Click here for photos of Section C
Section Summary: this section follows the east coast southward, first passing through the Waitangi Forest and then the historic Waitangi Treaty House. From there, the route follows roads to the Russell Forest, heads south through the forest on a tramping track, and then continues along mostly paved roads, with some additional coastal walkways and an additional 25-km of beach walking at the very end of the section. There are two water crosings by boat of 1-3 km each to get past the coastline's typically "heavily indented" bodies of water.
Route: Cobham Road, Inlet Road, Waitangi Forest route (Te Wairoa, Te Puke, and Hararu Falls roads), Te Henare Drive, esplanade to Paihia. Paihia-Opua Walkway to Opua. Ferry across Veronica Channel to Okiato. Aucks Road, Russell Road, Russell Forest Track, Punaruhu Road, Russell Road to Helena Bay. Webb Road, Mimiwhangata Road to Mimiwhangata Reserve. Beach walk along Ocupe and Pareparea beaches, 4WD track/metalled road (private), Rockell Road to Whananaki North. Whananaki Coastal Walkway to McAuslin Road. Matapouri Road to Ngunguru. [Water crossings across Ngunguru and Horahora Rivers to Horahora], Pataua North Road, Pataua South Road, Whangarei Heads Road to Whangarei Heads. Water taxi to Marsden Point, beach along Bream Bay past Ruakaka (ford of Ruakaka River OK), Tip Road, Uretiti Road, Nova Scotia Drive to Waipu.
Towns: Paihia (meals/stores/lodging), Opua (store), Whananaki North (store/campground), Matapouri (store), Tutukaka (meals), Ngunguri (meals/store/lodging), Pataua, Whangarei Heads (store/B&B), Waipu (meals/stores/lodging).
Maps: P05 Kaikohe, Q05 Bay of Islands, Q06 Hukerenui, Q07 Whangarei.
Supplies: Package mailed to Paihia Post Shop, 2 Williams Road, Paihia, tel. 09 402 7800 (4 days food).
Route notes: (1) The Kerikeri Inlet Road has a nice sidewalk/walking track along the shoulder most of the way to the start of the Waitangi forest route. (2) The Paihia-to-Opua Coastal Track is well-maintained, is mostly cut into the steep coastal hillsides, and has very little beach walking after the bridge across the Haumi River. Before that bridge, the track is simply the beach, which can be followed easily along the rocks just south of the Paihia esplanade, at least at low tide. There is a sign on the south side of the Haumi River, but a sign to signify the start of the track at the end of the Paihia esplanade would also be nice, however, to prevent trampers like me from going up an obvious but dead-end track also at the end of esplanade. (3) Russell Forest Track is easy to follow, with abundant orange triangles the entire way, and mostly well-maintained. (4) At the end of the Okupe-Beach-to-Pareparea-Bay beach walk, a 4WD track leads off of the beach and becomes a metalled road that turns into Rockell Road. However, the part directly off the beach is private property, for about a kilometer. I later talked with the Maori woman who lives on the property, as she was driving on Rockell road, and apologized for crossing without having obtained permission. She said it was OK, but seemed upset that a local campground had portrayed the coastal/beach walk that required crossing her property as something like public access. I didn't mention Te Araroa, but a careful Te Araroa agreement with her seems needed, as her road is a short but critical link for a huge swath of coastline. (5) The water taxi leaves Whangarei Heads at 7:45 am weekdays (and presumably in the afternoon sometime to pick up the children from Marsden Point). John Marple no longer runs the service, but another man named Ethel. My timing, getting to Whangarei Heads on Sunday evening, was good, and there is a B&B and small store in Whangarei Heads. (6) The following roads are sealed but shown on the topo maps as metalled: Russell Road until the junction with Kempthorne Road (at which a right turn onto the metalled road is the continuation of Russell Road, and sealed Kempthorne Road becomes the main vehicle route), Russell Road from the end of Punaruku Road to Helena Bay, Webb Road to Ngawai Bay, parts of Rockell Road to Whananaki, McAuslin and Matapouri Roads to Matapouri, and Patua North Road.
