Lost and found but mostly lost

image

After licking my wounds for two days I reset my pack only to find I had lost a few items along the path. My flax shoes, flax fishing line, my favourite green hoodie and my skinning knife I had made from an old saw blade.

image

A costly mistake I rearranged my pack again and started looking at the next leg of the journey. That is when Richard and Rebecca came through the door once again we shared stories from our adventures we decided to head to Opua together. Over hearing our conversation Rory from the UK another thru hiker was also heading that way. So the four of us set off early the next morning toward waitangi forest.

My feet were still a little sensitive and we had a large amount of gravel roads to cover. So I wore my street shoes seeing as I lost my flax ones. It was a wet but productive day covering a lot of ground and settling in for two nights at the waitangi camp grounds waiting for the storm to pass.

image

Richard and Rebecca had finished their two weeks on the road and said their good byes. Leaving Rory and I to continue over the water into Russell forest…as soon as the rain pasted.

image

We ended up being ferried across by boat through the mangroves and to the other side. Once we were pasted the farmland and amongst the trees we descended down to papakauri stream and walked a 4 km stretch through a very beautiful still slightly flooded steam in the middle of the forest. Getting to the hut in the late afternoon my poor shoes barely lasting two days on the trail but at least it gave my feet a chance to recover.

image

Rory had such a fast pace on him, he managed to do 90 mile beach in two days! Despite my asurrances to go without me he would stop on occasion and wait for me to catch up. Russell forest was still wet and the only sign of life was a few poisoned possum and pigs on the hill. I could try for eel at night fall but….I was soo tired I was asleep before the sun was down (so much for the hunter).

image

The next morning we came onto the road and thumbed a few lifts to the next forest hike through onekainga forest. My feet feeling better but still not quite right were thankful to be on forest floor. We climbed and fell through a mixed range of bush down a wet clay track. Following the endless steam of orange markers silently we made distance occasionally looking up to admire the scenery.

The hard part about barefoot tramping is having no traction on the steep clay tracks and the final peak was so steep! My feet looked for places to centre my weight my walking sticks digging into the earth to help keep balance. Every step measured before I transferred across to the next foot. My shoulders and core tense and breathing heavy as I dragged myself up the hill knowing slipping here would mean doing the same climb all over again. My brain got tired on having to concrete so intensely on my balance.

We came to the pine forest (barefoot best mate) then down into a farmers land with the track notes promising majestic cows (majestic?). Then more road walking into the small town of wananaki where we made camp at a lovely campgrounds. That is when I discovered I had lost my wallet turning my pack upside down I could not find it anywhere. Relying on the fellowship of the trail Rory shouted me a night at the camp grounds. The next morning I hitched into whangarei to sort out my bank stuff. Who knows what I will do with five days off.

Off the beaten track

So with a better pack frame made and after throwing out more stuff I found myself mentally preparing for the next leg through the herekino saddle that’s when the surf life savers came to the camp grounds for their annul 90 mile event. Mean feed of crayfish and paua for $15 bucks you say? I can stay another night my feet still need some healing anyway.

image

So with a better pack frame made and a slight hang over I headed out the next morning to walk the 20 km road section to get to the saddle. But as luck would have it an old high school mate who was at the surf life saving feed offered to drop me off. If there is one thing I am not keen on it is all the road walking in the north island. So dropped off at the base of the climb I started fresh knowing I was only a day or two behind my hiking mates from 90 mile.

The track was steep and muddy from the last two days of rain at times I was crawling on my hands and knees. And as a common theme with all my self made stuff the frame was better but not perfect, stopping a few times to redo knots and move things around. So busy was I watching the track I almost missed my first giant kauri.

image

I pushed myself hard to try make the 8 hour track time but knew I would probably be spending a night amongst the muddy track. That is when a pig hunter and his dogs came up behind me. As luck would have it his name was Daniel and he knew my family. So rather then staying in the bush the night I was treated to a hot shower, a mean feed and a bed for the night. Such a small world!

image

The next day Dan agreed to drop me at the next track without having to do the kilometres of road walking I would have to do if I was dropped back where he found me. I agreed thankful to have my feet in nature rather then road walking. After saying good bye I set off down the trail ready to take on a difficult gorge while the days were sunny knowing I had two days to get through the next section before the next spout of rain.

So I walked happy for a few hours through a not very well maintained track and again having to stop and adjust my pack frame to prevent it from catching on every single vine and branch along the way. This is when I came to an intersection…wait a minute there aren’t any intersections on my map. Quickly I took out the gps only to find I wasn’t on the track I thought I was, in fact to back track would mean a two hour hike back where I had came then another road walk to the beginning of the trail I should of been on. I knew I would not only lose a day but may end up turning back because of the wet weather if I wasn’t fast enough to get through the gorge. The detour would be more road walking!

Studying my map I found an alternative route that would take me a day and a half to get onto state highway one then I planned to hitch/walk to kerikeri my next destination from there. Texting my dad to make sure he was aware of my plan I set off into the unknown.

image

The first thing to make note of was how different a trail is when it hasn’t been looked after in a long time. As I moved away from the more used sections the plant life become more intrusive and people sign and rubbish disappeared completely. The only reason the track was noticeable was because pigs had found it an easy place to dig for roots. Massive trees that had fallen on the path and slips forced me to deviate from the track often and it took long moments of concentration to figure out what was animal tracks and what was the trail itself. I consulted my gps every hour to make sure I wasn’t off track.

