Posted on Jan 29, 2018
Several suggested they would be interested in Graham Bocock's 'bucket list' journey on The Te Araroa Trail
Here is an account up to Palmerston North, which will be continued next week, finishing off the North Island.
 
I started his 3,000klm journey on 11th November 2017 at Cape Reinga Saturday, walking 101km down to the bottom of Ninety-Mile Beach at Ahipara, arriving 3 days later 4.30pm.  The first two days were brutal, walked into a head-on gale which didn't relent for two days.  Sand stung our faces at times. The last two days were much kinder with only a gentle breeze. The beach is massive and beautiful, but I am not unhappy to leave it.  We had a couple of magnificent sunsets.
 
At our first camp on Saturday night, there were about 20 T-A trekkers camping the night, and a few of us have stuck together since. Opossums got into some tents, tearing the tents and food bags while the people were asleep. Most woke up and chased them away.  I was not attacked.
 
Kiwis are definitely in the minority here, there are many foreign young people on the trek, from Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, among others. I am the only kiwi in our group, and by far the oldest, but my trek buddy and I are out-pacing them by far, which apparently makes me something of a hero. It seems 'old' guys aren't supposed to be able to do that. 
 
We will have a rest day tomorrow, then start heading from coast to coast through the forests and mud to Kerikeri, which by all accounts is also brutal.  They say if you can survive the first two weeks of the trail, you can handle anything.
 
 After spending a rest day at Ahipara at the bottom of Ninety Mile Beach we headed east cross country to Kerikeri through the Northland Forests, i.e. native bush, all DOC land.  Over four days I went through the Herekino and Raetea forests. Overcast with showers the whole way. At times we were quite high on the ranges, in the clouds. The terrain is very steep and rugged, the tracks are rough at best and often overgrown, and 80% is through serious mud, up to 30cm if you aren't careful. A couple of times we found ourselves off the track. Having GPS guidance is absolutely essential.  We pitched our tents on wet tracks and sloping ground. I was in a party of five people and we were fighting gravity all night trying not to slide out through the ends of our tents!  I don't think any of us got a good night's sleep all the way. We eventually emerged from the mud-bath Sunday 3.30pm. It was a tough trip. 
 
Having said all that, the forests are magnificent, we saw massive pristine kauri trees that could be 1000 years old. Some of the foreigners said they thought the bush was beautiful. 
 
My Aussie trek buddy, Troy, and I decided we weren't going to walk out to the road like the others, so we pitched our tents on some flat ground by a stream for the night. A good decision.  Troy and I get on well, lots of good healthy kiwi - Aussie banter along the way.  The underarm bowl has come up a couple of times. We have temporarily parted company.  He wanted to go through the third forest, three more days of mud.  I'd had enough, so I headed for State Highway One and hitched to Kerikeri where I now am.  I have no idea where Troy is at the moment, he'll be up to his backside in the mud somewhere. No cell coverage in the forest. I'll wait a couple of days for him to emerge and we'll plan and prepare for our next few days heading south.
 
I arrived in Kerikeri after days being sandblasted on the beach and forest mud up to my knees.  The inside of my tent and my gear resembles a slum and smells like a tin of sardines that's been open a week.  Last night I had a plague of sand flies in my tent, I sprayed insect repellent around.  It turns out that ants like my repellent, and now my plague of sand flies have been replaced by a plague of ants. You can't win.
 
Well, I'm now just past the 500km point on the trail. I've had lots of ups and downs, most of them steep!  
At last update, I was at Kerikeri where I spent a couple of days on 'holiday'. Saw the historic sights and the waterfall, quite impressive.  I then moved on to Waitangi travelling through pine forests. I was with a Canadian, Francis, we missed a forest track turnoff and were temporarily lost, but GPS got us back on the trail. We got to Waitangi late afternoon hot, tired and hungry.  Fish and chips never tasted so good.
 
