Friday 20 November – Day 6
I set off early to get as much walking in before the high tide may impede my way. I’ve not been around this coast before and will just wing it. It is not part of the Te Araroa trail so it also doesn’t come with notes and maps yet I know the locals are familiar with the coast between Ahipara and Herekino Harbour as it is enjoyed for fishing surfing and working. What can go wrong? Ah, well I did spend the night dreaming of being attacked by wild dogs…
A quick jaunt took me past the school and its successful looking garden then around to Shipwreck Bay. The tide was still receding so I could scoot along the hard sand and dodge the mussel covered rocks. At the far end of the beach I can see an orange surfboard jogging along the raised rocks. That was all I see from a distance. Then a car launched off the beach and onto the same rocky ledge before proceeding out of sight. It wasn’t long until I reached said rocks and could make out the bare foot prints of the surf board conveyor. A track of sorts has been beaten into the rocky ledge over the years. Solely suitable for 4WD vehicles it is the only vehicle access site around this part of the coast. It was easy to see the preferred surfing breaks in this lovely bay which is rare on the west coast. Being that it faces north and provides shelter from the Tasman swells and Sou’ wester. Surfers are out having a pre work surf but I carry on having no time for this pleasure. As I carried on the waves were muted by the rocks to create the zen like ocean sound that spas like to use.
This coast is like a massive set of sand dunes upon a volcanic base. Although larges swathes are bare much of the sand now supports vegetation such as pine and manuka. There are farms as well, not heavily stocked however I did see an Angus herd. One farmer had invested in serious plantings of wetlands – harakeke was flourishing with their summer flowers bright red and ready for the bees and birds. The volcanic shore supports agar seaweed in large quantities. Agar is used amongst other things, in canned food and pharmaceuticals. During the Second World War the supply of agar was depleted as Japan was the largest producer and there was a surge in collecting the seaweed. The small Maori community spent their days collecting agar seaweed off the rocks and selling it for up to $2.50 a kg.
Even today tiny, ramshackle huts line the shore. The huts are powered by a generator and gas. There are no phone lines or cellphone coverage.
Despite less of the authentic seaweed harvesters still alive, there is plenty of the fast-growing seaweed to be gathered from the rocks, sorted, dried and packaged into bales. From Ahipara, it is sent to a processing factory in Gisborne where it is used as a culture for growing pine seedlings.
Just beyond the seaweed baches the coastline began to swing south and eventually I could see my destination in the far distance. From this point I couldn’t be certain which promontory held my harbour but I guessed it was the furtherest away – a decent walk to be sure. I passed two teams of horses. One was at the baches and the next a couple of kilometres beyond. Both teams had mares with foals and always a stallion keeping an eye on me. One gave a stomp of his hoof and fortunately that was the extent of any aggression. I would keep to the outside and go around the horses just to be safe.
The tide was still far out with the remaining exposed sand creating wonderful big sandy bays. There was not a soul about. I shared these sandy shores with a few black backed gulls, some flocks of terns and blue bottle jellyfish that were beached by the tide. They give a nasty sting so I was both glad of their demise and reluctant to take a swim despite the idyllic water and increasing temperature. In the first big bay was a curious mound with a grey appearance that made it quite obvious to its surroundings. The remains of a fence surrounded and there had once been a sign. I trudged over to take a closer look but unfortunately the sign had bleached to being invisible and despite a covering of shells I could not make it out. In between each sandy bay was a rocky headland. I could scoot around still, following 4wd and quad bike track marks in the sand, grass and over the rocks. On one such headland I stopped for a break and discovered another team of horses hanging out, hidden behind a rocky outcrop. The volcanic remnants are rough and raw. It looks like the lava in Hawaii once it has solidified on contact with the water. It oozes with a sense of the power of nature, created by a violent force eons ago when the landscape would have been very different. I am loving the contrast of the black rock surrounded by the blue and white of the ocean and the greens on land. The waves are angrily pounding the shore here; no comforting zen sounds but riotous crashing of relentless rollers.
Further down the coast I meet many more horses. I still don’t know whether these are wild or belong to someone. They appear to be in good condition yet roam as they please. Most are chestnut with darker manes and tails. A horse we once had, Awanui, looked the same. She may well have been a relation to these very horses especially as her namesake township is no more than 30 km distant.
Eventually I arrived at the final bay on my coastal journey, where the land draws the sea in to form the Herekino Harbour. The map indicates the wreck of the HMS Osprey in 1846. For a moment I’m excited by the prospect of viewing a shipwreck until I mentally calculate just how long ago that was (174 years). Nothing to see here. The Osprey floundered here when the captain mistook it for the Hokianga harbour to the south. All survived but I’m sure he wasn’t popular with the admiralty.
I have been told that the exit from the beach is obvious and to look for the cone. I was dubious that there would still be said cone however when I did reach the exit it was obvious by the tyre tracks and low and behold there was a good old cone as well. The sand was fine and thick which made walking difficult for a few hundred metres until I reached the pines. I was in the lee of the dunes, the pines so fragrant in the heat of the sun and it smelt amazing. These pines soon petered out, too scraggy to be of any value. Beyond here the trees had been harvested and replanting already done – the ground dotted with foot high seedlings. I was now on a gravel road that wound slowly up to a summit before descending down to the road skirting the Herekino river. It was hot and humid. I drank more water than any day beforehand and dreamt of the cool beer I would have at the pub in Herekino. It opened at 3 pm so there was no point rushing. Even so the walk was slow and tiring.
I did smirk at the forestry sign advising no unauthorised entry. All the locals of the area know this is the way to and from the beach. I daresay a sign means zilch to them. Also zilch to me as I had just walked right through thank you very much. A dusty six km later I arrived at the Herekino Tavern. It was 3:30pm and I had been walking for 9 hours. Lyndsay, the convivial owner, provided me with a glass of coke with ice and a big bottle of Lion Red. They were going to go down a treat. Later he kindly drove me a k up the road to the Tui Inn accommodation where I pitched my tent for the night and was early to bed.
PS was not attacked by any dogs