The Journey Begins:
The Intercity bus runs from Auckland to Kaitaia, “the gateway to the north,” and no public transit beyond an expensive taxi covers the last 110km/68mi. to Cape Reinga lighthouse, the northern terminus of the Te Araroa. I hoped to start walking on September 22nd, Hobbit Day and Bilbo Baggin’s Birthday, which seem an appropriate day to start an adventure. However, due to ornery bus schedules a
Cape Reinga Lighthouse- the official northern terminus
nd a bit of nasty weather, I actually started hiking on September 24th. Since the trail is roughly 1,800mi. and Sam and Frodo’s journey just 100mi shy of that (depending on which internet source and fantasy nerd you choose to believe), I very much wanted to carry a ring pop from the Shire (Cape Reinga) to Amon Armarth/Mt. Doom (aka, the Bluff). Alas! I could not find a ring pop in any of the candy aisles I searched (which amounted to a grand total of two). Nevertheless, she persisted and drew a picture of the Precious to escort down the islands. Rest assured, dear reader, there will be occasional notes on “The Ring Goes South” and where it is throughout this journey. I planned on trying my luck hitching state highway 1, the solitary road to Cape Reinga lighthouse. The trail provides and I was able to find a ride with a fellow TA backpacker and two friends who were joining her for 90-mile beach. They were delightful and we walked the beach together.
90-mile beach is a sand throne of lies, starting with the distance. It is neither 90 miles or 90 kilometers, but rather roughly 62.6mi, starting near the Cape Reinga lighthouse and ending on a small boat ramp at the town of Ahipara. In the Maori language, this stretch of sand along the western side of the North Island is “Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē,” aka, the long beach of Tōhē, which is an apt name. However, perhaps 90-mile beach is also a fitting name, since that is how long it felt. The second lie, though perhaps not the fault of the beach itself, is the claims that it is a paradise- claims made by Google and by many of the locals and day tourists.
A herd of wild horses on the dunes
First, let me stress, it IS beautiful. Tall, creamy sand dunes topped with sage grass blowing in the breeze, large, frothy waves crashing into shore, seagulls crying overhead, and endless sky and stretch of sand offer a meditative space, an escape into a calendar picture. There are herds of wild horses roaming the dunes and tossing their carefree manes in the wind. The first night’s sunset was especially spectacular, fiery orange and red, blushing pink, and silky purple and blues collapsing from the sky into the sea on the horizon as far as I could see. Paradise, indeed.
Arrakis? The majestic sand dunes of Te Paki Stream entrance
However, Paradise has sand, and sand is “coarse, rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.” (It’s okay, Anakin, I’m not great at flirting either). It was particularly keen on getting into my shoes and in between my toes where it stayed and rubbed no matter how many times I shook my shoes out. (Have you ever tried hiking multiple miles, carrying 20 something pounds on your back, on a shifting surface with sand in your shoes? Not exactly paradise.) Also, the calendar picture we were walking through stayed virtually the same for 3 days, other than the rapid changes in weather.
My Vermont east coast heart loves the green tunnel, the trails that scramble over rocks and roots surrounded by birches and oaks and pines. Other than a short backpacking trip down the lovely Oregon coast, I do not have a lot of experience traipsing over sand. It’s a different type of wild beauty, forged over a millennia of waves shaping and reshaping the coastline. There is an almost sacredness about it, the deep melancholy ache of seeing something ancient and grand. The beach serves as an excellent test of grit, determination, and humor. It became a running joke to every now and again gesture at the almost never changing panorama before us and yell, “omg, look at that view!” (And honestly, what a glorious view!)
But if some dude ever tries to romance me again by saying, “I like candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach,” I will block him.
Breakdown of miles: 0-81 (61 trail miles)
Day 1: Te Paki stream to Maunganui Bluff Reserve, 15mi (1st section of 90 Mile is currently closed due to land right disputes)
Day 2: Maunganui Bluff to Hukatere Lodge 18.3mi
Day 3: Hukatere Lodge-Ngapae Holiday Park 11mi.
Day 4: Ngapae Holiday Park- Trail Angel’s house, Takahue 17mi (Herekino forest is currently closed due to Kauri dieback, so hitched 12mi highway section)
The Ring is: Still in Hobbiton (61 miles)