Also the difference in plant life at different levels also became noticeable. As I moved lower cutting grass and gorse would cover my path, I had shoes but I felt that if you are relaxed and watched your step you could move through it unharmed…though I knew about it if I got it wrong. Middle ground had a lot of manuka, ferns and this vine that looked harmless but had the worst spikes! High up where the larger tree like kauri and mosses which were great on the feet.

image

This weird silent state came over me as I carefully placed one foot in front of the other I felt confident as I moved through the unknown. By night fall I had set up camp on top of a hill that had a flat top with less mud and even had reception to tell dad of my progress. It had been a hard day and slow but I was ok…though I did sleep with my nut muesli under my head just in case.

The closer I came to the end of the trail the easier it was. I saw more people sign and could hear the busy highway in the distance by one o’clock I had made it to the road. Putting out my thumb I was picked up by a woman who had just picked up one of my hiking mates from 90 mile. He had a bus to catch in kerikeri after spending a huge amount of time in the muddy bush.

We shared stories since ahipara and said our good byes once again promising to meet again once I was closer to Auckland. And as I made camp at the kerikeri campground the rain started to come down. I knew that had I back tracked I would of been forced to turn around and do more road walking. Even though I missed a huge chunk of the te araroa trail I had made a good decision for my safety. Though in the future I will consult my physical maps before heading off on a track no matter how much of a hassle it is to get out of my pack.

Also I really need to practice my knots!

Final preparations part 2

image

So it was a hectic weekend coming up to the far north. Not quite everything fit right in my pack and I even used a pair of old pants as my straps. As we got closer it I knew my pack was too heavy and it was a mad dash to minimise my stuff as quickly as possible. Luckly for me as I ran into the Sylvia park bivouac I was really helped out by the two women there who were also aspiring to walk the trail. The new sleeping bag and mat are so good I ended up over heated my first night in it.

image

After much mucking about with my pack I felt I was ready and we set off to the Cape early Monday morning to begin the trail. Then my pack knots came undone I looked over everything in frustration this can’t be happening. Then I get stabbed in the finger with one of my arrows it’s a pretty deep cut and all I can think of is how unorganised my pack looks after months of preparation. Then the penny drops I forgot my 3 months worth of insulin in the fridge in te kao a 45 minute drive from the Cape.
Dad quickly drives back to fetch it while I stand hunched over my pack trying to reduce and re balance everything. Eventually it all works out and I set off (after slipping on grass the first two steps) down the trail.

Every hour down the trail I make adjustments and take a break from the pain I feel mostly in my shoulders. Along the hill tops I see tracks of hikers before me and wonder how far away I must be from them with my crawling pace. By 1 o clock I find a micro camp site (toilets, shelter and some water) and make camp. My track notes say it’s another 4 hours till I get to ninety mile but I decide not to push myself and throw out a fishing line on twilight beach instead. Not catching anything but there wee plenty of shellfish. As the sun sets I setup my sleeping bag inside the shelter.

That night I hear the distinctive sound of my famous nut muesli being eaten within arms reach of my face. Quickly I jump up with stick in hand wacking three massive possums in sight as they dash into the bush. In a sleepy grog I start putting my clothes into the food basket and the food into a dry bag.

The next morning I tried to catch breakfast and lost two arrows instead, I swear the pheasant was mocking me as it flew away. Feeling disheartened I repack my pack and head over scott pt towards 90 mile. As I wondered through the manuka forest following markers and foot prints through the mud, sliding and slipping over steap clay tracks. The pain constantly through my shoulders reminding me I miss my modern pack. Finally I saw the beach and it dawned on me how far I still had to go.

image

image

Down the long stairs onto the beach it wasn’t long before I saw the tour buses and waved out politely trying not to look jealous that was when I was picked up by Peter. He rolled down his window told me there was rain coming and that I could grab a tea and a bit of lunch from his place. We talked about many things as we walked around his section of land up a Creek. Where his donkeys and dogs played around us. He offered to drop me as far as the bluff as he was heading that way and from there I met up with the hikers I had been following. Richard, Joel and Rebecca are walking for the tear fund charity and are the nicest people in the world. We had great conversations and a lot in common as we continued to make distance along the endless beach.

image

image

By day three I started to notice my feet blisters, with my pack still heavier then everyone else’s and the soon to be constant friction in my heels I soon slowed my pace and walked alone in the water despite the others offering to carry some stuff for me. By night fall we had found a man who had cabins and a kitchen and showers for a koha. Here we shared a meal with a couple from the check Republic and another thru hiker from Germany marko, great convocation, wine and a pasta dish seasoned with a mysterious aphrodisiac herb.

The next morning we headed out determined to get to ahipara, the five of us talking and sharing the last of the food we had brought along just able to make out the township at the end of the beach. The rain set in with massive winds but on we walked, and as before my paced slowed as the shoulders and feet began to burn. The four figures disappeared into the distance and I began walking to the timer taking 5 Min breaks every hour, then 45 min then 30 mins.

image

It became harder and harder to stand up again each time. As the sun began to set I soon realised I couldn’t make it to the campsite before dark and wondered when I would give up. That is when a man on a quad bike came asking if I was jaws my follow hikers had sent a him to pick me up and I was thankful for the ride.

image

Here now I look critically at my pack knowing it is the source of my problem and trying to find a solution that will both keep me on the makers path but will give me the ability to last the next 2900kms I have left to go.