A Lesson in Humility – Reaching Te Paki Stream

November 18th, 2005

I hadn’t slept well, mostly due to the fact that my Therm-a-Rest needed fixing. Diarmuid’s alarm went off and I eventually sat up. I didn’t feel like eating anything, my mouth was too dry but I ate a couple of the gelatine sweets. I got up and went for a walk outside, I headed down to the beach to see how the day was looking. There was a cool sky and as I was standing there I could see that the sun was rising in the sky as the shadow from the ridge behind us receded.

I headed back to the tent where Diarmuid had started to pack up his gear. I let him get on with it and when he had most of his stuff put away, he said right we’ll drop the tent now. I looked at him. All his stuff was still inside and I hadn’t even put anything of mine away. “You haven’t finished packing your gear away?” “I’ve done as much as I can until the tent comes down. We’ll take it down and then carry it over to the side.” “Ok,” I said, too tired to argue, “just let me put some of my stuff away first, give me a few minutes.” I went in and stuffed my sleeping bag away followed by most of the rest of my gear which I then proceeded to pull outside. Once I had all my equipment out, we took the tent down and I started to try and roll it up so it would fit nicely into my bag again. Diarmuid finished packing his bag. The tent didn’t fit into my pack like it had before! It’s a guaranteed rule that no matter how well you pack your bag before the trip, it’ll never pack the same way when you’re on the trail. Frustrated as I knew it was going to happen, I unrolled the tent and tried again. It still wasn’t as snug as it had been and was a little higher than I wanted it to be. It would have to do as I tried pushing it further down the pack.

By now our two neighbours were also up and about and were packing their own things away. Their lightweight tent was proving much more amenable, just being stuffed into a bag. I eyed it with dislike. I’m not a huge fan of modern tents, with one or two exceptions. I like old style tents, Icelandics, Baker tents, real tents made out of canvas. In Moskoselk√ɬ•tan’s Tapp Varrie, I had found the perfect melding of modern tent design and old traditions. I love my tent, but that morning, I would have given anything to have been able to have just stuffed a lightweight flysheet into my bag instead of the canvas monster that I now had to carry.

Once our bags were packed we set off. Our two neighbours would soon be following us, but I hoped to try and get some distance ahead of them before they would inevitably over take us. I was thirsty. I’d had a mouthful of water for breakfast, knowing that I would have to ration the little water I had left strictly. All my hope was bent on the fact that one of the blue lines on the map would prove true and we would find some water on Scott point. I was doubtful but I needed the hope. The first five minutes were very tough as the muscles in my legs woke up to the fact that they would be doing more walking today, they started to scream at me and I thought I would have to stop. That scared the hell out of me, but I pushed off and they soon settled down. The landscape however didn’t, it would continue to rise and fall as we crossed Scott point. We had barely gotten to the top of the rise, in front of which we had camped, when I could see that the two camels (I still can’t understand how they got by with so little water) were coming up behind us, fast. As he passed me, one of them said “Incredible heat in the sun and it’s only up!” I could only pant, “Yeah.” Then they were gone. They went over the rise and were soon far ahead of us.

The sweat was dripping off me and I would every now and then take a mouthful of water, this would normally happen just after we’d reached the top of a steep slope. It was like that, steep slope upwards, followed by slightly less steep slope downwards. Up and down. Up and down. I was constantly looking for water but saw none. I took it one slope at a time, saying to myself, you just have to get to the top of this one, then you can take a rest and after that you can tackle the next one.

About half an hour or 45 minutes into the walk, we came across mud along the side of the track, I figured that this was probably one of the blue lines marked on the map. Diarmuid turned around a minute later and said exactly what I’d been thinking. By now I’d lost hope for any water on top of Scott point, it was now focused on the start of 90 mile beach, where I had always been slightly more hopeful that a stream would be. But really, I was pretty sure that Te Paki stream was our only real hope for water and I was worried that even there, we might it dried up. Diarmuid by now was convinced that we wouldn’t find water until Te Paki stream.

