I finally set off on the Te Araroa Trail for a grueling first few days on Ninety Mile Beach.
In case you missed my previous blog posts, I’m hiking the Te Araroa 3,000km across New Zealand.
Here’s my first video from the Te Araroa! It was a great start to the trail with highs and lows!
DAY 0 – Christchurch to Auckland
My Te Araroa journey began in Christchurch as I packed my bag at my friend Kris’ house. Most of what I packed was the same from the Appalachian Trail. Per usual I waited until the last moment to pack but I got it done and was off to the airport to fly to Auckland.
Once in Auckland I was picked up by a previous TA hiker, Ti. He had hiked two years prior and we had been corresponding about the trail for a few months. We had never met but he was gracious enough to offer me his place to stay the night in Auckland. We spent some time talking about the trail and he even let me leave some items at his flat so that I can pick them up when I hike back through Auckland.
DAY 1 – Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach
I awoke early at Ti’s and took a taxi to the Auckland bus station. Today was the day! At the station I spotted Tom (Sticks) standing there with a smug look on his face. We embraced, having not seen each other in a year and a half! We spent much of the bus ride catching up as if no time had passed at all. This was a good omen.
I was surprised how alert he was; Tom had flown from England for over 20 hours and arrived in Auckland at 1am only to wander about the city all morning until our bus left at 7:30am. He couldn’t quantify how many hours he’d been awake. This might not bode well for his ridiculous plan to start hiking today.
We spotted a few other hikers on the bus but we kept to ourselves. After a five-hour bus ride, we changed buses in Kerikeri for another 1.5 hours to Awanui. Here Tom had arranged a lady to pick us up and take us the last hour to the trailhead. We were farther north in New Zealand than I’d ever been.
We stood on the side of the road waiting for our shuttle but it didn’t show. Tom’s phone with the woman’s email correspondence was dead so we had to charge it up just to reread the email. There was some ambiguity over where we were to be picked up and I wondered if we were in the wrong town.
After a bit of waiting, a hiker from our bus hopped out of car and asked if one of us was Tom. Turns out the woman had gone to the wrong town to pick us up but happened on this fellow hiker, Michael. Eventually she figured out where we were and had came to Awanui at last. Having dodged that bullet, we went to McDonalds and picked up a few supplies in town before heading as far north as one can go in NZ.
At Cape Reinga, Tom, Michael, and I walked out to the lighthouse and posed in front of the touristy sign. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, the TA doesn’t receive much fanfare. There were no signs marking the trailhead whatsoever. Regardless, it was a fantastic day with the most beautiful blue water, clear skies, and warm temperatures.
Tom and I strolled along taking in the gorgeous scenery. We saw a seal playing on the beach as well as some dead animal carcasses (bird, possum, jellyfish). The walk was easy, though it took some getting used to carrying my heavy pack again. It didn’t take long for Tom to start singing ABBA as well as many other songs.
We had a bit of a climb over a hill and the sand dune part was a bit difficult but nothing too bad. Our bodies were fresh. At one point we had to cross a small stream. There was no way to avoid getting our feet wet; might as well embrace it. The TA is known for being extremely wet on the feet.
After another beach walk we finally arrived at Twilight Beach Camp. With about an hour of daylight left, we set up camp amongst seven or so others. It was a beautiful spot set above the beach. Once we stopped walking I felt a bit of a hot spot on my foot. Could be a result of my soft feet and wet socks. Let the battle of the blisters begin!
After dinner, it took some getting used to settling down for bed. I need to get my system down again of where all my toiletries should be packed and just find my routine again. I was a bit disjointed digging around for things. Tom passed out and I sat up writing the first of what will soon be many journal entries. Mosquitoes swarmed my tent and I was glad I had patched the hole in the screen mesh! Overall, a perfect day to start our hike.
Day’s Distance: 12km (7.5mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,985km
DAY 2 – Twilight Beach to Maunganui Bluff
I woke up around 6am; it was quite bright out already and my tent fly was soaked in dew and condensation. I didn’t want to get up too early because I thought maybe Tom would sleep in for ages due to the jet lag. Once I heard him stirring I got going and we both packed up and were ready to go before 7:30am. Only one other hiker, Michael, had left ahead of us which was strange; on the AT I was used to being the last to leave camp. It’s nice that neither of us eat breakfast so we just pack up and go.
There was a bit of hill to start our day and it was strangely tiring. The sun was shining down and I was glad to be covered up in a long sleeve and my buff. It was a steep descent down some stairs before we reached the Ninety Mile Beach. Aptly named we would soon discover.
The beach stretched on as far as we could see, just a flat wasteland of sand. Onward we tread, singing songs to each other. After a ways we were passed by several tour buses. Apparently this was a popular beach to drive along and dump tourists out for photos. One of them asked if we were hiking “the whole thing.”
The online guide said that there was a camp in 28km and another 30km after. We felt that 28km was too short for seasoned hikers like ourselves but 58km on our second day would be a disaster. So we planned on reaching the first camp and maybe going past it for an hour before setting up on the beach.
