rained all night and continued raining all day today. But even with the rain it’s been wonderful walking through the forest paths here at our shelter at the Green Bus Stop. Jenny made us a lovely breakfast of oatmeal with dates and pancakes on the side. Much more than us trail trash are used to. After breakfast Terry drove us into Whangarei to do our resupply shopping and also took me to a Vodaphone store as I’m still having trouble getting their app to work. Again they couldn’t get it to work either and I paid my bill at the counter. Oh well. One of these years it’ll work.

We bought a few roast chickens and salads for lunch and treated our hosts to a nice meal as they’d already invited us to dinner tonight. The best part of being here has been the connection with Terry and Jenny who are Trail Angels of the first order. Terry is a retired architect and Jenny is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Both have life experience that makes for a depth of soul and heart and hours of fascinating talk. We’ve been talking art and architecture off and on all day. Terry’s got a copy of one of the chairs that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Johnson Wax building in Wisconsin, a work of art in itself. I had to sit in it of course, having studied that building back in my art history days. We’ve got similar taste in art, politics and spirituality and the connections were wonderful all day and into the evening. After dinner he sat down at the piano and played jazz for us. He got a mic out and I threw harmony humming to his lead. What a fun evening.

Terry at the keyboard.

A year ago at Christmas a couple of TA hikers showed up here asking for a place to pitch a tent. The Green Bus Stop is located at the bottom of Lion Mountain, the first day of real climbing on the TA. By the time we reach their place, we’re thoroughly whupped. They found trail folks to be interesting and have been Angeling ever since. Well, we found them as interesting as any of the great Trail Angels in the US and they’re clearly spiritual kin to them.

Cook shed.

Their home is an old school room they purchased and had moved here, dragged up on a huge flatbed. With a foundation already poured, they used industrial grease to ease the skids and slid it into place with winches. The best part of the old building is the long bank of windows that originally lit a room of children and now open onto the patterns of leaves and the green of the forest. During the day, you can’t take your eyes away.

View outside through those schoolroom windows.

They’ve acquired an old green bus that will someday hopefully be a hiker dorm, but the little cottage we are staying in is perfect for a day of rest out of the rain. It’s so comfortable and in a location to die for. Wherever you walk, to the “loovre” or down to the little cook shed, you’re in the understory of a thick jungle of tree ferns and every kind of green.

And the loovre has paintings hung on the walls.

It’s late night as I write and the rain and gale force winds continue without so much as a pause all day. The forecast is for rain tomorrow morning and clearing by the afternoon. We’ll take it slow as we’re invited to breakfast again and of course a thru hiker never misses an offered meal. We just don’t.

Coyote, Sergio, Jenny and Terry. What a lovely rainy day.

The Green Bus Stop, Day 17

11-17-17

Today we left one of the nicest hostels we’ve been to so far, only to end up in another one just as wonderful if very different. And the hike in between was incredibly beautiful and kicked our butts! Almost daily now we’ve proclaimed the hike to be the best so far and again today, we were just blown away by the beauty of this place.

Roz leads us through the mangroves to the boats.

Roz started us out with a breakfast to die for. When we waddled out of the Tidesong B&B, we could barely make it down the hill to the mangroves and the boardwalks that led us to Hughes’s boats. Yesterday afternoon, we nearly swim through the mud here but this morning’s high tide gave us the watery world of a mangrove forested lake.

Coyote in the mangroves.

Yote and Sergio on the crossing.

All the boats were floating and Hughes used the high tide to ferry us across the estuary to connect us with the Te Araroa on the other side. After wading through the shallows we spent some time cleaning and drying our feet and giving Coyote’s cut toe a good look before we headed out hiking. She passed muster and we were off.

Hughes gets Coyote as close to shore as he can due to her injured foot. We call this the Queen of Sheba shot.

Top of Kauri Mountain.

Our first leg of the day took us up Kauri Mountain, not a difficult climb, but the view was stunning all the way up and especially from the top from which we could see the coastline stretching north and south, cut by long winding estuaries such as that we had walked yesterday at low tide.

The beach with Breem Head in the background.

The trail down was easy and took us to a shear mud wall which led to a long crescent of beach. Pahutakawa trees arched down over the cliff and we found ourselves again proclaiming today the most beautiful so far. With my penchant to wax hyperbolic, I sometimes question my own judgement of the beautiful, but the fact that both Yote and Sergio were saying the same thing lent a bit of credence to my overly positive view of the world. Could be worse.

The beach was miles long and we had it all to ourselves for hours of peaceful walking to the roar of a crashing surf. I got a bit ahead when we had to cross a small stream as Coyote didn’t want to get her injured foot wet again. She took off the shoe on her good foot and Sergio carried her pack across and then gave her a shoulder to hang onto while she hopped across the creek. I on the other hand hiked on. When I realized how far ahead I was I just lay in the sun and took a snooze till they caught up. So much for helping out an injured friend. Can’t take me anywhere!

