Whangamata to Opoutere
One of the many reasons we’re doing this walk is to find a south to north route up Te Ika a Maui that is tramping friendly.
By ‘tramping-friendly’ I mean has the least amount of road walking possible. I think we’re close to a viable northbound/North Island route that ‘improves’ on Te Araroa. But there will always be connections that need to be made along busy highways and not so busy side roads. Today’s walk was to be a combination of the two.
We said our farewells to our new-found relatives then walked out of Whangamata on the side of the main road to Whitianga. We were surprised to find it pretty easy going. There were a couple of narrow bridges and dodgy bends but much of the ten kilometre journey to the turnoff to Opoutere was on wide verges. The traffic seemed pretty relaxed too with only a couple of speedfreaks to put us off our stride.
At the turnoff to the quiet country road that would take us to the Opoutere Youth Hostel for the night we only had four kilometres to go. It was going to be an easy day.
Half way to ‘town’ we met a local farmer who turned out to be the perfect person to advise us on our route for the next day.
‘What’s the best way to get to Broken Hills?’ Fiona asked. She already had a good idea of how we were going to do it but it’s always nice to get some backup.
‘We used to take the forestry road at the end of the line. It’s got a gate on it now, but I always reckon it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,’ was the reply
We nodded in agreement. As we talked about his beef farm a salesrep pulled up in his station wagon.
‘He’s the last person I want to talk to,’ said the farmer before completely ignoring him and telling us about his unusual herd of giant red cattle called Red Polls. He’d given his dairy herd up for a crack at something pretty special and seemed to be enjoying the change.
‘The only problem with them is that the breed isn’t being marketed properly,’ he mused as the poor young rep sat nervously in his car.
As it happens, when I’m not plodding around the backcountry, I sometimes work in beef marketing, but I could sense that he wasn’t in the mood for business that day.
Eventually we left the two guys to sort something out and made our way down the road toward the Pohutukawa-lined inlet that played host to Opoutere with its old fashioned baches and very empty streets.
We walked through the village and out the other end before heading around the base of a large rocky knob. Boatsheds, small jetties and more enormous Pohutukawa sat on the water’s edge as waves crashed on sandy beaches across the bay.
It was a perfect setting for the hostel that sat amongst yet more huge pohutukawa, below what we assumed was an old fortified pa site. A note on the manager’s door directed us to our cabin and we set about making ourselves at home as the afternoon sun slowly sunk.
Tui and bellbirds were in full throttle and a rogue crew of Kaka squawked and circled above while Fiona went for a walk up to the pa. It commanded an impressive and no doubt safe view of the area.
Compared to the X-Base hostel in Taupo the Opoutere YHA was a paradise. Of course the two places serve completely different crowds, but being the old fogies that we are, we really liked its cleanness, order and general aura of calm. Its buildings were a mix of colonial era historical and modern era prefab. The grounds were idyllic and the guests seemed to know how to use the microwave. Instead of loud dance music, its lounge had a log burner and a good bookcase full of magazines, games and New Zealand natural history books.
After a meal in the camp kitchen where we discussed the marvels of the world-beating Norwegian Weather Service with a family of Danes, we moved into the lounge where we met Elspeth and Martin, a couple of cycle tourists who were ‘travelling the world by bike’.
They purposefully, and correctly, don’t say they’re cycling around the world because they’re not. So far they’ve cycled over 40,000 kilometres, although they’ve had to do it in two goes as they had to return to England for family reasons at 33,000 kms. They hope never to have to go back to real jobs.
They travel mainly back roads by setting their GPS to direct them that way. Although it occasionally sends them on ridiculously convoluted routes it generally gets it right.
I went off to bed early while Fiona stayed up for a bit and talked. I’ve got a feeling we might be buying touring bikes once our tramping knees wear out.