Brrrrrrring. It’s 4:30am, so getting out of bed is a bit of a struggle. But I don’t hesitate for too long, because I am about to set off on my Duke of Edinburgh Gold adventurous journey with 12 other students, a trip we had been planning for the past 8 months. Writing route plans, calculating distances, filling out risk analysis forms—it all led to this. But first we had to brave a 6-hour drive north, to Cape Reinga and Spirit’s Bay, where we would be hiking. When we finally arrived at the Te Paki Stream trailhead around 11:00am, everyone was already tired, and we hadn’t even started our 18km hike for the day. We were glad that we got out of Auckland when we did though, because shortly after we left, a thunderstorm struck, forcing students to stay indoors.
After sunscreen was applied, packs adjusted and a group photo taken, we set off on our tramp. But we quickly faced our first obstacle—Te Paki Stream. It was full of water, and apparently we had to walk down it, but no-one wanted to get their boots wet so early in the tramp. Strategies were numerous: some walked up and down the dunes next to the stream, others carefully picked out shallow water to step in, and the smartest just took off their boots and embraced the water. All of us safely made it down the stream to 90-mile beach, although not without a detour up the giant Te Paki dunes for those of us that had too much energy.
Once we reached the beach, we did the unintuitive thing: we walked the opposite direction to the campsite we would be staying the night in. But a requirement for the tramp was that it was 65km in total, and the Te Paki Coastal Walkway is only 48km. So it was time for a 6km detour down the beach and back again. With Alex running up and down the dunes next to the beach keeping an eye out for the landmarks that would mean we had walked the 3km down the beach we needed to, we happily strolled along the beach, including some crazy members of the group that wouldn’t stop singing the gumboot song.
After a little climb over Scotts Point with some beautiful views of 90-Mile Beach, we arrived at Twilight Micro Camp, our campsite for the night, at 7:00pm. It had been a long day, and everyone was tired and ready to go to bed, but not before watching the only sunset we’d be able to see during this tramp. The atmosphere as the sun dipped below the ocean was absolutely incredible, and the sunset was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
The next morning, it was another early wake-up call to get ready for our longest and hardest day: 23km including a 500m elevation gain past Cape Maria van Diemen and Cape Reinga. After packing everything away, we set off along Twilight Beach, reaching the track junction to Cape Maria van Diemen as the rain started to close in. After securing our packs from the rain, we set off on another detour to the cape, climbing up to the small lighthouse and enjoying awesome 360-degree views of the coastline, dunes, and Cape Reinga in the distance. We couldn’t dawdle too long though, as we still had many kilometres ahead of us, and so set up towards Cape Reinga.
Somewhere along this beach, Alex found an old buoy. We decided we would have to take it with us to keep it out of the ocean, even though it would be extra weight to carry. Rather than leaving it at the next rubbish bin, however, Alex carried it all the way to the end of our tramp, and Buoy became somewhat of a mascot to our tramp.
On the final stretch towards the lighthouse, we met Peter, a Duke of Edinburgh award leader from England, just setting off to complete the Te Araroa track. We really enjoyed talking to him, in fact, we stopped for so long that the supervisors, who always kept slightly ahead of us, had to send two tourists headed the other way along the track to tell us to hurry up!
After some touristy photos at the Cape and Lighthouse, and some lunch near Sandy Bay, we braved the last uphill slog to arrive at Tapotupatu campsite.
The next day, we headed towards Pandora, where we would be staying our last night. Although the track once again contained a lot of uphill and downhill sections, these were well worth the effort due to the breathtaking views we got of the coastline and countryside. Near Pandora Basic Camp, we were surprised to find some rock pools, which were very beautiful and to which we later returned to have a swim.
It was then time for another detour to the Te Paki summit, and although we couldn’t find the summit trig, we were still rewarded with fantastic views of Spirit’s Bay and the surrounding areas. This campsite was the first one we had entirely to ourselves, and the view of the stars above with absolutely no light pollution at night was really cool.
The next morning, it was time for the last 8 kilometres to Kapowairua and the van that would take us back to civilisation. Since we expected most of the track to be along the beach, most of us set off without our boots on, giving our many blisters and sore feet a break. Unfortunately, it turned out parts of the track where gravel, so the hobbit-ness of our feet really were tested. Although the last kilometres dragged on a little bit, we made it to the trailhead around 11:00am, tired but exhilarated.
For many of us, this tramp marked the end of 4-5 years of working on our Duke of Edinburgh awards, and the feeling of finally finishing your gold award truly is gratifying. And what a track and group of people to wrap it up with. Although it challenged us and pushed us to our limits, the many awesome views and experiences along this track made it worth it. I would recommend this track, or even just parts of it, to anyone to experience this beautiful part of our country. And if you’re still under 25, get involved with the Duke of Edinburgh’s award! It is a remarkable journey and provides so many amazing experiences.