For many kilometers after Auckland, it turns out to be a pretty long section of road walking. Not the fun kind either. You walk by the airport, by large warehouses, by water treatment plants, by shopping malls, expensive hotels, and sometimes crammed to a very narrow shoulder of a major highway. It’s not ideal. Then you add a really major rainstorm to the mix and it makes for some rather rough times.
Still, we were not without our good experiences. On the second day of the storm, after a soggy road walk through some of the previous mentioned sights, a man pulled up beside us in his truck. “Hey, TA hikers. I bet you’d appreciate a place to stay indoors tonight.” To which we responded wide-eyed with some drooling and head nods. He wrote down his address and said we would be there in a couple hours walk. He had hiked the trail last year himself.
It’s amazing how much that cheered us up. We skipped along the road after that. We still had a steep climb through mud and thistles, but we found ourselves at his doorstep in pretty good spirits. He had a beautiful home and a lot of great advice to share. He fed us, gave us beer, and looked through the maps with us to give us some pointers on some of the trails ahead. It was so nice to have an experienced hiker to talk to.
We set off the next morning to less rain, but more roads. We felt better for our nice stay indoors, but then came some pretty impressive mud, some heat, way more cows than I would ever like to walk through, and some really long, flat road walks. For days. No joke.
On a positive note, there was a bar, Podge’s Place, that lets hikers stay the night. We met 5 other hikers there, all from the States, and had some great laughs that night. It’s a pretty good strategy to tell hikers they can camp for free behind your bar. They are guaranteed to spend plenty of dough on bar food and beers. The women who work there call themselves the Walker Stalkers and were really good to us, even had a place we could shower. We set up a shanty town of tents in their backyard and had a great time.
The next day we walked nearly a 50k day of flat hot roads and hard to follow river trail. I think that’s the most my feet have hurt so far. I actually switched to my sandals because my feet were so swollen. We made it to this really nice place that night. It’s called Remember Then and man o man was it lovely! It was a really charming setting with incredible hosts, a garden to eat out of, homemade kombucha, and a place to watch movies! That was really something.
Then, there was more road. Bits of trail and river path, a little farm track, a lot of pavement. You get the idea. I think the stretch from Auckland to Waitomo, which is 300 km, is at least 60% road walking.
That’s why we were so amazed when we found this…….
This was the Pirongia forest. Things were finally starting to be the kind of wilderness experience we were hoping for. We loved it. Great views, well maintained trails, and then some strikingly beautiful bush to walk through besides. It really helped to pick us up.
After that forest, we felt a bit recharged. We were back to road walking, but a nice gravel one with little traffic. We found a spot to pitched that looked like an old mining road. It seemed like it was going to work for the night. Even when we woke up hours later to a critter poking around us. Turned out to be a possum, which is a huge issue here in New Zealand. They are everywhere. We hadn’t bothered with the rain fly that night and enjoyed watching the stars. We cringed watching the possum climb the tree limb right above us, and thought, ‘please don’t drop down on our tent’ though it looked like a thought the possum was trying to sort out. I turned over on my side nervously. If I sleep through this, it will go away, I thought. Then I noticed something much more astonishing.
The stars were in the trees beside us. Wait, how could that be. I’m pretty certain we are right beside a rock wall with a few trees on it. Then I realised what I was looking at. Glow worms. What a marvel. It really reminded me of the starry night sky. It was as if they were sprinkled all around us, not just above. I smiled. What a great country. Possum or no possum, I like this place!