There are two types of hikers: beach trampers and forest trampers. Right from the start, the first sections of the Te Araroa – a 3000-kilometres-long trail in New Zealand – will determine in which camp you belong.
Without doubt, I’m a beach tramper (kiwi for “hiker”). This means that I’d rather walk the first 100 kilometres along the beach a second time than ever doing the brutal forests once again. Forest trampers and I totally disagree on this subject as they were totally wrecked by the beach.
Let’s hike 90 mile beach
Frankly, beach walking sounds easier than it is. I knew it would be hard, but I still naively hoped I would enjoy it as much as I usually love beach walking. Well, I did. For about one day.
The first day is as exciting you may think the start of a thru-hike is. Very exciting. It felt surreal to be at the light house of Cape Reinga. So many times I had seen pictures of the Cape and this beach of former TA (Te Araroa) hikers, but now it was me standing here. Was I really doing this?
Everything is still new, promising, and beautiful on the first day. The beach was gorgeous, the sun amazing, and the terrain still somewhat diverse because the trail takes you both over the dunes and the beach.
The sun here is no joke, I soon found out. Of course, I had done my homework, knew about the burning sun and the gap in the ozone layer, but I didn’t realise I had to use sun scream at 4pm again. Regardless of my knowledge of the New Zealand sun, I was still used to the Dutch sun (which is present for about 2 weeks a year). I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one in trouble with the sun, even a young kiwi – who should have known better – had ignored how cruel the sun can be. He had not brought any sunscreen at all and when I met him in Ahipara (the first TA town after a 100km on the beach), and could only lie on his bunk bed; burned and dehydrated as he was.
I limited my stupidity to the first afternoon; although I soon discovered another mistake. I had not tested my gas cartridge before hitting off and now found out it wasn’t working properly. Saved by the generosity of three somewhat older kiwi trampers, I didn’t need to be hungry or have a cold meal at my first night outdoors. This was the first of many encounters with New Zealand’s inhabitants, who are among the finest people I’ve ever met.
That first night on the trail was not only an introduction to the human population of New Zealand, but also to its troublesome animal pest: the possum. When introduced by the Aussies in 1837 to establish a fur trade, I bet no one had foreseen the immense impact they would have on the environment of Aotearoa (Maori for ‘New Zealand’). Without large-scale bush fires or natural predators like they face in Australia (e.g. the dingo), they soon became a threat to New Zealand’s native birds. These cat-sized animals are known for eating keas and kiwi eggs, both protected species.
Possums also like to steal hiker’s food, we soon found out. I was happy with my food preparation: stored in a sturdy food bag and kept in my tent, but my poor fellow hikers had left some food in plastic bags in the vestibules of their tents. The next morning, the bags were teared apart and the food was eaten. A harsh lesson on the first night on the TA
Walking 57 kilometres on 90 mile beach…. in one day!
On the second day, I bumped into Reinier, another Dutch thru-hiker, and we decided to walk a little bit together. That ‘little bit’ became about 50 kilometres to our next camp. At first, it was nice to share the feelings of homesickness to our loved ones. Then, we chatted for hours, and without realising it, we had a steady pace and decided to push all the way to Utea: 57 kilometres from Twilight Camp where I started in the morning.
I surprised myself by walking 40 kilometres easily, and even up to 50 kilometres it was doable, although tough. Only the last 7 kilometres hit me: in the dark, every minute felt like an hour. So we treated ourselves with a cabin and bed; I was not even capable of setting up my tent or cook dinner anymore. Thank God, we “only” had to walk 32 kilometres to Ahipara the next day….
We reached Ahipara, the ‘finish line’ of 90 Mile Beach
By finishing the first 100 kilometres on the beach in 3 days, we were ready to hit the Northland bushes, so we thought….