Te Araroa chewed me up and spat me out. I set out to do five days and lasted two.
Pandora Track at SH1 to Twilight Beach (26km)
I was daunted leaving the house. Optimistic, a little stressed about how far I had to go that day, and excited about starting my adventure. The drive up was good, I left the house without breakfast, but stopped for coffee in Houhoura and celebrated starting the trail with a Tunnocks Tea Cake (if you don't know, you're missing out).
I waved goodbye to Amy and her three boys (with whom I've been staying since June) and tramped off into the bush. The first 7km or so I bounced along, stopping to stretch and hydrate every hour. The Te Paki costal track is gorgeous. Walking with views of both coasts was spectacular. I remember stopping and saying to myself (out loud because I'm already at that stage of crazy) "I'm so happy".
The first sighting of Tauputaputa camp was awesome, having just come up a small peak the camp and beach below look amazing. I sat down for lunch on the grass. It was a little after midday, the heat was something else, and I had guzzled through most of my 2.5L of water. Upon reaching for my lunch, I realised it had become lost, either left in the car or mistakenly packed in the depths of my bag. So I instead settled for an apple and a cereal bar I had in easy reach.
Somewhat refueled I hauled my 20kg pack up off the grass and set off across Tauputaputa beach. 5km to Cape Reinga; DOC signs suggest 3 hours. Having breezed along for the last 7kms I was sure it wouldn't take that long... But having stopped for lunch my legs ached, climbing up from the bay I got all of 10m before stopping, and with a couple of choice expletives I dropped my pack. It's a gorgeous section, stunning East costa views, turquoise ocean, white sand beaches and views back to Spirits Bay. Beautiful but hard.
Now, it took me three hours. I think most of that time was spent fighting a mental war. There wasn't much shade on this section, and the heat and pack weight was getting to me. The internal commentary from my brain was relentless! 'You're not fast enough', 'why are you so unfit?!' 'Why have you put on so much weight?' 'You're so slow', 'It's 5k, why aren't you there yet?!' I cried a good few times, had a couple of altercations with gorse bushes (of my own stupidity.... Honestly that first day I was so impatient I veered off trail 3 times where looking at the map and re-joining the trail I'd been walking where I wanted to go and ignoring the very obvious trail).
When I finally reached the cape, the heat of the day was dropping and I was so grateful to fill up with water for the 12km I still had to go. I was so tired already, and worried that the last 5km had taken 3 hours and it was then 17.00. In my head I wasn't making it to camp, not anytime before 21.00. So looking at the trail sign pointing South, and then across to the lighthouse 20 or so meters North, the question of was it even worth it flooded my brain. Thankfully I reasoned with myself and saw that if I got to Bluff (and I was questioning that already... Not even started the effing trail and I'm giving up!) and hadn't done this first bit I'd probably regret it. So I went. There was no one else there, I had the cape to myself which was beautiful... Until I wanted to try and get a picture! ha!
So obligatory picture taken, at 17.05 I set off on my Te Araroa journey.
I did well until the end of the first beach. Coming across the dunes was so hard. I couldn't even make it between markers without stopping. It was somewhere in the sand I decided to sit and eat the caramel slice I'd brought along to enjoy at the cape, and forgotten/ not had the energy to think about. The thick layer of caramel did its job. I don't think I'd go so far as to say I had a spring in my step but I soldiered on across the cliff tops, taking pictures of the setting sun and resolving to walk to camp in darkness rather than pitching on trail (you're not supposed to stop wherever but honestly I was so wrecked I had thought about it a good few times!).
When I hit Twilight beach I had another little cry, this time at the sight of some Lupins which reminded me of home, and then thinking it was too dark to take a picture because I was so slow and such an idiot ect. On the beach I kicked off my shoes, my feet were killing me, pulled out my fleece and head torch and walked barefoot in the tide line to camp. I was so glad for the footprints of hikers ahead of me, I followed them gratefully, knowing without them in the dark I'd have trouble finding the beach exit up to camp.
I got into camp in the dark, just before 21.00. The light of my head torch illuminated the reflective strips of three or four tents set up in the field before me. I threw my tent up on a spot that felt flattish (it wasn't) and crawled into my sleeping bag for the night.
Twilight Camp to Maunganui Bluff (28km)
I woke up around 06.00 on Tuesday, I'd slept terribly. POSSUMS. I'd heard them throughout the night. I was terrified I was going to be the person that had a hole gnawed through their kit on night one. They sounded so close. And seemed be hanging around my tent all night. Whenever I was woken up by one hissing or scampering around too close for comfort I would flash on my head torch and tell them to scram.
Seeing everyone in the morning was great! I met two friends hiking the Northland section together before she carried on the do the rest of the trail to Bluff, Neil, solo hiking in his Vivobarefoots. Another couple, but he was heading off back to reality while she carried on solo.
Breakfast was admittedly terrible, I forced it down though, knowing I had 28km to power through, and looking back at the previous day I definitely hadn't had enough food. I packed up my tent and off I went.... For all of i dunno, 30m? The agony! I felt betrayal from my body. My legs could barely function and my right hip felt so bruised it could hardly stand the weight of my pack sitting on it. I went very slowly for the first 3km. Drinking the worst cup of trail tea I have ever made, hoping the caffeine would power me forwards. At the 3km mark, having sighted 90 Mile Beach just below me, and in pain and down right despair at my lack of pace I threw off my pack and sobbed. I didn't understand my body. My body that up until this point, with a few minor exceptions had overcome and taken on everything I'd asked it to do. I'd half expected old injuries to flare up, maybe get shin splints or roll an ankle, but this sensation in my hip was dumbfounding. Both were sore and bruised but my right side had now found a new level of pinching and sharp stabbing that bewildered me.
