Thursday, 19 December 2013

From Russel down to Matapouri

Ben decided he was keen to paddle the harbour across to the Russel forest but Jen and I decided to press on via water taxi rather than wait for the favourable tide the following day. The Russel forest yielded a lot of river walking and then we had trouble finding the right track when the time came to venture back to land. The "hut" mentioned on the map was more of a camp shelter and we stayed there as we realised we wouldn't get out of the forest by dark. The following day we made our way out via a decent four wheeler track which eventually turned into thick bush.

After lunch by a creek we walked on down to the road but not before I realised I had lost a Croc in the bush having secured it to the outside of my pack. Jen suggested that Ben may find it on his way through but I was resigned to having lost it after only one river walk. It was very warm by the time we reached the end of the track, so a swim in the creek was a higher priority than walking on a busy, windy, coastal road. The water was truly bracing but welcome and we stayed there for awhile rather than taking on the long road walk ahead.

We walked on down the road for a few hours before reaching Helena Bay which Jen absolutely loved. We managed to camp at the disused school for $5 each by asking at the house next door. Then, Jen got a text from Ben reading: "I have Lance's left Croc." Trail magic really does happen. Apparently, Ben was now walking with Joe O'brien (who, incidentally, is now ridiculously far ahead of us) who spied my missing flipper amongst the undergrowth, exclaiming "that is a huge Croc!" I was really stoked and this former Croc mocker slept well in the knowledge of a safe sandal.

The following day involved a solid road walk up to a bush track that seemed to cross a couple of private properties. It was hard going toward the end and the spiders had put every web right at my face height. We pushed on down out of the bush and across a farm containing curious cows out to the road. By this stage both Jen's and my GPS had gone flat but we managed to figure out the right path to the campground at Whananaki which was pretty
good but a little pricey.

The following day we waited for Ben and Joe to join us late morning and moved out across the longest foot bridge in the southern hemisphere. We followed the path around some stunning little private beaches and through farmland on down to Matopouri where I was meeting my lovely lady to spend labour weekend in Whangarei. We were all pretty happy to be getting into a vehicle. There is no camping in Matapouri so we dropped Ben, Jen and Joe at the holiday park in Tutakaka and made our way to Whangarei for a spa at the hotel. 

All photos are courtesy of Jen Wray, due to tech difficulties at the time I got no pics. Check her blog:

Outside Countdown Paihia.

The pools in the Russel forest were very inviting
Looking back at the bay
Easr coast view
Crossing the bridge
The Whananaki footbridge
East coast beach
On the way to Matapouri
Tired trampers in for a swim

Friday, 6 December 2013

The King's of Okaihau

As we emerged from the end of the Puketi Forest, at Forest HQ, Ben, Jen and I were greeted by Matt King, a friend of mine who lives in Okaihau. I had warned my hiking companions that Matt is a very colourful character and he did not let them down regailing us with a few slightly inappropriate stories. He is the older brother of my friend Patrick, who I met while at university. Matt now lives on a farm next door to his parents Joe and Jenny with his wife Sara and their three children. I've known the King family for coming up twenty years now and I can tell you that they are true salt of the earth folks.

When we arrived at Matt and Sara's place the farrier was busy shoeing the horses and filing their teeth. He was interested to hear that we were walking from the Cape to the Bluff and related his childhood experience of meeting A H Reed, the New Zealand publisher who walked the length of NZ in 1960 at the age of 85. Alfred Hamish Reed is truly one of NZ's greats and I was disappointed to see he was excluded from the Herald's 150 greatest New Zealanders this year. Anyway, the farrier (whose name now escapes me) explained that his father was involved in the church (as was Reed) and thus they provided Reed a place to stay.

Now, neither Matt nor I are involved in the church but luckily he and Sara were willing to put us up for a couple of nights. A home cooked meal was most welcome as was a roof over our heads after a week outdoors. The next day Matt dropped us off in Kerikeri for a supply mission and took us back out to Okaihau where we cooked a roast of pork for the whanau, including Jo and Jenny; I'm bloody lucky to know such good people. To top it off, Joe asked if we would like to go out on the Bay of Islands for a couple of days on his boat "Day Dreamer" and of course we couldn't refuse.

