Te Araroa, Days 94-104: Auckland to the Bay of Islands
Greetings from the town of Paihia, in the Bay of Islands! I’m officially in Northland and on the last big leg of the Te Araroa. Up here, the trail meanders along east coast beaches, ducks inland to take in the odd hill or forest, and then wends its way across farmland back to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Along the route, it takes in some beautiful landscapes – and a whole lot of roads. Like, a WHOLE LOT of roads. it’s possible to spend a morning having a transcendent experience hiking along a golden, sunny beach, and then spend the afternoon dodging trucks on the road to the town dump. (Not hyperbole – this happened a few days ago outside Waipu.)
These are the times when the old “Why am I doing this?” question starts to rear its head. And if I’m honest, one of the main reasons I’m still doing this right now is just to get it done. Another reason, though, is for those moments of transcendence – the feeling of waking up on the beach before sunrise, walking toward a rainbow when you’re still getting poured on, being blindsided by the warm and kind generosity of strangers.
I have to confess that I’ve been actively fighting the doldrums on a nearly daily basis, and in a way that I didn’t really experience on the South Island. Hiking in the backcountry is just a fundamentally different project than walking on roads from town to town. The cadence is so different – rather than being in remote areas for days at a time, I’m passing through villages or towns every day. And while many of the wilderness areas the trail passes through can only be reached by foot (or helicopter), I’m now walking to places that are actually better – and in some cases safer – reached by car. And I feel kind of bereft about it – like I have been demoted from wilderness adventurer to solitary weirdo walking in the ditch on the side of the road.
It’s been observed by others that the South Island TA is an exploration of natural landscapes, while the North Island TA is about New Zealand’s cultural landscapes. In a lot of ways, I think this is true – and I think my difficulties have come from the challenge of adjusting from the one to the other. Because of course it’s not all roadside ditches up here – it’s beautiful, and fascinating, and I’ve met some wonderful people and seen some amazing plants and birds and landscapes, and learned quite a bit about NZ history.
And there’s still time for me to snap out of my little slump here. I have just over 150 miles left to go (152, actually, but who’s counting?) and I should be done in another 10 days or so. I’m hoping that once I’m on Ninety Mile Beach (actually only 63 miles long, but still certainly long enough!) for the final three-day stretch to the trail’s end at Cape Reinga I’ll be excited again.
So no adventure tales in this post – just some moping (or I guess you could be generous and call it “reflection”) and a hope that I’ll regain some emotional momentum for this final push. Wish me luck, friends!
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