We left Auckland. Probably forever. We started going into the unknown, because from now on there are no places we were before on the coming way. The way to Hamilton was supposed to be relatively calm and quiet, devoid of wild forests, rivers and annoying tides. We would call this a connecting stretch. But that does not mean that no adventures have happened to us! You have probably read my previous post entitled “The People”. Continuing the topic of New Zealanders, I will describe in this post a few consecutive days to Hamilton, which did not surprise us with views but people.
We got off the bus. As you may remember from the last blog entry, we had to set our camp a bit earlier, walk 25km further and come back. The next day we took the bus to the same place so we could carry on. The app we use did not show any camp for another 77km… Quite a lot for one day. We had to figure something out. I’ve gone through the trail notes to double check if there is anything on the way. It turned out that after 25km there is some Ramarama campground. It meant that we had to walk a bit back after crossing the highway, but that was the only solution.
Or was it? It happens that someone stops to give us a ride. People, seeing us with backpacks, are happy to offer some help. If we are on the trail, we thank them and we kindly refuse. This time it was not about the ride. We were on a busy road when suddenly a dark BMW pulled over in front of us. The driver (he was with his son) opened the window and asked if we were hiking Te Araroa. We said yes. He asked where we are staying. There and there. “There and there” is probably not on the way, huh? He says he has free room. I look at Michał, he looks at me. Ok, we’ll take it. Need a lift? No, we will make it ourselves. We got the address and carried on. Damn. We have just been stopped by a random guy and offered to stay overnight. We did not know how to react to it, but having in mind all the hospitality of Kiwis, we trusted the man in a dark BMW.
It was getting late. We were still walking on the road. Finally, we found the address and entered the premises. As we approached the house, I noticed that BMWs were the only cars occupying the open garage. And there was more of them on the lawn in front of the house. And even more besides them. I think we’re in the right place. A man with a familiar face came down from the porch. He was smiling from ear to ear. Probably he was waiting for us. He introduced himself as Brent. We shook hands and then we were invited home. We talked for a moment, Brent introduced us to his wife Suzanne and the children, and showed us the room.
– Come upstairs boys, the dinner is ready. We are having BBQ.
Wow! A night in a regular bed and a family dinner! We really did not expect anything like this on that seemingly boring day. We took a quick shower. In the end, it is not the nicest to sit at the table in such a sweaty condition. We got ourselves into some acceptable condition and went upstairs. And yes, they were really preparing for dinner and they were waiting especially for us… There were sausages, kumara potatoes, cooked corn and green vegetable salad. We said the grace and started eating. Then Brent’s friend came by and we drank some beer while eating crisps. We talked about the trail, about kauri trees, about the neighborhood, about New Zealand, about the different origins of Kiwi. It was really nice.
The wind started getting stronger. We were expecting a heavy rain this evening, we were a bit afraid that we would not make it before it starts. Fortunately, we did it and now we could watch the storm from a safe place. In the morning we were served breakfast. It was Saturday, and we rolled up early. We got porridge, toasts and coffee or tea. We signed in to the book, Brent and Suzanne’s son took us a photo and we moved on. They did not want any money, but if there is a way to thank them, it’s by taking an example from them and telling you that there are good people in this world who help others without expecting anything back.
We set off towards Mercer, 30km away. We did not have too much choice. There was a lot of road walking that day. Like really lot. Some of them are pleasant to walk and others are not. Unfortunately, drivers in NZ are just terrible when it comes to passing the pedestrians… Half a meter is not a safe distance fellas. Especially, when the other lane is empty and we have as much of a shoulder as nothing. At least it would be nice to slow down! Enough complaining, let’s get back to the topic.
We walked on the roads. At some point, we had to leave to the field path. Oh, how we were longing for the end of the struggle with cars and trucks. And how disappointed we were when the field path turned out to be trodden by cattle one hell of an opportunity to twist the ankle… To make things worse, we watched the storm coming down from the mountains. And there we were in the open field. Perfect.
To move quicker and twist the ankle or to slow down and get hit by lightning? I can’t tell what’s better. We walked on. We saw the rain in front of us. Another dilemma. Will it pass before us, or will it hit us? Should we hurry up and run away from the storm, but get into the rain with a sprained ankle, or slow down to wait the rain, but get hit by the storm? So many dilemmas and decisions to be made, so many uncertainties! We walked on. In the end nobody sprained the ankle, nor got hit by a lightning. The shower drenched us both – completely. At some point it stopped raining and the sun came out. But we still had a few kilometers to walk through the shrubs along the highway. Finally we got to Mercer. Our place for that night was a bar with a campsite at the back. The place was run by a lady called Sonja, who is fascinated by the trail and those who walk it. In the bar there were pictures of hikers and a guestbook as well as several albums about the trail. When Michał saw the photos from the South Island, despite being exhausted, he said that he felt the motivation and wanted to go on and take such photos.
