Day 4. Oct 17. Ahipara – km 128. 27km. Total 128km. Mud Party in the Herekino forest.
I didn’t sleep much in the dormitory and get up at 6.30am. Around 7.20am I leave the nice Ahipara holiday park. It’s 8km on the road till the start of the Herekino forest track. Easy, not many cars. At the start of the track (about 9.20am) I meet another hiker, an elderly man from New Zealand. His wife is further ahead. Uphill we walk through the rainforest on a small path which is a bit muddy. I have already heard about this track and it being really muddy… So far it looks okay. After we join the wife and talk a bit I keep pushing on to the last reliable water source, a nice river. I fill up my bottles and try to clean a bit my muddy shoes, plus putting tape on my blisters. My feet are sore. I am joined by the couple and Josie, a Canadian girl I already met yesterday at the hostel.
I leave, it’s again uphill but with my 3.5l of water it feels exhausting. Not that I got some mountain hiking training in the Alps 😦 Josie is already here again and overtakes me. It’s getting more and more muddy with big mud pools. I am covered with mud and my shoes are soaking. I first enjoyed this trail and the green rainforest but now I start to want this being over. Although I take care, I fall down a couple of times on the slippery ground. Other times the mud won’t release my shoes. It’s very steep, up and down. On a bit wider section I decide to take a break for lunch. It’s all muddy and dirty but I don’t care, my hygiene standards drop with my tiredness.
After lunch it actually gets worse. I have never seen so much mud and it’s terribly exhausting to walk in this mud. My feet are painful due to blisters and general soreness.
I am reliefed when I check my maps and see its only about 500m left to the highest mountain with 557m. But it feels like ages stumbling up. I couldn’t have imagined how it could get worse but it does. The trail is now so small that I have difficulties passing with my backpack, scrambling over or under trees.
Finally there is the viewpoint, just a small cut-out where you get a view on the forest and Kaitaia. I imagined myself having a nice break here but no way you could sit down here.
So it’s just a muesli bar and another 2km until I should be joining the easy forest road. The most difficult 2km. Downhill in ever more mud. Steep. Falling down on my butt that hurts already. Swearing. My feet are so sore. I just want to lay down and die. Then a really steep muddy part, a rope is hanging there as you have to do some abseiling! No choice, my backpack and me get somehow down without further damage.
Some more swearing later I get to the most beautiful sunshine and grass area where Josie is already sitting. No water to take of any of the mud. I sit down a while until we continue together. Initially I just want to go to the next river and set camp but once on an easy road I actually feel that I can continue a bit further even… The problem is that the next rain forest is 11km away and them takes 9.5h; so either I walk on a bit or have a very short day tomorrow. In the rainforest it’s impossible to camp. So Josie and I come to a pretty nice forestry road with a stream and continue until the last stream just before the next road section.
Tane, a Kiwi I met yesterday as well in the hostel is already there and together we look for a good spot to camp. Then I try to get rid of the mud, but I cannot really walk barefoot, my feet aching. We cook dinner in the little shed that is falling apart, it’s so nice to have company and so funny with everyone having their own stove. The night is so relaxing, knowing I am not on my own I feel safe and recover well.
Day 5. Oct.15. Km 128 – Somewhere in the Ratea rainforest. 25km. Total 153km.
A nice morning, cooking together our breakfast and meeting again Lindsey and Alison the elderly Kiwi couple who had an early start and catched up on us. We leave around 7.30am on the forestry road to Takahue.
The next road is fine and easy walking as well although uphill. I am walking with Tane, chatting about our lives. A quick break before heading into the rainforest. At the beginning already I get stuck with one of my shoes in the mud and have to get my foot back in standing awkwardly in the mud.
This will become much worse than yesterday. Through deep mud and steep parts I am hiking up to the first of a few summits today, at 580m altitude. I am already so sick of this rainforest trail and it has just started. I am hiking alone and am soon completely covered in mud, fighting my way through the bush. At after 1pm I reach the second summit at 744m. Tane is already there and Josie joins us soon. I have lunch before we continue, we only made 5 of the 15km in this rainforest so we push ahead as we want to get out of here before its dark. The next summit at 728m is much further than we expected and more is to come. No one is enjoying this anylonger, fighting the way through the mud and plants. We get to breathe in between on a forestry track before heading into the mud trail again.
At 5.30pm we reach the last summit, it seems only 1.5km left to get out of this bloody forest.
