TA Day 13, Helena Bay to Whananaki – 25 km

The walk out of Helena Bay is straight up.
The walk out of Helena Bay is straight up.

Walking straight uphill this early morning onto a flower-covered hillside above the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing below. My pants are already soaked because the deep grass is drenched from last night’s torrential rain.

Just as I left the beach last evening and wandered back to the alicoop, a woman about my age wandered by, smiled and said hello. I followed her and asked if she might sell me a beer. She looked dumbfounded, “You need one?”

Yes, in fact I do after all those hot kilometers.

Turns out she doesn’t like beer at all. And and would much rather I share sparkling wine.

Monterrey Pines were imported to New Zealand and adapt well to the rain and fog.
Monterrey Pines were imported to New Zealand and adapt well to the rain and fog.

The next thing I know, I am included with husband, dad and cousin for cocktail hour. Tracy is a midwife, Ben, a carpenter. We natter for hours, and I learn much better Maori pronunciation – like wh is a ‘f’ sound, and that their home on the beach is called a bach, pronounced  “batch.”

Soon dinner is served, lamb chop from their farm and vegetables from their garden. They offer me a bed, pronounced “beed,” but I thank them and finally stumble back to the alicoop, full of nutrition and good feelings.

Tracy invited me over for some sparkling wine and we talked late into the night.
Tracy invited me over for some sparkling wine and we talked late into the night.
Ross graciously invites Te Aroroa hikers to camp on his lawn in Helena Bay so we don't have to crowd the beach.
Ross graciously invites Te Aroroa hikers to camp on his lawn in Helena Bay so we don’t have to crowd the beach.

And wow, what a wild night! Whipped up wind and pounding rain pinging off my dynamee tarp. But I’m up early, packed and headed off up a ridge with light mist, again, just as I like it.

The views are magnificent down to the little community of baches and steep cliffs trailing off into the ocean. I come off the trail on a little spur for a late breakfast. I make so many demands for the perfect spot – out of the wind, shade, a view, something to lean on, no mud.

I pass so many spectacular spots for a rest in a small stretch of cow pasture, where the biting wind makes me feel grateful for choosing a merino top, followed by a narrow ridge track deep in the bush with just two of my feet width.

My brunch spot in the bush with a light breeze, birds, shade and a wisp of view.
My brunch spot in the bush with a light breeze, birds, shade and a wisp of view.
Pine saplings in the bush.
Pine saplings in the bush.
A beautiful stile with a handle, tread and the orange triangle pointing the way through private land.
A beautiful stile with a handle, tread and the orange triangle pointing the way through private land.

Where I am now with soup, meat, cheese and almonds is in the dappled light and birdsong-filled kauri forest, giants reaching to the blue sky above, gently swaying in the breeze. Suddenly, almost two weeks in, I remember why I’m here; for moments in the fragrant forest alone, humping what I need on my back.

There’s very little mud here, no river, no blowing sand, but some of the hardest hiking up and down steep terrain I’ve yet encountered. A fit Austrian named Leonhardt – or Leo – catches up to me and I follow his runner’s pace for a few k.  

I tell him about the kayak debacle and how upset I was, and he exclaims in his thick accented English, “Oh my gawd, that’s totally a guy thing!” which causes me to forget feeling sorry for myself and instead burst out laughing. 

Leo quit his job and is traveling until the money runs out. He refuses to walk any roads whatsoever, so I’ll likely lose him after today. Too bad, because I really like him already. 

Leo talks as fast as he walks and rushes on ahead when I need to move more slowly. I watch him disappear behind ferns as the trail dives down into the forest. I wonder when he’ll notice I’m not behind him anymore?

Manuka, or Tee Tree, and a view back to the Bay.
Manuka, or Tee Tree, and a view back to the Bay.
A cleaning station for Kauri Dieback.
A cleaning station for Kauri Dieback.
 Afternoon chill on the ridge.
Afternoon chill on the ridge.

I come to a cleaning station, but as all the others I’ve passed, it’s empty. I try to scrape off the mud, but it’s a fool’s errand. I’m sure to be carrying bad stuff everywhere I walk.

The first days I felt like I couldn’t connect to anyone. I think I wanted someone to walk with. I was nervous and unsure of how much I’d taken on. But these last days, as I figure it out and find my pace, I absolutely love my solitude, especially high on this open ridge with vast views with sheep safely grazing.