Waipu, Monday, November 3
The sign on the road leading into Waipu says literally "Waipu -- A Hundred Thousand Welcomes." It really is a charming small town, with a dozen shops of various kinds lining a two-block-long main street. The highlight of the town from my perspective is the Kamaril Cafe, which has wholesome and tasty soups, salads, burgers, and pastries, all available with gluten-free bread, and which served me probably one of the best lunches I've ever had in my life. This cafe should be famous. There are two police cars in the town, which is one car more than I've seen in any other place so far, but I guess they get a rowdy and busy summer crowd coming to the nearby popular beach. A combined bank/liquor store/video rentals/internet cafe all as one establishment rounded out the picture.
Today capped off Section C. The day started with a water-taxi ride across the mouth of huge Whangarei Harbour. The two-kilometer boat ride takes less than 10 minutes, but to drive around on roads would take an hour. The water taxi holds about 10 people seated, runs just twice each weekday in the morning and afternoon, and primarily carries school children between the village of Whangarei Heads and a school near Marsden Point. I guess the school near Marsden Point is closer for these children than any other accessible by road from Whangarei Heads. The children seemed not at all interested in a through-tramper sharing their Monday-morning boat ride, and advised me to get to a road and hitchhike when I asked about walking the beach! But right off the boat jetty I took to the beach and rounded Marsden Point, right beside New Zealand's only oil refinery, and even had to pass directly underneath the jetty used by large tankers to unload their oil cargo. A sign on the jetty prohibits vehicles from driving underneath the oil pipelines coming to shore from the boat dock, but doesn't say anything about trampers! It was wonderful to be back on the beach again after a lot of road walking in Section C, and by mid-day I made it the 20-km to Waipu for some rest. I even was able to ford the 20-meter-wide (60-foot-wide) Ruakaka River as it crossed the beach, with water depth happily only up to my knees--for my first NZ river crossing.
Section C started with a nice Kerikeri-to-Paihia walk along closed forest roads (semi-metalled/gravel-dirt) among rolling hills, and then a well-maintained and easy-to-walk track (trail) along the coastline from Paihia to Opua. At Opua, I boarded an auto-ferry for a half-kilometer ride across Veronica Channel to Okiato and the road leading to Russell Forest. The Russell Forest Track was beautiful, but faithfully followed the ridgeline for several kilometers, which meant continual severe ups and downs, as every little peak along the ridge gets climbed, for an exhausting walk. Each little peak seems to rise and fall straight up and down from the ridgeline. Still, I liked this track the best of all the forest tracks I've been on so far, and eventually it turned into a forest dirt road for awhile. There were even wooden steps and switchbacks on some of the steep descents towards the end of the track! (Steps and switchbacks seem to have escaped the vocabulary of those who built the equally steep Herekino and Raetea forest tracks of Section B!)
Mid-way through the Russell Forest there is a shelter, where I stopped to cook lunch and have a nap while it rained. It started raining just as I arrived at the shelter and stopped just as I finished my nap. So I can foresee that shelters and huts along the route in the coming months are going to be difficult places to leave and are going to be sleep-inducing in the rain! On the top of the shelter's wooden table was prominently carved "Te Araroa 8.1.98" (January 8, 1998), presumably by Geoff Chapple as he piloted the North Island Te Araroa route that year. It made me feel, as I ate lunch, like a small piece of history was right there in front of me. The first night in Russell forest I camped atop Te Ranga Peak, at 314m elevation (900 feet) and capped with a navigational "trig" marker. Te Ranga is a very serene place with views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding coastline. The fight up to the peak along the steep track through brambles and other plants that grab you and don't let go was worthwhile. The second night I camped on a little open-forest plateau along the steep final descent to the track's end. These were wonderful, quiet nights under the stars.
After Russell Forest the route hits mostly coastal roads interspersed with just a few existing beach walks and coastal tracks. The reasons for all the road walking are that much of the coastline is fronted by cliffs and high hills, so beach/coastal walking becomes impossible and one must take to the nearest coastal roads. And there are few established tracks (trails) or linking sections yet as part of the emerging Te Araroa route, so one must improvise on the roads. Even if beaches exist to walk along, access to them can be limited by private land, with no way to get to or from the beach at the appropriate places.
