Puhoi to Nanekoti
Not every one-year-old gets to watch strangers emerge from a tiny plastic house in the front yard, come inside to eat breakfast, then put the tiny plastic house into a big bag, before bundling it, and a whole lot of other bags into a really big bag. Not every one-year-old gets to watch as the bag people then wander off down the road carrying their bags with the help of several long poles.
Unlike Ascot the dog, Hugh took our display of minimal living in his stride.
Along with his dad's penchant for long-distance cycling, Hugh may grow up with an appreciation of simple lifestyles...or idiots who like to put themselves through hell.
Hugh's family live half way along a road that runs parallel to Te Araroa and because of this we were missing out on what looked like quite a good bush walk - but according to our hosts, we weren’t the only ones. They see heaps of hikers avoiding the forest track by making their way south along the road to Puhoi township. We joined Te Araroa a couple of k's up the road and made our way past what looks like a brand new Te Araroa campsite called the Remiger Road Conservation Area.
We were soon gasping up a steep, overgrown grass track to Dunn's Bush - a QE11 covenanted piece of land on a working farm. At the top of the hill we came out on an almost European-style limestone track. After negotiating a few very docile Angus bulls we came across Kath crouching behind the gate. The gate led into Mr Dunn's piece of generosity and foresight.
As she refilled the bottles of detergent she made an interesting observation.
“Since they [the Auckland Regional Council and the Department of Conservation] have closed many of their [Kauri] parks we've had to do a lot more of this. We're going to have to buy some big twenty litre tanks with proper spray guns. People can't go to the other forests so more and more are coming to places like this.”
She was a local volunteer who was looking after the covenanted land with a group of others. As well as maintaining the Kauri Dieback Cleaning Stations, their mahi involved trapping for stoats, rats and possums. Goats had recently been removed too and the place was absolutely blooming. The forest floor was thick with a huge variety of healthy looking seedlings. The place was about to explode with life.
“You're never going to be able to stop now you know,” one of us observed.
“I know...but it's good fun.”
As we left the forest we cleaned our boots again, then made our way down a brand new suburban-style street with gutters and tarseal. The change from the forest was quite bizarre, but there was hardly any traffic, so we weren't complaining.
We followed the road down into a valley, before moving up another steep track and a well deserved lunch. For nearly an hour we lay on the side of an empty gravel road - eating our crackers and drying our tent, sleeping mats and socks in the sun.
It would’ve been easy to stay for longer, but we had work to do. After repacking we made our way to the top of the hill where we could see all the way back around the coast to Auckland. Proof that we were making headway. Te Araroa was real!
Almost to prove the point Ellen came around the corner. She was a section hiker from near Akaroa who'd had heaps of bad luck with injuries but was staunchly soldiering on with her massive Cactus pack and real tramping boots. She was going hard-core.
So hard-core in fact that she'd even tried to do some of the trail in a moonboot after injuring her ankle in one of Northland's legendarily brutal forests.
We had another long break in the shade of a small tree with her. We swapped injury stories, trail tips and generally shot the breeze.
We finally upped sticks and found that we'd somehow hit the heat of the day. A gravel and clay track took us down a long 4WD tracklines with pines, toetoe and Manuka. Beehives were dotted along the way...as were small thickets of flowering and toxic tutu.
By the time we got to the bottom of the hill and a proper but quiet country road we were very hot and exhausted. We'd drunk our three litres of water (between us) and could've drunk three more. Our tent spot for the night was still four searingly hot kilometres away.
Denise and Urs' couldn't have been more accommodating when it came to the art of hiker rehydration. They also have one of the most outstanding Te Araroa havens - Nanekoti Farmstay.
15 bucks got us a tent, kitchen, bathroom, toilet and that ultimate hiker luxury - towels. Shall I go on? How about breakfast, coffee and a couple of eggs from their hens. As we sat talking we were also offered a beer. Did I mention a dip in their very deep and cool blue swimming pool?
For twenty bucks more (each) we got to have a home-cooked meal that included homemade goat feta from the small milking herd they have on the property...and another beer.
Before we went off to bed we all sat together and talked politics, the Auckland housing market and Te Araroa. 1080 was mentioned...but we steered clear.
They'd fallen into the TA game by accident.
The person they bought their house off didn't tell them the trail went through the land they were about to buy...for some reason he'd thought they may have been put of by the thought of a paper road teeming with smelly, hairy, mostly foreign people, trekking past their place at all hours.
They love having hikers but admit that they get a little weary by the end of the season.
We run hiker accommodation too, and although Whiowhio Hut isn’t nearly as grand, we get where Denise and Urs are coming from. Te Araroa is a great way to meet a seemingly endless trail of interesting, unusual, entertaining and downright nice people.
The previous owners of their house didn’t know what they were missing out on.