Monday, December 23, 2013

A Waipu Christmas


It's Christmas Eve here in NZ, and we're in the small Scottish settlement of Waipu, near the coast.  Town is full of last minute shoppers, it's 70 degrees outside, everyone is planning their Christmas BBQ and it's light 'til 9pm- a very different kind of Christmas! There's a Christmas parade in town tonight followed by caroling that we plan to go to with others at the hostel and the hostel owners. Tomorrow we'll head back to the trail and spend Christmas day hiking.
   The last week has been full of adventure- the trail certainly puts us through every type of terrain.  We've had a LOT of road walking, which is never our favorite but, as the trail is not complete, we connect sections with (sometimes long) road walks.  Sometimes we're on nice quiet scenic back country roads, but a lot of the time we're on main paved roads with very little shoulder, so we really have to be careful. But somehow, even when most of the day is spent road walking, we tend to end up in very beautiful places.
  After a particularly difficult forest trek last week where we ended up misplaced and walking the wrong way for four hours, we ended the day with a beautiful road walk through amazing farmland and countryside next the the coast.  As we turned the corner to end the road walk, we met a couple who were doing sections of the TA and camped with them.  They were only the second people we've met, its always fun to meet other hikers!
After a long road walk, we were rewarded with this view
   We always enjoy looking at our maps and seeing a section of the trail that's blue, meaning we go right through the water ( ocean or river).  This usually means we have to time our walk with low tide, or make arrangements with a boating or kayak company to cross.  A couple days ago we had a 3 km estuary walk, where we had to wait until low tide so we could cross.  Even at low tide the deepest part was up to our shorts.  It was a fun, muddy walk along the mangroves, sand and  (mostly) shallow water.
Brazil Nut starting the estuary walk

  The next day, after a beautiful walk along another beach followed by a steep climb in the rain through a bush/mountain track, we had a major water crossing.  We were at Whangarei Harbor, across from an enormous oil refinery with very deep ocean and our notes told us to hitch a ride across on one of the many boats departing from several boat ramps.  We arrived near low tide in the middle of the day, and there were no boats to be seen.  We called a water taxi company who wanted $100 to take us 1.5 km across the harbor.  We said no thank you and went to another boat ramp.  Several hours later and at dead low tide, we'd had no luck and walked up to the main road.  Because of the landscape, it was a 60 km hitch to get around the harbor, but the second car that passed picked us up! We were back where we needed to be in very little time, no boat ride for us.
  The east coast shore line has been beautiful.  Even some of the road walks have been near the beach and the scenery has been beautiful.  We're in Waipu, and this morning as we were leaving the grocery store we saw some other thru hikers who we hadn't met yet.  As we approached them, Brazil Nut recognized the guy from her PCT thru hike in 2010- only thru hikers would bump into someone in the middle of nowhere NZ who they met several years ago and pick up talking like it was the most natural thing.  It was great to meet them, trade stories, and catch up- the trail is simply amazing!
  Yesterday we took a short trip to the Waipu caves with Steve, the hostel owner and the other hostel guests. The best pat is that there's no guide, visitors are completely on their own. We could walk in several hundred meters into a few big chambers in the cave.  As we went in further and our eyes adjusted, we looked up to what appeared to be the most starry sky you've ever seen.  We were looking at glow worms, which are in fact a fly larvae.  The life cycle from larvae to fly is apparently about a year and during that time they glow, and truly look like little tiny stars.  There were so many, unfortunately pictures do not do it justice, but it was a great side trip to take.

The Waipu caves
A very merry Christmas to all and happy trails!
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut


Tane Moana- the gigantic Kauri tree

Paihia




The longest footbridge in the Southern hemisphere

Beautiful Whananaki coastal walk

Taking a break

Trail marker

Ocean Beach walk, view from Kauri Mountain

Picking oranges at the hostel :)




















Sunday, December 15, 2013

We're in Paihia

We are in the lovely but touristy beach town of Paihia.  The trail has been wonderful (but difficult!) since we left Ahipara last Tuesday.  We had a short road walk out of Ahipara then started our first "bush" (forest) tramp.
Leaving Ahipara

  The forests here are just amazing to hike through, and couldn't be any different from the terrain we're used to.  The forests are unbelievably lush, full of so many varieties of ferns, large Kauri trees and what seems like hundreds of other varieties with which I am not even familiar. The are an abundance of birds who seem to be more vocal than anywhere else I've been, we're both enjoying their calls, and it truly feels like we're hiking through a tropical tropical.
    The tracks in the forest are steep and difficult though.  They put the ups and downs of the southern AT to shame.  Sometimes it's hard to believe that they're truly meant to be a 'track'.  This is a picture of typical forest.


  We were greeted by this wonderful carving as we entered the Herekino Forest, our first bush tramp.  It was done by a local wood carver and was nice greeting upon arriving at the forest.

 

We hiked through areas with lots of Kauri trees.  Kauri are native to New Zealand and some of the largest trees here.  In the past they were used extensively for carving, building homes, boats and buildings, and their gum used to start fire and used in varnishes.  This tree is now protected in many areas as it was so extensively logged and in addition, many areas are suffering from Kauri Dieback disease.  It's a fungus-like disease that kills the trees.  In many areas there are spray bottles with disinfectant for trampers to spray their shoes when entering and exiting as a way to try and stop the disease.
Brazil Nut standing in front of a Kauri tree


A beautiful campsite with a spectacular view
  Our next track was through the Raeta Forest. This track was fun because part of the trail was literally through a stream.  We've been told the most dangerous part of this trail is river crossings.  Rivers here flood incredibly fast, so anywhere that we have to cross a wide river, or walk upstream for several kilometers, the track notes warn to only do so in dry weather.  We lucked out as it was incredibly hot this day and hadn't rained for days, so the water felt great.


