Day 22. Ambury Park – Brookby Road. 37km. Total 650km. Trail Magic!
It rained quite a lot last night but when I prepare breakfast it stopped – just to start again once I am finished. I stay a bit longer in my tent, waiting for the rain to stop before heading off. There are still plenty of clouds around and I feel very tired and not motivated to hike. But that’s what I am doing anyway. I leave Ambury Park for a nice walk along a sewage treatment walkway at the sea that has been well amended with so many birds around. It then leads to an old Stonefield where it not only rains but actually even starts to hail. It’s pretty cold and my hand feel frozen. I am not in a good mood, my backpack feels heavy and I am already wet at 9am.
Then just 4km by road and I arrive already at Auckland airport shops. I treat myself to a Mocha at a nice cafe, charging my phone while uploading my last blog post and talking to one of my friends in Berlin! The sun is out again and I don’t need anything else to feel good again and motivated to continue after my one hour break) – well, of course I did also a quick stop at the Countdown supermarket next door and bought some nice tomatoe cheese breadroll for lunch.
Roads, roads, roads again to the Puhinui Stream Reserve. A nice walk along the river leads into an industrial area and into Manukau.
I am waiting out the next rain in a bus station and continue again along a nice river to the Botanical Garden where I meet Renee, a Swiss hiker. We walk a bit together but he decides to stop at the Botanical Garden as afterwards there are just roads for a number of kilometers that he prefers to hitchhike tomorrow. It’s not even 3pm yet and I don’t feel like staying here. The Manukau holiday Park is closed and there are no official campgrounds in the area.
So I start the hike at the road. It’s 13km of road before the next (short) bush section which I consider the last solution if I can’t find anything else. The road is bad to walk and there are so many cars. I start to feel tired after a while and my feet hurt again. There are only houses and fences along the road. As I get further out there are just few houses with plenty of farmland. I am tired and want to stop, trying to ask people where I could stay. I can’t even get to the people, they don’t have doorbells and probably don’t hear my timid ‘hello’. Or there is a gate without doorbell and the house is a few hundred metres in. I start being angry at myself for having continued and now being stuck here. At 5.30pm I need to find a solution and walk into a smaller road, stopping a few cars heading in or out to ask for a place to set up my tent but they don’t live here. A nice young woman advises that I should just knock on the doors. It takes me all the courage I have (or don’t have) together with my desperate need to stop hiking now to go to a first house which seems empty though. The next one has a car and I knock and say hello. A woman appears at the window and asks me what I want before coming out, sitting with me on the stairs of the house and me explaining my situation. She asks to see my passport and invites me inside, telling me she needs to ask her husband. Lovely Grace was born in Ecuador, moved young to New Jersey and lives for 34 years now with her husband Bruce in New Zealand. I get some juice and cookies before we have a drive around the stable to check on the horses. They own the land and people have their horses stay here. Such a big area!
Back at the house I am invited to take a wonderful hot shower. Bruce arrives from work and we have a nice chat. When I ask where I could set up my tent, Grace shows me their spare bedroom where I can sleep. And then I am served a huge dinner (and I wasn’t even allowed to help prepare it). I am amazed by this hospitality and friendliness. Opening their house to a random stranger like me! Very thankfully I go to sleep at 9pm for a very good night.
Day 23. Brookby Road – Hunua Ranges. 24km. Total 674km.
I slept so well under the roof of my trail angels! To top things off, I get toast with eggs for breakfast before I say goodbye and a final thank you. I almost feel like flying in the first hour on the road, carried by the wonderful and unexpected trail magic that happened last night. Then it starts to rain and the road workers cannot believe that I want to continue by foot despite the rain! Nevertheless that’s what I am doing, passing by loads of trucks and a quarry before entering into farmland.
Steeply uphill through high grass. It’s not raining anylonger but my feet are so wet now! Through some pinewoods before the bush section which is pretty tough and overgrown in some parts, also the rain is coming back every now and then. Finally I reach the lookout platform and try to dry my feet a little while having a snack. Then it’s a “quality track” down to Clevedon according to my trail notes, but even this one is partly muddy and full of water.
As I hike into Clevedon, a nice elderly couple with their grandchildren talk to me about the trail and offer me to set up my tent in their garden if I can’t find something else and want to stay. It’s only noon but I thought about resting a while and discovering Guy Fawkes day – a day for fireworks to remember some English guy… Need to check that one again I guess, Bruce told me yesterday about it but it seems I was to tired to remember. I find out that there is no official celebration and as the hotel is too expensive, I decide to continue. Where could I really hang out otherwise the rest of the day. So back on the road for a few kilometers where I meet Rene again! Just at a nice open stall where I buy some Pack Choi for 1$ for my dinner. Great, still rather adding to my heavy backpack instead of emptying it!
We continue together into the first bush section along the Wairoa river. It’s beautiful and very idyllic, although it’s very muddy! I enjoy my lunch so much, bagel with fresh avocado! So yummy and so fast gone.
More mud. I start looking for a place to stay as I would love to be close to the river and clean my feet and shoes. It’s not even 3pm but I am tired of walking today and would just like to lie in the sun. Well, no good spot, just a narrow trail with mud! Then we move into the Hunua Range. I don’t want to stay somewhere on the road so I walk to a beautiful stream. It’s the last water source for a long time so I need to fill up for dinner and breakfast as well. I have already given up on the idea of reaching the next campsite, at least 3-4h further in.