It was at this point Neil caught me up. I tried for all of two seconds to hide my tears. When he polietly asked if i was okay however... up they sprang. Neil looked at my pack, offered a couple of suggestions for altering the way it sat and kindly walked behind me down onto the beach. It is truly amazing the power of company. Just being around another soul. We barely spoke, but knowing that he was around, a few steps behind me helped push me forwards, and probably stopped me crying when I had to go up some stairs.... I have a thing against stairs on trail, they're always made for people with longer legs and just WHY?! I've already got this huge pack, now you want me to lift one leg to the height of my hip to climb a flight of stairs. I digress. In a small way he saved me. Once onto the beach I felt better, fairly flat ground and thankfully firm sand. Neil made sure I was okay, and walked on. I resigned myself to a slow and torturous day. I stopped fairly frequently for the rest of the morning, taking time to stretch and for those following on Instagram... film some rather ridiculous videos. Between stops I was making fairly good pace, and having taken almost 3 hours to walk 4 km from camp, I was back up to 15 minute kilometres. I could see Neil in the distance for most of the day, although I will admit on a couple of occasions the silhouette I was sure was another human turned out to be a seagull (so demoralising). I stopped for late lunch with about 17km to go. And getting up again proceeded to only then stop another one time and hit camp at a respectful 18.00. The time after lunch when pace was good was not however pain free, I walked long sections of it with my hand under my right side hip belt, taking the weight off the bone. I stopped and swore numerous times, but kept standing and left my pack on walking with my water bottle in hand rather than stowed in my pack.
Setting up camp in the light was so good. I got to talk to my fellow TA-ers. Had time for a shower, cooked dinner, I enjoyed the experience! The campsite was well kept and the company of wild horses was much preferred to that of those dastardly possums. I made the decision not to inflate my sleeping mat though. The campsite was littered with spiky plants, it made me wish I had opted to bring camp shoes, and for fear of puncturing one of the few comforts I had afforded I went without it. The days hiking had left me stiff and sore. I tried to give myself a good stretch out before heading to bed, and felt good initially. But during the night my muscles seized. Trying to roll over and your body not automatically doing it was a surreal experience, I had to reach down and move my legs into the new position I wanted to curl up in.
Maunganui Bluff - Hukatera Lodge (30km)
I'd slept pretty well, thanks to a lack of noisy possums neighbours, but had however woken up stiff as a board. I hobbled around the camp all morning, in awe and envy of everyone else walking about normally. Again I forced down a breakfast I didn't want, and packed away my life into a 65L rucksack. I was feeling optimistic about the day. I'd made yesterday, and even with the terrible start hadn't been too late, today was all beach so even if it took a while for my legs to get going, I should still make camp, and if not then that was okay too, so long as I stopped near water I'd be okay if I didn't make camp (stressing about making distance was terrible for my brain). So I set off, I'd chosen not to take a pain killer at breakfast and instead try to get as far as possible before taking one. That time came sooner than imagined though. My optimistic outlook for the day soon took a beating. The pain that had occupied my hip the day before had arrived. Not even a kilometre away from camp I was stopped in my tracks for the pain. I lifted my pack off my hip and carried the weight in my hand as much as I could but even them, walking still caused the stabbing pain. In tears I carried on like this. I made 3km. At this point I met John. He caught me up, obviously! And immediately pulled me off to the side of the beach, helped me with my pack and politely suggested it may be time for that pain relief.
He asked me if I'd consider taking a ride if someone came along the beach. I answered yes. Talking to other hikers behind me it was worked out that some folks had water being dropped off to them at some point in the day by car, at which point I could flag a lift, ditch my pack or something to the sorts. Everyone was so lovely. I remember thinking I was such an embarrassment and a disappointment, and now I was slowing everyone else down in their huge days as well. I probably said sorry a good 50 times in the ten minutes I took to pull myself together. So I took my pain killers and stated walking, John along side me, who did I not already say, was in a huge amount of pain himself! We chatted for a few minutes before he dropped back to talk to Neil. I was resolved to make at least 15km that day, maybe just keep going until lunch and then someone would be coming to save me if I needed it. I don't even think I was walking for 10 minutes before Paul's ute pulled up next to me.
At the sight of it I burst into yet more tears. 'Hop in' came the cry! I didn't even try to protest. Paul, his wife and friend were out supporting two TA-ers doing it for the second time, They'd traveled up to send them on their way and I was lucky enough that they were still around and agreed to drop me off to the days end point, Hukatera Lodge. As we drove past the other hikers they stopped, waved, checked they were okay and if they needed anything.
We arrived at Hukatera Lodge sometime mid morning. I had the mindset of resting up fort the afternoon and continuing on trail in the morning. A phone call and a few texts later though I made the decision to come home to reassess and rest before going on. It was a heart wrenching decision. I didn't make it lightly and it left me feeling defeated and weak.
So I spent the afternoon in reception at camp. The lovely Gabi let me stay while I waited for my ride, and I actually managed to enjoyed the day chatting with everyone as they arrived after their 30km day. Seeing everyone coming through was tough though. Seeing them achieving something I had failed at hit home. At the end of the day, I headed home. Sad, tired, small.
I'll never know if I could had made it. Sometimes I think I could, I'm quite stubborn when I want to be. And I'd made the day before despite the pain. But I think the only way to cope it to accept it's the decision I made. So, I've been back on Karikari Peninsular, my home from home for almost three weeks now. I've re-assessed my pack weight, made a couple of gear changes, taken plenty of rest and almost ready to try again where I left off.
I'll leave you with this quote which has helped me a lot with processing all of this.
"A roller coaster with no ups and downs is a train, and how boring is a train."- Hayden Lee.