My water was gone. I’d drunk it all. In little mouthfuls, my water was gone and I’d stopped sweating. I’d noticed this phenomenon, when I’d still had a little water. I’d be sweating profusely, drops rolling down my eyebrows and into my eyes, then it’d stop. I’d have a mouthful of water and it would start again for a short while. This wasn’t good. Then my mouth started to really dry out and I could feel my lips starting to cake. My tongue was still ok, dry and sticking to the top of my mouth but not as dry as my lips. As I smacked my lips, I could taste salt. I presumed it was from my sweat. As we continued on and I became thirstier and thirstier I considered drinking some of my sweat but figured that wouldn’t be a good idea. The idea of a perpetual cycle of me sweating, then drinking my sweat, then sweating it out again and continuing came to my mind. I continued on. I realised that I had truly never known thirst before. Never! I started to understood those scenes in the movies where you see people trudging along, dying of thirst, smacing their lips. I was doing the exact same thing. At the same time, I thought that I hadn’t really reached the level of thirst that you could reach, that I was only entering the realms of thirst and it scared me. All I thought about was water. I thought of “Main characters of Ice-Cold in AlexIce-Cold in Alex” and promised myself that if I got out of this alive, I’d get myself to a pub that night and order a nice cold beer. I figured that in between that time I’d have time to hydrate myself with water before I had the beer.

We trudged on, every so often we’d take a break. I’d normally drop my bag and just sit, trying to keep out of the sun and not get burnt. I looked around me and saw the scenery, thinking it was really beautiful but not really caring. When I saw greenery, I’d just think, there must be water there, how could it be so green unless there was water there. How can I get at the water that must be there. By now I’d even given up trying to suck any moisture out of my long empty platypus. I did find some relief by sucking cool air into my mouth, but it was shortlived. Diarmuid’s water was starting to run out by now, he was getting air bubbles in his platypus, a sure sign that he was on his last dregs. We didn’t talk much, we just walked and I dreamt of water.

I thought my platypus probably wasn’t completly empty, that there was proabably a few drops of water left in it, but I resolutely refused to open my bag and drink them. I knew that if there was no stream at the beach, I would be able to reward myself with them there. That was my major motivation to get to the beach, so I could open my bag and taste those few drops of water from my long empty platypus. I was still carrying the empty plastic bottle of water from the day before. I may be thirsty beyond belief but I wasn’t going to leave any rubbish behind. I could see the water vapour around the edge of the inside of the bottle and thought that if I put the bottle in the sea, it would cool down and form some water droplets which I could drink. Water! Water! Constantly thinking of water and how I was going to continue until I could get some.

Eventually we came to the steps leading down to the beach. They were steep and we were both lagging. I took the lead for a change and started down the steps, in the distance on the beach I saw the two camels walking off. I hadn’t the heart to curse them, but I did wish they’d offered me half a litre before they left. I knew it was ridiculous of me to think that they should have because it would endanger their own plans, but I entertained the idea that if our fortunes had been reversed I would have offered some water. I never once even dreamt of asking them for some purely because I didn’t want to endanger their plans, this was my own fault that I was without water and I would have to deal with.

We reached the bottom of the steps and we crossed a boardwalk over swamp. Through the boards I saw the blue line from the map, it was mud. “There’s the stream” I said to Diarmuid. “Where?” “Between the boards.” I continued on, not stopping to see if Diarmuid understood what I was saying. As we got to the beach, we dropped our bags. I walked down to the water and walked back looking everywhere for some sign of a stream or anything coming down from the ridges around us. There was nothing. Diarmuid went to cool his feet in the sea. He came back and said he was going to wear his sandals. I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. I mentioned sunburn to him but he said that’s what sunscreen was for. I left him to it, figured he knew what was best for him. As far as I was concerned the best protection was staying covered and I had put sunscreen on the parts that I couldn’t cover, mainly my hands. The day before, my right hand had gotten very burnt. It looked really bad but wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want it getting any worse. The funny thing about it was that half my hand had been covered by the cuff of my shirt so only half of the back of my hand had been burned. The hairs on that part of the skin had also been completely bleached of colour. As I look at my hand now, the colour has returned to the hairs and half of my hand has quite a good tan.

