The taxi dropped us off on a back road and we had an easy walk along dirt roads through more perfect farmland to Takahue. Daniel had control of the phone so we have a lot of photos of cows and not much else. 

15kms later we got the the campsite – a patch of grass with a tap that didn’t work and a shovel with ‘toilet’ written on the handle.

We set up, had a fantastic meal, and went on an adventure to get water. Daniel, Holli and I could hear water just across the road so went through the paddock to get it. Only problem was it was full of cows with tiny calves (who can get very protective), Holli’s feet were getting torn up on the dead blackberry stalks everywhere, and the water was too hard to access. We cut across towards another gate, and ended up going past beehives before falling in a weird tufty swamp – looks like no day will go past with completely dry feet!

After finally escaping we walked down the road about 300m and found a mini-waterfall and pool right next to the road that was incredily easy to acces. Typical.

To top it off Holli lost her water filter somewhere on our adventure and so her and Daniel had to go back and search for it. All the cows were now in the way and mooing angrily at them so they didn’t look very hard, so we’re now one filter short.

We’d heard that the Northland forests were hard going, but figured we’d seen lots of rough terrain before. Plus, we always managed to do hikes quicker than the estimated time, and they always end up being easier than people say. So this would be no different, right?

Hahahahahaha at naive us!

The 18kms that was meant to take 9.5 hours took us 13.5 hours, and we were pushing it nearly all day.

There was mud, and shoe-sucking clay, and vertical climbs and descents. There were branches and trees all over the path, and mud. And more mud. And no flat ground. And it JUST DIDN’T END.

All of us fell over multiple times, and we were hobbling in pain by halfway. One kilometre took us 1.5 hours – that’s how steep and slippery it was. At one stage we worked out if we continued at that pace we wouldn’t finish until 4am the next day.

We actually had a great time – we spent the day laughing hysterically at how hard it was and how much we’d underestimated it, giving each other prizes for best fall, and making up songs about the mud and our pain.

The girls came up with a complicated grading system for the mud, based on the ratio of clay/water, depth, and how much vegetation it had in it. 

We stumbled out into the farmland at the end, exhausted and aching in places we didn’t know existed. We had no idea if there was a campsite nearby, so when we hit the road and saw a sign saying one was 500m we nearly cried with happiness. We made it just in time to set up the tents before it got completely dark, scrubbed off our filthy muddy feet and legs in the creek, ate muesli in bed and crashed.

But we recorded our thoughts about the day first.

The campground looked pretty good in the daylight – with a creek, a long drop, a picnic table, and even a clothes line (with pegs!) it felt pretty posh. I love that the council seems pretty relaxed here, we’d never get away with this in Australia.

Luckily the next day was meant to be easy – about 13kms of road walking to connect us to the next forest. We didn’t rush in the morning – we ate two meals, washed ourselves and our clothes (still not getting all the bloody mud off) and set off at 10.15, which is practially afternoon for us.

As we set off the campground owner drove past and stopped to chat. He told us they regularly get campers staggering in, crying after gauntlet of Raetea forest. Daniel told them he was about to cry too until we saw his campground.

More uneventful road walking through beautiful farmland and the settlement of Mangamuka (where we realised we’d walked a very long way) before we turned off to Omahua forest.

We made it to the last few water sites but they were all pretty bad – more like drains. I don’t know who marks them on the app but they’re pretty hit and miss. 

After eyeing them off I went to the dairy across the road, where the friendly guy said of course we would fill our packs. Kiwis have been universally friendly and helpful so far. They were milking while we were there, with contented cows chomping away while music blared and the husband ogled the newborn calves.

We thought we were done for the day, but he told us the campsite was hours away but there was an air strip closer that was nicer. Tired and sore from the day before, this was not good news. We kept going up the road, higher and higher, until we reached the steepest airstrip we’ve ever seen – I didn’t know you could land a plane on the side of a mountain!

We set up in waist-high grass, which gave us a cushy bed and a bit of privacy. Technically we weren’t meant to camp there but a DOC ute drove past and they waved cheerfully.

We had cocoas and cheesy rice and Gabrielle read Scythe until 7pm, when we went to bed. Because 10 hours of sleep seems to be the absolute minimum we need right now!

