After resting a day at Ahipara campsite indulging in a whole lot of nothing, eating fish and chips, and a casual evening stroll to the beach to take in the sunset, we were ready to move on the following day.
Day 6. Ahipara to Raetea Forest
The trails route changes on occasion from year to year depending on land access and the like. This year the trail detours from its usual route through the Herekino Forest due to track closures in a bid to contain the spread of kauri dieback. Instead the route takes us along the state highway 1, skirting the forest before rejoining the backcountry trails for the Raetea Forest. We had no real intention of spending a day walking along a busy highway, so our plan became to hitchhike via Kaitaia to resupply before getting back on course.
Two kind strangers later and we had hitched into town, got our food for the days ahead, and hitched out again picking up the trail on Ruaroa Road. It was good to be off the beach and surrounded by changing scenery. Rolling hills held farmland with livestock watching from the fence line and trucks and their drivers passed with a knowing nod, many TA walkers have been this way already and pretty much everyone you meet will encourage and congratulate your effort.
The distances between camps were shorter now we were off the vast stretch of beach, thankfully as my foot was still twinging and threatening to worsen. It wasn't long before we wound our way up towards the boundaries of the forest and settled in for the night. In researching the upcoming forest section we learned that many who had been before us had battled with wet, slippery mud. We'd heard rumours of people averaging about 1km per hour as they struggled to find footing in the bog on their ascent to the summit. At 744 meters it isn't a hugely tall mountain, but it is steep where it climbs, densely forested and attracts plenty of cloud and rainfall making the terrain challenging. It was for this reason that we had camped close to the start of the forest track the day before, wanting to give ourselves the option to stop and camp in the forest if the young was tough, but to also possibly make it through in one day.
Day 7. Through Raetea Forest to Makene Road campsite.
After concerns about our progress, it turns out it was ok. Yes it was muddy, feet sinking up to mid calf at points, but thankfully we've lived in Wales so were well practiced in the art of moving through a lot of mud at a reasonable pace. I think trying to avoid the worst of the mud slows most people down, so we learned to just embrace it. We made it to the summit before lunch time, and although there were estimates of the 11km downhill section slowing people down to about 1km per hour, we managed to average 2km/h and got to camp by about 5:30pm.
It posed a challenge photographically. I was shooting handheld earlier in the day but as the mud worsened I had to pack it away in favour of using both hands to balance and catch myself. I had to take the chance to set up the tripod in one spot to get an image of the both of us pushing through, remaining mindful of images that would help to tell this part of the story that is our hike. Really that's what this was, one huge opportunity to learn lessons in telling stories, every day presenting a different one.
Day 8. Makene Road to Apple Dam Campsite
Today was an easier going day, not hard after the days walking previously. We hitched a section of highway to a dairy where we stocked up with pasta and tinned fish, enjoyed a bacon and egg muffin and a thick milkshake. Rejuvenated, we begun the 13km for that day.
I expected more muddy sections as we wound our way up into the Omahuta Forest, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was gravel track all the way. It meant we could make good time and get set up at Apple Dam camp with time to relax.
Tomorrow we would be heading further east through the forest to the Puketi Recreation Ground campsite, a further 25km of hiking so an early start would be on the cards.