WebMD and Other Hiker Woes
It’s a bit difficult to cobble a proper entry for the next stretch, mainly because my personal trail journal does not have much information other than variations on, “My stomach really hurts, am I going to die?” To which Google was quite helpful in providing all sorts of notes on how I might expire shortly. I believe I can trace back the source of my discomfort to rotisserie chicken reduced for “quick sale” from the supermarket in Kerikeri, but I’m still not sure.
The trek from Puketi hut to Kerikeri was delightful, passing through two major farms, each with their own set of curiosities. These were connected by gravel roads, mildly loping through rural farmland. The first farm mainly contained cattle, and the trail skirted the fence lines with a few warnings of bulls posted. It ducked down into a few patches of woods, and at one point, passed by a modest waterfall glittering into a deep, peaceful pool surrounded by moss covered rocks. This was unexpected and called for a sweet meditative break. The next farm also skirted fence lines, but there did not seem to be very many paddocks containing cows. Eventually, the trail dropped down multiple steps into a marvelous fern and palm mini rainforest before climbing back up to more pastureland and a bog bridge before depositing me back onto a road. A well graded, well used track along the Kerikeri river composed the last stretch of the trail. The magnificent Rainbow Falls, tumbling and roaring it’s way over ‘basalt lava fields from ancient volcanic activity’ (according to an informational sign) called for another break. Then it was a short couple miles to the Kemp House, New Zealand’s oldest house still standing (built in 1821) and the turn off to Kerikeri, a mid-size town with many cafe’s and resupply options.
And here it is that I made a series of grave mistakes:
- I ignored all the advice my mother had given me about not shopping while hungry and went to resupply before eating.
- Made the budget conscious, but perhaps tad foolish decision to buy a whole rotisserie chicken that had been marked for quick sale, since the expiry date was the same day.
- Made my way to the hostel and consumed 1/2 of that dated and fated chicken.
The next morning, I went to a coffeehouse with R., one of the hikers who had also braved Raetea forest the day I did. He is a perfect grump, a fine gentleman using his retirement to adventure and complain about it, and is all around absolutely delightful. My stomach had been feeling slightly upset, but I chalked it up to the combination of a tremendous dinner and even bigger breakfast, waved a cheerful goodbye to R., who was going to take a zero, and set off back towards Kemp House. I tramped up into the next “forest,” an 8mile or so stretch of hills owned by a logging operation. The hills had been recently harvested. Over the miles and miles of acreage, only a few straggling trees had been spared the chainsaw. I know humans need wood as a resource, and I am an active consumer. However, it was hard to escape the overwhelming sense of loss and devastation while the late morning sun beat down on me without mercy, since there were no trees left to block it. What had probably been a beautiful forest was now a stark and barren wasteland. After I had soberly climbed the last ravaged hill, I entered a small pine forest and took a lunch break. And here I must confess I ate the rest of the offending chicken. There was some hesitation, as I considered the factors of the expired chicken having been in my sun warmed pack for a few hours and my increasing gastric discomfort, but I threw caution to the non-existent wind and tucked in.
Again, most of my personal trail journey entries for a week following contain very little trail descriptions, but a lot of vivid descriptions of my gastric woe. Spoiler alert: I don’t die, but I did fear this was my personal expiry date. I consulted my father, a nurse, and after listening to my list of symptoms he concluded I was probably not marching to imminent death. He advised drinking more water, consuming more electrolytes, eating more fiber and vegetables, going to urgent care if the pain suddenly worsened or did not let up after a week, and “for the love of god, don’t eat any more expired chicken!” Thankfully, the pain eventually dissipated before my determined stopping point. I’ll spare the details, but essentially it was trapped gas, and, “This too shall pass.” Now back to the trail notes.