I threw my bag on my back and turned to see Diarmuid wasn’t ready. I decided I’d continue on. He said he had to figure out what he was going to do with his bags but I could go on if I wanted. I said, that “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” I started off on my own. The tide was on its way out and the hardness of the sand depended on how long it had had to dry out in the sun. I stuck to the most concrete like sand that I could. I struggled on, my eyes peeled for any sign of a stream. I felt better on my own, just trudging along. I don’t know why, it just felt good to keep on walking. I continued on this way for a while, at one stage looking back to see if Diarmuid had started. He was quite small in the distance but had started. I kept on walking.

Then suddenly, I saw a darkness in the sand ahead. It was wet sand and was too far away from the tideline to be a remnant of high tide. Hope grew. It was only wet sand, but were there was wet sand like that, there had to be a stream. As I got closer, I could see that it was shaped like a stream. I eyed a spot where I could drop my bag close by. As I stepped closer and closer though I started to see that there was no bubbling stream hidden from view. I dropped my bag at the spot and walked along the stretch of wet sand and saw no source of it, the sand dried up and became part of the sand bank running along the stretch of the beach, huge sand dunes behind the bank.

Still, this was the first possible source of water that I’d seen since that morning and at this stage I didn’t give two damns about anything that might be in the water or how small a trickle it was. All I cared about was that these few puddles had water that I could drink. Tentatively I dipped my index and third finger of my right hand into one of the bigger puddles and put them to my lips. It was sweet! Or at least I thought so. I was afraid that in my hope and desire to find water that it was truly saltwater and that I hadn’t really found water I could drink. I tried again, this time scooping up a little. It was sweet!! I cupped my hands and scooped some water out and drank it. Instant relief! But I couldn’t really get that much water in this way. I quickly thought of my hankerchief and dipped it into the water, sucking it, not caring about the few grains of sand. My mouth was quickly quenched as the dryness was banished. I needed more, but the hankerchief was picking up more sand. I thought that if I soaked one side, I could suck the water but not the sand from the other side. A brilliant idea. I was instantly able to get much more water out of the piece of cloth. As I did this for the third time, Diarmuid arrived.

As soon as he arrived, I thought of the shovel in his bang. “Hand me the shovel in your bag, please!” I explained that if I dug a hole the water would fill up the hole. All those bits and pieces from Ray Mears books and TV programmes was paying off! He started to dig a hole. I quickly took it from him and scooped out several loads until I had a nice hole, I had dug down to where the sand was runny and it was starting to pour back in out itself. I ran to my bag to get my cup and bowl. I felt alive! I felt excited and overjoyed! I felt in my element! I came back with cup and bowl to find the hole as expected was filling up with most beautiful water I had ever seen. I filled the bowl and gave it to Diarmuid then filled my cup and drank it. It was beautiful, it was pure (apart from the sand which gritted against my teeth), it was without doubt the best water I had ever drunk! I drank another cup! My morale had been instantly lifted. I knew I’d get to Te Paki stream. I had been fading fast before I found this underground stream and wasn’t sure if I’d reach Te Paki with the bag on my back but now I knew I’d get there!

To help filter out the sand, I laid my hankerchief in the hole that looked like a pothole in the sand and scooped the water out with the bowl and mug. It worked reasonably well and Diarmuid had some more. I had lots! We took a little break and I filled my water bottle. Diarmuid didn’t want any, but I wasn’t going anywhere unless I had a litre of water with me. We continued on again. I hoped Te Paki wasn’t too far away, but didn’t really mind. I’d found water! I wasn’t going to expire or be unable to get Te Paki! I had found water!

