As you hike toward Auckland, you slowly begin to see the signs of the city. Towns get closer together and more affluent; the traffic is a little steadier. (And you might go an hour or two without seeing a sheep.)
Te Araroa follows the east coast beaches into Auckland's North Harbor. Occasionally, you leave the beach and walk along city sidewalks through suburban neighborhoods that look like they could be anywhere in the world.
Jonathan and I walked into the city in the pouring, sheeting rain. Huddled under the overhang of a parking garage and just feet from the "trail" along the beach, we got online and looked up the local fare. A few blocks away, we found a likely candidate: a Turkish kebab shop with one dollar sign and 4.5 stars.
Watching the rain on the pavement outside, we ate our kebabs and decided to take full advantage of the weird world of city trail. We walked outside and caught a bus to the mall. Yep, that's right, to the mall.
A day earlier, Jonathan's phone met an untimely end in the ocean, and we each had some gear to sort out. He needed a new rain jacket; I'd broken one of my trekking poles and lost a spoon. Cities make these things surprisingly easy.
As it turns out, the city brings with it many luxuries. Our wonderful friends, Abi and Sarah, were gracious enough to let us stay two nights with them in an actual bed with actual sheets and actual pillows. Luxury, I tell you! They also made burritos (luxury) and in the morning, I sat around as long as I wanted and drank french press coffee in clean clothes (triple luxury).
Being on trail has a way of making everyday things feel indulgent. Yet it hardly makes you want to go back to a life where you can indulge every day. You always know, in the back of your mind, that these things bring pleasure exactly because they have become extraordinary.
Over the course of our stay in Auckland, we ate Indian food, made giant salads (anti-scurvy safety precaution), ate a whole chicken in one sitting, downed an ample supply of coffee, and even got ourselves some culture: we visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum to learn about the history of the Maori people (native New Zealanders). We also slackpacked 8 miles because, you know, we missed walking... ("Slackpacking" is essentially just walking trail miles without a full pack weight).
As a side note: The War Memorial museum is nearly on the trail and I'd strongly(!) recommend it to anyone planning to thruhike (or just to visit Auckland, in general). It's $25 for adults and they have a free walking tour that you can just listen to on your cell phone. Super neat!
And though there were many parts of the city that were wonderful, hiking through the city had it's discomforts, too. The Auckland suburbs drag on forever, and the pavement is tough on tender feet. More than anything, though, we felt out of place in the city -- like the city didn't want us there at all.
At the end of a long day leaving Auckland, we realized that our destination for the night was not -- as it stated in the trail notes -- 0.9km (0.5 miles) off the trail. It was 9km (5.5 miles). With sore feet and darkness falling, we weren't going to make it. Instead, we looked around at the city park and pitched our tent in a patch of trees. Sleeping in the park sure isn't glamorous, and it's probably (?) not legal, either.
After a restless night, we woke up early and quickly packed up our tent. While we sat on a park bench eating breakfast, a group of suburban moms dressed in bright, clean colors trotted past on their morning jog. Though it was not yet 7am, we walked out of the city past commuters sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.
The city was good to us, but we were glad to be walking out of it, too.