I am going on an adventure
Wednesday, November 09, 2016, I am finally there, at Cape Reinga. After 4 days spent in Auckland to bring my preparation to an end, I meet with Mélanie, Élodie and Adrien, three excellent friends of mine travelling around Australia and currently spending a month in New Zealand.
They agreed to take me with them in their van for 2 days and to drive me from Auckland to the northernmost point of the country, the Cape Reinga lighthouse. There, I will start the adventure I have been waiting for and preparing for so long.
Those few days spent with such amazing friends were for me an incredible immersion into the singular world of backpackers as well as the perfect transition between the urban and hiking life.
Is there indeed a better way to get ready for walking through New Zealand than watching the Lord of the Rings on a computer, comfortably sitting on the back of a van, surrounded by the ones you love after having eaten an excellent meal, which is the result of months of experience cooking in the country of kangaroos?
Day 1: start and Twilight Beach / mile 0 to 7.5
In a perfectly blue sky, the sunrays spread out their heat over the lighthouse. I can feel the salt air from the ocean penetrate my nostril, fill my lungs and trigger in my head the old memory of a pirate town so far away from where I am right now. I could not have dreamt of better weather conditions to start hiking!
Mélanie, Élodie and Adrien bustle around me, taking pictures and shooting videos of my arrival at the lighthouse to immortalize this unique moment.
I feel strangely quiet. So often, I had pictured in my head that I would start my journey with a mixed feeling of excitement, fear and a certain pride. However, now that I am standing on Te Araroa’s mile 0, my mind is as quiet as the sea surrounding it and I am entirely focused on the first miles. This moment is actually not really a start, but rather the continuation of a project that had started months ago.
After having taken the last pictures, it is time to hit the track. I look straight in front of me, lift my left foot and move it to … the left, followed one second after by my right foot. I do this step to the left once again before moving my right foot to the right, followed by my left foot. I repeat this step to the right and end up in my initial position. True to my words, I start my adventure with a basic bachata step, as I had promised to one of my best friends.
I then go forward and head toward the beginning of the first track, a few hundred feet ahead of me. This track will bring me down the hill to Twilight Beach. My friends surround me and cheer me up with encouraging words. Once at the beginning of the track, we take the last pictures, huge and I take a last good look at them before pronouncing those words prepared long ago for the occasion: “I am going on an adventure!”
I walk the first 7.5 miles to the first campsite without difficulty. They are a mix of beach, rocks and grass, which is exactly what I need to warm up. On my right, the turquoise sea creates a relentless sound of waves crushing on the wet sand.
Once I reach the end of the first section of beach, a few wooden steps on my left going up the cliff indicate that I am near to the first campsite and that I will soon be able to enjoy my first well-deserved evening meal.
I reach the top of the steps and get a nice welcome from a group of hikers seated at a table under a wooden kiosk. I pitch my tent quickly and join them. This group is made up of one American girl, Rebecca, three Germans, Christina, Johanna and Bernhard, one French girl, Marguerite, one Kiwi girl, Ketty, as well as two English and one Finnish hikers whose name I don’t remember. We all plan to tramp the whole length of Te Araroa and share our impressions on this first day of hike.
Once I have eaten my evening meal consisting of noodles boiled in packet soup, I brush my teeth and start stretching in order to prevent muscle pain for the coming days. Above my head, millions of small candles are slowly lighting up one by one in a cloudless and peaceful sky. I get into my tent, massage my feet with cream and quietly fall asleep.
Days 2 to 5: 90 Mile Beach / mile 7.5 to 63
The next day, I decide to leave around 8:30 a.m. but realize later that it is a little bit to late to start hiking. It would be better that I wake up around 6 a.m. and start at 8 a.m. at the latest so that I can reach the next campsite as soon as possible. This way, I can find a good spot to pitch my tent and rest for the rest of the day.
My first day hiking on the 90 Mile Beach, which is actually 53 miles, is quite nice but has its share of difficulties. As the landscape on the beach does not really change, it give hikers the odd impression of going dead slow. I turn around from time to time to see the coast behind me getting smaller and smaller.
