Day 21 : ~25 kms
(Kraak road to Puhoi)

This was a day of trials. First I discovered I went 4 kms in the wrong direction (from Smyth's Reserve go down, not uphill!). Next was the weather-- all day rain.  It was forecast for a week but I decided to take my chances in "light, scattered showers..." I arrived to Puhoi completely drenched and ready to call it a night.

The only place I could go was the town Pub. They offer rooms at $60/night and while I took one it was a matter of convenience rather than value. Sure the building is a bit rustic but the place is comparable to a city hostel of $25-30 value.

The last major setback was discovering my phone water damaged. I put it in a ziplock of rice and woke at 1 am to discover it mostly functional again. I did not sleep well and spent the rest of the night catching up online.

Day 22 : ~30 kms
(Puhoi to Stillwater Motor Camp)

It's funny how much can happen in a day. This time I started on the freeway, feeling like frogger as I walked a few kilometers. At one point I tried hitching but soon relented. It was prime "running late to work" time--6:45 am--on the direct road to New Zealand's biggest city. 

Later the path involved some beach but was more hopping rocks than walking on sand. At the end of it I find myself up 60 steep steps (yes, I counted) and in someone's personal driveway. She gave me a lift to the public road and back to the beach I went. This is still before 10 am.

Then I made it to the first city of the day (Orewa) where I stopped to splurge on a soy cappuccino ($5.50 NZD). I had a lovely chat with the café staff who were quite curious about the walk. One basically convinced herself to start as soon as she finishes her studies (let me know when you do, Megan!).

The rest of my day can be summed up as: more chats with curious strangers, more road walking, a bit of getting lost, wonderful trail angels, and a very long day with lots of stops. The best thing was coming to the motor camp in Stillwater. The owner lets walkers stay for free (indoors!) and tops it with lots of great tips and info about the trail and outdoor survival. Before turning up here I planned this post to have a sour ending. One act of kindness changed it all.
Day 23 : ~8 kms
(Waiake Bay to Albany)

I wanted to stay in Stillwater to rest but the weather seemed okay for walking (overcast but no rain). I figured it best to keep moving while I could and took a lift with the motor camp owner to bypass track closures. Bad idea.

Light rain started before I even got in the car and continued for the first hour. It grew stronger and I arrived to Brown's Bay soaked. From there I had the choice of continuing at least two hours in the rain, or waiting it out and calling in a few favors... I took the latter. I stopped over at the library to get myself organized then headed off-trail to my old workplace, a retreat centre 5 kms away. There a friend warmly welcomed me to her place, offering me a chance to recover until the storm passed.

Day 18 : 25 kms
(Cove Rd to Te Arai Beach)

I started early today to avoid getting in trouble with my makeshift camping spot. The weather got hot on the road sections but the last few kilometers ended on overcast beach.  A local guided me from horseback and advised me to camp at Te Arai point. Although there were signs stating this was not allowed I took her word for it. I was comforted to notice camper vans also sneaking in to the area after dark.

Day 19 : 31 kms
(Te Arai Beach to Matakana)

Long, tiring day! I took my time but walked from sun up to after sun down. Lots of the up and down hills I despise! This combined with a muddy off-season track lined with thorn bushes made it dirty and painful too! Instead of hitching, I walked the extra 6 kms to Matakana until after dark, thinking all hope was lost. Fortunately, another kind kiwi saved the day, offering me a room in his beautiful 200-acre farm home.  :)

Day 20 : ~15 kms
(Matakana to Kraak road)

Today was short in distance but a full on day hike. I started out feeling fantastic after my night indoors and a delicious breakfast (poached eggs, potatoes, and mixed veggies). This combined with a better formed track made all the difference in my mood through all the up and down hills. Just before dark I lucked out when a family offered their garage to me as protection from the rain. I'll just keep my fingers crossed so I can walk tomorrow!!
My wet weather gear. Photo Credit: Marjolein
Day 14: ~25 kms
(Ngunguru to Patau)

The day started well with blueberry topped porridge plus some delicious coffee! Rather than start down 8 kms of road, the campground owner took me directly to the Mackerel Track on his way to work.

The walk was easy enough but it was my wettest day so far. The weather alternated between sunshine and rain basically the entire time. Fortunately my $3 poncho made for the perfect bag cover (thanks for that tip, Maya). I arrived in wet shoes to TideSong where I called it a day. Lovely place and lovely people who have also done the walk!