After an uneventful and unremarkable hike across some farmland we reached Kerikeri and spent the night at the Central backpackers. Joe picked us up the next morning and we headed out for a couple of magical days on the Bay complete with dolphins and tall ships. Joe is involved in the Coast Guard and knows a lot of the boaties in the area so we had a few visits from locals dropping by for a cuppa. It was great that Ben and Jen got to experience the Bay and Ben even caught his first fish. I really appreciated all of the help from the Kings and I'd love to go in to more detail but time is tight and seeing as right now I'm actually in Te Kuiti, I've got a lot to cover. Thanks out to Jen for the photos check her blog at:

Joe pulling up to the wharf at Waitangi
Dolphins visiting Robertson Island

Me feeling decidedly uncoordinated
These guys stayed for about three hours

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dave and Louise Wilson's Farm

I had been put in contact with Dave and Louise Wilson by Federated Farmers so that I could see first hand the good things they are doing to improve the water quality on their property. They graciously agreed to let me come out and learn a thing or three about good practise on a dry stock farm in Northland. Now, I am no expert but it is only when you are talking to someone who really knows their stuff, that you realise how much you don't know. I am fairly sure they had a suspicion that I might be some sort of crackpot but I think in the end they realised that I was more interested in promoting the proactive approach that they are taking on their farm, rather than slagging off farmers for being polluting miscreants.

Dave and Louise are a young couple with three children who farm an area of just over 200 acres near Okaihau, Northland. I was offered a cup of tea and they gave me a run down on their place and some of the steps that they had been taking to improve their property since they had taken it over. Louise has a Masters in water quality and Dave has qualifications in zoology and agricultural science so some of the technical aspects were going over my head a bit but I managed to get the gist of most of what they were talking about, occasionally asking questions to clarify. One thing that I am well aware of, is the time and money that it takes to fence off areas on a farm and as I was to find, these two had invested a significant amount in this process.

Louise was a self-confessed "greenie" once upon a time and she said she had moved to smaller and smaller towns after leaving Massey University, in order to get closer to nature. Ironically she ended up marrying a farmer. I say ironically not because farmers have no environmental credentials but it cannot be denied that there is a distinct gap between the political positions of the farming sector and the green movement. "Greenies" seem to be viewed and labelled by much of the farming community as uninformed, emotive townies with little real knowledge of the realities of the business of farming, a business that truly has built our economy. 

Conversely, there is a growing trend of anti farming rhetoric in the media in NZ and a small segment of the environmental movement seem absolutely opposed to farming, especially dairy. It is important to remember that without agriculture, our economy would cease to function. While agriculture is not as large a portion of our economy as it was pre 1970s it still makes up the lion's share of our exports and removing dairy and meat exports alone would result in a $15.5 billion loss in merchandise exports from this country. That figure is over 10% of real GDP. I'd have to call myself a greenie but I think that there is a tendency in any disagreement to lean too far to one side and then you lose credibility and consequently any chance to persuade the other side that your position is legitimate. What is required on all sides of this debate is a balanced, wise approach that promotes environmental sustainability as well as economic advancement.

Anyway, back to Dave and Louise. "We're here because we love it." Louise said passionately as she hunted through the library of agricultural books, journals and pamphlets in their lounge. Presently we headed out to the farm ute and Dave explained to me that they have a million dollar mortgage on their property but they had still been doing what they could to introduce best practice measures around the farm. There is no requirement for dry stock farmers to do this. Fonterra has made it compulsory for their dairy farmers to fence off waterways and have the target that all stock will be excluded from waterways by December of this year. Dry stock farmers have no such imperatives in place but some are making the effort all the same.

