Day 15: Road Walk to Helena Bay and Helena Ridge
Friday, November 24, 2023 7:40 pm
Location: Hay Road Campsite (306.4 km)

Farmland gave way to a beautiful bay as we resumed a southward track across the Northlands of New Zealand.

When we awoke, we found two new tents, belonging to Maggie and Ursula, whom I first met after the Puketī Forest. They’d gotten in quite late last night, having apparently done the kayak stretch from Paihia to Waikare (that we skipped partially because we were told the kayak rental place was closed), and then road-walked all the way from there to The Farm. It was a long day for them, mostly because the tides required a late afternoon start on the kayak portion.

CareFree and I left The Farm around eight, continuing the road walk we started yesterday. Shortly after starting, the trail climbed high enough to see Whangaruru Harbor. After that, the views were mostly farm land.

Whangaruru Harbor
Whangaruru Harbor

Along some of the roads we’ve hiked in the past few days, we’ve seen numerous ground-dwelling bees, their hives built into the side of hills next to the roads. It’s easy to see them buzzing about the entrances to their hives. Fortunately, they haven’t seemed to be very interested in us, letting us walk past without bothering us. Most of the hillsides where they’re living seem to be redder than the surrounding dirt; I can’t tell if the bees make it redder, or they’re choosing to live there because the dirt has some property they like that causes it to be redder.

We also passed a boat that was abandoned on the side of the road long enough to have received several different graffiti tags. Later, we passed a mother pig with half a dozen piglets. As we passed, the piglets ran under a fence into a field; mother seemed to have a problem finding way under the fence.

After several hours of road walking, we reached Helena Bay. Shortly before we got there, a light rain began. Because of the rain, we might have skipped checking out the view, but we saw Susanna and Peter on their way up the hill after returning to the trail from the bay, and they indicated it was worthwhile.

The rain momentarily intensified, and CareFree decided she needed to put on her rain jacket immediately, even though we were not that far from our immediate destination. By the time she got her jacket on, the rain had lessened, and it stopped entirely before we reached the viewpoint overlooking the bay just a couple of minutes later.

Helena Bay
Helena Bay

The wall there, I discovered my toiletries bag was missing when I tried to get sunblock out. I realized I’d left it back at The Farm, after I had to take everything out of my pack, in order to get my socks out of my sleeping bag just before we left. I sent them an email, hoping that somebody would find it, and they’d be able to mail it to CareFree’s apartment in Auckland.

As we returned to the trail from the bay, we took bit of an old and very large tree next to the road.

An Impressively Large Tree
An Impressively Large Tree

A brief but steep road walk brought us to the Helena Ridge Track, which took us through a forest. A series of steep climbs and brief plateaus took us through a forest with some impressive old trees. One was tipped over nearly completely, and yet was still alive and hanging onto the mountain. Another was so gnarled that it formed a little tunnel you could hike through. This section was a little challenging (mostly because of the steepness), but it was a very refreshing change of pace from the road walk.

Slanted Tree
Slanted TreeCareFree hikes underneath a very slanted tree.

Exiting the forest, we entered into cow pastures, and caught up with Peter and Susanna at a Kauri Dieback station. We all took some time to filter water from a spigot at the station; even filtered, it tasted pretty bad, but the thinking was that we should use the water we know was here, rather than the water we expected (but did not know for certain) would be at our campsite.

The wind picked up and a fairly dark and nasty-looking cloud loomed nearby. We tried to make haste, which was complicated by my hat refusing to stay on my head, CareFree taking her pack cover off when we reached a bunch of cows, and my own pack cover threatening to blow off and away.

We followed a very rough path, marred by cows, and had to cross two electric fences. We became a bit nervous when the campsite we were looking for was a bit further than we expected.

But, we got there, not long after Susanna and Peter, to a little clearing in a saddle, with a water tank hidden off to the side, and a box with eggs for sale (NZD 50 cents each, which is incredibly cheap for eggs in a grocery store recently, let alone in the middle of nowhere).

The wind continued while we were making dinner, and we had to put in extra effort to keep our various food bags and trash from blowing away. I only cooked half my dinner, tired and not wanting to further fight the wind.

After dinner, as I was putting my food bags in the tent, Maggie appeared very quietly behind me, almost as if she was hiding.

She was, sort-of. Maggie (from Florida) and Ursula (from Germany) had kind-of “adopted” Darien (also from Germany) when he fell in with them after losing his hiking “partner” Lukas (also also from Germany; he fell behind and apparently lost contact when his phone ran out of power). Now, they were at wits end with dealing with how unprepared and under-equipped Darien was. (I first recall meeting Lukas and Darien after Puketī as well, and was aware something weird was going on, but didn’t realize the full extent of it. CareFree’s first encounter with them was earlier that day, when she found them lying in the road, apparently out of exhaustion.)

The short version of the story is that Darien was in Kaitaia on a New Zealand work-visitor visa, and spontaneously decided to join Lukas hiking when they met in Kaitaia. But Darien didn’t actually have much of the gear you’d expect from a hiker, and was sharing some of Lukas’s gear and basically brute-forcing his way through the wilderness in a way that made him a SAR disaster in the making. Lacking a tent and sleeping pad, he slept directly on the ground (very cold), under other hikers’ tent vestibules, or rolled up like a burrito in a tarp, which did very little to protect from rain. Lacking a water filter, well, that’s all sorts of bad news, especially with all the farms near creeks.

The rest of us tried to maintain some semblance of composure, but it was difficult since Darien wasn’t receptive to advice, rather relying on excuses and “well, I made it this far”. But in the strongest way we could, we highly encouraged him to take some time off, figure out what he really wanted to do, and if that was the TA, then go work to save up to get proper gear.

We all eventually retired to our tents, tired from hiking and exhausted by with someone who shouldn’t be on the trail.

However, there was a silver lining: Ulrike, a day behind us, found my misplaced toiletries bag at The Farm, and arranged to send it to Auckland. So at least I’ll be able to get it back soon. Auckland’s less than 300 km away.