Unfortunately, my travelling companion had terrible blisters and could hardly walk and was in a bit of a mental state about it. He couldn't go on next day, so I agreed to stay one day in Waitangi with him.  Next day we went for a two-hour walk through the mangroves and to the Haruru Falls, by the time we got back to our tents he had decided to quit the trail. I felt sorry for him.
 
Next day 26/11, I caught the ferry across to Russell, and after having a look around and getting photos I headed off for the long 22km walk along roads to Waikare Landing at the end of the inlet. From there, I entered the Russell Forest and did another 7km to a DOC shelter at a clearing in the forest. 4km of that was walking up the middle of the Papanui Stream, up to thigh deep at times. After the hot road trip, my feet loved the river.  It was a beautiful walk through the pristine native bush. 
 
Next day I continued to the far edge of the forest, then a long road walk to the Oakura Holiday Park.  Yes, they've got one in Northland as we have in Taranaki.  The lady who owns it, Robyn, also knows our Oakura very well. I can recommend her place if you are ever up that way.
 
My pack was feeling the strain of the load weight and a strap had pulled out from the stitching, and something had come disconnected in the frame.  I decided to head to Whangarei for temporary repairs.  Robyn was going there the next morning and she gave me a lift.
 
In Whangarei I stayed at The Cell Block, a converted Jail now a backpackers. It still has all the concrete cells, bars over the windows, heavy steel doors etc. An amazing place. 
 
Next day 29/11, I had a fantastic day. I caught an Inter-city bus from Whangarei which dropped me about 3km from Ruakaka, I was hitching along to get back on the trail, a guy stopped and asked if I wanted a lift, he had been involved in planning the TA trail in the area. He suggested that he take me to Waipu Cove and that I do the Waipu coastal walkway rather than rejoin the trail immediately.  It was a stunning walk. Some of the most spectacular coastline I have seen. Back on the trail, I headed cross-country to the Mangawhai Cliff Walkway along to Mangawhai Heads. This again is up there with the best coastline walks in the country. Late afternoon I descended to the beach and eventually reached the motor camp. An amazing day.
 
30/11 was a long day. I left Mangawhai Heads, 7 Kms of hot dusty roads then onto the beach down to Pakiri. Total of 30km in all in the hot sun.  Walking along a beach sounds great, but it's hard work. At Pakiri I had to cross the river at full tide which was thigh deep, again my feet welcomed the cool water, and I checked into the motor camp. 
 
1/12, the first day of summer. I headed out onto steep farmland that went into the bush and climbed to the summit Tamahunga on the range. Pretty steep, especially near the top where you have to do some vertical rock climbing which had me a little nervous.  Down the other side of the range I found a farmstay, the family was very welcoming and I pitched my tent on their lawn for the night. We had a very enjoyable conversation during the evening. 
 
Yesterday, I set off to travel over through Dome Forest.  The track was so overgrown with gorse it was impassable. I had to turn back. I decided to hitch to Warkworth for a rest day to wash my smelly clothes, resupply, and prepare for the trek down to Auckland. Again I hitched. Never done it till now. I got picked up by a young guy driving a near new Porsche. He asked me where I was going. I told him I was walking the length of NZ. He asked me how old I was. I told him sixty-nine and three quarters. His jaw dropped. He told me I put him to shame.
 
Since I left Francis at Waitangi, I've been travelling on my own, which I quite like.  I'm fit and well, not even a blister, no aches or pains. It even surprises me. 
 
I finished my last update with a rest day in Warkworth, just 5km from the trail. At this point I was travelling solo. It's day #24, 4 Dec,  I got back on the track, my destination was Puhoi village. Along a gravel road, then climbed up a dirt logging track to the top of a range called Moir's Hill, it's pretty high with spectacular views. Then through Dunn's Bush, beautiful bush with hundreds of native palms, then finally along the Puhoi Track down to the village. It has a beaut 'general store' that sells almost everything.  I had nowhere to stay but was given the phone number of a guy called Larry who apparently had a tent site available.  Larry owns 'The Lodge' which, although pretty run down, it has an outdoor shower, and a garden hose, which was all I needed!  When I told him I was on the TA Trail, Larry wouldn't take any money, he said: "I take my hat off to you for what you're doing." I was the only one staying there.
 