Riparian planting of manuka trees along a small creek

We drove around the property with the kids in the back and I felt a bit like a tourist taking pictures of the landscape but it was very interesting to see what work had been done. They were almost apologetic that it didn't seem more complete and were keen to stress that many parts of the farm were a work in progress. We inspected fenced off creeks that had been planted and even marshy areas that the average person would not identify as a waterway were fenced and being prepared for riparian planting. When this is taken care of properly, these areas of vegetation act as filters which help to remove sedimentary and pathogen pollution from waterways. As a result Dave has noticed a return of native fish species such as Kokopu into the creeks on the farm. Some areas, they explained to me were better to be planted with trees and flaxes and some with thick grasses. It comes down to having to develop a comprehensive land management plan and generally being a serious student of your property.

 Fenced marsh area marching down the hill

In some areas of the property they have had issues with plants not coming away after planting; this can cost thousands. Plants bought from nurseries are not cheap and there were many areas on the farm that had thousands of dollars worth of planting and fencing as well as culverts that ensured stock stayed out of the water. This type of work is very costly and also causes additional costs. If stock cannot access water from natural sources on a property then troughs need to be installed in every paddock. The cost of installing troughs is also huge when you take into account the materials needed and the time that it takes to put them in. A phrase that Dave used while I was there really stuck in my mind: "It's hard to be green when you're in the red." Dave suggested that nursery operations could be given some form of subsidy to grow beneficial species of natives for riparian planting.Certainly, large scale growing of useful native plants would help reduce costs to farmers who are keen to take action.

Recently installed culvert

Another important consideration to take into account when fencing off waterways is the weed control that is required. This is also expensive and labour-intensive. Once plantings come away weed control becomes less of a concern but during the first few years it is crucial to prevent noxious species from invading. Another concern is that some species of pests are nitrogen fixing and contribute to raising nitrogen levels in the soil and subsequently in the waterways. It must also be noted that riparian planting can do little to prevent nitrogen from 'off farm' from entering  

All of these different considerations mount up and add a lot of extra work and costs. When you consider that the average age of a dry stock farmer in Northland is 65 it certainly provides some food for thought. Dave and Louise's neighbour is 81 and still farming his property himself. Realistically, he isn't going to be making any changes to the way he is doing things at the moment. What I learned from this visit was that there is a lot to this water quality business and I felt a bit out of my depth at times. Also, there are many farmers that are making an effort to improve water quality on their properties. I am yet to visit a dairy farm on this hikoi however, which I am sure will be a whole different experience.

I can see why they love it. The view up to the forest is fantastic!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Triple Crown of Northland Forest Walking.

After Ahipara I hitched into Kaitaia to resupply at Pac And Save. Seriously if you are not from NZ and are yet to figure out who is cheapest, Pac and Save wins hands down. I met up with Ben and Jen again at the backpackers and we made plans to head back out to the trail and tackle the Herekino, Raetea and Omahuta Forests. I knew these would be tough walks as Northland is a fairly isolated and rugged area and the forest areas are subtropical rain forest in which the tracks are notoriously rugged and muddy. 

While cooking dinner at the backpackers I got chatting to a Kumara contrator from Dargaville, Hunter. I ended up telling him that I was walking for water quality and he was very supportive. He said that water quality is crucially important for kumara cultivation but that in Dargaville it is becoming more and more difficult to access pure water. He attributed this to other agriculturalists in the area who did not worry about anyone else but themselves. I am not kidding when I say this and to quote directly he said: "They don't care, they don't give a f#@k." He lamented the state of water and the pollution that has occurred but also made the point that people have to have jobs. To be fair I imagine that some kumara cultivation contributes to water pollution in some way but I am all about letting people share their views and opening these views up for debate.

