• Hannele & Folkers

Day 14-19 | 401km Paihia to Whangarei, on the Trail of Angels

On Te Araroa, one learns rather quickly the meaning of a “trail angel”. Trail angels in the tramping lingo refer to people who out of their good will assist and care for trampers, for instance by offering water, food or accommodation. We met quite a few of them over the past week!

The day we continued our hike from Paihia, it started raining hard – just when we had thought we’d been lucky with the weather! After the rainy 5km beach walk to Opua we got onto a car ferry to cross to the other side of the bay. On the ferry, we met a local sailor who had moved to New Zealand over 10 years ago after sailing his boat all the way down from San Francisco. He invited us to his boat for a beer. He and his family live in the boat in Whangarei. He even offered to take us down to Whangarei with his boat, but we said we’d stick to the track and meet again in Whangarei.

Walking up a river in Russell Forest, technical but refreshing.

On our first day towards Whangarei (a 137km section) we walked several hours up a river. The river tramp ended up being much tougher than expected – huge rocks and deep corners kept us constantly alert which was rather tiring. Despite the technical side to the river, the views were absolutely stunning and the Russell forest so gorgeous. 

Russell Forest.

Once we were out of the forest, we realised it was already getting late and there was no camp spots nearby. We consulted our fellow hikers and decided to continue walking. Not long after, a bakkie with other hikers stopped next to us and told us to climb on the back. We were taken to another trail angel, Jock, who invited us to stay over. Jock used to be a dairy farmer and was now retired and enjoying his holiday house in Helena Bay. A lovely evening full of conversations and stories about NZ.

A memorable evening with hikers, at Jock the Trail Angel.
Sunset in Helena Bay.
Feeding some eels in the river.

The following days we tramped next to the coast with spectacular views, overlooking dozens of islands in the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. On the beaches, we could find oysters to eat and see boats sailing in the distance. This section was very enjoyable. After a rough beginning, our feet have begun to adjust to daily walking which leaves energy to enjoy the environment more. 

Tranquility in the landscapes.
Sandy Bay.
Cooking dinner, and camping in the forest.
Friendship on the trails.
Friendship on the trails, part 2. Photo: Jennifer

From Ngurugu hikers are advised to take a boat ride to cross the bay. We decided to go around instead. A lady driving a school bus offered us a ride for the detour. Strangly enough, after a couple of stops we were hiking again only to realise we were off the trail! Sun started to set and we were struggling to make sense how on earth we had gotten to where we were. A family stopped and wanted to take us to the track or go stay at their place for the night. Regardless their sincere will to help, they accidentally dropped us on a wrong trail (there are lots of nature reserves in NZ). We walked back to the main road with our tired feet, and lastly got one more family who knew where to take us. We were back on track and got to camp on their farm with the cows. That ‘easy’ tramping day had turned into a 30+km tramping adventure.

Even the day after did not end up being what we expected. A few kays in, our Maori trail friend phoned and invited us to join him to visit a special tree in New Zealand. This was something he really longed to do during his walk, even though the forest was not on the route, in fact it was on the opposite coast! Of course, we said yes to this special opportunity and took the rest of the day off for a ‘little’ detour. It was worth it – we were ashtonised by the Waipoa Forest where the oldest kauri trees still stand straight. One of the trees, Te Matua Ngahere, is one of the oldest trees with its immense trunk rooted on the ground. The Maoris call it the father of the forest. From the very beginning of this adventure, the forests have been unique and magical experiences – they conceal ancient stories. Sadly, the kauri trees are suffering greatly of kauri dieback disease which destroys their shallow roots and eventually kills the trees. Staring at the old and calm tree that had seen so much in the course of history makes you reflect on your own roots as well. 

Te Matua Ngahere, the Father of the Forest.

After this magical and mysterious forest trip, we got dropped back to the trail to finish the section to Whangarei, which is a bigger town to resupply. Our friend returned back home and we already miss our trail conversations – he became like a trail father to us. We know we’ll get together again. 

Washing shoes before and after forest helps protect the kauri trees.
Crossing a bay in Whanaki.

We thought that the last part would be an easy tramp but we got in the middle of a storm. A scenic ocean beach walk was more about fighting the blowing wind and avoiding the massive waves that pushed deep in the land – not to mention the rain drops that hurt our faces. It was far from pleasant, and no wonder we didn’t see any other hikers that day. 

Rainy, stormy and misty day to hike.
The last forest section before Whangarei.
The endless steep stairs down Mt. Lion.

Once we were out of the beach, it got even worse with a forest of ups and downs, mud, steep slippery stairs (1261 of them) and furious wind on the open tops. It was exhausting and we were soaking wet despite our rain gear. After 7 hours of non-stop rain tramping, we were back on a stable road again. We thought, “God, this is the time to send someone!” Five minutes later, on a quietest of roads, a South African couple pulled over, took us to their home and provided us a shelter for a 0-day to recover before the next section. 

Over the past week, we truly got to witness the hospitality and kindness of trail angels on Te Araroa. We are grateful and ready to hit the trail again!



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