The route notes indicated that this walk would be very different to the roller coaster walk out to Cape Reinga. The start point was a car park come lookout about 5km south of our camp site and, despite the reservations about leaving the car in such a remote spot, the thought of a further 10km of walking along a dusty road held no appeal at all. The notes also spoke of walking past ‘bemused cattle’ which left us a little bemused until we saw exactly what the guide book writer had meant. They obviously had very little human contact way up here and were probably also unaware of their status as the northern most cattle in New Zealand. After a few reassuring words from Ruth we left them looking even more bemused and headed off into the rather scrubby looking country side.
The first hour involved a walk through dense Manuka forest then across a swamp via a board walk until suddenly found ourselves in a landscape that had more in common with the Sahara than NZ.
This area was formed by volcanic eruptions a mere 60 million years ago with what were initially volcanic islands, over time becoming joined by sand bars swept up by the strong ocean currents in the area. The track became rather sporadic as area of lupin had started to obscure it in some areas. This was not a well traveled path and the evidence of those who had recently walked in the area was quickly obscured by the wind blown sands. There was meant to be track markers on poles but many that we found were ‘down’, presumably blasted over by the wind which had little to break it’s raw strength. We spotted enough upright markers to keep us heading in the right direction and, having learned from my past experiences, I had acquired a GPS App for my phone that displays most track routes in NZ, well that’s what I thought.
We knew we may have to get our feet wet at a river crossing at the end of the beach we were now on. As we battled the wind blown sand across an exposed section of the beach I could see that the path ahead was dry. There was a huge surf running but well away from where we were to cross. Well so I thought, the next time I looked across to where the track left the beach and started to head up a nearby hill, there was a wall of water racing inland, had we been caught at the wrong moment we would have at least waist deep in the torrent.
After a quick team talk we decided to remove shoes, wait for the current to turn back out and then make a dash for it. Our tactics worked and we had just managed to scramble above the water line as the next surge came through.
We then entered a surreal landscape of sand and volcanic rock. It was like nothing we had seen before and certainly totally different from the distant view of Cape Maria van Dieman area, that you get from Cape Reinga. We walked through this bleak but beautiful landscape for at least an hour and a half until we eventually found a formed track at the edge of an extensive area scrub lands, this time on the wild west coast with the Tasman sea pushing huge swells onto the coast.
After a further hour’s walk south along the coast, we came to a track junction, our route was back inland again across a sand and rock strewn wasteland and again the track disappeared with the orange marker poles becoming sporadic and difficult to spot against the desert like landscape. I became concerned that we were in danger of getting lost and when I looked at our GPS tracking, we had been turned inland by the track signage much earlier than track marked on the GPS indicated. We found ourselves crashing through gullies of lupin to get to the marker poles we could find but, the landscape was fascinating and distracted us from getting too concerned. It was the kind of place that you would not have been surprised to stumble upon the skeleton of a less fortunate traveler. We had seen very few people and felt like the only ones in the entire area.
We eventually found our way back onto something resembling a track, found more bemused cattle and beyond them the car was exactly where we had hoped it would be.
It was yet another fabulous walk. When I later pulled out the guide “202 Great Day Walks in NZ” and ticked the first two off Ruth’s showed surprising mathematical skills by indicating that there was no way she was doing another 200 over the summer. My quip that “there are only 101 in the South Island” failed to bring any look of relief. We have few weeks before our next planned outing and by then the memory of our exhausting few days in the Far North will be gone. One of the benefits of being older huh.