Hunter was in his mid sixties and it only took one handshake to know he was a hard working man. He had grown up on a dairy farm. "I used to milk 75 cows by hand with my brother before school, then walk to school. If you didn't get there on time you got the strap! Then we'd walk home and milk the cows again before tea time." I have a lot of admiration for these old school kiwis, and as my friend Rory McGovern used to say "It was blokes like me what built this country." Perhaps it is my own soft, teacher's hands that make me feel slightly less of a real kiwi joker than these guys but everyone has their own path to travel I guess. Anyway I suppose Hunter sensed that I really respected him and so upon parting he shook my hand and then leaned forward to hongi (press noses) which was a really great gesture. 

The next morning Ben, Jen and I walked out of town and hitched a 
ride back to the trail. We then walked up to the trail head of the Herekino forest, paused for a time and then marched quietly off into the forest. The Herekino is a beautiful place and we found ourselves walking under large Kauri and fording pristine bush creeks. Unfortunately for me I was foolish enough to get my phone out one too many times in drizzly conditions and it died an untimely death the next day; this was a bit of a blow early in for Walk for Water Quality as it meant I would not be able to take photos or do any blogging until at least Kerikeri and more probably Whangarei.


We kept moving through the forest until late in the day when we came to a four wheeler track which we followed for quite along time to an "intersection" of sorts. It was getting dark so we decided to camp there despite the hard, uneven ground. Luckily we had saved some beers and carted them all the way in to the forest so we each popped one open and had a toast. Ben explained the proper pronunciation of Haagen which I still can't get right after a quick bite to eat we all retired for the evening. 

The next day involved finding some old forestry huts that we had read about in the trail notes, slipping on a bank on the way out of the forest and breaking a walking pole and an arduous road walk through to Takahue. We followed our noses down to the Takahue Domain around six PM and made a nice little camp by the river that runs past it. As an added bonus, the farmers on both sides of the river had their bulls paddocked across from each other and we were gently ushered into dreamland by the soothing  sound of bulls roaring at each other.

There was quite a bit of rain over night but we woke to a sunny day and took our time getting organised in order to let our tents dry. The road walk to the start of the Raetea forest was uneventful until we were near the trail head where we came to a small "eco-village" with Buddhist prayer flags out the front. We went up tentatively to see if we could find some monks but instead found a small "hippy shack" and a four wheel drive.

No one seemed to be around so we headed back only to find an old Hi-Lux bumping up the steep, metal road. A guy who looked a bit like Osama Bin Laden yelled out to us over the diesel hum: "Are you looking for Adrian?" We explained that we just wanted to check out the eco village. "Yeah it probably says that more than it actually is." kiwi Osama replied. "I'm just heading up to help my mate build a hut up in the bush." By the looks of his payload they were going to be making this "hut" mostly out of shade cloth. 

He drove on up ahead and as we caught up to him a few minutes later we saw three equally hard case looking blokes ranging in age from twenties to forties. The youngest seemed as if it was his place and he did all of the talking; he had ginger dreadlocks. Another had a mohawk and the third was balding with longish hair, a beard and missing front teeth. They were standing by the roadside above a property with large half-round corrugated iron shed. I was pretty surprised to see a building up there, but as I have been finding on the trail, never underestimate where you might find a house. We passed on by after the red head advised us not to get lost because he was on the local search and rescue team. I couldn't help but think he may have another reason to want us to follow the track.

Anyway, I don't have much to say about the Raetea other than it is very steep in parts, there is little to no water available on the track itself, seemingly 40% of it was through ankle deep mud and it was a thoroughly frustrating and difficult walk. When we finally found some water in a muddy, marshy area on the track it was getting towards nightfall and we were about three quarters of the way through. We also came across a quite nice grassy area to camp, the first we had found all the way along the Raetea track. It did have a pretty spectacular view out to the Hokianga Harbour from the highest point in the middle but I was pretty glad to get out and on to Maungamuka in the morning although the road walk after the forest was quite long and hot. 

Oh and mind the cow carcass in the bog on the track.