This guy dive bombed us from behind but finally hit the sand and just squawked at us. We must have been near her nest.

When we reached the south end of the beach we had lunch in a picnic ground and then started up Breem Head, a 1,500 foot volcanic plug that looks a lot like Tahiti and some of the needles and spires on Hawaii. It started out steep and got steeper, the lovely grassy track becoming nearly vertical stairs that went on forever. By the top, I was exhausted. Yote was wiped and both of us blamed it on lunch and her injured foot. It had felt a bit like carrying a brick inside and chucking it all might have been a good option. But we’re thru hikers and we never waste food. So suck it up and climb we did. Today, Sergio had hit his stride and flew up that sucker. After weeks of foot issues he’s finally got his shoes dialed in and I think he’ll be leaving us in the dust soon.

Needle at the top.

Sergio at the top of Breem Head.

At the top we scaled a short vertical rock face to stand on top of one of the spires and we could see forever. Dense forests, bays and coves hooked all about with anchored sailboats, beaches slung wide between heads and points of land, pastures green as emerald and offshore islands dotting the distance till they bled into the infinity of the ocean mists. Ah, the Pacific. My ocean, and a real connection between my life at home and this life so far away. I love it.

The Pacific.

I was awed and dead tired all in one at that summit but the day was hardly over, we still had to make a steep descent and then climb back up another bit of volcano, MT. Lion. We had our share of root grabbin, tree swinging BS but mainly thousands of steep steps and the most false summits ever. I’d reach what looked like the pinnacle, more dead than before, and sure I couldn’t go on any further, only to see another pinnacle ahead, a bit higher than the last. Stairs led to more stairs and I was dripping in sweat, exhausted and with only one option, to keep trudging on. After reaching the top, the only consolation was that anyone coming up in the other direction would have had it even worse. The stairs going down for us had almost no respite of trail in between. They were sheer and there were thousands of them. I started counting at one point but lost it at something over 500. And that was only about a quarter of the distance so the total was well over 2,000 at least. But MT Lion was beautiful, like so much else here, and it was worth the climb.

Balancing rock on Lion Mountain.

Step’s, countless steps!

When I finally poured out onto a grassy hillside, Sergio was already sprawled out on the lawn, exhausted as well, but very satisfied. He’s found his pace and it’s a good one. What a hiker. We watched a red headed parakeet in the branches of an old snag and then headed off to find a place for the night.

Sergio dead on the grass.

The first possibility we came to was the Green Bus Stop, a slice of jungle owned by Terry and Jenny, a couple of wonderful folks who just got into Trail Angeling last Christmas when two hikers asked for a spot to pitch their tents. Since then they’ve built a cook shed, planted a vegetable garden and turned the property’s original cottage into a hiker cottage. The grounds are a maze of jungle pathways and bits of whimsy that make you smile just by walking around the place. When we asked how much, he turned it back on us and said “It’s a deal” when we offered $15 per person, what we’d paid at Tidesong the day before. After that he and Jenny let us use their shower and did a load of very sweaty laundry for us and invited us to breakfast the next day. Quite a deal, but the best part was getting to know them. We could tell there was a good bit of depth to these two just by looking at the bookshelves and the stack of jazz sheet music on the piano.

Kiwi on a street sign.

Dinner for Yote and me was soup made from things we’d gathered along the beach, two lovely seaweeds, fennel picked on the trail and chard and collards picked in the garden on the property all thickened with fresh eggs left for us gratis in the cook shed. After dinner we checked the weather report and it’s lousy all day tomorrow with rain and heavy winds all day long. Looks like a zero day is in order. We’re dead from the day’s climb, Yote has a bum foot, it’s supposed to rain all day and we’ve got a lovely place to weather it all. After staying in one of the nicest hostels so far last night at Tidesong, we seem to have found another one to rival it here at the Green Bus Stop.

Me on the beach.

The rain began at dusk and came down all night. A warm dry place was just what we needed.

Tidesong, Day 16

11-16-17

Pataua

Can it get any better? It just seems to. Today we left our lovely hiker cottage at the Nikau Bay Eco Camp and hiked up, of course, through more incredibly bucolic countryside. Cows and sheep dotted more Hobbit landscapes and flowers are popping everywhere. The huge spreading pahutakawa trees almost look like the great wide and twisted live oaks of California but these will be covered in red blossoms by Christmas. The Kiwis all call it “the Christmas tree.” Can’t wait. We’ve been invited to make our way by hook or by crook to our Maori friend Kelvin’s house for Christmas. Woooo Hooooo!!!! It’s such a nice starting group we’ve got here that Kelvin has invited us all to make it to his place south of Wellington if we can.