As the day wore on we stopped every hour or so to rest our feet. We were aching. My hips hurt from getting used to my pack’a hip belt and my feet hurt everywhere. The sand was packed tight like concrete and was hard on the feet. Tom felt the same and and his face and legs were red with sunburn. We felt whipped.
By the time we reached camp at Maunganui Bluff we were wiped out. Our feet were killing us and our plan of taking a break and going farther was no more. At 3pm we set up camp and set down for a nap. The sun was so hot my tent became an oven and I had to leave and head to the water.
I waded out into the sea for a skinny dip. The water was cold so I rinsed off quick and tested out my new lightweight, quick-dry towel. I hope to swim often on this hike.
Back at camp, all of us hikers laid around all afternoon, cooked dinner, and chatted. It seems that the beach had kicked everyone’s asses and all our feet were sore. I watched a magnificent sunset before retiring for the night. Two glorious days so far on the trail!
Day’s Distance: 28km (17.4mi)
Total Distance: 40km (24.9mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,957km
DAY 3 – Maunganui Bluff to Utea
I didn’t sleep great and rolled around a lot. Around 6am Tom asked if I was awake. Technically I was but I could have stayed asleep for a while longer. He wanted to get up early to beat the hot sun. He set off as I packed up.
It was strange being out on the beach again. I could see Tom off in the distance and fellow hiker, Michael, even farther. Clouds obscured the low sun and everything looked so bleak. The novelty of the first two days had faded and now I was just walking along the sand with endless beach in front of me.
Eventually I caught up with Tom as he took a break. I could feel a blister in my heel forming and Tom complained of aches everywhere. The compact beach sand was wearing us down. Every step came down on the hard, unforgiving ground.
We returned to singing songs and chatting. The clouds parted and the sun beat down. It was hot and Tom was red with sunburn. Sunscreen was too little too late at this point. I kept my buff high on my face. In the distance we could see trucks coming toward us through the sea haze. It was like a scene out the Mad Max film. The only word that could describe the beach was desolate.
We trudged onward as our pace continued to slow and our aches grew louder. The sun and the hard ground were beating us down. The view never changed; the sea was on our right and the dunes on our left.
Taking breaks to ease our plight only made the pain worse once we got back on our feet again. We hobbled on and eventually reached the Utea Holiday Park (New Zealand word for campground).
It was a small little place where we set up our tents. Michael was there as well as Hunter, a Kiwi. We relaxed in the shade at last and enjoyed showers and a good sit. My feet were sore and I wanted to stay off them as best I could. We still had one more day of beach ahead and then road walking afterward. Not a good future for my feet. I’m hoping they’ll toughen up and my trail legs will kick in soon.
The rest of the hikers that started the same day as us trickled in. We conversed and relaxed the afternoon away. Unlike the AT where I hiked all day, it was nice to actually be done at 3pm and have the afternoon to chill and enjoy the moment a bit more. My body definitely thanked me. After dinner, we were all extremely tired and it felt good to finally lie down. My feet continued to ache as I fell asleep. I had even taken a painkiller before bed!
Day’s Distance: 29km (18mi)
Total Distance: 69km (42.9mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,928km
DAY 4 – Utea to Ahipara
Tom started stirring at 5am, a ridiculous hour. Soon everyone around was awake and we began packing up our dew-sodden tents. We hit the beach around 6:30am, perhaps the earliest I have ever started hiking.
Soon we were bored as the endless beach stretched onward. I was wearing my thickest socks so my blister didn’t bother me. I only felt a general soreness from being on my feet for so long. The sun finally crept up and I was grateful for our early start as the heat slowed us down. The only good thing about the beach was that I could sing at the top of my lungs and there was no one around to hear except the breaking waves.
We stopped at a closed holiday park to eat our lunch before returning to the monotony of beach walking. The town of Ahipara could be seen on the hill ahead as we crawled ever closer. At last we reached our destination and hobbled up the town streets to a holiday park. We had officially completed Ninety Mile Beach!
We met several other hikers at the camp including John, who I’d been conversing with on Instagram prior to the hike. Tom and I dried out our tents and made camp. Another shower was a welcome luxury. I had an early dinner and took the afternoon to set my feet up and post my first video and blog from the trail!
My feet no longer have blisters, Tom’s sunburn is fading, and it feels like our bodies are beginning to adapt to the rigors of trail life at last. On a funny side note, Tom continues to find random objects in his pack such as extra shoelaces that he didn’t know he had. Turns out he didn’t unpack his backpack after the Appalachian Trail 1.5 years ago before this hike so he keeps uncovering new surprises. What a legend.
Day’s Distance: 32km (19.9mi)
Total Distance: 101km (62.8mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,896k
I hope you are enjoying my trek across New Zealand. Let me know if there are any aspects of the trail or trail life that you’d like to hear more about in the coming weeks! Be sure to check out the video above as well!
Here’s just one of the many classics we sung on the beach:
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