Road to Herikino forest

The hell of Herikino: following the Te Araroa through Northland’s forests

Why oh why tramping Herikino?

“Doing it all”: I think the feeling of doing an entire thru hike lured me into starting in the North of New Zealand instead of sticking to my original plan of hiking New Zealand’s south island only. Tempted by “not wanting to miss out” on kauri trees, beach walking, Maori culture, Tongariro National Park  – where Frodo destroyed the ring –  and more, I ignored the amount of road walking and bush tramping, despite knowing that I’m not particularly a forest girl.

That I belonged to Camp Beach Tramper, became even more clear during the first week on the Te Araroa. Enjoying the sand between my toes when barefoot walking and finishing the first 100 kilometres in 3 days without any blisters, I would almost say we cruised on 90 Mile beach.

Barefoot walking on 90 Mile Beach NZ

Ready to hit Te Araroa’s first bushes?

The reality of Northland’s forests was about to kick in. I was determined to tackle them, but also somewhat hesitant about my route-finding abilities in dense forest with limited markers and therefore happy to team up with Reinier and Victoria. Reinier and I had turned out to be a solid tramping team on the beach, and Victoria, an Italian girl who I met on the bus from Auckland to the far North, decided to join us.

We knew we had to start early, as this first forest section of the Te Araroa is supposed to take nine hours and we needed another two hours of road walking to the trail head. Ten kilometres along the road sounds worse than it was. Rarely any cars, beautiful morning light, and a last view of 90 Mile Beach. Herikino, here we come!

Road to Herikino forest

Enchanted by Herikino

The joy of the road kept accompanying us at the start and end of Herikino forest. In between, there were tears.

The joy of entering Herikino is easy to explain. The beach is only two hours away, and suddenly we walk in the jungle. It is everything you would expect from a rain forest – all the birds and exotic plants – and even more: kauri trees.

Kauri trees

Kauri trees are among the world’s ancient trees, having ancestors from the Jurassic Period (199-145 million years ago). Kauri – Maori for Agathis Australis – are the largest trees in New Zealand; they can become more than 50 meters tall with enormous trunks.

Kauris could easily live over 1000 years, but are now threatened by kauri dieback disease. A fungus-like organism that lives in soil affects the tree roots, causing death. There is no cure yet. Since the disease lives in soil, it can easily be transmitted to other kauri forests when human walk from forest to forest, like hikers do. Therefore, taking precautions is needed. This is relatively simple: cleaning boots when entering and leaving a kauri forest can prevent the spreading of kauri dieback disease.

The magic spell: but for how long?

Nature can be deceitful. Its beauty is as enchanting as a fairy tale. For a moment, we feel like a princess, forgetting the threats of our story.

The hell of Herikino

The tears came when I came stuck at a tree trunk, wading through the knee-deep mud, even escaping on my bottom. It wasn’t the first obstacle that broke me. It was the accumulation of walking in a tunnel of dense forest with hardly any views, finding my way through the mud that covered the steep path we followed, and falling down multiple times.

When the tears finally came, I couldn’t stop crying. “I hate this forest.” Thoughts about tomorrow – Raetea is supposed to be even more difficult than Herikino – made me start panicking. Thoughts of stopping made me feel weak. “What if A. doesn’t love me anymore if I don’t want to hike ever again?” I even thought.

It’s the mind that can drive us crazy. My feet were still moving. Slowly, but moving. At that time, I couldn’t see it as a strength to keep moving even when crying. I focussed on how slow I walked and felt weak. I focussed on wanting to skip the forest and felt like a failure.

Herikino Saddle

The lessons of Herikino’s fairy tale

I was still sobbing – silently – when I rejoined the others. Out of nowhere, the tears disappeared, but returned when we reached the end of the forest. Not out of despair, this time. More a release of the whirlwind of emotions that the Hell of Herikino caused.

Soon after the last tears found their way to my chin, the joy kicked in again. We laughed and talked. Determined to walk as far as possible before the dark sets in, I pushed myself to walk the last bit over the road. Every kilometre now will help us in the morning.

This day taught me about mental strength. Reinier and I talked about it and slowly, I realised that crying doesn’t mean I’m weak. I kept walking. I got myself together after the forest and pushed for as much as road walking as possible in daylight. I start to think it was strong.

Am I ready for Raetea?

 

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