We were faced with a bit of a problem the next day – we had 28kms of Omahuta Puketi forest to do and weren’t allowed to camp anywhere except a designated site because of kauri dieback. But the location of the designated site wasn’t marked anywhere.

We passed it an hour into our walk, so shrugged and decided we’d just have to do the 28kms.

It was easy walking to begin with – a gravel road turned into a well-made track. Then we made it to the creek and had to walk along and through the creek for a few kilometres.

It was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been – crystal clear water surrounded by lush forest and ferns.

Then the track got a bit steep and slippery, but we had a bit of fun with it.

We were all tiring now and hoping for a nice trail. Sadly, this is where the evil Te Araroa track makers decided to have a laugh. Instead, we climbed up and up and up and up……..853 steps up, with some uphill sections of track between to give it some variety.

The steps looked brand new, and we were so happy they were there – I think I would have cried if it was more slippery clay and hauling ourselves up by tree roots.

Thighs screaming and drenched in sweat (we really should have done SOME training) we staggered along for a bit. With 12kms to go it was already getting late and we were starting to worry we wouldn’t make it to the campsite.

We were shocked out of feeling sorry for ourselves by a very loud MAAA-AAA! Then the stink of billy goat hit us. Feral goats were nearby and a kid was bleating. Gagging from the smell of an animal that urinates on his own face to attract the ladies we hurried past.

Possum traps – they don’t like our cute little Aussie marsupials in NZ.

Everyone cheered when we reached the road, but we still had 9kms left to go so the excitement wore off quickly. It went up and down continuously, killing our already-sore muscles as we went as fast as we could manage.

It got dark with less than a kilometre to go. So of course we had trouble finding the Puketi recreation area in the dark and stumbled around for a bit before finding a place to set up.

We were all absolutely exhausted but got the tents up higgledy-piggledy. We stuffed the kids in the tents, Gabrielle squished in with her sisters, and we dished up chunks of warm, oily cheese for dinner because there was no way were cooking at 9.45pm.

The kids were asleep by 10. I needed an ibuprofen before I could fall asleep – the irony of all this exercise is that I’m usually too stiff and sore to sleep well.

With a decent site with toilets and water we deemed the next day a rest day – instead of dividing up the next section of 26kms we’d rest and do it in a single day. So we ate, and read, and ate, and rested, and ate, and did some washing, and ate some more. The kids tried to catch the wild quail, but didn’t have any luck with a sleeping bag bag wired to the end of a stick.

We met a lovely Kiwi bloke who talked to us about the trail, tramping, and other random stuff. He then came back half an hour later with chocolate and fruit for us! We were so impressed, what a lovely thing to do.

We’d been wondering if all the other trampers had skipped the forests because we hadn’t seen anyone for days, but in the early afternoon Isaiah turned up. He’d already done the Omahuta Puketi forest and was heading on to Kerikeri. We dubbed him Super Tramper. He was clean and didn’t look tired at all! Yet we’d needed a rest day between.

The section to Kerikeri looked fairly easy. We crossed paddocks without getting too off-track, and the cattle were curious but left us alone (we saw Isiah the next day and they’d chased him!)

Then road walking, with a scary section along a narrow, busy highway, before we got to climb a stile and walk along the Kerikeri river, which took us through some much more civilised forest.

We passed the Rainbow Falls, which were rather spectacular.

We were tiring by this stage. By the time we reached Stone Store and the Kororipo pa we’d unfortunately lost interest in our surroundings and just wanted to stop walking, so we plowed on.

We’d organised to camp in a backyard on the trail (thanks Nicholas!). Even though he’d never met us and he wouldn’t be home he told us to set up and use whatever we wanted in his house – how amazing is that? A particularly steep and long hill right at the end seemed very unfair.

After a bit of confusion with Nicholas’ housemate, who didn’t know we were coming and was a little surprised to find seven strangers wandering around his backyard, we set up next to the pool and then tried to organise a taxi to take us into town for food, our first shop in 6 days.

After finding out the taxi would be $20 each way for 3kms we walked. What’s another 6kms after you’ve already done 26?!

With another supermarket the next day we got to splurge on heavy food – carrots and hummus, blueberries and raspberries, and fresh milk. Yes, it was exciting!

We waited up as late as we could, 8.30, to meet Nicholas, but he still hadn’t arrived home from work. And he wasn’t up at 6am so we never actually met our host before we headed to Paihia. Maybe next time we pass through!