I get to Auckland airport way too early for my 9.30am flight to the Great Barrier Island. I have dreamt about the starry skies of the Great Barrier since I decided to come to New Zealand. With the Island relying 100% on off-grid sources for its energy needs, it is one of four sites in the world to have earned itself a dark sky sanctuary status. At the check-in desk of Fly My Sky, one of the local air carriers, I am handed a reusable boarding pass. My heart is immediately won. Behind the desk there are boxes of fresh eggs and some other perishables. This makes me smile. What a great cargo to share a flight with.
Boarding time comes round quickly. I and the other five passengers are escorted to the airstrip by the pilot. The airplane is tiny – I was not prepared for it to be so small. I count four rows of passenger seats with two seats in each of them, plus an extra row for the pilot and co-pilot. Yikes – I get to seat in the co-pilot seat. I push myself as far back as possible to avoid accidentally touching any of the controls. As the plane takes off, the pedals and steering wheel start moving in my direction and I need to push myself further back in the seat.
The ride is noisy but smooth and the views are thrilling. I actually am enjoying it, and am trying not to recall too many stories about small jet crashes and other such likes.
We land as soon as we have taken off. Not entirely but the flight takes only just over 30 minutes. I have prearranged a lift to one of the entry points to the Aotea track. I get dropped off at the entrance to the Kaitoke Hot Springs section of the track which is only a short ride from the airport so soon enough I am off striding along wetlands. It is pretty flat and fast going; also, the track is super well-kept and I come across three people doing some maintenance work on it.
Usually, I find walking deeply meditative and relaxing but the weight of the backpack discomforts me so I find myself distracted and not able to drop into the experience. Under my heavy backpack I huff and puff my way from Hot Springs to Mt Heale Hut, my overnight abode. As soon as I walk through the door I drop off my backpack and set off for the Windy Canyon.
The walk starts with a steep ascent to Mt Hobson. Jeez – it is steep. I cannot help but wonder how I am going to do it with my 16 kilogram backpack on tomorrow. I start thinking of what I can do without in order to reduce the weight of my backpack. Eat a lot of my food supplies perhaps. Only if I had the appetite for it! The water purification tablets have killed it for me. Even when I try not to breathe while drinking I can still taste the chlorinated flavour they give to the water.
There are some clouds in the sky but still very good visibility so I get a good view of the island from the Mt Hobson lookout. It is pretty up here. The walk to Windy Canyon is pleasant and the Canyon itself wows me so I forget all about my backpack worries.
When I make it back to the hut I am still the only inhabitant. It is kind of creepy. I do not shut the front door properly and it seems to open of its own accord. This gives me a mighty fright. A couple comes along later that afternoon. We all are in the minds of pretending that we have the hut to ourselves so not much interaction takes place. Deep down though I am happy that there are other human souls in the flesh around. My hopes for star gazing do not materialise that night as the skies are full of clouds which bring rain and thunder the following morning.
As I prepare for my walk the next morning, things are not looking good weather wise. But I set off regardless. The plan for the day is to walk from Mt Heale to the Green Campsite. Three steps into my walk and there is a lightning right in front of me and three seconds later a thunder bursts through the air. I climb and climb and an hour later I make it to the Kaiaraara hut. There is a large group of people at this hut who are going to leave later in the morning. I fill in the intentions book and take a short break here. Then again I am off walking but it starts pouring down shortly after so I turn around and walk back to the hut. The other trampers are still here and one of them is positive that it would clear in the afternoon, although she has not seen the weather forecast. I take out my book, Mister Pip, and make myself comfortable. I think out loud that I might have to change my plans and spend the night here instead. The weather forecast lady exclaims that she cannot think of anything better than sitting and reading a book in a hut. Sounds good to me too.