Walking up the Mangapukahukahu Stream

  As we've been walking we've noticed lots of traps in the woods and along side the trail.  There is an infestation of rats and possums and they've become such a problem that they're trying to eliminate them by trapping and poison.  Apparently the possums were brought here in the 1870's for use of their fur. Now, they've grown to the millions, have no predators and are destroying the forests, killing trees and plants and killing many of the native birds and eating their eggs.
This is a trap we passed on the side of a forest road. It is sad that we introduced them to NZ for our use and we're the ones who created the problem in the first place.


We're hoping to see some Kiwi birds
   We've heard there are far more sheep in New Zealand than people, and while we haven't seen that many yet, we did walk through some of their pastures the other day. I felt like I was herding them because they didn't move to the side, but just kept walking in front of me on the road.


Rainbow Falls near Kerikeri
We're back on the East side of the island and will be going through more bush tracks and some shorter beach walks this week. We will post again when we can.
Happy trails, 
JP and Nut

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December 9th


   We are writing from Ahipara, 100k into the trail. Wow, the first 100k surprised us, it was beautiful, it beat us up and now we're recovering from it. We started last Tuesday in the pouring rain and howling wind, with very little visibility. The winds were whipping so hard that it was difficult to walk near Cape Reinga but we went down to the lighthouse and had a little view out to where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.
   It was a short but difficult first day with a mix of beach walk, dunes and grass. The rain and wind kept up and we were covered with sand and rain by the time we arrived to our campsite for the night- a field above the beach with a gazebo, water and outhouse. A couple from Auckland who were hiking the first 100k were already there making dinner and we traded stories about the brutality of the first 12k. That night we had the most ferocious winds I've ever experienced with torrential downpour, thunder and lightning. I have no idea how our tent stayed up, but somehow it survived- we were completely dry- I'm VERY impressed with our tent!
    The next day after about 6k, we made it to 90 mile beach, the trail for the next three days. It was beautiful to be on the beach, but I never would have imagined that beach walking could be so difficult!! With the rain/wind/sand from the first two days our feet (mostly mine) began to blister and get very sore. We alternated between barefoot, sandals, socks or shoes to change it up a bit but I've still got two small blisters and we both have sore feet!
    The next day brought sun and blue skies, but in New Zealand there is very little ozone layer and the sun is extremely powerful, so it's been very difficult to stay protected. Even with long sleeves, hats and bandanas covering our faces, we're both very sun burned.  After the  first two days of rain we noticed our hands and faces were burned even with complete cloud cover.
       We stayed that night at Gabrielle's hostel right near the beach. Gabrielle moved here from Germany 14 years ago and has a beautiful property on 90 mile beach with a lodge, hostel and camping. We were so tired and sore that we took a day off to rest our tired legs and feet.  We enjoyed the day off and went to town with Gabrielle, met her neighbor who has an avocado farm (and got lots of avocado- even packed a few out with us!) and had our first New Zealand ice cream- yum!
      We packed up Saturday morning for another full day of beach walking which brought us to the end of 90 mile beach. We camped that night and are currently in a hostel resting again. We are both way more beat up than we thought we'd be, on the beach there's no change in terrain and as soon as sand gets in our shoes (especiall when its raining) our feet start to rub, so we've been recovering for a bit.
       The hostel we are in is a beautiful house on the beach in a small surfing town.   We've met some really great people and all the Kiwi's along the way are super friendly. We're loving the Kiwi words and expressions we're learning, our favorite is, “Cheers mate!” I think its the most common phrase we hear!
    We'll head back to the trail tomorrow morning, we have a short road walk out of town before we start our first bush walk. We'll be away from the beach for a bit and be walking through forest, hills and farmland.
 I've posted a few pictures below, but the wifi connection here is very weak and uploading pictures takes a long time, so just a few for now.
   Thanks for reading!
-JP and Nut

The beginning of the trail, headed down to the beach
A windy and rainy start at Cape Reinga lighthouse
The sun finally came out :)


With Gabrielle at The Hukatere Lodge

View from a campsite where we shared the area with wild horses

90 Mile beach

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Kaitaia

After falling asleep at 3PM and sleeping through until 5 AM the next morning thanks to jetlag, we met with Amber-  a lovely kiwi, yesterday morning for a full day of touring/exploring Auckland area.  We drove to the top of Mt Eden with a spectacular 360 degree view of Auckland, toured the Waitakere Ranges regional park and visitor center and learned about many of the natives trees and birds. We then took a drive to the beautiful beach/surf town of Piha and saw the black sand took a walk to Kitekite waterfalls.  The 'bush' (forest) here has the most amazing trees, I felt like we were walking through the jungle.
  Amber's friend Stacia (who's from Chicago) invited us all from a lovely Thanksgiving dinner.  Even though we are in NZ we still managed to eat a full Thanksgiving meal with a bunch of Kiwi's, who were a bit perplexed by the whole concept.  The food was delicious and the perfect pre-hiking meal!
  This morning we took a bus to Kaitaia, and tomorrow we will head north to Cape Reinga to begin our hike.
Our SPOT device is not working for the moment- so the 'Where are we on a map' part of the blog is not working- sorry! I am trying to get it fixed.
Happy trails!
-JP and Nut

Auckland from Mt. Eden

Waitakere Ranges regional park

Arataki visitors center
 Kitekite Falls

View from Amber's house!



Made it to Kaitaia!