Onward Down the Trail
The highlights of this section include finding a public piano in the middle of Pahiha. I tickled the ivories and was happy, but since it was terribly clunky and out of tune, I’m not sure the pedestrians along the main street were as delighted. I also found a fun slide right next to the trail on the edge of town and took several turns hurtling down it. After a short road walk (half of which I hitched to skip the sketchy bit), the trail curls along a bank towards Opua, crossing a boardwalk through watery mangroves and passing coves of aquamarine water. Like several sections of the TA, this area offers several “pick your own route.” One could take the foot ferry from Pahiha to Russel and either hitch or road walk back up to the trail, take the “official” trail and take a water taxi from Pahiha to Waikare landing (a much more expensive option), take the car ferry from Opua and hitch/walk the road to reconnect with the trail. I choose the third option. I am not a purist or an EFIer (Every Fucking Incher as they are called on the TA), but I would like to say I walked 3,000km or 1,864 miles by the time I reach the Bluff. Since the trail mileage is slightly over this year due to reroutes, I figure those are “free” hitching miles. Additionally, I occasionally go on side quests to cool trails or places and count these miles into my hitching bank. It’s my own little unique system and I like it.
After crossing on the ferry, I hitched and reconnected with the trail as it turned onto a pleasant gravel road, skirting another forest that had been closed due to Kauri dieback. The next day was a climb up a series of roads until reaching Helena Ridge forest. Helena Ridge track offered stiff ascents, some enchanted goblin forest, and occasional views of the glittering sea far below. The mud was minimal and most of the trail was well marked. After camping in a small clearing set up by a kind local farmer, I decided to break my normal slow morning routine and get a few miles in before breakfast. I was well rewarded for my efforts by fine views of the early morning mist sweeping the pasturelands and rising over the mountains. Several cows and sheep blinked their surprise at having such an early visitor. Gravel roads composed the rest of the morning hike into the small, peaceful village Whananaki North where I happily helped the local economy with a hearty lunch. I waited until the couple from Montreal (some lovely thru-hikers I had met a few days before) caught up, and then we crossed Whananaki bridge, the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere. The bridge was initially built so children living in Whananaki South could safely get to school, rather than rowing across the bay with it’s dangerous tides. The trail utilized gravel roads through undulating pastureland with magnificent views of the coast for many of the day’s remaining miles.
The next day was a relatively short tramp to Ngunguru. The trail crossed some farmland, used a forestry/logging route, down a beautiful woodland stretch on a cycle trail, and then a short road walk into town. A little café was the destination, and received full approval of being worth the anticipation. I sat in the dappled sun and wrote in my journal, “There is something sweetly romantic about sitting at this picnic table, sipping ice coffee with a gorgeous, thick slice of carrot cake before me. I feel as if I belong in a novel, but rather than a hot man sitting across from me, I have my backpack. I think I almost prefer it that way.” I had the sudden realization of being in a foreign country on a backpacking adventure, completely at my own leisure and time, and having the privilege of being able to afford small comforts such as ice coffee and thick slices of cake. The gratefulness was overwhelming, and I spent a few moments looking an odd sight, a sweaty, dusty figure with tears running down her nose and into the next bite of cake. Depression can be a lonely, dark, and fearsome companion and my internal discourse can often be a reflection of that. But other times, the dappled sunlight breaks through, and I rediscover I am alive, I am alive, I am alive! And the discovery is not a dreadful thing, but rather a welcomed one.
A small group of hikers gathered to cross the bay on James’ ferry. I was glad to count R. among our number, he had popped around the corner into the café quite unexpectedly and we had a good natured grump the road walks and sundry. We crossed the small bay in turns, and spent the rest of the evening lounging around absolutely lovely Nikau Bay Eco camp. Between taking an enchanting outdoor rainwater shower (a tree was growing in the middle of it!), an exhausting and exhilarating bounce on the trampoline, a meditative yoga session on the bamboo surrounded deck, and joining the cozy, friendly chat around the campfire, it would be hard to pick my favorite part of the evening. James gave us a safety and information briefing about the next day’s tramp through the estuary and two river crossings. I consulted with A. and Ro., the couple from Montreal, and we decided to try for an early morning and time the tides to be able to cross both rivers. As the sun cast its last golden rays over the horizon, I went to bed with a grateful and full heart.
day 8: Puketi Hut- Hono Heke Lodge 14mi
day 9: Hone Heke Lodge- Pickled Parrot Hostel 12mi
day 10: Pickled Parrot-Tammy’s Place 20mi
day 11: Tammy’s place- Farmer’s clearing- 13mi
day 12: Farmer’s clearing- Salty Bay Carpark -19mi
day 13: Salty Bay Carpark- James’ Eco Camp 11 mi.
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