I sit and read for few hours and it keeps on raining. The other trampers have long gone and it is only the mosquitoes left to keep me company. This place is infested. The mosquitoes are a real nuisance and all I want to do is get out of this place and be in the fresh air. The skies start clearing after midday and I decide to set off for the Green Campsite once again. It is not even half an hour into my walk and it starts drizzling again and in no time it starts raining cats and dogs. I get soaked through and through and so do the contents of my backpack, including my lovely book. Then it stops for about an hour and then it is back on again. I have been walking down Forest Road for what seems to be an eternity. For the most part, it is pretty monotonous and full of sticky red clay type of soil, but then there comes a stream in the middle of the path. The only way across it is to leap over it but I misjudge how far I would get, forgetting about the extra kilos on my back, and my poor shoe sinks to the brim in the mud. My shoes are plastered with sticky red clay and are twice as heavy.
I have gotten used to the weight of the backpack and the rain has stopped so I take a mental break to have a moment to reflect on the events of the day so far. It occurs to me that hiking has been an excellent way to learn about myself and my ways of being in the world, the choices I make, etc. I get pulled out of my deeply profound thoughts by a little side track to a waterfall, Kauri waterfall. I take that track and the opportunity to wash off the layers of sweat and dirt that have built up on my skin. I hope the dirt and sunscreen I part with in the stream do not kill any wildlife. Annoyingly, before this trip I discovered that my mega expensive and 78% organic sunscreen had the two ingredients (oxybenzone and octinoxate) which kill coral reefs and are very toxic to marine life in embryonic or early developmental stages. The Good Magazine had a helpful article on the topic in their last edition.
After my bath I quickly put my clothes back on and am walking the final stretch to the Green Campsite. At long last I arrive and the sun comes out. What a joy! And there is another camper sitting in the shelter. We are both happy to have kind of found one another. She has spent the whole day sitting there, waiting for the rain to stop. Turns out I did not have it all that bad after all. I just got a little wet and muddy. The campsite is beautiful. It is quite close to the water and there is a view of the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. I am pleased with my choice to stick to my original plan.
I am quite tired from the day’s walking and pitch my tent and fall asleep before dark. There are tens of mosquitoes above my head buzzing. They are trapped between the tent and the fly. I can see them through the mesh of the tent and their attempts to find a gap and get through to me are relentless. When I wake up later in the night and poke my head out of the tent to gaze at the sky I try not let any of them sneak in. Well, I get a bit distracted by the view and two of them make a breakthrough. It is only a small sacrifice. There are clouds passing through the night sky but in the gaps I can see the stars which are ivory white and very bright.
Soon enough the morning comes. It is a slow morning and I take my time to pack up my camping gear and spread out some of my things to dry out a little in the intermittent morning sun. I left my food supplies on the table in the shelter and they have been invaded by ants. The only damage seems to be to my food bag as the ants have eaten chunks of it. My phone is almost dead and I cannot charge it using my power bank as it detects moisture in it. In a desperate bid to outwit the technology, I switch the phone off and plug it into the power bank that way. It works!
It is my last day of walking and the plan is to walk up to the Hot Springs and spend the better part of the day dipping in and out until it is time for my pick up to the airport later in the afternoon. To the Maori the Hot Springs are known as Wai Te Puia, waters of healing. My fellow camper is a lover of the waters of healing too so we set off together. It is nice to have company. We chat about fresh fruit and veg, how hiking is like life, how nice it is to be away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, the stresses and pressure of holding down a modern day job, but most of all we just walk and enjoy the beautiful forest, or once at the hot pools, soak in the loveliness of it all.
It is the weekend and the Hot Springs are a popular destination for many of the visitors of the island. It is a hot day and most people find the waters too hot so they have a little foot soak and head off to the beach. Many people come and go and I have chats with them, which is fun and makes the time go faster. It is all of a sudden time for me to go. It feels almost too soon to be parting with the Island but there is so much I take back with me that I can only be grateful for yet another great journey. Great Barrier Island thank you for being a most generous host.
My next tramp was a journey through the remote lands of the Far North and I am planning on writing about it too very soon.