We walked on, the sun still beating down on us. I was no longer thirsty and I’d started to sweat again, but I was feeling tired. I just wanted to get to Te Paki stream so I could drop my bag and wait for the buses and get a lift out of there! Up ahead we saw two dots and thought it was our two friends from the night before but couldn’t understand how they were so close. Maybe they’d stopped at Te Paki stream I reasoned but as they got bigger I realised they must be other walkers. Diarmuid came to the same conclusion and said to me, “I think a little friendly warning is in order.” I nodded. Honestly, I didn’t think a warning was warranted, for starters because I didn’t want to demoralise anybody with the idea that the way ahead was tough and that they better have water. Secondly, I thought that they probably didn’t need the warning and probably had plenty of water. It was a man and a woman, I can’t remember if I recognised their accents but I could see from the get up that they’d be fine. I think they were from North America. Both had reasonably sized packs and a pair of walking sticks. Diarmuid gave them his friendly warning, they smiled and said they’d be fine and had some water. They weren’t very conversational and soon walked on. They were less than 20ft away when I remembered that I had wanted to ask them how far it was to Te Paki stream. “Hey.” I shouted. “Hey!” They either didn’t hear me or weren’t going to turn round, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and gave up. It was probably better I didn’t know how far away it was I reasoned.

We continued on and while it wasn’t as bad as earlier in the day, there was no inclines to worry about and I had water, I was getting more tired and could feel myself lagging, but I kept the pace and kept going. Eventually I saw a glimmer up ahead and after the many false hopes that I’d had over the previous twenty minutes, I saw Te Paki stream up ahead. When we eventually reached it, I rejoiced in the fact that it was a stream! An honest to God stream! You had to walk across it, you couldn’t just step across it, you didn’t have to dig for it, it was just there, bubbling by with actual currents and eddies! A real stream! I dropped my bag at what I figured was a reasonable spot, beside the stream, the bank of sand providing some shelter from the sun and a good view if any buses should pass by. I filled my cup with water and drank it. It felt great! I’d pushed on further than I’d thought possible at times and reached Te Paki stream. We’d be fine now.

Diarmuid walked upstream a little and came back. He said he’d found where the buses came onto the beach, it was about 50ft away and he wanted to move over to there. I said “Fine, go ahead, but I’m not moving now.” He got his bag and walked over to the spot he’d picked. I thought I’d go over in a few minutes, talking my gear over in two trips. I didn’t like where he’d picked though, it provided no shelter and I had no intention of sitting there. He came back over and asked for the camera, he went off and took some pictures. I took my fishing rod and other loose gear over to his bag, where he was standing. In the distance two more people were coming. He said, he’d give them the same warning he’d given the other two walkers. Again, I didn’t care. There was no real harm in it I supposed. I went back to get my bag. As I was making my way across, Diarmuid met the two women. They didn’t have any packs with them I noticed.

I walked over and let Diarmuid do all the talking. Diarmuid had explained our story to them and what our plans were, they offered to give us a lift. Diarmuid asked if they were going as far as Kaitaia. “Yeah, we’re going further south.” I instantly picked up on that, but left it alone for the time being. I remember Diarmuid saying a few times “I think we might just take you up on that offer.” I didn’t want to do any more walking, they explained that their car was back at a carpark about 40 minutes away. I presumed the car park was at the end of the road further upstream. On the otherhand I realised that it’d be foolish of us not to take them up on their offer. So we grabbed our bags and started off. I went back for my bag and started ahead of Diarmuid, by not moving I had a little headstart over Diarmuid. The two women continued on to the beach where they were going to spend a few minutes before heading back. Knowing that we would be slow, we made the most of the headstart that they gave us.

Again I was walking, I couldn’t believe it. I was sure I’d been finished at Te Paki stream but I was still going on. Te Paki stream was interesting, the riverbed was often red and the water appeared to becoming from swampland at times and there was stains of what looked like iron at times. I took all this in, but didn’t care, when I needed a drink, I’d scoop some out of the stream and drink it down. We continued on, as I went round each bend, I hoped it would be the last but it wasn’t. Again I was in the lead with Diarmuid a little way behind me. Shortly before the end, the two women had caught up with us and over took us as we took a breather. One of them shouted over at us, that maybe it was a long 40 minutes and the other said they’d wait for us. We got up and trudged on. Occasionally I’d look up at our two rescuers up ahead. At last one of them turned round and shouted, “It’s just here” making a hand gesture in the direction of the car park. I threw my bag down beside their “old” Toyota Corolla. We had made it.