We walk down through what seems the worst mud so far until we cannot see any markers left. We search everywhere and check the GPS, we are well of the track. I don’t think there would be any other trail with orange markers in this forest and they have just changed the trail recently, but there is no alternative and we hike back up to the last summit in a hurry as it’s getting late. There we see that the GPS trail is old and not used anylonger. Another couple we met on the trail calls another hiker who is ahead and tells us to follow the orange markers as long as we can and then just try to push through to the farmland. So we go for it, it’s getting darker and darker. I get a branch of a tree in my right eye and it hurts. I cannot see well and am navigating now only with one eye plus the head torch in the dark, trying to follow the others. We end up bushwacking in the dense rainforest before we just cannot continue, we don’t see anything. Everyone says we camp and continue in the morning, but I am for some reason freaking out about sleeping here in my tent, we have almost no space to set up the tents and as I just cry and panic a little the others Starr setting up the tents. There is no space left and Josie kindly offers to sleep in Tane’s big tent so I can have my own space. I start to calm down and set up my tent. Tane offers me an OSM bar that is half a meal in terms of calories. I am grateful they take care of me as I freak out. I sit in my tent and look at my muddy legs plus -and what is worse- my shoes, soaking in mud. I take them off getting my hands completely dirty. I try to clean it a bit with wet wipes but getting nowhere after three wipes, I tell myself to just get over it and put my dirty legs inside the tent. My feet are all wrinkled of soaking alk the day in mud water and I have got bad blisters. I don’t even change into my sleeping gear, I just get into my sleeping bag and try to sleep. Not thinking about how freaking lost we are right now (I know from my GPS that the farmland is very close so we should be able to find it at daylight but my tired mind makes everything feel worse). I am completely exhausted from hiking more than 12hours almost without breaks. I sleep a little during that night but waking up several times.
Day 6. Ratea forest – Apple Dam Camp. 20km. Total 173km. Off-trail 500m.
Everyone else slept rather well in the rainforest but we start early to try finding our way out. Which is really not far away, we bushwack a little until a viewpoint where we can see that the farmland is really close. We find a trail through the tussock which cuts the skin of my legs. I don’t care, I am reliefed we are finally out of this forest!
We walk down to a farm with barking dogs and the lady tells us that many get lost but everyone gets out of the trail… Well, a few minutes later we reach a camping place with a stream where I clean my shoes and socks and refill on water. Then we are at the highway for a few kilometers until we reach a dairy at Mangamuka bridge where we take a rest and I have a banana plus some bars as refill just in case I get stuck again. I change back from my sandals into my shoes with the insoles to painfully walk the last 10km or so today on a forestry road to the Apple Dam Camp, 500m off track on a nice little spot in the bush.
I arrive at 2pm, set up my tent and go to the stream. Refilling on water takes so much time as I have to filter everything. Then I undress and wash myself in the water, even my hair. Oh that feels so good! I go for a late breakfast before doing my back and feet exercises and some stretching. We just hang out the afternoon and relax, giving our bodies a well needed rest. We now start laughing about our adventure yesterday in the Ratea rainforest… Dinner is early and off for my tent around 6.30pm.
Day 7. Apple Dam Camp – Puketi Recreation Area. 25km. Total 198. Off-trail 500m. After the mud comes the reward!
I get up before 6am as we want to start early, rain is announced. I leave camp at 6.30am on the easy gravel road until the trail leaves off for the next muddy section. Here I wait for Josee and another Canadian couple so we can go for the mud but especially the water hiking / canyoning section together. It’s a beautiful sunny day so far, I just have really swollen eyes and have difficulties supporting the sun.
The mud section is rather short and not so bad, soon we arrive at the river and walk right into the cold water. It’s about 2.5km the canyoning part and as the sun comes round to the river it’s getting more and more beautiful. We all enjoy the hike although the water is really cold. Usually it’s about ankle deep sometimes a bit more but never above the knee.
The canyoning ends to soon, we then have another 3,5km on a trail just next to the water (and we checked the proposed alternative to continue through the water but it would be waist-high at least, so nope…). I now walk on my own, it’s an up and down and sometimes slippery so I am adding a few more bruises to my already shattered legs.
Then another final river crossing before joining another forest trail. This is the most beautiful part I have done so far! I am hiking a few hundred metres of altitude up through a sunlit Kauri forest, followed by more rainforest – but which is less dense, almost not muddy and just a pure pleasure to hike through!
To soon I arrive at the gravel road, which I follow for 9km to the Puketi Recreation Area campsite. Again a early end of the day at around 3pm, but there is no other place to camp afterwards. The campsite is amazing, it has a (cold) shower, toilets, a sink, picnic banks to sit on… We are a bunch of The Araroa hikers now, chatting, washing, cooking the afternoon long. In the evening a number of people in cars arrive, camping here as well. It might get difficult to sleep early as they for sure don’t have our hiker’s timing for sleeping!