Labour Weekend - Thursday 20 October 2016 to Monday 24 October 2016 (5 days)

Friday morning 6am found us waking up in the bus at the Raetea North Side campground. After a quick breakfast, we were on the road again to Kaitaia where we were abruptly ejected at the Kaitaia McDonalds; fortunately Lindsay Jacques was there to transport us to Ahipara where our tramp was to begin.

Lindsay had also been there to drop Tina, his partner to join one of our other groups tramping further up the coast. Lindsay and Tina are retired and are living the good life as gypsies, travelling around NZ with their caravan. Fortunately for us, they were presently staying at the Ahipara Holiday Park, and so Lindsay was in the best location to assist with our transportation.

The plan was for our group to be dropped off at the start of Gum Fields Road, but as this was the start of a climb up to the ridge above Ahipara, I let Lindsay drop us off half way up. After thanking Lindsay, we continued up the road on foot until we came to a four wheel drive track leading to a lookout over Ahipara and up 90 Mile Beach and as far north as the high points between Cape Reinga and North Cape. Back to Gum Fields Road, we headed off to find the Historic Kauri Gum Fields. On the way, we crossed a bridge where we were disgusted to find a dozen or so filleted fish had been dumped in the stream. This was later to change our choice of campsite when we realised this stream continued on down to the coast and past by our planned campsite.

The Kauri Gum Fields look like a burnt out strip of Manuka scrub at first, but on closer inspection you realise you are looking at the roots of ancient Kauri trees. All the top soil has been dug and washed away leaving the blackened roots sticking out of a hard mudstone base. Small chips of Kauri Gum are still to be found scattered around but are apparently of no value today.

We followed a rough four wheel-drive track down to the coast, coming out at the top of some large sandstone cliffs and dunes, with impressive views both down and up the coast to the Tauroa Peninsula - tomorrow’s destination.

To avoid the dead fish fed stream, we turned south and set up camp alongside the Waitara Stream on a nice flat area behind a large dune that provided shelter from the south-westerly winds. After lunch, we thought we would explore further south as I had read about some brain-patterned boulders visible at low tide. We experienced some stunning west coast scenery and met one of the locals chilling out in his four-wheel drive down on the tidal rocks, but no brain-patterned boulders. I now know these are located in the Herekino Harbour some 8km further south.

Back at the campsite, we had just cleaned up after tea and noticed the wind had picked up from the north-west and it looked like a rainfront was coming. Antal’s tent started to billow and the pegs were pulling out of the soft sand. Mark’s tent also started to flap a bit and Sneiga, who had erected her tent without the fly, was quickly getting it ready to put it on. Antal decided he needed to relocate to the other side of the stream where we had passed a private campsite in a grass paddock, so we all decided to move together. As I watched the others pull up and move off, I realised my tent seemed fine and since the rain had now arrived I decided to jump inside to stay dry. As well as using pegs, I had gone to a little extra trouble to tie down my tent to some dune grasses, so I was confident my tent wasn’t going anywhere.

The next day I woke to heavy showers but knew we had to get moving if we were going to achieve our 8am departure time as agreed the previous day. After a solitary breakfast, I knew I had to cross the stream to check on the rest of the group; something I’d been avoiding as it meant getting wet feet. I found the team had set up camp under the shelter of some trees, had eaten and were in the progress of packing up. Back on my side of the stream, I had no shelter and did my best to pack up between showers, consequently we got away 15 minutes late.

The trip north was typical of the west coast, wild and remote, and just the way I like it. The rain had stopped and the wind was from the rear; ideal beach tramping conditions. Part way along, we came across a dune which had been fenced off. On closer inspection, it appeared to be made up of shells and burnt wood, and we concluded it to be ancient Maori shellfish dump site or midden. As this was the size of a small house, I was quite impressed.

At the end of the beach, we climbed up onto the Tauroa Peninsula to check out the lighthouse. It was fenced off, along with most of the peninsula, by electric fencing, apart from a small strip of land around the cliff face. While we were up on the cliff-top, a large group of four-wheel drives, quad bikes and motor bikes past below us on the beach heading south from where we had just come. I was glad they had not interrupted our morning’s walk up the beach as it would have spoiled the remote atmosphere of the place.