Well, I can see again how a bush section takes more time and also I really feel the need for some rest. I will take a rest day in Hamilton, it’s not far away (but while checking later, if I do now take it slowly and stay on campsite it will be 5 days). It’s a nightmare hiking uphill with 2.5kg more on my back due to the water. I don’t want to continue but the trail doesn’t provide many alternatives especially as there are plenty of day hikers and it’s not even 4pm. Things get a bit better as it’s less steep and I catch up on Rene as he checks out a spot for camping. It’s very small though and directly on the trail so I ask a couple coming from the other direction and they think there’s a better spot coming. It is indeed, I can see the sky and we have enough space to set up two tents and sit easily. The gravel ground is very difficult though as I cannot well dig in my stakes so I just hope it will survive the night. It’s 5pm and I am happy for some company and not having to sleep on my own in this forest! We have a tea and chat before cooking dinner at 6pm. Glassnoodles + Pak Choi + Miso soup = pretty nice dinner (of course no comparison to the luxury dinner last night!). It starts to rain again before I have finished so we quickly gather our stuff and everyone sits now in his tent. It’s pretty noisy outside with the birds plus the fireworks for Guy Fawkes that we can hear but not see.
Day 24. Hunua Ranges- Lower Mangatawhiri Campsite. 20km. Total 694km.
I feel tired in the morning but usually I can’t sleep anylonger after 6am. So I just have my breakfast in my sleeping bag and get started. I leave around 7.15am, before René who is faster anyway. The morning is very dark and cloudy and I can’t even enjoy a special morning atmosphere. I leave the nice and easy loop track that many day hikers use for a real tramping track. Meaning mud. A lot of mud. It’s going up and up and a bit down and all I do is try to avoid the mud. Right now I don’t want to be here at all. Mud against Bettina means usually that mud wins. And I am tired and sweaty and just want this to be over. René has already overtaken me, saying that anyway all I can do is continue to hike… Yep. Suddenly I reach a sign that I have reached the halfway point of this trail. Yeay! I have a short rest and some cheese and crackers although it’s just 9am. But afterwards I feel much better, also the trail is now getting better. Some stairs make here life easier as it means I am out of the mud.
Finally I am at the lookout to the Wairoa dam and soon join René for a break and prepare myself a coffee. The sun is shining and it’s wonderful to relax (just the sandflies are so annoying!). We continue together and get some water (and I forget to filter it, squeezing it simply back…OK I will wait for the lunch break to fix this and not drink in the meantime).
We get onto a gravel road and descend further. What a relief, it’s so easy to walk and my tiredness is gone. At 12.30pm we take lunch and then it’s marked 4h to the campsite. But now it is only downhill or flat and we stay on this nice and easy road for the next kilometers to the camp. Almost flying we arrive already at 2.30pm in the Lower Mangatawhiri Campsite. It’s a very basic campsite with just two longdrop toilets, a river to get water, a few picnic tables and loads of space. Just for us two as no one else is coming! I jump into the water to soak and get rid of the mud, trying also to clean my socks which I shouldnt have bought in a bright pinkish colour as it’s now rather brown anyway. It’s so great in the water. Much warmer than the lady ones plus the sun is shining! Afterwards I just lay on the grass to read my book and relax. René lights à fire and we have dinner under the trees, just interrupted by some short showers. Afterwards we sit for a while at the fire, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, the fire glowing and cracking, the birds singing and the distant river. My exhaustion from tomorrow feels far away and it is as always on the trail so far: no matter how hard, there is always something magic to happen on the trail, every day!
Feeling tired for two days in a row shows me though that I need to take a real rest day. I will do now a few shorter days to Hamilton, which I should reach in about 4 days, and take a rest day there. I will also have to buy new shoes, my left one had only a small whole a couple of days ago but is now quickly tearing off and opening. I just hope they will hold until Hamilton, I don’t want to hike in my sandals through the mud!
At 7pm it starts to rain for good so time to lie in my tent, comfy and warm in my sleeping bag and listen to the sound of the rain, thankful it’s starting only now that we are all set and done for the day.
Day 25. Lower Mangatawhiri Campsite – Mercer. 25km. Total 719km.
It rained the whole night and still this morning at 6am. Everything in my tent is damp but I just get started as usually, dumping all the wet stuff in my backpack and starting with René at 7am. I am feeling strong again after tomorrow’s afternoon rest and are in a good mood despite the rain.
The first part is nice, before moving into the ‘remote’ area with a warning sign. The trail is easy to find and follow, well marked (and not difficult as per the trail notes). But the trail itself is pretty tough, branches everywhere and you have to fight your way through. It’s of course very muddy after all that rain as well. But I don’t care today, I accepted from the beginning that my feet will be completely muddy and wet today and just walk right through the middle of every mud pool. Is it I am getting tougher now? I would say today I won the game against the mud as I kept my good mood until right the end of the difficult section (7km or 3.30h).
I even got to clean everything in a stream before starting the road section of 5.5km. René is now hitchhiking and getting ahead of me. I meet a nice Kiwi working outside for a chat. Then it’s under the highway bridge that I cook some lunch (couscous and tuna) as it rains again. Then I am off for the best part today: a hike for about 8km on the stopbank. The sun is shining, I listen to music, sing and dance and enjoy every bit of the trail!
A few more kilometers further I arrive in Mercer, the service station with a gas station, Mc Donalds and a Motel which offer a to hikers to stay for free! I meet René again and we set up our tents, take a shower and enjoy a big Pizza for dinner. Great to sit inside to escape the rain that is coming back every now and then (but at least my sleeping bag is dry again!). Later, Jess and Brad, the two Canadians arrive completely soaked. So good to see them again! We chat and finish the day with ice cream at the Mc Donalds.