The day had finally arrived! Viv and I hopped on the cool yellow bus and joined the club for this exciting trip. This was our first multi-day trip with the club, and we were looking forward to seeing the familiar faces with their signature outfits; their much-loved tops and shorts, clean boots, and backpacks. We knew some would probably have hiking poles on hand as well.
I was surprised to find many colourful “pea pods” snuggling comfortably on the bus, which had been converted to a giant sleeping platform. I couldn’t stop myself from giggling. I felt like we were on our way to a kids’ camp. It was quite an experience, lying flat on a moving bus and looking at views of a star-speckled night sky. I closed my eyes and wondered—with eager anticipation—what tomorrow would bring.
Day 1: Spirits Bay to Pandora Bay
Some early birds were up before dawn, going about their routines, whatever they were. It took me a while to wake up fully and at first I wondered where we were. As planned, we left the Rawana Beach DOC campsite and travelled to Kapowairua, where the out party set off on their coastal tramp.
With the sun shining, we, the home party, followed a sandy track that was elevated above the seabed and overlooked the waves that tirelessly combed the shore. With a gentle sea breeze whispering in my ears as we wandered along the endless Spirits Bay, I felt blessed.
The track led us to a boardwalk across the Waitahora Lagoon, which separated us from the shore. The colours of the vegetation in the lagoon were vibrant against the reflections of light on the still water. We spotted a few ducks, dotterels and oystercatchers in the area. Just stunning.
It was an easy track to Pandora Bay. We popped into the Pandora campsite before we settled down for lunch. The out party had arrived and were busy setting up their tents. We returned to Pandora Bay for a swim before lunch. “Life is good,” I murmured to myself while we were having fun in the crashing waves.
On our way back to the Spirits Bay campground, the wine list and dinner menu were discussed once again. Both Viv and I were excited about camp meals, as the whole idea was completely new to us. I had several attempts at getting my camping cooker going. Finally, with help, we finally got our first camp meal prepared. Meanwhile, wine was poured, and crackers with smoked salmon and tomato slices were among the party. It was very enjoyable, and our plates were spotless afterwards.
Day 2: Tapotupotu Bay to Cape Reinga via Sandy Bay
Rain was expected in the morning, but we were lucky. We had a huge downpour in the middle of the night and it stayed dry all day.
Helen drove us to Tapotupotu Bay, where the out party was expected to camp alongside the club bus in the evening. We ascended to the cliff top after an easy stroll along the beach. The view of the bay was stunning. Needless to say, many photos were taken.
We followed the marked track up through the bushes; the lighthouse was visible on the tip of Aupouri Peninsula. What a spectacular view from there. And it was the perfect place for a tea break. I reckon the snacks tasted better there, too. We followed many (too many!) sets of big steps halfway down—the same steps that later caused me a lot of grief on the way back. An overgrown path led us to gorgeous Sandy Bay.
We continued our way along the coastal track. Oh no, I shouldn’t have looked up. The endless steep hill ahead crushed my spirit. I stopped a few times on the way, but eventually I joined the team at the lookout. It felt strange to see so many tourists in their jandals, walking leisurely on the concrete path while I was still huffing and puffing from the climb. It was interesting. Half an hour before, I had firmly believed I was lost in the wildness, but here we were, at the iconic Cape Brett lighthouse with people from all around the world, watching the churning currents where the two oceans merged.
Day 3: Te Werahi Loop Track, Twilight Beach and Cape Maria Van Diemen
Helen took us to Te Werahi Gate, where the loop track begins. We walked across paddocks with cows gazing at us, through manuka scrub and over the sand dunes to Twilight Beach. We found freshwater wetlands along Te Werahi Stream, and also interesting patterns we believed to be fossils.
Further down the track, we headed to Cape Maria Van Diemen, which was in our ten-o’clock direction. It was a spectacular landscape, with Motuopau Island taking the brunt of the endless roaring sea. At the foot of the Cape, we enjoyed our lunch and the majority went up to the top of the Cape afterwards. I enjoyed the walk along the shore, and soaked my weary toes in the crystal-clear water.
The weather was perfect. It was sunny, and the temperature was just right. Most importantly, we had no wind at all. I could well imagine what it would be like to have sand blasting in my face as I tramped through the dunes for hours …
On our return, we were excited to find a group of ladies from the out party, and later we spotted a few figures on a distant hill. I can only imagine how hard it must be to trek through this terrain with heavy packs on. They should feel proud of themselves.
As soon as Te Werahi Beach came in sight, we negotiated our steps over gigantic rock formations and descended to sea level. We came across a young fellow from Prague, who was asking for directions. It was nice that he later caught up with the out party, and rode in the bus with us for a few hours the next day.
It was time to cross the stream. Without hesitation, Helen and John made their move and I followed. When I reached the other side, Viv called out, “Did you get wet?” “No,” I said, knowing that Viv felt apprehensive about crossing with her boots on. “You just have to move fast.” Then I felt realised my socks felt a bit wet. “Oops, sorry Viv,” I mumbled, “I should’ve checked.”
After a small lagoon, the marked track took us to a sheer cliff with a loose, sandy surface. It was on a 60–70-degree angle, with visible loose footprints and slips. Apparently it was more than 40 metres high, but it looked more like 80 metres to me.
Later we went through some lovely shady bush. It took us a while to go through and we stopped for a drink at the end of a boardwalk over a dark clayish swamp. “You wouldn’t want to fall in there,” Karen said. She was right. That could be the start of a horror movie.
Before long, we came through the woods and found the bus on top of the hill, waiting patiently for our arrival. All we needed to do was cross a big stretch of uphill farmland. It was such an amazing track, with a range of landscapes and terrain. We walked seven hours that day. We were pretty tired, but we were still keen to go swimming when we got back.
Day 4: Tapotupotu Bay, boardwalk, bridge and beyond
We explored the area around the bay. The boardwalk was nicely done at the end of the campsite road. Across the bridge, the path led us up the hill to another stunning view of the bay. The majority of the party continued to explore the area.
This trip was such an amazing experience for me—to explore the spectacular landscape, and experience various types of terrain with a bunch of nice people, sharing some fun and laughs together. It was very special.
Thanks to our wonderful Helen for making this a great success. And thanks to our drivers, Bernhard and Campbell. Oops, nearly forgot to mention that I was also pleased to find a competitive bunch in the group when it comes to card games, and I was glad to see the righteous souls come to the rescue of settling the insignificant minority.
Good fun and great joy was shared by all.