Next morning I went back down to the general store. Yesterday I had seen some huge muffins there and had one with a cup of tea for breakfast. I'm now supposed to canoe 7km down the Puhoi River to the estuary at Wenderholm Regional Park, I'm the only trekker there and not at all keen to do it on my own. All of a sudden, TA trekkers started arriving out of the bush in groups, all people I have been with at various times over the weeks, there were nine of us in all. It was like a reunion! We went down to the kayak/canoe hire place, piled into four canoes and set off on a two and a half hour trip. Huge fun. When we got to the end, everyone got ashore and went off on their different ways and I'm solo again.  I made my way down to Orewa Beach and camped the night. 
 
Over the next two days, I followed the coast down to Devonport, travelling on the beach and rocks where possible.  However, we had had a huge moon which causes very high tides, which hampered my progress, having to retreat to roads and streets at times. Locals said they have never seen such big tides. On the other hand, at low tides, I was walking on the sea floor that clearly hadn't been out of the water for a very long time. 
 
I arrived at Devonport on 7 Dec and caught the ferry across to the city.  The TA trail winds it's way for 60km through Auckland suburbs. Who wants to walk 60km through Auckland?!  Certainly not me. I have a very good friend David who lives in Botany, with whom I go tramping each year in the South Island, so I caught a bus and stayed with him for the night. David's wife Ann cooked a beautiful meal (roast chicken, in case you're interested) and we had an enjoyable evening catching up.  Next morning David drove me out to Clevedon where I got back on the trail. My mission now was to get to Hamilton.
 
The trail first goes through the Hunua Ranges via the Cossey-Wairoa track. After a bit of dusty gravel road, I entered to the bush and started climbing to the summit.  As afternoon turned to nightfall, I found a place in the bush to pitch my tent. I cooked a meal and settled down for the night.  There are a lot of noises in the bush at night, especially birds communicating with their kind. Moreporks hoot all night and can drive you crazy.  Next day I covered 20km through the bush and made camp at the Lower Mangatawhiri Campground which is just a clearing in the bush with some picnic tables, toilet and a stream running by.  I had been tramping six days in a row and needed a rest day.  An Aussie guy, Sean, arrived that night.   Next morning we climbed to the summit of the range 445m, then made it in the scorching sun to Mercer by late afternoon where we found the gang at the pub campground, another reunion. We had a great evening.
 
Next day 12/12 Sean and I set off for Rangiriri. By 10am, Sean was suffering severe pollen allergy, one eye was swollen and closed up, and his throat puffy and he had difficulty talking.  He needed to get to a doctor. SH1 was 500m away, he said he could reach the highway and hitch to Huntly.  I offered to go with him but he insisted he would be OK.  He reached a doctor who gave him injections and medication.  He wasn't good. Yesterday morning I got a ride to Huntly to see him.  He was OK but said he was having a day to recover and see what to do from there.  We said goodbye, and I walked along the mighty Waikato River to Ngaruawahia.  What a magnificent body of water that river is when you walk along its banks. This morning, I set out at 6.30am to walk the 20km along the Te Awa walkway beside the river to Hamilton, arriving in the CBD at 11am and checked into a backpackers.  
 
When you have a pack on your back, a lot of people want to stop and talk to find out where you're going.  I'm often asked why I'm doing such a long walk, and I haven't been able to come up with a half decent answer.  Yesterday at one point, I was walking along a B road and came across a rather elderly farmer out on the road checking on some of his cattle.  We chatted for a while and he asked me why I'm doing the TA trek.  I decided to turn the tables and asked him why he was still farming at an age when others have long given up. He looked at me and said, "Well when you love doing something, why would you not want to keep doing it?"  I said, "Same here!" He grinned and nodded. 
 