We came to a few stream crossings early on and hiked for a bit in our sandals and washed our feet. Sergio is still not 100% with his feet and he let us know that he had a blister growing inside one of his old blisters. Sounds like a job for the Wilderness Docs! As Coyote is a fully licensed wilderness amputition, and I’m skilled in bush anesthesia, we told him we’d be happy to bonk him on the head and just remove the offending foot. He didn’t take us up on it. No accounting for taste.

After 14 k of beautiful bush, we reached a paved road that was narrow, winding and had no shoulders to walk on safely. That was the litmus test for us and we stuck out our thumbs and the very first car to come upon us pulled over and we had a ride all the way to Pataua, a little seaside community ringing a tidal estuary. We’d thought of staying at a campground in town but when we went there we couldn’t find a soul and there were signs that just weren’t friendly. They didn’t want riff raff and other ne’er do wells and posted as much. We figured that meant hiker trash, so we took our trashy selves a bit down the beach and had lunch under an amazing pahutakawa tree whose great limbs stretched far out over what would be water at high tide.

The next section of trail can only be hiked at low tide which would have been just after lunch today, so we started to brainstorm and look at trail notes and discovered the Tidesong B&B which also had hiker accommodations. It was just at the end of the low tide estuary walk we needed to do so we called and reserved the hiker cottage they advertised at a whopping $15 per person! That’s about the most reasonable room rate we’ve seen so far. Little did we know just how reasonable that really was.

Oyster beds

Off we went on a nice sandy shore that was at times covered in oysters. If I’d had anything to carry them in we’d have been in great shape for dinner. Soon the packed sand became softer and then muddier, then softer still as we edged along a large mangrove swamp from the water side. We all marveled at the diversity of experience on this trail. It was simply too much fun.

Mangrove breathing tubes

At a small stream the mud became too much for our nice dry shoes and we took them off and slopped our way across. The sand and mud felt good on the toes, but just a short distance further along I heard Coyote holler out in pain. She’d hit a rock with her foot, and came up limping and bleeding from several small gashes to one foot and toe. She washed it as well as she could in the muddy estuary and hobbled along after putting on sandals. Thru hikers have got some guts!

Sergio in the mud

The mud got way worse before it got better and what had been a fun walk became a bit more grueling as we wanted to get Coyote to shore and clean water as soon as we could. We could see the B&B on a hill but didn’t know how to get there through the mangrove swamp. When a dock and boardwalk presented itself on the edge of the mangroves I just headed straight for it through the mud. I didn’t know whose it was, but at that moment I didn’t care. When I reached it I was deep in black mud and although I could see a boat, and a ladder on the other side of it, I didn’t want to track mud through the boat to get to the ladder. I threw my poles up onto the dock from its far end and should have done the same with my pack, but started trying to scale the pilings with the darn thing still on. I felt like a turtle trying to climb a vertical face and kept being pulled back by the pack. What a sight. Coyote and Sergio really got the show.

Roz and her two granddaughters

I did finally make it out of the muck and just as I did up walked Roz, the proprietor of the B&B and her two little Granddaughters ages 2 and 5. We did have the right spot and she told the other two to just climb over that boat and bring all the mud with them. We were relieved to get Coyote out of the mud.

With a delightful patter on all subjects related to the dock and their place, she led us on a walk across their boardwalks through the mangroves and along the shore and finally to a roosting morepork, a miniature owl, the only owl native to New Zealand, that was sleeping on a tree fern frond. We got very close and he watched us through drowsy lids, swiveling his head in owl fashion, to keep tabs on us all. We’ve heard this bird at night in the bush calling out, “more pork, more pork” and had wanted to see one. We all stood for quite a while just staring and being stared back at.

Morepork owl

After we’d washed our muddy feet and legs, Roz took us up to their home and treated us to fresh orange and lime juice, hot coffee and cream and piles of cookies and sweet nut bread and butter. She also brought out her first aid kit and we cleaned Coyotes foot and we decided she’d survive, although Sergio assured us all he too was a licensed wilderness amputition and would be glad to just cut off the offending parts. Coyote politely declined. All this for $15 per night! Such a deal!

Tidesong B&B

Roz is the great grandchild of one of New Zealand’s early explorers and her home is filled with wonderful old photos from the turn of the century and before of those explorations. She’s also a thru hiker herself, having hiked the Te Araroa several years ago. I think this partly explains the incredibly warm welcome she gives to TA hikers. Best of all was a picture in her photo album of a group of hikers all centered around Why Not, Nancy Huber, one of the great hikers of the world and my dear friend and hiking partner on the CDT. Nancy had been here two years ago and Roz says people couldn’t get enough of her wisdom and stories. Another friend, Freebird also stayed here and loved the place. What a small and wonderful world of characters these long trails support.

Although we hadn’t opted for dinner, as we didn’t know it was an option at that point, Roz gave us a lovely salad gratis and we settled in for our own hiker dinner.

It’s dark out and one bird is still singing. “More pork, more pork.”