Kerikeri to Mt. Kauri
10/28 we left the comforts of our holiday park camp site in Kerkeri today and left along more paved roads out of town, eventually ending up in a coniferous forest track with many hilariously named dirt bike trails heading off in every direction. Our destination for the night was tenuous, as we were headed back towards Paihia (where we had stayed just before starting the trail), and didn't really feel like spending the night in town again. Add to this that we had to arrange for a boat on the low tide to ferry us from town down an inlet the next day, and our camping options were short. After much deliberation, we decided to get as close to town as possible, which unfortunately goes through a golf course and by the Waitangi treaty grounds (where one of NEw Zealand's founding documents was signed). We nonchalantly made our way to a tiny stand of trees aside the course and stealth camped with the sound of cars driving, and golf balls being driven, late in to the day. 10/29 we awoke early today to avoid detection as we left our stealth site and crossed into the town of Paihia, where an early morning Maori ceremony was taking place along the shore. After grabbing a coffee (luxury!), we quickly resupplied at the Countdown (one of the supermarket chains here), and meandered out to the wharf to grab the boat that would take us down the Waikare Inlet. The woman piloting the boat informed us she would be picking up 2 other hikers from a camp site slightly farther down the coast, which luckily cut our otherwise steep fare in half. We pulled into the camp near Opua and Natalie (aka Jellybean) and Paul joined our journey, the former being an experienced Belgian traveler, and the latter a Kiwi who had hiked the Te Araroa numerous times already (apparently trail names aren't really a thing out here... yet.) We were thankful to be hiking with a veteran of this path, as Paul's experience came in handy as the trail quickly turned and continued up a river for several more kilometers. After a couple hours of wet-booted hiking, we approached the end of our river walk when Kate slipped and narrowly avoided banging her knee on the slick rocks. As luck would have it, this happened EXACTLY in front of the hidden forest hut that marked the end of the section... a fact we would have been unaware of were it not for Paul. We recouped and bandaged Kate's scraped knee before pressing on to another road walk, which ended abruptly when some locals, Michelle and Bob, invited the lot of us in for some tea and cookies. We were then treated to some of the legendary Kiwi hospitality, as they readied several rooms for all of us on the spot, including a separate guest house 'honeymoon suite' for Kate and I, AND cooked us all a fabulous dinner. The fact that these people, who seem to live and be happy with so little, still found it in then to entertain 4 hungry hikers at the drop of a hat is simply astounding. Of course we all chipped in for a koha (a small donation for their hospitality), but they really went above and beyond in their generosity. We enjoyed some lovely conversation before retiring at our usual 8 p.m. bedtime, with the threat of impending rain the next day hanging over us. 10/30 Once again, we woke around 5:30 to get a head start before the rain started today. We had a quick breakfast and said our goodbyes (unbeknownst to us, Paul and Jellybean were later starters), and hit the dusty trail... or rather road, as we were in for a further 9 km road walk. Part way up a hill, a woman on a road bike fell as she tried to avoid a passing logging truck and couldn't get out of her pedal clips in time (she was fine), but it simply underscored one reason why we hate road walking. Eventually, the trail turned on to a gravel road where we ascended in the rain towards the next forest segment, which was uncannily reminiscent of Raetea. Thankfully this area wasn't nearly as long or arduous, and we had some nice views down to Helena Bay before the path took us down to Whananaki inlet. Here, a very long wooden bridge brought us across the estuary and saved us a muddy ford. We once again saw Lighthouse and Silent Knight (hereafter refered to as LH and SK. We see a lot of them) but they turned to resupply while we kept on for a few more hours, along some poorly marked trail that wound along the shoreline of Sandy Bay and past some secluded house on private beaches. Eventually we stopped to camp in a small hollow in a hairpin turn along our route near the Captain Bouganville Monument, and were once again passed by LH and SK who continued on. 10/30 After a rainy and windy night, we woke and shook off the rain fly and packed up camp again before the 7 am hour. After tramping by some more beautiful bays along the Pacific, we ascending into another forest track. While breaking by a stream, LH and SK, whom I will refer to as "the spies" because I am convinced our moms hired them to watch over us, seeing as they have passed us several times everyday since the start of our journey. Probably a false conjecture, but it's fun to pretend. While at the same break, we came upon another Kiwi hiker named Jenny who appeared to be taking a much slower pace, yet whom should be commended for making the journey as a solo female! After break we made our way toward Ngunguru where we once again stumbled upon the Spies as we resupplied. I got an 6 serving bag of popcorn and at it on the spot, finishing the kernels with a spoon 😜. We then caught a hitch around another estuary from Whati, a Maori native who had been north to visit his children in school. He was quite keen on New Zealand shell fish and talked them up throughout our ride. The next part of our day took us through some logging hills and down into a valley where we forded a few streams and lastly a LONG road walk ending in more rain and a hasting stealth camp in some secluded farm land. We pitched the tent just before some heavy rains and had a cold dinner because we couldn't use the stove. Still better than getting soaked! 10/31 we once again made a hasty exit from our secret campsite and we're back on the road under overcast skies. The big challenge for today was the crossing of the Taiharura estuary, which is a muddy walk through a mangrove swamp, followed by a ford of the channel at low tide. Unfortunately, we judged the tides wrong, and arrived as it was coming in at an alarming rate. We were frantically trying to cross the mud flats when a local named Mike ambled out of his house overlooking the estuary and offered us tea and coffee after hinting that trying to ford was suicide at that point. We gladly obliged, and spent an hour with him, his wife Denise, and his sons Luca and Josh. They then graciously ferried us over the now flooded estuary in their zodiac so we could continue on our journey. Our day was far from over however, as we then had a peaceful hike over Kauri Mt, with views down the beaches to the south, which we quickly descended to. A thigh high river crossing put us on the sand, followed by a 6 km walk to the imposing Bream Head, a craggy peak at the end of the peninsula dominating the Whangarei inlet. A very steep climb left us with breathless, literally and figuratively, as we had 360 degree views all along the coast. Finally, we dropped several hundred meters back towards sea level on a seemingly endless staircase, before finding an ideal campsite in a field overlooking the harbor.