After walking past the small settlement of Helena Bay, my route took a long time along the metalled (gravel) Webb and Mimiwhangata roads to Okupe Beach and the DOC Mimiwhangata Reserve. At Okupe Beach there is a ranger's station, and I stopped to get some water and ask about the coastal route south along the next few beaches. A DOC ranger assured me the beach route was fine, and it was. He also said that he drank the water from the nearby Te Rewa Stream, but it seemed questionable to me because it collects run-off from huge tracts of farm land with hundreds of farm animals visible on it. I'm used to filtering mountain water, but not farm run-off. Perhaps the risk was low, and he can afford to take it, but I preferred not to (this is a general problem with road walks along farm land; to be careful one is mostly dependent on civilization for water, rather than streams). When I told the ranger I was tramping an emerging Te Araroa route that went through his reserve and then along the beach, he asked for the Te Araroa web site address and also if they were having problems with getting the tracks built, and whether standards were a problem. Apparently, inconsistently applied or difficult-to-meet track standards are a concern of rangers, who must build and/or maintain the tracks.
The coastline in Section C is quite interesting in how it is being used. Farms--cattle and sheep--predominate, with farms edging right up to the coastline. However, as one property developer put it in a recent newspaper article in the NZ Herald, "The coastline basically feeds animals....Well, those animals don't need to look at the ocean as they eat grass....If [developers] could put houses on those cliffs, there are fortunes to be made." And indeed, the houses are going up. I passed many new clifftop and beachside houses that rivaled the best Hollywood or Marin County mansions--huge ultra-modern estates with manicured grounds, high iron gates, and full amenities. Some had their own de-facto private beaches; even though the beach itself is public by law, cliffs on either side prevent coastal access and the private property prevents access from the interior. In between the mansions and the farmland are small impoverished Maori communities, with decrepit houses or simply trailers, although many of these also possessing their own "private" coastline. Also present in the mix are carloads of youths in noisy cars cruising the beach scene or going to surf or hang out.
Cows watched me as I walked past farmland. On one road I walked parallel to a pasture with a herd of about ten bulls. The bulls followed me along as I walked in a very curious way. They would run ahead of me as a pack, and then stop and line up side-by-side in an exact row facing the road, to intently, if not dolefully, watch me pass along the road. Then they would run ahead again as a pack. I tried not to laugh too much at their behavior, lest I offend them and possibly cause them to jump their fence at me! Another section of official coastal track went through gates on a dirt road across cow pasture. There might have been bulls on the pasture, and signs warned against leaving the road, so I kept my head down and pretended to mind my own business, as all the cattle stared at me and a mother and her calf bounded away down the road ahead of me.
A double river crossing at the coast was something of a dilemma. At Ngunguru, the emerging Te Araroa route proposes to take a small water craft across the Ngunguru River and then road walk due west into the large city of Whangarei, from where a future coastal walk/track is supposed to then lead southeast all the way to Whangarei Heads. Not caring to take this large road detour into Whangarei (25km each way), and seeing that the roads around Whangarei were very busy indeed, I opted to forgo Whangarei for a direct north-south coastal route on what seemed like minor roads. But my problem was this: I had to cross both the Ngunguru and Horahora Rivers, which both flow into the ocean in the 4-km distance directly south of Ngunguru, and which are separated by dense-bush hills in between the two rivers. There are no road bridges for 20-km inland. So my plan was to get a boat to take me the 4-km distance across both rivers simultaneously, landing me on the beach or south bank of the Horahora River to continue south, and call the trip a legitimate 4-km "water crossing" as are several other short water crossings on the overall trek route. However, the boat ride required traversing a section of coastal ocean between the two rivers, and the day I was in Ngunguru, the winds were very strong and the ocean section would have been difficult for a small craft (and larger craft couldn't land me on the beach or river bank). Locals suggested just crossing the Ngunguru River in a small boat, which would have been quite easy and there were boats willing to do that, and then hiking the coast between the two rivers and crossing the Horahora River on my own. "The Horahora River shouldn't be too deep and is not wide" I was told. Well, these are relative terms. Not having crossed any rivers before, and practiced only in mountain-stream crossings just to my waist, I was hesitant to commit to crossing the Horahora of unknown depth with a backpack in a remote area with no one else around, even though in retrospect it probably would have been possible and safe. So instead I hitchhiked the 40-km of roads required to get just 4-km south across the two rivers, from Ngungaru to the settlement of Horahora, just on the south bank of the Horahora river as it flows into the ocean, and called this a "water crossing" also. After doing it, however, I was left with a feeling of discontinuity, which wouldn't have occurred in a boat, and wondered if the car trip to get 4-km south compromised my trek's integrity. On the positive side, I learned that hitchhiking in New Zealand is quite easy and safe, as I got two rides almost immediately with nice people (interestingly, each with small children strapped in the back seat). I hadn't hitchhiked but twice in the past 30 years in the U.S., and it was something of a pleasant surprise, although an obscene gesture from a carload of youths which didn't stop at my outstretched thumb, the first negative reaction I've seen from anyone since the start of the trek, made me feel bad.