When we finally reached Maungamuka we found a shop open, at which Ben did not get a burger, but has included this on a list of things to do if he is ever in Maungamuka again; they did look pretty good. A friend who lives locally came out to see us and gave us some tips about the next section. We talked for a while and then we headed off to a campsite in the hills after drinking more Mountain Dew than anyone really should. We camped at Apple dam which was really quite nice and then set out through Omahuta Forest the next morning heading through to the Puketi forest. These two are connected and really make up one large forest block.

This area is really quite beautiful but without sandals, I was unprepared for all of the river walking and filled my water proof boots up. This wasn't too big a deal and when we got to the convergence of two streams we had a swim in the chilly, turquoise pool that lay in the middle of this isolated, emerald sanctuary. It wasn't long until we were walking up stream towards a small camping area in the Puketi forest not far from a large kauri grove. We camped under a large Kauri in a clearing that lay on the track, had dinner and hit the hay. I'm pretty sure we heard a kiwi that night. On the walk out we went to view a very large kauri tree that we found out later was off limits. DOC have done a great job with pest control in Northland but sometimes the signage is sub par. However, this is to be expected with the large funding cuts they have experienced under the current government. If you are reading this, the really huge kauri tree in the Puketi forest is actually off limits but this is not made abundantly clear. We continued on out of the last of the forest towards Puketi Forest HQ where my friend Matt King picked us up and took us out to his place in Okaihau. We were pretty happy to get into a vehicle.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Ahipara: a meeting at Gumdigger's Cafe

It took me two days to get down to Ahipara from Hukatere Road  on my slightly improved feet. I went over to the Gumdigger's Cafe and drank about ten cups of tea and tried to get in touch with Catherine Davis who I had been in contact with before my trip started. I wanted to ask her about the local Iwi groups' positions on irrigation and intensive agriculture in the area. Catherine is of Te Rarawa and Ngati Kuri ancestry and I wanted to speak to her about local iwi views on land use and water quality in the far north. The staff at Gumdigger's helped me to get hold of her and she headed to the cafe.

Wetland area at the mouth of the Wairoa stream in Ahipara

While I was waiting, another local, Dave Rawiri, asked me about my business there as he had watched the proceedings with interest. I got talking to him about the local area and he related a similar account to that of the DOC officer that I had spoken to up on the beach. "We're totally opposed to what they're doing up here." was his response when I asked him about intensification of agriculture in the far north. "They've got it all wrong!" Dave looked to be in his forties and said that when he was a child he remembers that the streams and creeks up on the beach had still been flourishing. It was once easy to fish for eel in most of the streams on the beach but since the large tracts of forestry had come to dominate the dune areas, the creeks had shrunk and in many cases dried up altogether. "In another twenty to thirty years it'll be a desert up there!" I had certainly noticed areas where it seemed there used to be a waterway extending out from the land to the sea but now there is no fresh water flowing at all.

Presently, Catherine Davis arrived, a woman who is passionate about preserving the many taonga, or treasures that the local people feel guardianship (kaitiakitanga) for. Catherine is a Treaty Claims Settlement Negotiator for the Ngati Kuri Trust. Her pride in being Maori was evident not only in the nature of her korero (conversation) but also from the moko kauae (chin tattoo) that she wore. Unfortunately my phone had died when I was trying to get in touch with Catherine so I wasn't able to get a picture. We talked at length about what some concerns were for local Maori. Catherine expressed growing unease about the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act that stood to intensify agriculture in the area further, with little regard for environmental concerns. "We want a moratorium on allocating water for commercial use."

Houses at the mouth of the Wairoa Stream on Ahipara beach

With specific regard to fresh water she said: The Tangonge wetland was of particular importance as it had historically been one of the most important mahinga kai of Te Rarawa and Ngai Takoto iwi. Catherine stressed the need for a more sustainable model of agriculture for the north in which Maori can be actively involved. She also stressed the need for feeding people in the traditional modes of gathering from the natural resources available. People once procured food, water and natural medicines from wetland areas but in her view, this capacity had been drastically reduced due to habitat destruction of many species.

