Day 5: Left Ahipara around 5:45 AM after first breakfast and went to the small store a mile or so from the hostel. Had to wait around until 7:30 for it to open, so did some yoga and calisthenics while I waited. Met Sarah from New Hampshire just before the store opened and we both grabbed some (more) breakfast and resupply for the next few days, then roadwalked together to the start of the Herekino Track. This is her first thru-hike and we talked and out how much people change after a thruhike, whether it is their 5th or their first. Whether or not we finish, we will be stronger mentally and physically for everything we went through on our journey, but finishing will add a profound sense of accomplishment to that strength too. Immediately upon entering the forest track, the trail was very steep with wooden steps, viscous mud, and dense rainforest foliage crowding the overhead space. I pushed hard, intending to make today a long one with many miles covered, and lost Sarah on the uphill. I met Dan, a surfer currently living in New York near the top of the mountain, and again at the creek towards the bottom when I stopped to filter water. We talked for a while about all the fun things to do here, how the surf was low right now, but how I intended on running some rivers and maybe he could join me. We exchanged info and perhaps we will meet again. I pushed on through the rainforest, trudging and drippibg sweat uphill and quickly shuffling my feet through the heavy humid air downhill in the narrow corridor, on a ridge that in some spots had steep cliffs on either side with the abundance of plant life obscuring the view of the precipitous drop offs just a few feet from the trail. I briefly stopped at the “trampers inn”, a ramshackle little homemade hut on a farm shares its border with the trail, filled up on water, took a poo with a nice view in their world famous privy, and wrote a note in their logbook. The trail later followed diggers valley road, which was once used by loggers to harvest Kauri trees for their sap, or gum, which was used for varnish and later linoleum, and at one time was worth more by weight than gold. Collapsed remains of old huts line the sides of the unmaintained road that used to bring the loggers into this forest. The end of the day led me on a long road walk gradually down, then back up the valley between the Herekino and Raetea Forests, amongst wide open cow and sheep pastures. A couple dead possums on the road reminded me of the infestation they have here, and the wild and eratic calls of the birds of paradise reminded me of why it is best that the possums are exterminated. At the very end of the day, a trail split off from the end of the road, which had become rougher and rougher as it ascended the hill, and the trail was again very demanding. I was soaked with sweat, but pushed on until the very last rays of sunlight had disappeared below the horizon. At the very last moment of twilight, I caught up to Magnus, the Swedish dude I met in Ahipara, Marjolen from Belgium, and Creya from Taiwan and camped with them that night. I played some jazz and blues, we talked about the differences in hiking paces, trail names, and all laughed about the sketchy distillated petroleum fuel I bought which burns with a large orange flame instead of a small hot blue one. 40 km (25.6 miles) today, and many new birds spotted!!
Day 6: Low on water when leaving camp around 9, and hiked 14km of the hardest trail I’ve ever hiked to get there. The Raetea Forest was full of deep goopy mud, steep climbs with little knobs of exposed roots as the footholds, thick woody vines that caught my guitar as it stuck out of the side pouch of my pack, and a few short periods of being lost, crawling under fallen logs in mud and into the thick bush, only to realize it was the wrong way and turning back to go through it again. Fell 3 times today, but never hard. Had a few awesome moments with a bird of paradise, as it sat on a branch just above me and showed off its many funky calls, then listened as I tried to teach it to whistle Louis Armstrong. It didn’t repeat the melody as I had hoped, but definitely listened as if it was going to try. The fantails were also quite curious, flying onto branches within arms reach of me just to seemingly get a good look at me. After a few hours, the forest track led to a forest road, then into a cow pasture, where I finally got some cool, but not super fresh, water. Roadwalked into Mangamuka and stopped at the little store, which Kiwis call a Dairy, but it was already closed, being a Sunday. As I walked towards the front door to check the hours, a large family in 2 separate vans stopped to give me water, soda, sunscreen, bacon and egg pie, chocolate frosted brownies, and tortilla chips. Trail magic!! I thanked them graciously and soon and terms they left, Magnus showed up, Marjolen not too far behind, and I shared the bounty with them. We intended to camp here, so walked around the building and finally found someone to get permission from. Creya showed up much later, having stopped many times for pictures and gotten lost a time or two also. Lots of shooting stars tonight.
Day 7: Coffee, apple, banana, and more bacon and egg pie for breakfast at the dairy. Left arundel 9:30 and Magnus and I walked for most of the day together. There was about 15 km of road walking through pastoral land, then Kauri groves higher up on the hill, to get to the start of the next track through the Puketi forest. The first part of the track led us down Mangapukahukahu Stream, often wading through the water up to knee deep, through a breathtakingly beautiful gorge with foggy rainforest mountains above us. It rained on us just enough to soak us, but not enough to effect the water level in the stream significantly, and for a moment the sun came out long enough for us to switch into dry clothes and take a break on a rock bar beside the stream just before the climb up Pauri Ridge. I pushed on just ahead of Magnus, determined to make it a 40km day, but there was a climb of 400 meters in a distance of about 400 meters and it started drizzling again, which made my thigh chaffing very painful. I almost called it quits, but when the track le eled out again, I gained the motivation to continue. Along the ridge, there were hundreds of possum, rat, and mustelid traps, dozens of which contained freshly caught individuals. It smelled quite strong. There were many large and beautiful Kauri trees though and an abundance of birds of paradise. When I got to the road, a sign listed the Puketi Recreation Area as 9km away, so with easy walking ahead and about 2 hours of daylight left, I hustled down the road and made it camp just before dark as the rain began to settle and stop. Another 40km day, the hardest one yet. I met 2 more American thru-hikers from Maine and Magnus showed up pretty late. 4 packs of Ramen and played the blues for a while to make the soreness a little more tolerable.
Day 8: Woke up around 6:30, ate around and packed up and out by 7:30. Walked with Dan and Jake, the Mainers for most of the morning on the long road walk and through the sheep and cow pastures above KeriKeri. The pastoral beauty is contrasted greatly by the rainforest hills and the bay of islands with its great crags of rocks jutting out of the water in the distance. Feet stayed wet all day in wet socks, walking through dewy grass, but the KeriKeri track into town was stunning compared to what we had seen in the past few days- a gently flowing river, shallow and rocky, banked by brightly colored flowers and great gnarled trees with moss hanging from the branches, tropical palms and elephant ear plants lining the mowed grass of the yards of the cleanly designed modern homes that lined the river. Then, suddenly, the stream dropped off into a 70 foot waterfall called Rainbow falls, before continuing it’s lazy, winding route along gorgeously decorated shores, ducks and their ducklings swimming up stream below the falls as if unaware of what lies ahead. Finally made it into town and stopped at the McDonald’s to use their wifi, and am now stealth camping back down by the river with Nuthatch, a girl from Maine who just finished her PCT and Long Trail thru-hike this year too and who knows and lot about birds and thru-hiking.