Today was another paved and gravel road walk, taking us from Kaitaia to the doorstep of the Raetea Forest, the first of the northern forests we’ll hike through.
CareFree and I left our hostel early for a town day — 8:30 am — and made our way back through Kaitaia to the TA. Before we left, CareFree learned from Hannah this morning that the Czech guy we met earlier with the bad blisters had hitched to Kaitaia, and is going to take a couple of days off to rest and heal his feet, before continuing on. It was good to hear that he wasn’t giving up, and instead taking time to adjust for the hardships of the trail.
Passing the iSite and town meeting hall, we walked along the edge of Kaitaia’s Centennial Park, passing by a sculpture of a hunched-over person carrying a ball. The sidewalk there was quite curvy, with a wavy design evocative of a flowing stream near its center. I wondered if perhaps this was the original path of the small creek a few meters away.
On our way out of town, we noticed that the welcome (and farewell) sign as we exited town had three languages on it; Māori and English, of course, but also Croatian, a nod to some of its earliest European settlers who came from Croatia.
Once again on SH-1, we continued to traverse through farmland as we headed east.
Fortunately, we were only on the highway for about 6 km, before turning off onto a lightly-trafficked gravel road. Thanks to some fairly tall trees, we were able to stop for a break in a spot with shade and a nice breeze. Later, we passed a road construction crew moving dirt to help repair a slip on a hill.
One thing that’s really noticeable about the TA is its international nature. On the US long-distance trails, while there was a sizable international contingent, most hikers were from the US. On Te Araroa, so far it seems like most hikers are international, and mostly from Europe. Excluding the cyclists we met at the sand dunes, we’ve only met one other hiker from New Zealand (and even she spent several years prior in the UK).
Our gravel road joined another paved road, which eventually yielded into an another gravel road. Farms, homes, and cows (and the occasional sheep) filled the surrounding hills, with a couple of creeks for good measure.
Shortly before the end of our hiking day, we passed the first TA marker we’ve seen so far, on a sign pointing to a campsite further up the hill than we were planning on going today. Instead, we were taking advantage of the hospitality of Jaya and Abhay, who run an off-grid Krishna Sanctuary.
Jaya greeted us first, while Abhay was out working in the garden. Leading us to the deck behind their house, we put down our packs and sat at a nice lacquered tree stump fashioned into a table. The two maintain a garden containing fruit trees vegetables, which ideally provides something year-round. With their working dog, two chickens, and a pair of geriatric cows (who are used as a source of manure, for fertilizer for the garden), the two are able to (ideally) provide for most of their sustenance (and what they provide to TA hikers) from their garden. With solar power and filtered water from a creek, they are as self-sufficient as is practical.
They purchased their property a few years ago, and didn’t realize the TA (or at least its current routing) passed by until they started seeing hikers walking past, heading up the mountain towards Raetea. It’s a beautiful property; once Shaun arrived, Jaya took us on a tour through most of it (and allowing us to scope out campsites in the garden), eventually leading back to a creek with a bathing hole below a small waterfall.
Fresh, filtered water from a hose, a pavilion tent with table and trash can, and a small privy rounded out the hiker amenities.
During the tour, Peter and Susanna hiked past, on their way to the campsite up the hill. We all chatted for a bit, and Jaya gave them a fresh lemon from the garden.
Jaya served us some great Indian food, vegetables with kofta and a curry sauce, with fruit balls for dessert.
Later, Chris, from South Africa and Jess, from Switzerland arrived, and Jaya retired inside; Abhay took over conversation with us. The six of us talked until after sunset.
This is a special, but fragile place. Hopefully, future hikers will continue to treat it (and our hosts) with the kindness they gave us.