I can already feel the weight of my backpack on my hips and shoulders, so I use the time I have while hiking to rethink the way I place my gear in my pack and try to figure out a way to make more space and get rid of those items I will not truly need.
I also decide to wait 4 hours between my breakfast, lunch and evening meal and to make an energy break between each main meal. Moreover, I choose to use my spirit burner to cook only my evening meals. This way, my breakfasts and lunches are much easier to organize.
I arrive at the Bluff campsite and meet again with Rebecca, Marguerite, Johanna, Christina and Bernhard, with whom I eat my evening meal. They will be my hiking buddies for a few days.
We wake up quite early the next morning in order to leave at 8 a.m.. After having sorted out some of my equipment, I put the clothes I don’t wear in the same waterproof bag I use for my sleeping bag. This gives me some more free room at the bottom of my backpack.
Hiking on the sand is getting more and more tiring and I can already feel some pain in my hips, shoulders, buttocks, and the sole of my feet. Those pains are the sign that my body is slowly getting used to the physical effort.
At the end of the afternoon, we decide to rent a bed in cabins near the beach. This gives me the possibility to dry up my tent, which was still wet from the morning humidity. I fill the inner and outer wall with the wind coming from the sea like a kite, which turns out to be a pretty effective method. I also take a good shower, use real toilets and fix my watch bracelet and sunglasses temple with tape.
For days 4 and 5, we decide to hike slower to get used to the effort and avoid injuries. I can already feel a persistent pain in my ankle. Bernhard brought some yoga videos and we use the time we have ahead of us to do a yoga session and relax.
We arrive at the Ahipara YHA hostel at the beginning of the afternoon during day 5 and decide to stay there a day and a half to enjoy a day off.
Once settled down, everyone goes about his or her own business, which basically involves washing clothes, getting a good shower and enjoying a dose of Internet comfortably sitting in the sun.
We also put aside the items we don’t need to send them to Auckland. As far as I am concerned, I choose to get rid of my second trouser, my sunglasses case, the waterproof bag in which I used to pack my clothes, the small pocket for my mosquito net, the kit to repair my tent, a piece of Goretex fabric, my snack pocket and sleeping mask. I also reproduce one of Rebecca’s techniques and wrap my tape around my hiking poles.
Our day ends with a delicious salad made up of vegetables and cheese, a great way to break the routine of eating wraps, rice and noodles boiled in soup.
Day 6: day off and resupplying in Kaitaia
Monday, November 14, 2016, we plan to use our day off to go resupply in a small town called Kaitaia, not far away from where we are now. However, we do not really want to hike all the way up there and choose to use a free a widely used local way of transportation: hitchhiking!
At first, I was quite suspicious concerning hitchhiking, which I never do and is rather ineffective in France. But I quickly realize how unfounded my suspicions were when, after a few minutes with our thumb up on the side of the road, a man in his forties pulls over and offers to give us a ride to our destination. We accept without hesitation and soon enjoy a nice chat with our driver.
Our first stop is at the local post office, where it only takes us a few minutes to send out the equipment we don’t need to Auckland. We then head toward the supermarket to buy food for our next section, which will take 6 days and lead us through the woods to Kerikeri without being able to buy food on the way.
On the menu for me, it will be wraps with peanut butter and dried fruits a well as oats with chocolate powder for breakfast, wraps with tuna and cheese for lunch and different sorts of rice and noodles for the evening meal. I also buy energy bars that I can eat during breaks, and try to mix up the flavors.
We also plan to hitchhike our way back to our drop-off point but this time, I manage to add a little bit of unexpected to the journey. It is Karoline, a fellow German translator colleague living in New Zealand for a few years and whom I had met only a day before on Twitter who comes and pick us up to drive us back to our hostel.
This spontaneous act of great kindness is a manifest proof, if a proof was ever needed, that New Zealand and its inhabitants are worthy of their reputation and that it is always useful to have a translator around!
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