Then it was another 6km of asphalt road walking to get to the turnoff to Helena Bay. Here is where we made our error!! We got distracted by a nice shady spot to stop for smoko, along with a big sign that said "Cafe 5kms". In doing so we walked right past the intersection to Helena Bay, despite the presence of some TA signs adn it being clearly stated in the notes!! The upshot was that we walked 1.5km further up Russell Rd before a nice farmer lady came running up the road after us asking us if we were doing the TA. Our cheerful response of "yes indeed" was met with a "do you realise you have missed the turnoff to Helena Bay and are on the wrong road?"!! Very deflating!!! Anyway, after briefly clipping ourselves around the ear (metaphorically at least) we sucked it up and headed back. I don't know how many times we have told ourselves that assumption is the mother of all "muck-ups" and that we must take the time to check every junction - but still complacency rears its ugly head. Another lesson learnt :-)
On the road to Helena Bay we noticed a lot of development activity at what looked like the entrance to possibly a new subdivision (flash stone bridge, security gates etc). We saw someone weedeating around olive trees and Belinda commented at the time that "someone had more money than they knew what to do with"! It turns out that we had stumbled on the entrance to Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov's $50M mansion (NZHerald story here). Even the large kauri stump on display at the entrance (see photo below) is spotlit at night!
After Helena Bay it was another 8km of asphalt and then gravel road walking. Mostly this day was back off the coast, but it is still interesting walking through the countryside and checking out aspects of the small communities that you pass through. As we have said before, our journey is as much about people and places as it is about wilderness - I think those that tell foreigners with limited time to do only the South Island are perhaps doing the North Island an injustice. But then again, I guess some people come for the :wilderness" experience, and there are less roads and people on the TA route in the South Island - each to their own :-)
We stopped for lunch on the gravel part of this section (Webb Road) before entering the Morepork-Onekainga Track section. We had a chat with a lady who stopped, followed 10 minutes later by a chat with her husband, who was walking up the road behind her. Turns out they were also (like Don and Lorraine who took us in at Mangawhai) off to do the Hump Ridge Track in Southland shortly. The husband had obviously done a lot of walking in the hills in this area and was telling us about all the tracks, the old logging sites, a number of old kauri dams etc in the surrounding hills. This turned out to be even more interesting info as we later found out from Hilton Ward (where we stayed in Ngunguru) that it is hoped that the first part of today's track will change completely next year to take it through those same hills rather than the roads that we had done today (we might be some of the last to walk this section!!)
We then headed off into DoC's Morepork Track - this was nice bush walking on well-formed and graded "roads" so was very easy going. Even up and down, we covered 4.5km in the first hour. I confidently said to Belinda that we should be in Whananaki in no time at all at this rate - with another 9km to go. Pride, of course, comes before a fall. The Onekainga Track that the Morepork Track led into was nothing like the first bit. We were back into genuine tramping track areas with steep up and downs through lovely bush. I am told I go on a bit about the "up and down" but, nevertheless, I think Belinda even agreed that, at the end of a long day, it was cruel to take us up to 240m asl, then make us go down to 60m asl, before taking us back up to 240m asl again!! There was a fair bit of sweat lost, and great relief when we got back up to the trig at about 245m for the final push, mostly down, through bush and then farmland onto Whananaki North Rd!!
Then the final couple of kms took us through private farmland on a wetland walk around to the beach in front of the campsite. A lovely TA-friendly campsite, some food and some warm showers helped a rejuvenation after the long day. As we were arriving at the office we coincidentally ran into Whin and Whiona (Fiona Burleigh and Anthony Behrens) whose blog of their South Island walk, NOBO, we had read as part of our preparation. They were heading north with their son who was mountain biking the length of the country as part of a group. It is a very small world in the TA community it seems. We enjoyed some of Fiona's watermelon as a treat for dessert - fresh fruit of any description is something that you sorely miss while walking!! Always great to talk with others about their TA experiences. We also ran into our Aussie trio again at the camp (see tomorrow's blog).
Belinda and Anthony (aka Tony) Hadfield made a decision, in their late 50's, to do something a "bit different" and walk New Zealand's 3000km Te Araroa Trail over summer 2015/16 - although updates will now tell you that this plan will take longer now!!. As the old saying goes - "don't leave home 'til you've seen the country"!!