Day 29 —35 | 800km Auckland to Hamilton
As much as we enjoyed our little break in the city of sales, Auckland, we felt surprisingly relieved to get out of the busy city life and be back on the trail again. After all, one of the reasons to step onto TA was to be away from “civilization”. It took us quite a few kilometres to be out of the city, and the road walking was to some extent dangerous with all the heavy traffic. Once we were in the forest again, we could see on top of the hill the skyline of the city behind us and greet Auckland one last time before disappearing into the wild. The pine forest was lovely and soft to tramp. The pine forests have this particular enjoyable odor that often reminds of Finnish forests.
As the month changed, we could feel the scrutinizing sun getting hotter each day. The summer is certainly early this year. Even if the temperature does not rise too high, the humidity can make 25 degrees feel more like 35. All of a sudden, the forest felt more comfortable place to hike with lots of shade and cooler air. On our way, we ran into familiar hikers again, Noam and Bill, and also met new people, a couple from the US. After the city break, the trail family was back together which made us excited.
The first day we headed to Clevedon, a little town south of Auckland. Usually, we do not struggle too much to find camp spots, but in Clevedon it became a bit of a mission as we walked out of the town. We inquired a local resident about possible camp sites to which he replied that most of the land belongs to a local man Peter who had leased the land to estate developers. We continued further down next to the tremendous gated gardens dreaming of pitching our tents on the flat lawn, until we decided that we’d sleep next to the road on a municipality land if needs be. We cooked dinner and laughed on our weird situation.
To our big surprise, the owner of the house next to us arrived home and as we inquired if it was OK for them if we camped next to the road, the lady with her kids invited us to set our tents on their backyard. We pitched our tents next to a little pond. The family offered us access to their little cottage with hot shower and we ended up sitting with them on the porch, drinking beer and discussing life. It was a very interesting evening, and ended up being quite different from the first scenario of sleeping next to the road!
The next day we had a solid tramp ahead of us, with a lot of uncertainty, as earlier this year there had been big storms and mud slides in the Hunua Ranges. We made a decision to hike to the Hunua falls, which was accessible and the most beautiful part of the hike. At the falls, we enjoyed a nice lunch and tried to find the most recent information about the following section. As both the municipality council and Te Araroa websites informed the section to be closed, we decided to respect the instructions and take the road detour instead. The rest of the day entailed a rough 22km road walk in a pouring rain and thunder storm.
Our feet were extremely tired and sore, but ultimately got us where we were to camp that night: next to a school bus stop and a T-junction. We laughed so much that night, and it seemed that this section would offer us these random camping experiences, that we could not plan beforehand. After our dinner, containing pasta, onion, carrot and butter, we admired the sunset and beautiful farm lands surrounding us. The road was relatively busy, so we decided to prolong setting up our tents. Not long after, a local man stopped next to us: “Are yous camping here??” Not being quite sure of the reaction, we hesitantly replied yes. “Oh sweet, and I can tell you this is a safe place. I am on my way to town to get some McDonalds ice cream, I’ll bring you as well!” We got so excited like little kids probably can get playing on that bus stop in the mornings. A hiker’s dream come true!
We set up our tents, and stood next to the road in the dark not caring about the passing cars. We had spotted a bicycle earlier in the bush and wondered if the owner would pitch up that evening. The owner did appear, to our surprise from the direction of the bush. A little boy looked just as confused as we did. He had been playing with his friends and was heading back home. After a nice chat, we greeted each other and continued thinking about the ice cream. At last, the car returned, with chocolate ice cream and we were happy as a tramper could be!
This gave us a nice boost to tramp the following day in a bushy stop bank next to a river. The path was uncomfortable and destroyed by the cattle. The day was hot and there were not too many streams to get water from. We reached a small township, Mercer, where Te Araroa hikers usually visit Podge’s place, a pub ran by trail angels. We had a lovely time with the couple, they showed us around, and took a photo of us behind the bar counter for their TA photo album. They tried to persuade us to stay over (free for TA hikers!), but as it was still early, we carried on.
The rest of the day was a tough hike next to road and then next to Waikato river, on the stop bank without any shade. We looked the map and tried to skip part of the bank and sun by entering the forest. We ended up crossing a trench where Folkers dived knee-deep. Waikato river is very wide and the longest river in New Zealand, full of rich history of Maori wars and early trade. It used to be a highway before the railway arrived in New Zealand.
After the long day, we lay our bags next to Waikato river bank, and enjoyed the most dashing sunset and washed our feet in the strong river current. The next morning we were woken up by the cattle sniffing our tents and pooping next to us. It was a good time to move on. The day also consisted of a decent amount of road walk which made us bored and irritated, too. However, we got offered drinks and a bottle of water by the local people on the way, which made us amazed once again by kindness of kiwis.
We eventually found ourselves in West Huntly, on a perfect picnic area (some may say a bit dodgy too), next to a roaring power station. It is the last coal power station in New Zealand, which will shut its doors in 2020 and will be replaced, luckily, by more sustainable energy source. A kiwi lady running a pie shop (also a trail angel) before Huntly warned us that in Huntly the east is the good area and west the wild. Our experience of West Huntly, however, was more than positive. The next morning we ran into local people preparing a fundraiser hangi (traditional slow-cooking of food underground) to enable a local family to go for a holiday trip to Samoa. It was such a great initiative, and the Maori lady running it invited us to go look at the hangi process to which we could not say no. The hole was big enough to cook 300 meals! Unfortunately, we were too early for the food and apparently the tickets had been sold out in advance, so we headed to our last forest section before Hamilton.
The Hakarimata Walkway included a big climb (in total thousand steps up and down), a long and bushy ridge section with tree roots surfacing the path all the way. This made us careful in the forest. The forest was very beautiful and its both ends were also used by local joggers, and why not: the wide view from the top is breath-taking!
At the of the forest we drank from a little water fall and were happy, even though the last two days had certainly made our toes sore and mash. It was a perfect time for a break in Hamilton with family!