In general, Section C involved a lot of road walking on sealed (paved) roads, which was very wearing on both feet and spirit. Some of the sealed roads had very little traffic, perhaps one car every 5 or 10 minutes, while a few were quite busy. Although the pavement takes its toll on the feet, the rush of cars takes its toll on the spirit. Sealed (paved) roads are not places for pedestrians. There is no place to rest, fences often line each side, and cars move on an inhuman scale. Metalled (gravel) roads are much easier because the traffic is slower, cars expect to move over for oncoming traffic and there are no lanes so I can claim a small strip of the road for myself, and cars can be heard far in advance and around corners. The odd thing is that many of the sealed roads I used are marked on the topo maps as metalled (gravel) roads, even on maps just a few years old. There must have been a road-paving frenzy in recent years, but you would think that map-makers could easily keep up with which roads get paved. So I was expecting an easier time on what should have been minor roads. As it was, the road walking was very draining and discouraging.
A few words about safety while road walking. Although the sealed roads do not have a pavement shoulder, they often have gravel shoulders or at least drainage ditches. On light-traffic roads, it is easy to stand out of the way of the occasional car, and I walked on the pavement in the oncoming vehicle lane, side-stepping onto the gravel or into the ditch when oncoming vehicles approached. This worked fine except on hairpin turns where the oncoming cars couldn't see me around a corner, or where the road dropped off sharply on the inside of the turn leaving nothing but the vehicle lane; in these places I would switch to the other side of the road and walk on the gravel shoulder around the outside of the turn, even though it meant violating the "always walk against traffic" axiom of pedestrians on roads. (Once again, being able to hear the vehicles was important when switching sides; I would wait for complete quiet before crossing so a receding vehicle wouldn't mask the sound of an oncoming vehicle.) Essentially, the two basic principles I used were: (1) always give cars on your side of the road, whether oncoming or from behind, a clear view of you well in advance, switching sides if necessary; and (2) always be well out of the vehicle lane whenever a car passes on your side. The second rule was for my safety, and worked well as long as I could hear the cars well in advance and there weren't so many as for one to drown out the sound of another. The first rule was for the cars' safety, as the sudden appearance of a walker on such roads could cause drivers to swerve too violently from surprise and lose control.
Applying both rules, I found that even roads labeled "dangerous" for walking, such as the twisting road from Matapouri to Ngunguru, were negotiated quite safely. I honestly never felt in any danger. The only problems were: (1) on the road south of Pataua because the wind was so strong I couldn't hear hardly anything, but luckily the traffic was light and there were no hairpin turns, and (2) on the Whangarei Heads Road, where a steady stream of traffic (where were all those cars going? the road doesn't go anywhere!) had me walk on the gravel shoulder the entire 5 km and walk in a continual wince at the unpleasantness of the fast stream of cars. It was enough to make me question whether I shouldn't just skip some future sealed road sections of the trek route and give up the idea of "walking every step of the way." We'll see. The next section, Section D, has significant road walking also. But then south of Auckland, in Sections E through J, the route is mostly established mountain tracks (trails) with huts along them, which I am very much looking forward to, so it shouldn't be much of an issue again until much later sections in March or April.
Page updated November 11, 2003