Saturday 28 November – Day 14
Today starts well as I am expecting Ben and his son Lenny to drop by and do a bit of the trail with me. Punctual to a tee, Ben roars into Whananaki, loose gravel flying and grinning from ear to ear. I’m ready with pack on so we head straight along to the bridge. It’s the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere and gives kids access to the local school, TA walkers a way to continue the trail south and instagramers another subject to photograph. The tide is in so we abort the shore walk that goes past Winston Peters place and take the road instead to rejoin the trail at the Whananaki South Beach which has an excellent freedom camping site. The Whananaki Coastal track begins from the southern end as it climbs behind an incredible beach with just two properties. We take some pics and video before the boys return and continue their trip north. The coastal track is expected to take about 2.5hrs as it meanders around to Sandy Bay. Mostly its on access roads and farm tracks with a small amount in bush. The gradients are easy and the views change with every corner. I meet seven day walkers along the way, one lady from Sandy Bay stops to chat and she tells me that she passed Fiona and Tony earlier. They are heading to Ngunguru today as well. I’ve been scanning all of the hills on this farm but have yet to see any stock. Surely there would be sheep or cattle somewhere? The grass is not out of control – it’s all very tidy. Not long after thinking this I located the animals near the farm house and sheds. They run Herefords; one mob congregating on the track and delivering plenty of muck to step around. Fortunately they were also completely agreeable to people walking through their midst. The beaches below did not let up with their beauty. I’ve culled many pictures taken today as one is no superior than the next. I’d just say if you are visiting this area to take a couple of hours to experience it for yourself.
From Sandy Bay the TA route has changed. It used to pass by Woolleys Bay and continue to Matapouri before hitting the hills to Ngunguru. One of our largest kauri trees could be visited on this track. Maybe for that reason the route is now closed. I feel quite dubious about the alternative as it is entirely on roads and apart from the blim’n hill I know is eminent I am not sure what to expect from here to Ngunguru. I have a quick chat to the lady at Sandy Bay horse rides which is down on the flats and then I am upon the hill I can recall from driving this way. It’s long and it’s hot with little in the way of a safe verge. I’m sure the drivers are thinking who is this mad man walking up here. I was hoping for one of those pretty little waterfalls you often see on the big hills, water gushing and refreshing. But no. It’s dry dirt all the way. Note to self drivers: carry some spare water in your car and when you see a TA hiker stop and offer some. You will meet some grateful and interesting souls. I made it to the top and a few km along the road to Hikurangi turned off to the left which was signposted to Whangarei. I have not been on this road before. It meanders through countryside, both traditional and dairy farming. It is hot. Fortunately there is a good southerly breeze that keeps me from overheating but even so there are no water sources near the road. I would need to ask at one of the houses if I ran out of water. Around midday I can hear the high pitch of motocross bikes nearby and a waft of smoke. I was thinking “mmm BBQ” even hotdogs and drinks perhaps. Around the next bend in the road a log is smouldering in a paddock, my hopes dashed. Again a left turn onto a narrow gravel road. The sign says no exit yet it is also a cycle trail to Ngunguru. The TA trail app confirms this is the correct way. I count 16 letterboxes before the road continues under a canopy of native trees. It is lovely countryside these people live on, there is even a kiwi reserve but I don’t see anyone nor any kiwis. Eventually I come to the end of the road. It seems like it ends at three driveways however this is where a little gem is revealed. Here begins the Ngunguru Old Coach road, not much wider than a driveway it is used by walkers cyclists bikes and small 4wd vehicles. It is not council maintained hence the previous road being no exit. The road had been hewn from the hillside and descended through regenerative Bush with occasional views of Ngunguru which was tantalisingly close now. The cycle trail markers clicked off each km, down to 5 km now. What a difference to reach Ngunguru. From no traffic, I get to the main road and there is droves of vehicles in each direction. It is the weekend after all. At the Ngunguru store I buy some refreshments then text James, as instructed, to let him know I am here. I start walking along to the pick up area when I hear my name being called. Surely no one knows me here. I turn about and here are Fiona and Tony approaching. They had stopped at the cafe and saw me pass by. We three walk along to the predescribed picnic table location beside the estuary and text James again. This is an official part of the Te Araroa trail courtesy of James and his tinny.
We loaded into the boat for the short transfer across the estuary and disembarked right outside his Nikau Bay Eco camp. Gosh what a place it is. Skillfully crafted by James himself there is a communal kitchen dining and lounge building, three separate accommodation huts, amazing outside showers, toilet block and lots of green space for tents etc. Everything is made from recycled elements and as James is a perfectionist it all comes together beautifully. We unwind in the blissful surroundings. James reckons on approx 100 TA hikers through this season already. Some will be doing the thru hike others the North section or the north island. He had 600 through last season. He brings us a bowl of fresh eggs tomatoes and salad greens from his garden. Jazz is here too. Poor thing she has hobbled and been given rides from Whananaki but I do worry about her foot as she can barely walk. In the evening James gets us together and he describes the next section. There are two water crossings, the Horahora river and the Taiharuru estuary which need the low tide to be considered. Strangely the river low tide is 1.5 hrs different to the nearby tide at Ngunguru. Low tide is not until 2 pm so we can have a chill morning and a short walking day of 17 km. James upgrades me to a cabin with double bed. Oh the luxury 🛌😂