Murupara to Tauranga

We woke up in our concrete box, packed our stuff up and made our way to the bus stop. We were headed to Rotorua to pick up our food from Jamie before taking the bus to Te Puke. We had no idea what we were going to do next.

We’d had a plan. A finely crafted line on a series of topo maps. We’d always thought injury might stop us in our tracks or weather could delay us for a couple of days but we never dreamed we’d have to ‘abandon’ The Spine of the Fish because of a natural disaster. Especially one called Debbie.

We didn’t actually know how impassable the route from Whirinaki to Whakatane was, but everyone we talked to said the towns we planned to pass through were cut off and the Whakatane River Track was stuffed.

The bus trip to Rotorua was an eyeopener. We’d never been to Kaiangaroa Village and probably never will again. A former mill town that has seen better days, its near-empty streets would’ve once contained a bustling neighborhood but now contained a half empty and graffitied shopping block, a dank rotten A-frame style church and a few rundown houses. Passengers waited at the dairy in the rain for their ride to the big smoke while heavy drizzle somehow separated itself from the heavy cloud that shrouded the place.

Our depression at having fallen off our trail paled compared to the depression on display at Kaiangaroa Village. Not that the new passengers looked particularly forlorn. People are much more resilient than the towns we build for them and the bright lights of Rotorua weren’t far away.

Coffee, cake and a meetup with our ‘failed’ trail angel Jamie got us through a few hours at Rotorua while we waited for the bus to Te Puke and the comfort of Fiona’s uncle and aunt’s place.

It was all very seductive. Perhaps abandoning our mission wasn’t so bad after all. Rhea and Colin looked after us well. We were fed and plonked in front of a TV where we got to watch the already flooded Edgecumbe, just down the road, prepare itself for another cyclone.

On day two of our pleasant internment we got a lift into Mount Maunganui so we could walk up Mauao (the actual name of ‘The Mount’) and along the beach to Papamoa the day before D-day. Cyclone Cook hadn’t arrived but we could feel its approach.

As we walked up Moaou we decided to completely rethink our plans. It felt like we had failed so we couldn’t see any reason to continue. We could head off anywhere. Walk Te Araroa north of Auckland. Head over to the Central Plateau. Go back home and watch TV.

We were lost and without a purpose.

The day before the cyclone

The beach walk was a taste of what we would’ve been walking had we stayed on track. It was flat and easy progress with cafes and dairies just off the sand dunes. Our route was to take us up through Te Urewera, up to Whakatane, along the coast and the same beach to Tauranga then on up to the Kaimai Range.

Beach library Papamoa

On Friday evening we moved into Tauranga to stay with Fiona’s cousin and gourmet chef Aiden. As he drove us into town Cyclone Cook hit. It was fierce…for about three hours…then it disappeared. Saturday was unexpectedly fine.

Did this mean we might be able to go back to Whirinaki and start Te Urewera again?


As we searched around for advice it became clear that even though Cyclone Cook was a dud, the recent Cyclone Debbie’s damage was as bad as we’d been lead to believe.

Not that we could find official confirmation of this. The area was in such a state of chaos that people were too busy dealing with the disaster to worry about walking tracks. Reliable information was scant.

NZTA knew nothing about the roads in and around Ruatahuna. DoC at Murapara and Rotorua had no idea what was going on with their tracks. The Tauranga iSite didn’t have a clue either.

Not that we could blame anyone nor wanted to. Shit happens and we got over it by eventually deciding to start afresh from where we were.

I’m doing a lot of justifying here, but it’s what was going on in our minds as we wandered around in limbo. The spectre of ‘failure’ had really confused us and preoccupied our thinking for almost a week.

New hairdo, Papamoa

Eventually we realised that our goal of finding a viable North Island tramping route that could give Te Araroa walkers another option was still valid. Sure, one section got washed out, but it would be back in action in a few months. We could do it later. With that in mind we set ourselves a route from Tauranga to the Kaimai and walked it…well most of it.

I’d come out of Whirinaki with a swollen and numb foot. In an ignorant attempt to fix it I overdosed on anti-inflammatories a few days earlier. As we made our way around Tauranga’s beautiful bays and walkways my stomach started to protest.

View from Maoau

I gurgled and groaned my way past endless Kiwifruit orchards while Fiona strode on confidently towards the Kaimai.

As Edgecumbe cleaned up after its disaster I had a more personal one to cope with.

I was starting to think that the Bay of Plenty was cursed but if I concentrated hard on the path ahead, I knew I’d be able to escape.