It was around 14:00, only 24 hours earlier we had set off on what I had thought would be at least a four days journey and had expected it to be adventurous. I’d had an adventure alright and I’d had enough adventure for the time being. I had gone further than I thought possible, pushing through barrier after barrier! I’d found water where others would have found none! I had experienced the most difficult walk that I’d ever been on. But what I really took from our two days walking from Cape Reinga to Te Paki stream was a lesson in humility. I understood the importance of water, something that had never occurred to me before. I understood the power of the sun and how merciless it could be. I had been humbled by nature and I vowed never to forget the lesson!

Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach

November 17th, 2005

As the bus pulled into the car park, the sign proclaimed that we had reached Cape Reinga and that as it was a sacred place to the Maori, that food and drink was not to be consumed past that point. I filed this nugget away, saying to myself, must remember that and not drink anything until I had left. Cape Reinga is where the Maori believe their spirits depart from this world to the afterlife in Hawaiiki, through the roots of the pohutukawa tree.

Cape Reinga was a beginning, not an ending for me though. It was to be the beginning of a 1500 mile journey on foot from this, the northernmost point of New Zealand to Bluff in the South Island, possibly taking in Stewart Island. In truth at this stage, given recent events on Great Barrier Island, I wasn’t too sure that it was feasible, but I was determined to make it as far as Ahipara, which was approximately 75 miles away. Having completed that phase, I would reevaluate the situation and see if I wanted to continue on.

Back on the bus, Diarmuid and myself grabbed our gear, stuffed behind the last seat and I thanked the driver, Kingy Thomas, for the lunches kindly provided by the tour company. It was a glorious day with barely a wisp of cloud in the sky, its perfect azure joining with the deep blues of the Tasman Sea on my left and the great Pacific on my right. We sat down and started to eat the lunches not having eaten for a few hours. Almost finished my sandwich, I remembered the sign. Quickly I explained to Diarmuid about the notice, finished my sandwich and left the muffin for later. Diarmuid then went off to the lighthouse to take some photos while I finished writing some postcards. By the time I was finished Diarmuid had returned and after posting the postcards in the nearby postbox, it was time to be starting.

Diarmuid wanted to start from the carpark down the track, but I said if we were going to do this, we’d better do it right and start from the lighthouse. So we made our way down to the lighthouse and got the obligatory photos taken. At 13:55 we set off. On our way back up from the lighthouse, Diarmuid thought he had lost his watch so went back to were we had been sitting. He found it in his wallet. His wallet being in his pocket. We started down the track to Werahi beach.

The track was well laid out with a well defined and well trodden path down to Werahi beach. Going up and down through bush with the odd thick stemmed flower going across the path which Diarmuid wouldn’t warn me about as he pushed through it to come flying back into my face. We made it down to Werahi beach in good time where we took a short break, I went and washed my hands in the sea and tested out the sand. Thankfully it was good and firm so would be easier to walk in with the packs.

We continued on to the other end of the beach occasionally seeing some other walkers on their way back from their short walk from Cape Reinga. There is a strong stream at the end of Werahi beach where the next headland begins. After I tasted the water to make sure it wasn’t salty, I filled up my 750ml bottle which I’d emptied in the course of the day. After this short rest we continued on. I was eyeing the coming sand dune with doubt and intrepedation. Dunes are something that I’ve never really encountered before though I had heard that they were quite difficult to climb as the sand sinks beneath your feet. In short it looked big and difficult. We made our way into this alien terrain with its red stone that reminded me more of Mars than anything else. The sun continued to beat down on us, adding to the sensation of being on a foreign planet.

Around this time as I stopped for a breather, Diarmuid met Marcus (from Germany) who was coming behind us. He had left his car in Cape Reinga and planned to walk to Twilight beach and then from there back via the road to his car. He had loaded himself up with about six litres of water as he figured it was better to be safe than sorry. He was carrying about a 15kg pack and was a little aghast when I told him that I was probably carrying something in the region of 25kg.

