Te Ara Wairua Meets Te Araroa Trail

Nov. 4, 2022, 6:35 p.m.

PHOTO CREDIT: DYLAN MORON STARTING THE TE ARAROA TRAIL AT TE RERENGA WAIRUA 

Keen walkers have dusted their hiking boots off after COVID-19 disrupted travel plans over the past two years and are embarking on the Te Araroa Trail. Over 5,000 hikers are expected to navigate 3,000km of beautiful New Zealand terrain this hiking season from Te Rerenga Wairua all the way to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.

The journey kicks off at Te Rerenga Wairua, also known as Cape Reinga, which is the spiritual departing point for many iwi Māori when they pass away. 

TE PAENGARĒHIA (TWILIGHT BEACH) PHOTO CREDIT: WHITES AVIATION AERIAL PHOTO

It is 12km from Te Rerenga Wairua down the west coast to the untouched Te Paengarēhia, or Twilight beach. 

Navigating your way through this area is magic, passing tufts of toetoe and long lines of pīngao and spinifex. This location is an example of a true wilderness experience which is only accessible by foot. Stefan Seitzer of National Geographic explains the appearance and wairua of this gem;

“At the northern end of Twilight Beach is a place between two massive dunes where you can look for miles and not see any vestige of human activity except the rotating beam of Cape Reinga lighthouse. You can find Saharan solitude in a place like this, created and defined by sand.”

You must read up on the amenities available within this area because in very dry periods, the water tank may be empty so you must pack enough water to get you to Maunganui Bluff. Local kaumātua, Graham Neho, spoke to Te Hiku Radio about the difficulty of this track.

“It can be very difficult doing this track so you need to be prepared and plan yourself in order to be safe. Only those who know this area can navigate it easily.”

PHOTO CREDIT: TE ARAROA TRUST

Hikers are not permitted to camp in the dunes and must respect these historically significant sites and natural taonga. The trail notes detail the registered accommodation providers along each segment. 

TE KARAKA STREAM ON TE ONEROA A TŌHĒ PHOTO CREDIT: KERYN PIVAC

From Te Paengarēhia hikers then journey toward Maunganui Bluff campsite which is a 28km hike. Tautīnei spoke to Andrew McCarrison who reached Ngāpae Holiday Park on the day of his 75th birthday;

“It is a tough journey, the sand is always moving below my feet so we are prone to getting bad blisters, so you need to stop and take your shoes off often. This part of the trail [Te Rerenga Wairua to Ahipara] is said to be the toughest part of the entire trail. We are glad to be able to put our feet up now before the next 15km journey to Ahipara tomorrow.”

The history is rich along the Northland section of the trail and initiative must be taken to learn about these taonga. Dermot O'Brian is Irish/Canadian/Pākehā and is planning on starting his journey at Te Rerenga Wairua in the next two weeks. He is dedicating his journey to land and language connection and posted a pātai in the Te Araroa Trail Facebook group with many responses;

"Are there any in the group who can please help with te reo, Māori mythology and traditions or help with hapū connections along the trail, am starting in November?" said O'Brian.

The hikers are made up of a diverse range of cultures, especially now that international travel is allowed. International travellers are often basing their visitors visa on the time it takes to complete the world-class trail in Aotearoa and it is good to see they are wanting to learn about the areas they are privileged to wak through. 

TE ARAROA TRAIL SIGNAGE PHOTO SUPPLIED

From Maunganui Bluff to Hukatere, it is another 30km of coastal terrain, salt air and rough exposed winds. The hikers make their way up the ramp off the beach, through a natural stream that flows down onto the shore and can either pitch a tent or stay in small cabins at Hukatere Lodge. 

HUKATERE WITH UTEA PA IN THE BACKGROUND PHOTO CREDIT: KAIO HOOPER

The surroundings here are enriched in local history as it is the location of a famous battle between Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi warriors. The battle of Hukatere creates an eerie feeling and Ūtea Pā stands tall and strong to tell the tales of the past.

From Hukatere, named by Tōhē after the soapy waters found here, hikers then navigate the soft-moving and difficult sandy terrain to Ngāpae. This is a 17km journey and many middens are passed through this particular section of the trail.

PHOTO CREDIT: TE MAHARA TAMEHANA

A tub of warm water mixed with antiseptic solution awaits the blistered feet of the hikers once they reach Waipapakauri, historically known as Ngāpae. Ngāpae Holiday Park is hosting between 11 to 15 hikers on a daily basis at the moment which is a positive shift from the deserted past two years caused by the pandemic.

 

TE ARAROA TRAIL WALKERS PITCHED AT NGĀPAE HOLIDAY PARK PHOTO CREDIT: KERYN PIVAC

Hikers will often pitch a tent and refuse a lift as they push their own physical and mental challenges. They will let those passing by along Te Oneroa a Tōhē know whether or not they require assistance.

"The stories shared and people met along the journey is enough to keep us pushing along the challenging trek," said Meghan Harvey (2019 hiker).

Exposure to the elements mean that the hikers often walk up into Ngāpae Holiday Park in different states of health.

"We, as tangata whenua, have to show good manaakitanga and ensure these visitors enjoy our area, are safe and leave with a great experience. We can do this in a number of ways. Sharing kai, checking on their health, sharing rules and history within our rohe so they know not to walk over tapu areas and ensuring they have relevant contact details once they are on their way," said Keryn Pivac (Ngāi Takoto/Te Aupōuri/Te Rarawa).

TE ARAROA TRAIL WALKERS SET OFF FROM NGĀPAE HOLIDAY PARK TO AHIPARA PHOTO CREDIT: KERYN PIVAC

The Ara Wairua spiritual journey is a journey of high importance to Māori, to share the history behind each location and the meaning behind their names is one way we can teach visitors to our country how to learn te reo. We can also share stories about how these places got their names to help them remember the ingoa Māori for each.

As the hikers navigate their way along Te Oneroa a Tōhē, they can embrace the tiresome feat that our esteemed tupuna, Tōhē, would have experienced as he went in search of his daughter Raninikura. If there is any way that we can share our history, it is through those putting themselves into the elements that will be able to connect their senses to the past.

The foamy water still washes ashore in Hukatere and the bones of the tohoraha lay deep beneath the sand in Ngāpae. Clues and history stamped along every few footsteps taken by these hikers and they are eager to learn along the way.

The words of National Geographic journalist, Stefan Seitzer, when he speaks of his time spent at the beginning of the trail, invokes a feeling of gratitude, understanding, relatability, curiosity and wander within;

"I watch the sun set in the sea behind Cape Maria van Diemen. Although it is the height of summer, a cold southerly whistles up the coast. I sit, playing with a bleached shell, thinking, that if my soul should pass this way at the time of my departure I would count it a privilege."

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