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.