He joined our little group and we continued on, soon leaving the sand dunes behind us and entering into scrubland once more. The track continued to go up and down in a most disheartening way and as the sweat continued to pour from me under the gaze of the glaring sun, I continued to drink from my water bottle and when that had emptied from my platypus. At one of our restpoints, two more trampers reached us. They were planning to go to Twilight beach and probably onwards, depending on water. I took out the map and pointed out several thin blue lines saying that they should be alright. Water was beginning to enter my mind as well, though I figured it would be fine. There were all those blue lines and the water would only need boiling to be safe. Around 17:00 we reached the start of Twilight beach and shook hands with Marcus who headed towards the road.

By this time, I would have been very happy to have stopped for the day and made camp but that required a water supply. The map said there was a stream at each end of Twilight beach, so I looking. I found it, just about. It was a trickle and awkward to get at. A quick taste of it didn’t greatly enhance my opinion of it and I said to Diarmuid that we should continue on to the other end of the beach and try our luck there. On we went, trudging through the sand. Water was now seriously on my mind and my eyes were constantly peeled for a glimpse of any stream. I was also beginning to tire and towards the end when Diarmuid was talking about continuing on to Te Paki Stream that evening, I knew that that was madness as far as I was concerned. I had done enough walking for the day and come what may, I was going no further.

As it turns out there was two streams at the end of the beach. Unfortunately, they were barely even a trickle and didn’t look as good as the stream at the other end of the beach in the distance. We then met the two guys who had passed us earlier and had disappeared out of view a few minutes beforehand. They had made camp behind a small ridge of sand and scrub and after quickly surveying the area, we agreed that it was a better area than what we had been previously considering. We discussed the problem of water with them, they had taken three litres with them each, one litre per day. I had already consumed almost two litres that day and wondered how they could get by with so little, especially since they were cooking noodles for dinner. Between them and Diarmuid going on about the stream not being safe, I decided not to boil it and then drink it. That I would have to do with what water I had left, a little under 300ml I guessed and make it to Te Paki stream the next day. I hoped fervently that we would come across another water supply before then and there were a couple of blue lines which I still had high hopes for. Diarmuid didn’t believe in the lines at all by now.

We put the tent and Diarmuid made himself comfortable. Dinner was next on the agenda. It was a cold affair of cheese, crackers and some gelatine sweets for me, thought Diarmuid ate some of the salami as well. A quick glance of the ingredients, the second greatest one of which was salt put me off eating any, for fear it would make me any more thirsty. The gelatine sweets helped a little though.

After dinner, I went outside to have a look around. I was struck by lonely a place it was. There was only the four of us, for miles around. It was a bleak but beautiful place. A faint mist was forming over the waves hitting the rocks of Cape Maria van Dieman. I noticed the tide was coming in and wondered how far up the beach it would reach. I returned to the tent, tired, thirsty and realising that Ahipara was a bridge too far, that I would only be going as far as Te Paki stream.

I lay on my sleeping bag thinking over this and thinking that maybe we could reach Ahipara, that perhaps it wasn’t too far. I didn’t want the journey to end so soon. The facts of our situation couldn’t be denied though. Our water had almost run out, I had a little under 300ml and Diarmuid had maybe half a litre. We hadn’t made a lot of headway and our pace had been quite slow for a first day. I knew that we wouldn’t be making Ahipara in the three or four days that I had originally estimated. We would be too slow, perhaps taking five or six days I thought at the time. Water would be a continuous problem and I knew that there wasn’t that many good water supplies past Te Paki stream all the way to Ahipara. We would have to take the exit at Te Paki stream and catch a ride with one of the many tour buses that drive down 90-mile beach. I wasn’t encouraged by the fact that we didn’t have any method of contacting anybody if anything went wrong or to try and get in touch with the bus company beforehand. I finally realised how badly organised we were in some ways and that I wouldn’t be seeing Ahipara. If I didn’t get to Ahipara, I knew Te Araroa would be over for me.

Feeling quite down, I turned on my MP3 player and listened to The Goon Show which cheered me up before I went to sleep listening to the roaring of the waves on the beach.