After a month at home over Christmas and New Year, on Friday 12 Jan, Troy and I caught an Intercity bus to Taumarunui. We will be without cell or internet coverage over the next few days while on the river.  Talking to others who have done the river trip, we apparently have a few rapids to negotiate tomorrow and fully expect to capsize. Should be fun. I'll let you know how we go.
Our five-day canoe trip down the Whanganui River from Taumarunui to Pipiriki is up there with the very best trips I have ever done. The river is spectacular. Paddling a canoe started out as a challenge but by the second day, we had it sorted - kind of!  The weather was good. We had good campsites on the trip. We met some nice people from many parts of the world and had some wonderful conversations.
 
Day 1 was a big learning curve.  Neither Troy nor I had seriously rowed a canoe on a river before. We were given a briefing and tuition, but you can only really learn out on the river. There were several challenging rapids to get through, we bombed out on three and ended up in the water, being carried down the river hanging on the your paddle and upturned boat, or ship as we liked to refer to it.  Our first capsize was a bit scary, but from then on it was quite a thrilling experience.  All our gear was stored in watertight plastic drums tied into the canoe, so they were always secure. A two-person canoe with a lot of gear on board is quite a large unit to manage in a flowing river. I should mention that we weren't the only ones tipping out, it was a common sight along the trip.  Our first-night campsite was at Poukaria up on the river bank.
 
Days 2 and 3 were excellent days. The river banks became cliffs towering above us, clad in dense bush. Many times, the river was wide and deep, the water surface like glass and the reflections were surreal. Occasionally a jet boat loaded with tourists would roar passed, leaving a huge wake which bounced our craft around. We didn't tip out on either of these two days. We told ourselves we had the rapids sorted. Famous last words!  Night 2 we stayed at Whakahoro campsite, and night 3 at John Coull Hut. On night three, there were 25 canoes/kayaks tied up Ion the 'beach'.
 
Day 4 highlight along the way was a visit to the Bridge to Nowhere. Built in the 1930s it was supposed to have opened up the land and made a fortune for the landowners. Plans changed and the bridge became redundant. However, it is an impressive bridge in a stunning isolated location and makes for a good tourist attraction. We tipped out twice in rapids, and that night we stayed at Ramanui campsite, with a magnificent view out over the river.
 
Day 5, (17 Jan) our end destination was Pipiriki, which is the farthest that the road comes up the river. Again, the scenery was stunning.  Our maps and trip notes said there were three difficult rapids to negotiate. On the first rapid, the main flow went down close to the bank on a bend, causing swirling water. We had to hit the rapid as fast as we could to try and get through and try to keep the boat straight. We got spun around 180 degrees and got carried all the way through backwards, with absolutely no control of the boat, without tipping, much to the amusement of other onlookers. It was crazy stuff.  The second rapid had big submerged rocks which caused large stationery waves in fast flowing water. We powered into the waves which swamped the boat, we got a bit side-on and over we went.  I managed to cling to the boat, but Troy became separated and ended up on the far shore. I floated down river a bit and came to rest against a large protruding rock out from the shore. I managed to climb up on the rock and get the boat upright, spent ages baling out the water, then rowed across the river to Troy.  All the while, several other canoes were capsizing. It looked a bit like a battlefield. We got through the third rapid unscathed. Surprisingly, the river water was quite warm.
 
We had made it to Pipiriki, our destination. In total, we had covered 146km on the river. It had been an amazing five days. Our transport was waiting, which took us to Raetihi where we caught an Intercity bus to Palmerston North.
 
Troy and I are both fit and well. In New Plymouth last week we both weighed ourselves.  Since we left Cape Reinga in November, he has lost 9kg and I have lost 7kg, which is a good thing. I was kidding that, I now have a six-pack. I used to have a family pack. 
 
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