Catherine was optimistic that things could improve saying that the Tangonge had been drained but there are now plans to restore this taonga. Since 1991 The Ngati Kuri, Ngati Wai, Te Rarawa, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou and Ngati Koata iwi have had a pending self determination claim under the treaty of Waitangi known as the flora and fauna claim or Wai 262. This claim has many aims but most importantly to the groups involved, it would recognise and protect the cultural and intellectual heritage rights in relation to indigenous flora and fauna. 

In New Zealand we all need to realise that we are guardians of the natural resources around us and it is up to all of us to protect these resources from unsustainable exploitation in order that they might be preserved for future generations. In addition to this, all elements of an ecosystem are important whether or not they have a direct benefit for humans. 

To gain further Maori perspective on the importance of protecting freshwater ecosystems read here.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Utea Park.

I got up early and walked 12 km without stopping on my way to Utea Park. The day was fairly successful as I managed to walk nearly 30 km by around three in the afternoon. On the other hand I was exhausted and my feet were finished for at least a day or two. My plan had been to get to the road access by the Utea pa site and perhaps try to camp somewhere in the area. What I found was Utea Park.

A guy named Phil who I met on the beach advised me to try it as they were well suited to hikers' needs. I hobbled off the beach and found an inviting collection of small cabins and a kitchen area. There was a sign saying "make yourself at home" and another that outlined the koha (donation) system that they run on. Utea park is an Oasis half way down the 90 Mile Beach. There a hot showers (courtesy of solar), flushing toilets, clean water, gas cooking and cabins with beds. I stayed two days.

The owner, Paul is a really positive guy who is friendly and generous. He told me they get many people walking the Te Araroa trail and many who are pretty exhausted. Sure enough, over the next two days of my foot recuperation, two more reasonably weary walkers arrived. Ben arrived on my first full day there and Jen the day after that. We were all pretty amazed by Utea park.

It has been great to get to know Big Ben from Stuttgart and Jen from Texas and I have walked a lot of km's with them since. At Utea park we had lots of cups of tea and even a few beers that Paul brought to us on the last night I was there; what a good dude. When I talked to him about water quality issues on the beach, his main concern was in the myriad of petroleum based products that wash up onto the beach. He said that on some days you can see fine, transparent, plastic particles forming long lines along the beach which mirror the high tide line. God knows how much plastic humans have dumped into the sea but it's more than you can shake a stick at.

Kitchen and ablutions block.
Comfy cabins with actual beds!
Ben and Jen chillaxing
Yours truly bending like a reed in the wind
Sunrise over Utea Pa
Me (on the left) with Paul and Ben

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Maunganui Bluff.

I woke up to the sound of Peter's dogs murdering a possum. Peering out from my tent, down the sandy path towards Peter's place I saw his Jack Russell emerge from flax, jaws wrapped around a possum that looked bigger than the little terrier but considerably smaller than the pit bull terrier that  followed along.

I packed up and went to call on Peter who had said I could have a hot shower if I wanted. As I approached the Jack Russell was in some long grass tearing at possum intestines. Anyway, we had a cuppa and I spread my gear out to decide what to discard. I gave Peter nearly half of my food, a multi tool and a survival kit. I was very happy to shed the weight and he was happy to help lighten the load.

After a shower, I lanced some blisters and put some disinfectant on them courtesy of Peter. I got my boots back on and got a tour of the property. It was the type of place many people dream about having: isolated and secluded but with all you need to get by. Peter lived up there as penance for the transgressions of his past he said; while also explaining his maps of the area to me.

Peter came for a walk with me towards "The Bluff" to look for a wild foal that he had seen lost the day before. We found loads of tracks but no foal. We parted with about 10 more km to go to Maunganui Bluff.

I struggled on down the beach on sore feet and the Bluff, which I could see, seemed to get no closer. Buses and cars whizzed by up and down the beach, skimming through the odd stream here and there making my progress seem even more snail like. I finally arrived around 4PM and made camp. I stayed at the Bluff the next day as well to let my feet get right, cooking on an open fire and watching fishos coming and going.