Heading up from Takahue Saddle into the Raetea I knew that I’d enjoy my birthday. It had that real rainforest feeling – a wetness where growth blooms. Being the highest area around, the peaks were nestled in cloud. The track was the muddiest I’d encountered so far and my trousers quickly became coated in the slimy stuff.
I took it easy on the way up, taking regular breaks and stocking up on water before I hit the ridgeline. It took me about five hours to reach the summit. Drizzle came down most of way, seeping into my clothes as I moved.
I shared the peak with a radio mast powered by an array of solar panels. I pitched the tent slightly on the south side of the patch of grass, just out of the wind that whipped in from the north. A scorched patch of earth showed where someone had recently had a fire. Chicken & port pate, triple cream, garlic & chilli cheese and a flask of spiced rum were birthday luxuries I’d allowed myself.
It was the first time I’d spent my birthday alone. I’d not brought anything to read or listen to, but after events of the previous couple of months, I needed time to think things over.
Having my mother and sister call from Europe were a nice treat. “Hey mum, I’m camping on top of a mountain in the middle of a rainforest!” Why not!
I felt good in the morning – revitalised and refreshed – and my legs felt strong. I moved quickly along the flax covered ridge, pushing my through the long leaves. A viewpoint stopped me in my tracks. The cloud temporarily lifted, revealing aspects of the Hokianga harbour 20km to the south. The Hokianga is steeped in early Maori and settler history, being one of the first places that the respective races settled. I’d been meaning to visit it for weeks, but had never got around to it. I guess this stunning view would have to do for now.
As I once again became swallowed by trees, I had pay attention to the trail. Recently fallen trees blocked some sections. After taking the right turn at a fork in the trail things became easier. Someone had recently cleared that section. Green fronds and branches lay across the mud, neatly cut down by a big blade.
The ridgeline continued for some time, then dropped onto a 4×4 track. Tea Tree, pig tracks and orange markers led the way
Dropping out of the forest I encountered a section of pasture and my first real navigation problem. After spooking some cows I had duck under another big tree that’d fallen across the path. The orange triangles disappeared and I ended up on a bit of a bluff that dropped down to where two streams met. It got steep and overgrown with no obvious path leading ahead. Checking the topo map I saw the trail bypassed the streams to the south. After much back-tracking and plunging my feet into a couple of bogs, I eventually found the path and the guiding orange triangles.
At least a dozen tied up dogs barked at me when I passed a local farmer’s house. From there it was all road-walking. 2km of Markene Road led me to State Highway 1. I’d been dreading these connections, but surprisingly actually enjoyed the change it offered. The traffic was light as I tramped along the right-hand verge. An hour later I reached the shop at Mangamuka Bridge, bought a soft drink and burger, then hitched back to Kaitaia.
A utility town that services the Far north, Kaitaia has not much to offer in the way of entertainment. All the fun to be had is in the outlying area. 40 beaches with an hour’s drive – Surfing, fishing galore, forests.
Mainstreet Lodge is a good place to hole up. Recently take over by a northern Englishman, Mike, it is an oasis from the often barren streets. With a quiet room to myself I organised my affairs, ready to leave my base of the last few months. It was time to hit the Te Araroa Trail properly.