Rangitoto Island

November 3rd, 2005

The alarm went off at 08:15. Groaning, I got up and turned it off. I had not spent a restful night, Diarmuid’s phone had started to ring at 03:30 and had woken me up, but not its owner. In my fumbling to find the buzzing, I think I may have pressed the hang up button, but his mum didn’t try ringing again in any case. The next couple of hours were spent trying to get to sleep despite the door next door being constantly knocked on, opened, then closed loudly. Possibly I was successful but I think it was more of a waking doze until six or so in the morning before I finally fell into a more deep sleep.

I did not feel like going to Rangitoto Island, I only wanted to go back to bed and in a half awake talk with Diarmuid, he seemed amenable to the idea and I returned to my bed to try and get some more slumber. I was surprised when Diarmuid then proceeded to get up and have breakfast. Imagine my dismay when he then informed me that we were still catching the 09:15 ferry. “What? I thought we had decided to get a later ferry.” “No, that was just me talking before I got up.” I groaned and then got out of my bed, dressed and threw together a couple of sandwiches and filled my water bottles. Ready to go, I was waiting for Diarmuid to finish getting ready before we set off for the dock.

Thankfully, we made the ferry and I proceeded to get a breakfast of a good healthy sea wind. The ferry took around twenty minutes to make it’s way to the island. We disembarked from the rocking boat along with several other tourists including, one German man, two German women and a group of German teenagers. There were others, but the majority were definitely German.

There are several tracks on Rangitoto, but I had planned to follow the summit track to the crater with a sidetrip to some lava caves and then taking a road and coastal track back to the dock, all in all about 4-5 hours walking. We set off on the summit track ahead and quickly stopped as I put on my gaiters and organised my camera. Diarmuid soon uttered what he would repeat many, many times that day. “Take a photo of that.” I glanced at the expanse of lava rocks that he was pointing at. I couldn’t help thinking that there’d be plenty of other opportunities but figured that he was right, it was a fairly long lava flow that stretched into the distance. The camera made it’s clicks and whirrs and I put it away in it’s pouch hanging across my shoulder.

We continued along the track, overtaking people who had just overtaken us, this would happen at multiple times along the track. We then came to a display stand that was just off the track on a boardway. This explained about the various volcanic features of the island, how it was formed and if it was dead or dormant. By the by, the island’s volcano is considered dead but it is thought that Auckland has not seen its last volcano and that at some stage in the future, lava will flow and pumice and ash will fly.

The forest is quite thick on the island, surprising considering it started as a large lump of lava. The display also explained how the plantlife first started with moss and lichen before later clumps of trees began to grow which eventually joined up with each other to create the forest. The forest is of course different from our own forests in Ireland. The first thing that struck me was that it smelled differently, the trees are of course different but not so strange from our own, but the smell in the air instantly struck me as alien. We would later see palms further in the island and birdsong and chittering that sounded more like it belonged in a rainforest, but then again, I suppose most of the forests in this country are bordering on rainforests and I know that in the South Island there are some rainforests.

We eventually came to a glade where the summit track joined with the track to the lava caves. Diarmuid, who was carrying more or less his full pack for weight training, was anxious to reach the summit so we could return to get the 12:45 ferry. This hadn’t been my plan at all, something I thought he’d realised, surely he’d read the route description from the “Tramping in New Zealand” book? It would appear he had not. I said that we were going to the lava caves and started to walk off in that direction. When he’d caught up, I told him what the route that I’d planned was, that we’d go up to the summit, making the sidetrip to the caves and then making our way along the coastal track and that I didn’t think we’d be catching the 12:45 ferry.

Ten minutes later we had reached the lava caves, the German arriving just before us. We dropped our bags and I got my torch out. Taking my hat off and putting the torch on, I went into what looked like the bigger cave just after the German. Looks are deceiving, the cave only went in around 15ft before rapidly getting too small and then finishing. “Definitely too small to continue” I said to the German. He smiled in agreement. I left, a little disappointed, this isn’t exactly what I’d imagined. Back outside Diarmuid was waiting. I looked at the second cave to the left of the first one. It looked smaller, darker and distinctly wet. Ok, let’s go.