Sonja made her camping free to TA walkers. Moreover there was a shower and a laundry available as well. We wanted to contribute somehow so we ordered a burger and beer. And hell, it was worth it! A typical kiwiburger is with a beetroot. And that’s how this one was made. And I do think it’s an awesome addition! Period. Back to the subject: we did not let ourselves be taken into karaoke night and went to bed instead.
In the morning we headed off to Rangiriri. Again, we did not have much choice, but this place looked promising. That day we had about 27km to go. The trail led us along the Waikato River. First, however, we had to cross the hill, that we encountered covered by the morning mist.
A whole day along the river, and quiet route in beautiful weather. The sun was burning hot. We really didn’t feel like walking. We carried on along the path, and from the distance we started to hear the sounds of engines. Somewhere through the bushes, we slowly began to notice the fluttering machines and a lot of dust. It turned out that just after Meremere there is a racecourse and some event is taking place. We decided to stop and take a look. There were several tracks and different cars were racing from time to time. But hell, what sort of cars! Old Corvettes derived from anything but chassis with large spoilers, and a lot of other types. People were racing in different categories. We went to the stands, getting some fries before. The commentator greeted us, we waved back and sat down.
It was so hot that instead of walking, we decided to spend there a while. One race, then another, and maybe another… It was interesting, some of the drivers were really good. The commentator kept reminding people about the sunscreen every few moments. Some people were even called by name. You could see that this is a local event and people just knew each other. In the end, we decided it was time to go. The commentator again through the microphone thanked us for the visit and wished a nice further walk.
A field road on a dyke along the river led us finally to Rangiriri. It was Sunday. The overnight stay was supposed to be koha (for a donation) ay the back of the pie shop run by a lady called Kathy. We found a cafe, but everything was closed. There was a party in the garden, perhaps a family dinner. I took a look through the gate, demanding attention. An elderly lady came up. I asked about Kathy and the campsite. She said that it was right next door and we could just set up our tents at the paddock. After some time one Brit who accompanied us for some time on the trail, caught up with us. While we were cooking dinner, we noticed that children came up to the fence with something wrapped in silver foil. It turned out that the Maori family wanted to share their food with us. And more importantly, they sent over their children to us. It was a really nice gesture. Each of us got a portion of hangi – this is a traditional Maori way of preparing food in an kind of an oven dug in the ground. The meal consisted of meat, pumpkin pieces and sweet kumara potatoes. That was exactly what we were given.
At the end, the kids brought us also a some brownie. It’s amazing, again someone just shared their food with us. I do not conceal that after all these experiences with New Zealand hospitality I had a feeling that that something like this could happen, but it does not matter. I did not expect it. What’s more, I have heard that this region is not one of the wealthiest. At the same time, these people give such a beautiful example of kindness and altruism. I’m impressed!
We were not in a hurry in the morning. We sat at a table, after some time some lady approached us. She introduced herself as Kathy, the owner of the place where we camped. I remembered from notes that she was making great pies. She asked if we want to try. Honestly, I was counting on this question, because when we saw the day before that it was closed, we were a bit disappointed. Michał took a pie with apple and I chose one with lamb. Oh, how fantastic it was! I took a coffee as well and at the end I had a great breakfast. We tossed something to the donation box, signed in to the guest book, and headed to Huntly, a village with a bad reputation among the people we met.
So to start off, this is what we heard: in Huntly no one buys houses, people are unfriendly, you should watch your belongings, because they might be stolen, and before the town there are dangerous dogs and it is better to have some stones prepared or use your trekking poles. So the first one turned out to be untrue, when I saw a signpost saying “Sold” on one of the first houses. And it was not the only one. The second one turned out to be wrong, because people greeted us, and as soon as we reached the campsite, someone explained us everything what is what with a smile although the owner absent. Nobody treated us with angry dogs, and we did not check the fourth one. It’s just that nobody stole anything from us. It is said that in this region white farmers are rich, while Maori are poor and not very friendly to tourists. However, nothing happened to us and nothing disappeared. Sure there might be some truth in all this, but I personally have not experienced anything bad. It was cool.
The next day we had a long stretch to Hamilton. Almost 40km. We had to break through the Hakarimata Range, which meant climbing up to 350m. After the descent, we took a break in Ngaruawahia and continued along the river. We walked along roads, next to the golf courses, and as we approached the city, we entered the well maintained path along the shore. We had a view to the rich houses across the river. We booked accommodation through Airbnb. We arrived late in Hamilton, and before we checked in, we stopped at the Indian eatery for dinner. It was a long day. The next two were supposed to be free from walking.
We expected he section between Auckland and Hamilton to be boring. Roads, fields, monotonous landscape. I thought I’ll describe everything in one post all the way to Waitomo. However, as I wrote, I recalled so many different things that I wanted to share, that I will probably have to finish here. I do not know if I’ve already written about it or not, but it is said that on the North Island you experience and meet people, while on the South Island, the landscape and nature. What happened between Auckland and Hamilton fully confirms the above. And I’m glad that we meet such good people on our way.