Although the Northland was a bit of a logistical nightmare at times (as I wrote about here), it had also had some crazy highlights. Here's our "best of" for the Northland:
One of my favorite sections of trail so far has been the Papakauri stream, a 3km (~2 mile) riverwalk -- no trail but the stream itself. The Papakauri is only about shin deep in most places, but it was magical to wander through untouched forest by way of the water. Even in the wilderness, trailbuilding reveals the human impact, but through the riverwalk, the only signs of human life were infrequent trail markers that reassured us we were moving in the right direction.
Puketi Forest & Tane Moana
In man places -- including the Riverwalk -- the bush is dense and jungle-like, but in a few places, we've been lucky enough to visit some particularly unique New Zealand terrain: the Kauri forests.
Kauri (Agathis australis) are found only on New Zealand's North Island. They're massive conifers reaching up to 150 feet tall and up to a whopping 48 feet in girth. The oldest surviving tree is estimated to be 1500 years old.
Kauri trees alter the soil chemistry around them and allow many other rare plants and animals (mainly birds) to thrive. This creates particularly unique forests in New Zealand because a massive number of the species found here are endemic, found nowhere else in the world. The kauri shed their lower branches as they grow, too, so the forests are brighter and airier than other bush.
Sadly, the kauri trees are dying. The usual trail through the Puketi Reserve was closed to hikers due to Kauri Dieback Disease, a fungus that is slowly killing off these forests and that is believed to be spread by humans and some invasive mammals like possums and wild pigs. Still, we've been able to walk through a several kauri forests, including a majestic grove near the edge of Puketi and it's easy to see why we'd want to protect these beautiful forests.
Impromptu Trail Magic
Some highlights come right in the wake of the lowlights. After a long day of hiking, the last thing you want to see is a sign that says "No Camping Allowed - Next 20 Km."
While we stood next to the sign, trying to decide where to go for the night, a man came out of the nearby house and approached us. He asked if we needed somewhere to stay -- this is the moment when you look around to determine how likely the person is to be a serial killer -- and said we were welcome to camp in the lawn.
When we approached the porch, where he and his wife were drinking their tea (yea, not particularly sketchy, in this case), he offered up the garage and introduced himself. Our lovely hosts, Keith and Raewyn, bought out cots for us and turned on the hot water so that we could take a shower. They showed us outlets where we could charge our phones and gave us the password for their WiFi. They even offered us a cold beer to drink before we turned in for the night.
These things may seem like basic comforts back home, but on the trail, the garage felt like a suite in a luxury hotel. Thank you so much to our hosts for your amazing hospitality and for giving us such a warm welcome to your beautiful country!
One morning, joined by an Aussie hiker, we woke up at dawn to catch low tide for an estuary crossing. We donned our sand socks and walked 2 miles of so in the soft mud before reaching the river itself, which was waist deep, even at low tide. Just before reaching the river, we were treated to a picture perfect sunrise. Not a bad start to the day.
One of the perks of having the varied terrain through the Northland is that some of my favorite sections of trail have been total surprises. A short coastal walk between Paihia and Opua turned out to be a charming and well-maintained track right above the beach. And on another day, we practically turned a corner into a ridiculously stunning cliffwalk above the beaches near Mangawhai:
Once in a while, stunning views just pop up through the foliage, like this magical scene outside of Warkworth:
The Northland consists of all of the terrain north of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city at 1.2 million people. The city runs from coast to coast, so the trail runs right through the middle of it. So what's next? Hiker trash take to the city.