Day 15 : 25 kms
(Taiharuru to Urquats Bay)

Although a southerlie brought strong, cold winds recently, the day was quite bright and sunny. The Tidesong owners graciously drove me around the estuary so I could start the track without wet feet. It was well formed putting gorgeous views of rolling hills and ocean at my back.

I continued down the coast to beaches way more scenic than 90-mile. The water was clear and reflected beautiful hues of blue in the distance. Next was the most tiring bit--uphill 400 meters--the highest elevation climb so far! 

At the end, in Urquats Bay, a local picked me up with the offer of camping near his house. It was cold, windy and near dark when we arrived so he ended up allowing me to stay indoors instead. As a former Dept of Conservation employee, he shared lots of information about the plants and animals in the area, tools for tramping, and fun anecdotes about other Te Araroa hikers he's met.

Day 16 : 10 kms
(Marsden Point to Uretiti Campground) 

The local who hosted me last night was a life saver again today. He took me in to Whangarei for a resupply, a library visit (to print the more detailed daily walk guide) and even to the local market. Then he dropped me on the other side of the harbor to restart the walk. 

The path continued on the coast with a bit of road walking to avoid yet another boat crossing. During this section I crossed my second TA walker. This one came from Germany just a few weeks ago and decided to start backward, from a city less than 100 kms away. He carried all the things he brought with him to New Zealand and looked quite tired and overloaded. I offered him a few tips and for once thought I was adequately prepared for this journey.

Day 17 : ~31 kms 
(Uretiti Campground to Cove Rd exit)

Beautiful sunny weather and at times hot! The path went from beach to road to bush. All quite well formed. I was tempted to stay in the cute town called Waipu, where I picked up my Asics runners (thanks for dropping them off there, Maya!). However, it felt like walking on clouds with them on so I continued until sunset. Still, I was 3.5hrs away from the nearest town and I stopped in a vacant development site to pitch my tent.

Day 6: ~15 kms (Mangamuka Bridge to Apple Dam Campground)
I slept so well in Kaitia (Main Street Lodge - $30). If only I would have slept longer! I woke at 5:30am naturally, ready to start the day. Once I prepared lunch and dinner (rice), I stopped by the Pak N Save for more food and visited the Te Ahu iSite.

The representative there confirmed I should skip the Herekino and Raetea forest sections. "We don't advise anyone to go there. Especially if they don't have to", she told me.

I hitched a direct ride to Mangamuka within minutes and started to walk around noon. It was mostly uphill along a combination of paved, gravel and dirt roads. Apple Dam felt forever away but it was a clean, simple campsite. No apples though.

Day 7 : 26 kms (Apple Dam to Puketi HQ/Recreation Area)

I woke up cold and wet from the moisture of the dam. Once packed, I set off around 7am for my most challenging day so far. It included a 2km river walk and getting wet couldn't be avoided. I tried without shoes but the rocks were too painful. The water reached mid-thigh in some spots but was generally mid-calf or less (I'm 161cm).

Then it got dangerous. In the forest section I  climbed, slipped, slided, squatted, and descended backward at many points. I felt like I was rock climbing more than hiking.

After 11 hours I arrived to the hut, where a small group was celebrating the end of their "farms skills" course. I learned all about possums (they must die!) and Kauri Die Back disease (they must live!). When I feel asleep, their conversations lingered in the background. Drunk people don't know how to whisper...

Day 8 : 29 km (Puketi HQ/Recreation Centre to KeriKeri - Aranga Backpackers & Holiday Park)

I woke at 4am ready to start but after stepping outside to pee, I realized I still wanted to stay in bed. My feet ached from yesterday and while I slept deeply, it wasn't enough.

The trail started on a gravel road and after a fence hop I was on farmland. I passed many lamb, cows, and eventually a person too. My first Te Araroa cross! The Frenchman started backward, from Bluff six months ago. 

Most of the day alternated between dirt roads and hopping fences through pastures. The markers were a bit more distant than the forest and there wasn't paved through trail. I had to double checked my path often.

At the end of the day my shoes and socks were wet from the muddy cow printed land. My feet began to ache as I approached KeriKeri. I called it a night at the Aranga Holiday Park. The fee was $18 --too much for tenting, so I snuck in the lounge area to sleep.