After the lighthouse, we decided to descend back down to the beach and check out the local baches. Most of these were quite old and some were derelict, along with the occasional old bus or caravan with the windows blown in. We stopped on the grass in front of a small group of baches and pondered the whereabouts of some limestone shafts marked on the map. While doing so, we were surprised by one of the locals, a large Maori chap who had spotted us sitting on his front lawn. He turned out to be a very friendly guy who was keen to tell us a bit about the area. He also offered us fresh water, which was much appreciated as the day had started to heat up.

We continued on around the coast keeping an eye on the tide as we knew we would be rock-hopping around the cliff face before reaching the main beach at Ahipara. Even though it was around high tide, most of us made it through without getting our shoes wet. We arrived at the Ahipara Holiday Park at around 3pm, and had no problem checking in and finding a camp site. It was decided we would have fish and chips for tea, but before we headed off into town I managed to track down Lindsay to confirm a lift down the road to the start of tomorrow’s Herekino Forest walk. That night, we watched the All Blacks beat the Wallabies but only managed to watch until half time as tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Next morning, we had all packed up by 8am just as Lindsay drove up to accept our packs and take us down to the next part of our tramp. Thanks Lindsay for saving us the 8km road walk to the start of the track. The Herekino Forest track is on the Te Araroa Trail and passes through some wonderful native forest with giant Kauri, Totara and Puri trees, to name only few. The track was quite muddy and covered in tree roots, but otherwise not too demanding.

At noon, we met a fellow hiker who had taken a short cut in from Pukepoto, along a four-wheel drive track. He was a Kiwi recently returned from Australia attempting to complete the Te Araroa Trail. I wonder if he will succeed; he’s got a long way to go and he’s already taking short cuts! Later, we pass a couple of young women with heavy packs making hard work of it. I wonder how many tourists start the trail and don’t finish - I’m sure many don’t appreciate how rough and isolated our tracks are in places.

Taumatamahoe is the highest point of the Herekino Forrest track at 558m. There is no view from the trig so make sure you stop at the small viewing point on the way up. From the trig, I was able to call the Tubbs, the owners of the farm we were planning to tent at for the night. They gave me some final instructions and we headed off down from the trig.

On exiting the forest, we climbed the farm fence and followed the farm road down to the barn, 200m before the house. On approaching the barn, we were met by one of the Tubbs sons on a quad bike, who had ridden up to show us where to camp. It was a lovely level site by a stream fringed by mature trees. The Tubbs had even put a long-drop in especially for us with a roll of toilet paper each, what luxury!

That evening, we strolled down to the house to meet the Tubbs and pay a small donation for staying on their property. Halley Tubbs met us with her two young boys. We had a friendly chat about where we had been and thanked her for allowing us to camp on her farm and for putting in the long drop. She said they usually have a family camp over there themselves during summer and have been meaning to put in a long drop for some time. Her husband, Allen suddenly arrived with half a dozen farm dogs. Apparently he had spent the day mustering on a friend’s farm over on the east coast.

We discovered that Sneiga prefers to sleep without her tent fly; perhaps that’s the norm where she comes from in the USA. I wonder how long that will last here with our highly changeable weather. Next morning, we were up early again with the prospect of a fairly easy day to finish off our trip. First we had to retrace our steps back to where we had come out of the forest the day before, then head off over the Kaitaia Walkway track to Larmer Road. The track was muddy again but not much climbing needed, and we made good progress.

After morning tea, we came to a small stream and, as we were near the end of the track, we took the opportunity to clean our boots. We had been there a while when we realised that Mark had not arrived at the stream. I thought bugger, my first trip as leader and I loose someone. We decided I would backtrack to look for him while Antal & Sneiga remained at the stream. I soon found Mark much to my relief. It seems that he had been a bit slow getting going after the morning tea and when he had not caught up as quickly as expected, he thought we may have done a small 15 min side track to a Kauri grove and so had gone back to check.

Back together now, it wasn’t long to the end of the track which left an 8 km road walking to Kaitaia - not something we were looking forward to. We arrived in Kaitaia about 30 minutes before the bus, just enough time for a quick coffee and muffin at Birdies café before Big Blue arrived for our return trip to Auckland.

Our group was: Robin Houston (leader), Antal Kalocsai, Mark Wilson, & Snieguole Radzeviciene.

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