Day 9: Road Walk to the Puketī Forest
Saturday, November 18, 2023 9:57 pm
Location: Blackbridge Camp (186.7 km)

Another day, another roadwalk along Te Araroa, this time bringing us into the Puketī Forest.

I didn’t sleep well at all. My feet hurt after yesterday’s muddy slog, and I and woke up often and needed to massage them. But, there appear to be no new blisters, so I’ll take that small win.

There was already a light drizzle in the morning, which made taking down our tent a little unpleasant.

CareFree and I left camp alongside Shaun, briefly continuing down the dirt road before again reaching SH-1. This time, now that we were inside the highway’s closure area, the highway was nearly empty, and not many cars passed us for the hour and a quarter we were on the road.

We passed by a dairy, which we’d originally hoped to take advantage for possibly a tiny resupply, or at least ice cream or a snack, but (we knew) they were closed on Saturdays.

Mangamuka River
Mangamuka River

We turned off the paved highway onto a dirt road, by which point the drizzle had already stopped. We ran into an American couple, who were hiking the TA north from Auckland; once at Cape Reinga, they’ll return to Auckland and continue south.

The gravel road took us through more lush green cow pastures. Despite the gloomy skies, it was still quite scenic.

Cows in the Hills
Cows in the Hills

Around noon, we briefly paused to register for a campsite tomorrow. That DOC campground requires pre-registration, and we decided we had better reserve a spot while we still had cell service.

We stopped briefly at the Giant Stump Walk trailhead, and went down the short trail to view a very large Kauri stump. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more (any, really) information at either the trailhead or stump, including how big it was or when or why the tree was felled. It was very big, though, easily a few meters across.

After we viewed the stump, we returned to the road and stopped for a break (though, I think, mostly to humor my feet, which were unhappy). While we were there, we saw a dozen dogs slowly approach down the road, preceding a truck. When the truck saw us, the dogs were called back, and loaded into kennels in the truck’s bed. It then slowly crawled towards us, stopping when it reached us. Inside were a pair of hunters out looking for pigs, and we had a nice chat with them for a few minutes.

We changed gravel roads a few times, gradually climbing into the Puketī Forest.

CareFree and Shaun Walk a Gravel Road
CareFree and Shaun Walk a Gravel Road

Our campsite, the Blackbridge Camp, was a large grassy area with space for easily a dozen tents. It also featured a privy, a large open hut with benches around three of its sides, centered around a large table with a metal surface for cooking (or perhaps, cleaning of hunted game). Rainwater from the hut’s roof was collected in a large storage tank, which was great, because there wasn’t any other water nearby.

We set up our tent quickly, then cooked dinner — around 4 pm, a little early, but why not?

We had a long, great conversation with Shaun, Susana, and Peter; on the other side of the hut, the other (mostly younger) hikers present engaged in their own conversation.

We retired to our tent around 7:30, somewhat dismayed to find a small swarm of sandflies and mosquitoes crawling around the ceiling.

A light rain had already started, and increased closer to 8. We’d expected some rain, but the more rain that fell, the more difficult tomorrow would be: the highlight of the day is supposed to be a 3.5 km walk through a creek. The alternative is a much longer road walk detour that I’m not sure my feet are up for.