Ninety mile beach, and first public talk in Kaitaia behind me. Next challenges were the forested ranges which run between Ahipara on the west coast through to nearly Kerikeri on the east coast. These ranges are all notorious for difficulty of terrain, and the potential for losing the track. They are particularly treacherous in bad weather…. I was most grateful that my friend and neighbour Simon, who walked through some of theses ranges last summer, had offered to support me through here. His friend Kristoff visiting from Germany was also keen to join us. We road walked the first 12 or so kms from Ahipara to Herekino.
Along the way local Maori people stopped to chat with us, obviously curious about our intentions. And in one case invited us on to their verandah for a cold drink. There is such a strong sense of natural hospitality in the far north, of people looking out for each other and offering help or sustenance when required. It seems a strong part of the local ethos of both Maori and Pakeha….
The Herekino range is known to local Maori as Orowhana and is a sacred area where departing spirits pause before their final flight from Cape Reinga.
There is an imposing large carved Pou (totem) near the entrance to the track and the Whakapapa of the area, carved into a wooden block in both Maori and English translation, is already eroding into elusive illegibility by the weather. This was a poignant and powerful reminder of the raw power of the elements in this place we have chosen to enter.
A feeling of profound gratitude and reverence flows through me as I enter the green and vibrant world of thriving regenerating native bush. Amongst the re-growth are massive original Rimu, Totara, the biggest Taraire I have ever seen and tall, stunningly graceful Nikau.
This year the Rata are flowering, casting a crimson outline on their unique form. My heart is nourished by being amongst these ones, but my pack (despite every item being critically appraised for absolute necessity) is still dominatingly heavy and my progress up any slope is agonizingly slow. I am aware of Simon and Kristoff needing to restrain themselves to my pace, and though they were doing this incredibly graciously it nevertheless created a tension in my being and in my own relationship with my own pace.
The top of the ridge is more open, with extensive views out across 90 mile beach and the other ranges. Also there is the occasional call of the elusive and rare fernbird which hides in this sort of scrubby, brackeny low-growing vegetation.
From here we drop down through deep mud to the Rangitikei river, disturbed by several large slips, and climb back up through more mud to the first flattish possible campsite. Hasty meal and exhausted half-sleep. The spirit of the bush is powerful and combined with a subtle background anxiety about predicted cyclonic weather, made for an unsettled night. One consolation was the distinct, deeply evocative calling of a male kiwi during one wakeful session…
Next day the track passes through a grove of magnificent several hundred year old kauri, with their silent ability to transmit the essence of wisdom, patience, eternal contentment into this restless, brief and self-obsessed human experience. The utterly miraculous mystery of creating their solid hugeness out of sunlight and air….awe-inspiring seems a pallid word for the experience of being in their presence…
Slow, steady climbing brings us to the peak of Taumatamahoe, where there is the brief chance for cell phone coverage. I make a call to local icons Pete and Sabrina to ask their advice about weather, and then we begin the steep, treacherous descent through huge Tawa, Taraire and groves of Nikau, the muddy, intensely slippery track criss-crossed with roots, each step carefully monitored for safety and every muscle of the legs alert to the requirement of each footfall. At the bottom, and in an exhausted stupor, Papatuanuku claims me wholeheartedly to herself, while the others search for water, and I stand up refreshed.