Day 26: Hibiscus Coast Highway and Wenderholm Park
Tuesday, December 5, 2023 11:18 pm
Location: Waiwera / Auckland (541.1 km)

More rain brought us to an unexpected bus stop.

We had a 6 am alarm set, but we kept hitting snooze until 6:30, because we knew it was going to be a dreary day of rain and road walking.

Then, we came to the realization that we were really only about 66 km from CareFree’s apartment in Auckland, and that we could make it there tomorrow evening if we pushed hard today and tomorrow. That gave us the motivation to get moving this morning. We’d still have a lot of road walking today, and a tightly timed tidal crossing tomorrow morning, but even if we got to Auckland late, we’d still have a warm and dry place to stop.

When we left the Puhoi Pub this morning, it became more clear just how popular of a place it was. It was a rainy Tuesday morning, so of course no one else was around, but besides the couple dozen picnic tables with umbrellas in front of the building, there were also two covered areas with tables I hadn’t noticed yesterday. We’d heard that the pub is very popular with bikers on weekends, but even if it wasn’t immediately clear why it as popular, it was obvious that it definitely was.

Leaving the pub, CareFree and I headed down the road, passing a very empty Puhoi River, compared to how full it was yesterday afternoon when we arrived. There would definitely be no kayaking down the river this morning.

Puhoi River
Puhoi RiverA herd of sheep graze in front of the Puhoi River.

We eventually arrived at an old alignment for State Highway 1, which was steep and a bit sketchy in terms of road walk. Fortunately, the road has recently been diverted to a new alignment that (for a toll) goes through a mountain, rather than over it. Some construction personnel were still there doing work, and gave us some tips on where we should walk to be safer, but it was only that most traffic was no longer on the road we were walking on that made it even remotely safe.

We followed an exit to the Hibiscus Coast Highway, a somewhat windy road with not a lot of shoulder either, and diverted off the road to go through the Wenderholm Regional Park, which featured a rather steep climb up well-maintained trail and staircases. We even passed half a dozen volunteers spreading gravel on the trail at a viewpoint. They said something about there being muffins and coffee ahead, which helped us push on when it started raining harder. We pushed onward. Once we got to the top of the cliffs facing the ocean, the trail changed from “walking track” to “tramping track” (so, more mud), and the rain picked up. It wasn’t exactly heavy rain, but it was substantially heavier than had fallen over the last several days.

A view of the beach at Wenderholm Regional Park.

Leaving the park, we briefly rejoined the Hibiscus Coast Highway and crossed a bridge, taking us into the town of Waiwera. Time for a break, we got some meat pies, chocolate, and soda (and a coffee for CareFree) at the minimart, and went back to a bus shelter to sit down and rest for a bit.

We debated on what to do next. The trail from Waiwera follows a rocky beach, and is designated a low-tide route. (No specific high-tide route was indicated, and the tide was now well on its way back in.) With the rain, we already knew that wasn’t going to be a fun section, and CareFree had been here before, noting that it was a beautiful section of trail. The alternative was to continue along the Hibiscus Coast Highway for a few more kilometers until we got to the next town, Ōrewa, but then there’d just be more beach there to follow.

We were surprised to find a bus stop for AT Metro, Auckland’s bus system. We didn’t think it came this far north. (While in the park, we’d noted a bunch of AT Metro busses, and assumed they were charter busses for a school field trip. Which was probably a correct guess, since we did see a school group. Later, a bit of investigation showed that we were near the northern extent of AT Metro’s reach.) We briefly considered taking the bus one stop south, to avoid having to walk the windy highway, but that felt like cheating.

Resigned to a lousy day anyway, we started heading back towards the highway, but as we got a little closer, saw that it didn’t have much of a shoulder, and on top of being windy, it was also fairly steep. Instead, we decided to bail out, and take full advantage of the fact that we could take the bus back to Auckland. We have the resource of an apartment within bus range, so we might as well use that resource. The weather’s supposed to improve significantly tomorrow after (substantially) more rain this afternoon, so we can come back in a day or two with great weather to actually enjoy this section.

A duck and its four ducklings seemed to live somewhere near the bus shelter, given they spent a lot of time wandering around the area, crossing the road several times. One of the ducklings was clearly the runt of the litter, usually lagging behind its siblings. It had at least one near-miss from a car driving by. Its luck ran out at some point, though. We didn’t notice it when it happened, but whlie we were chatting with a local who was also catching the bus, it got smushed by a car.

Duck and Ducklings
Duck and Ducklings

It took us about an hour to return to Auckland from Waiwera. Upon arriving, I discovered my sunglasses had fallen off my pack somewhere, probably on the first of the two busses we took coming back to the city. The sun’s pretty bright here (when it’s not blocked by rain clouds), so that immediately became a priority to deal with now that we’re back in the city a couple of days earlier than planned.

In Auckland, it was cloudy, but not rainy. We draped the tent’s rain fly over an outdoor couch on CareFree’s balcony, and set out some other wet things (like our boots) to dry. It was fairly windy, which helped, try things out. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice when the rain started, so tent’s drying-out was pretty much undone. Later, the rainstorm from further north reached the city and started pouring — we would have had to hike through that a few hours earlier — which confirmed to us that coming back to Auckland was the right idea.

Tomorrow, we’re not entirely sure what we’re going to do yet, but given the timing on the tides, we’ll probably hike a section of trail in Auckland city.