Te Araroa - Omahuta Forest to Russell Forest

The walk from Apple Dam campsite was an interesting one. The night had been cold and I'd put more strain on my bad foot than I thought the day before, so I started the day with a bad limp. With 25km to walk that day I was quietly torn between carrying on and opting out, but figured that it was just the cold and as I warmed up it would ease so I carried on regardless.

Day 9. Apple Dam camp to Puketi Recreation Ground

The trail from here followed along forestry track for some time, until eventually heading down a valley side towards the Mangapukahukahu stream (great name). Here the trail would take us into the water headed downstream for 3km. As we entered a group of hikers in front of us warned that it would be over waist deep in places, packing away their electronics for safe keeping. But it was just too beautiful an area, so with camera in hand I carried on, thankfully my footing remained steady and nothing took the plunge, not even Lydia which would have made a great photo.

After leaving the stream we were back to forest trail, climbing up to a ridgeline and walking through beautiful kauri trees. This was the Puketi Forest, and an area we had visited before. I took most of the time just taking it all in, enjoying the sight of the towering kauris around us, imaging a kiwi wandering about the forest floor. We soon made it to the camp ground for that evening, feet still sore, but thankfully we had arranged a chance to rest up for a couple of days in Kerikeri, giving our feet a chance to recover.

Day 12. Kerikeri to Paihia

After resting up in Kerikeri, enjoying good food and the company of trail angels Joanne and Steve who very kindly let us stay in their home (even when the All Blacks were knocked out of the World Cup), we were soon feeling ready to get back to the trail. It was an easy hike to Paihia about 20km further along the trail, passing mostly through logging Pine forest and mountain bike tracks. By the time we were hiking the sun was up and it was a bright and clear day, not ideal for compelling landscapes. More often than not you're passing beautiful scenery in the middle of the day, which as amazing as a scene may be, in the wrong light it just doesn't have the same impact. But this was the truth of the hike, and another layer to the challenge I'd set out to impose upon myself. I can either try to work with what I've got, try to find a composition that works with the given lighting, or just leave the camera out of it and enjoy the moment, and I felt like I was improving at doing both.

Day 13. Paihia to Waikere

This part of the trail would be a fun one. You see, the trail crosses a large inlet, and to get to the other side you can either get a ferry across it and walk to Waikere, or you do what we did and you get together with a rag tag group of trail walkers and take a fleet of kayaks up the inlet on a 3 hour voyage. I left the main camera in my bag for this bit and just had my phone camera to hand, not fancying dealing with the remorse should my 6d mark ii become a sodden mess.

After arriving in Waikere we set out to find a tent space at Sheryl's place. A secretive location praised among TA hikers, Sheryl's place was exactly what I'd hoped to see on the trail. A rural farmhouse tucked away from the gravel road, we were welcomed with open arms, hot drinks, fresh water, purring cats and a happy dog. Perfect.

In the morning, while others packed up and made tracks in the early hours, we had a lie in, had breakfast and chatted with Sheryl about their special home. It was her grandmother's, "Ani's Whare" (whare meaning home). Her and her husband Peter had repaired the roof, extended it, installed solar panels and now proudly lived off-grid in this peaceful valley.

Day 14. Waikere to Punaruku

After our long breakfast we were bid farewell and sent into the beginnings of the Russell Forest, a place where cars apparently come to die. Following the track up into the first we passed several wreckages, dumped and forgotten, now left for plants to grow through. Eventually we hit another stream where we waded through its course for three kilometres before winding over dirt trail to the forest outskirts. The trail notes had informed us of a worthwhile rest stop with Sue and Al, which quite honestly was a great decision. In their home in Punaruku we had a bed, a kitchen, comfy sofas and a wood burner (essential for watching Peaky Blinders), beers, yet another very friendly cat and dog, and some chickens. They made it very hard to leave the following day...