I turn back into deep bush on the Morepork Track towards Whananaki, which I learn from Tracy is pronounced ‘fah-nah-nah-kee.’ Mud confronts me immediately and I think of the Raetea forest. A solo hiker was rescued already this season. I wonder if she took the wrong turn the same place we did, almost losing our way.

An easy part of the trail before the deep mud and steep up and down.
An easy part of the trail before the deep mud and steep up and down.
The hills reach stretch out like a carpet of bush all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The hills reach stretch out like a carpet of bush all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The trail follows the fence line on hilly farmland.
The trail follows the fence line on hilly farmland.

This cleaning station is tended and I disinfect my shoes, scraping them on the plastic brushes. I follow a stream that gets noisy as it hit rocks feeding into a deep green pool partially hidden by ferns.

I stop at a grassy spot as the track name changes to Onekainga and follow some crazy steep up and down sections. I’m starved all the time now, but eating a lot. No weight loss so far, though I usually completely lose my appetite backpacking. All I can think about in this tough section is if I get down this track before 5:30, take-away awaits.

I come to a magic camp spot in ferns and kauri at a bend of a babbling brook. It’s too early to stop. I look at it longingly.

After the stream is a killer, heart attack of straight up and over. Why build switchbacks when you can just hurl yourself forward. I come out on forest track and happy buzzing Manuka honey bees.

A colorful barn near Whananaki.
A colorful barn near Whananaki.
I pass a muddy mangrove swamp in brackish tidal water before reaching the beach again.
I pass a muddy mangrove swamp in brackish tidal water before reaching the beach again.

The trail winds through farmland, one squishy fen bit with a few electric fences to negotiate, and then I’m spit out onto the estuary, mangroves and their knees pushing through the muck, birds fluting as the view eventually widens to take in a vast sandy expanse, houses tucked in and the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere.

I get the biggest burger on the menu, bacon and egg, cheese, veggies and a side of squid rings, stock up on camp food and chill under the canopy while Cathy charges my battery. Hopefully a grassy spot awaits the alicoop at the free camping.

Score! Four camper vans, a live band playing Reggae across the street, spectacular grass, sunshine and a view of the estuary as Bram catches up with me. I present him with a bag of gummies and he pulls out of his bag a 750 ml bottle of Steinlager.

Life is good and especially so after having to reset the alicoop three times to avoid the big wind. She seems calm enough now.

Til tomorrow friends when I cross the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere.

A pohutukawa tree seems frozen mid-dance.
A pohutukawa tree seems frozen mid-dance.
The longest footbridge the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere connects Whananaki North with Whananaki South.
The longest footbridge the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere connects Whananaki North with Whananaki South.
Bram and I camp  by the estuary and hear a party going on most of the night.
Bram and I camp by the estuary and hear a party going on most of the night.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Kia Ora Alison,
    I was directed to your blog by Dr. Norm Loomer. I am a transplanted American whom moved here 26 years ago. I live in Palmerston North in the Manawatu and tramp a lot in the Ruahine ranges. If I can be of any assistance when you are in this area please let me know. I have enjoyed perusing your blog and photos and looks like the trip is going well. Kia Kaha!
    Ka kite ano,
    Robb

    1. Kia Ora, Robb! I will let you know! Taking one day at a time. A stunning morning in Whananaki. Heading towards Ngunguru today.

  2. It cheers me immensely to open my e-mails daily
    and see your smiling face in some stunning new vista
    followed by the most interesting shots of surrounding
    country, artifacts, “antique” cars, tranquil spas,
    often surrounded by good friends.

    xoxo, M

  3. Getting caught up on your blog today. Seems like it been a bit of a roller coaster, which doesn’t seem that unusual to me. The people you meet along your journey like Tracy and Ben will be the experiences that remain with you long after your adventure comes to a close. Your resilience is amazing and will serve you well.

  4. Alison, thank you for such a bounty of spectacular scenery and touching candor in your blog. Reflecting on your comments when you were in a funk a few days ago, allow me to share the thought that adjusting your expectations of other other people may spare you some depressing disappointment.

    You may be viewing others with the expectation that they share your respectful approach to the surroundings you are in – when in fact the track is populated by a cross section of humanity, crossing as it does roads and other easily accessed areas. This would be different than a track that remains remote for long stretches and thereby filters out a segment of the public not disposed to share your views of the environment you’re in.

    Glad you’re finding hospitable people to reassure your faith in humanity. I know you’ll find your “stride” before long as weeks pass more like days.

    Hans

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