Day 23: Te Arai and Pakiri Beaches
Saturday, December 2, 2023 10:03 pm
Location: Pakiri Beach Holiday Park (479.5 km)

With bad weather looming, we left the Northlands for the Auckland Region, and traversed another pair of beaches to stop at a holiday park.

Leaving the hostel, the trail continued on roads for much of the morning, leaving Mangawhai Heads for Mangawhai. When crossing the Mangawhai Estuary, the trail started over a recently-built boardwalk for pedestrians and cyclists. A sign warned against diving into the water; I guess the tide must be quite variable there, because the only thing under half of the bridge was muddy mangrove swamp.

No Diving
No DivingNo Diving … off the new pedestrian and bike bridge into the dry mangrove swamp.

The trail was intended to follow another boardwalk through the swamp, but it had been damaged due to flooding earlier this year, so I was forced to stay on a footpath off the shoulder of the road. At least it was plenty wide, and quite established, so that section of road that didn’t have a sidewalk wasn’t a big problem.

I’d skipped having breakfast this morning so as to get an earlier start and get to a cafe in Mangawhai with enough time to get something to eat before CareFree returned there from Auckland. However, I couldn’t actually find the cafe I was looking for, and went into a chiropractor massage therapist’s storefront to ask where I could get breakfast. Turns out there was a new cafe across the street (that I’d walked past and not seen), enigmatically named “The Frog & Kiwi”, but signed as “Corner Bistro”.

I was a bit delayed leaving the hostel this morning, thanks to the substantially larger number of guests, but it took her longer to get a hitch than she’d expected, so even with the runaround trying to find a place to eat, I still got there fifteen minutes before she did.

On the way there, I passed by a hiker I saw at the restaurant last night; CareFree saw a different hiker when she was walking to the cafe from where her ride dropped her off.

CareFree and I continued down paved, then gravel roads from Mangawhai towards the coast. The sky became overcast and gloomy, and drizzled on us a little. We put on our pack covers, which naturally caused the rain to stop. Near the beach, the road went through a monoculture pine plantation, which reminded us a bit of the forests near CareFree’s home in Germany. The forest felt decidedly out of place here when much of the New Zealand forest we’ve gone through so far has been somewhat tropical in nature.

Pine Plantation
Pine PlantationA pine tree plantation feels out of place on the New Zealand coast.

At the parking lot to the beach we saw a sign branded by the Auckland Council: on the road to the beach, we’d just left the Northland region and entered Auckland. (Auckland city is still several days ahead.)

We got to the beach close to high tide, so it was a bit rough to walk on. Dark, gloomy clouds blew in over the ocean, threatening rain, though the rain took a while to arrive.

Te Arai Beach
Te Arai BeachDark clouds loom over Te Arai Beach.

There were a fair number of birds out today; besides the oystercatchers that have been a common sight, there were also pied stilts, funny-looking birds with proportionally very long legs. We also saw a small flock of swans. A sign at the entrance to the beach warned that it was breeding season for the very endangered fairy tern, which has a population of fewer than 30 left in New Zealand. I’m not sure that we saw any of them.

Pied Stilt
Pied StiltA pair of pied stilts forage on Te Arai Beach.

We stopped for a break at a small river mouth, which was somewhat deep due to the tide. By the time we continued, it wasn’t quite as deep, but we still got our knees wet crossing the channel. Several horseback riders passed by during our break; later, the divots from their hooves became obstacles on the beach to avoid.

Horseback Riders
Horseback Riders

The only notable climb of the day took us up from Te Arai Beach and across Te Arai Point, a small ridge jutting out into the ocean.

Te Arai Beach
Te Arai Beach

From there, we could see ahead to Pakiri Beach, and a pine plantation set back from the beach a bit. it looked unnatural, and unhealthy compared to what forests in New Zealand’s north are “supposed” to look like.

Pakiri Beach
Pakiri Beach

We could also just barely see Little Barrier Island through the distant clouds. The island, about 35 km offshore, and Great Barrier Island beyond it, are the two outermost barrier islands for the Hauraki Gulf, which Auckland sits on. It’s another clear sign we’re approaching Auckland.

Along Pakiri Beach, we had two more river crossings which required us to take our shoes off. The second river was frustrating, because we picked a bad place to cross, and had to cross it twice.

A bit further brought us to the Pakiri Beach Holiday Park, where we stopped for the day, getting there just a few minutes before the office/camp store closed. We got ourselves a “cabin” because it was only $10 per person more than tenting, but it wound up that what we got was two beds in a bunk room, rather than the cabins with queen beds at prior holiday parks. Still, it was better than having to deal with a tent, and since they were about to close, it highly unlikely anyone else would show up. (No one else did.)

Once we got to the cabin and saw that it was just a bunk room, we slightly regretted staying there, since we easily had the time to go 5 km out of town and up the next hill to tent on a trail angel’s property.

There apparently was a wedding party there; there was a huge tent city and quite a lot of people milling about. But, we were able to use the kitchen to cook our dinner (I just had one packet of ramen and tuna; I didn’t much feel like a large dinner tonight). Another woman in the kitchen gave me some fresh coriander and hot sauce to use with my ramen, which was much appreciated.

We also saw Martin, and another TA hiker that was going northbound, whom we didn’t talk to.

The weather forecast for tomorrow (and the next few days) isn’t great: we’re going to get rained on tomorrow. But, we’re almost to Auckland, and CareFree’s apartment, which will help us dry out.