In I went and it was indeed small, dank and dark. But it didn’t look like it was going to instantly end and it was fun. I could feel a little claustrophobia but pressed on and to face it and see what it was like I turned off my torch. It was pitch black, but not really sinister. I couldn’t help but think of Bilbo lost in the goblin caves below the Misty Mountains. I turned my torch back on and continued, the cave now quickly got bigger and I could stand up and walk. This was fun! There were roots or lichen hanging from the ceiling and the walls were wet. The ground was muddy with slimy bits of twigs and a larger branch left by a previous explorer. I continued on a little bit and could see a light in the ceiling up ahead. I climbed up through the opening and found myself in a place not far from the track. We had in fact passed the track on our way to the other entrance.

I rushed back to the start of the cave, exhilarated. I told Diarmuid about the cave and grabbed a drink of water. I tapped the German on the shoulder and told him pointing to the cave, “That’s the one to go into!” Again he smiled. “You can even stand up in it.” “Oh,” he replied and proceeded to go into it. I asked Diarmuid if he was coming this time. He said yes and got his own torch. I grabbed my camera and went back in. I took some photos and then left before some other people arrived just behind us. The German was outside, he’d lent his torch to the German women who were coming just behind us.

Making our way back to our bags we explained to the group of German teenagers that the second cave was worth going into. They caught on and entered as well. The two women meanwhile arrived and we struck up a conversation. One asked Diarmuid if he was camping on the island. I explained, “No, weight training.” Diarmuid then proceeded to explain that we were going to walk the length of the two islands. How long would that take us? “Around seven months.” “Seven months! And my colleagues thought four weeks for a holiday was long.” They left returning to the summit track. I wanted to see where the track to the right took us, so I continued on, followed by a doubtful Diarmuid. “Let’s see how it works out.”

It worked out well. After a few minutes, I could see another cave ahead of us. It looked much bigger. I was reminded of the cave from “Prince Caspian.” There must have been something in the air because Diarmuid mentioned Narnia a minute or two later just before we went in. This cave was much bigger and we could walk in with our bags on our backs, even Diarmuid’s huge pack. There was a light up ahead that you could see from the start, but I soon realised it wasn’t the end. The cave continued on but got smaller at the end, meaning that we would have to crouch or crawl to get through. I offered to take Diarmuid’s pack from the other side but he said he could crawl through. He did and I took a picture though it didn’t come out all that great. The cave was dark after all.

We had reached the end of the lava caves track so we returned to the summit track and then made our way to the crater, just before the summit. Diarmuid was getting a bit breathless by this stage. Diarmuid read aloud the information about the crater while I watched a single-engine plane fly over it. After a few obligatory photos, we continued to the summit up the last few steps. The day was very clear and we could see for miles. I asked Diarmuid whether he wanted to continue on or try and catch the 12:45 ferry, it was now around 11:45. He suggested that we catch the ferry as we had plenty to do back in Auckland and we’d soon be going on a much longer walk. I was happy to catch the ferry, since I was tired and still hadn’t eaten. We then fast tracked it down the steps and back along the track. Again Diarmuid occasionally saying, “Take a photo of that.”

We reached the bottom of the track within 50 minutes or so and proceeded to sit down and eat some food. I sat on a wall in the shade of the tree while Diarmuid sat in the sun on a chair. A duck in the almost empty sea-water swimming pool climbed up the ramp towards me and I threw him a scrap of bread. Some smaller birds were too quick though and swiped it before the duck could reach it. I threw him a second piece and he reached it just in time. I took some photos of the duck and other curious birds. The ferry was arriving so we made our way to the jetty. After the new arrivals had gotten off, we made our way to the woman who was checking for tickets. As I was trying to find my ticket, my hat flew out of my hands and heart in my mouth I dove for it. Unfortunately the ticket collecter had also reached down to try and grab it from being blown into the sea and I collided with here. Thankfully though I had grabbed it, I apologised to her and continued to try and find my ticket. Eventually I remembered I had it in my coat pocket and handed it to her. Diarmuid was already on the top deck and I joined him, sitting in the front row just ahead of him where on the journey back I would get blasted by the sea wind combined with the speed of the boat. After a few blows from the horn the ferry set off and I got my last shot of Rangitoto Island.