Day 16: Road Walk to Whananaki
Saturday, November 25, 2023 8:27 pm
Location: Whananaki Holiday Park (329.2 km)

A road walk detour brought us to the outskirts of Whananaki, setting us up for a river crossing tomorrow.

Maggie, Ursula, and Darien left first. However, before the rest of us set out today, we arranged a ferry for tomorrow afternoon. In order to cross the Ngunguru River just south of Ngungru, we need a ferry. South of there, to the Horahora River, is Māori land, and that requires permission to travel through. Fortunately for us, a resident, James, runs an “eco camp” with a ferry service that includes everything we needed: a ferry across the Ngunguru River, an overnight stay at his camp, and passage through the private land. (The alternative is a 20 km Ionger road detour.) So now, we have a timetable for tomorrow: we need to be at the Ngunguru River by 4 pm tomorrow. James provided detailed instructions on what we needed to do to get to the ferry, providing confidence (not that we needed reassurance) that he had done this many times before and that there’d be no problems.

CareFree and I — and Peter and Susanna left the campsite shortly after 8 am, continuing through farmland. Several signs warned against hunting, and that dogs would be shot on sight.

it didn’t take long to get our first good view of the day, a view north back towards Helena Bay.

View North Towards Helena Bay
View North Towards Helena Bay

Once we left the farmland, we reached a road, and began a road walk for the rest of the day: a portion of the trail is closed (I believe because of land rights issues.

Yet Another Road Detour
Yet Another Road DetourLongstride, CareFree, Peter, and Susanna

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the detour. We passed more farms, and another very large tree with ferns growing off its lower branches.

Ferny Tree
Ferny TreeA large tree with ferns growing on its lower branches.

We passed two northbounders, both of whom looked very unhappy. We saw why a bit later: a long moderately steep hill dropping off the plateau we’d been on. It was an annoying downhill stretch for us, but it was a long paved uphill slog for them. (And they still have a few hundred more kilometers of road walk before they reach Cape Reinga.)

We also saw two people ahead of us — Maggie and Ursula, we thought; we couldn’t see Darien, and presumed he’d hitched somewhere.

Helpfully for us, around many of the tighter curves on the uphill slope of the mountain we were descending, waist-high wide shelves had been cut out of the hillside, vastly improving visibility around the turns. I don’t recall seeing that sort of road architecture elsewhere, but it was quite welcome here.

Once CareFree and I completed the downhill, we stopped for a break in a wide patch of grass off the road, overlooking a creek. While there, a walking stick took a liking to CareFree, climbing up on her arm.

A Walking Stick Climbs CareFree’s Arm
A Walking Stick Climbs CareFree’s Arm

Based on advice from one of the northbounders, we skipped a tiny final stretch of trail along the Whananaki Inlet due to tides, instead taking a road to the Whananaki Holiday Park, where we found Maggie, Ursula, and Darien sitting at a picnic table in front of the general store and grill. (Later, once Peter and Susanna arrived, they reported that the trail was fine; the tide had gone out from when the nobo we spoke with had been there.)

We had a long chat with Maggie, Ursula and Darien. Maggie recently graduated from college with studies in geology and food science (a rather interesting combination!), and wanted to do a long hike before moving on to a job. Ursula is studying to become a doctor, and due to the way resident rotations work in Germany, this is the only opportunity she’ll have for a long time to do a long “vacation” like this.

Seeking to put some distance between them and Darien, they pushed on towards Ngunguru to catch the ferry across tomorrow morning. Before they left, CareFree interviewed them for a special on-trail episode of her (usually) German-language podcast, Wanderwach & Kaffee.

Darien had indeed hitched a ride to the store, continued to be unreceptive to our collective advice, and seemed inclined to continue to mooch off of other hikers. (Or, at least, I got the impression he was going to try and tag along with us when we get our ferry across the Ngunguru River tomorrow afternoon.)

We got (tasty, and cheap!) burgers and shakes from the grill, and I picked up a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and sunblock to replace what was in my misplaced toiletries bag.

Rather than tenting, CareFree and I splurged a little on a small cabin. It didn’t cost much extra, and gave us a bed and let us avoid dealing with our tent tonight and tomorrow.

We also started to plan the next section of trail, which is complicated by her having to return to Auckland for work for a few days, and also by that we’ve made it a lot further than our initial plan, which makes the logistics of returning to trail harder. We’ll find a way to make it work, though.