I love Paihia. When I was planning this trip I wanted to spend most of my time visiting new places but no way was I going to fly half-way around the world and not visit this little beach town in Northland, New Zealand.
I work in a windowless, soul sucking cubicle and I was hell bent on spending as much of this vacation outside as possible. After spending most of yesterday driving I decided to stretch my legs and hike along the coast from Paihia to Opua.
One thing I really like about New Zealand is how great most of the trails are. In almost any town you can stop at the i-SITE (information office) and find guides and maps of local walks. They also call hiking “tramping” which I will never not find funny. Most of the trails are well marked and maintained. One thing that Americans should watch out for is that New Zealanders tend to be a little modest in their trail ratings compared to ratings I’ve seen at home. An “easy” trail in New Zealand would probably be rated as “moderate” in the United States.
The weather was drizzly but the sky was lightening and I hoped the rain would end soon. If not, I had my raincoat and I wouldn’t melt if I got a little damp. As I ate a light breakfast at a cafe that overlooked the bay, the rain stopped. Perfect.
I walked along the beach and picked up the trail, so happy to be here and not stuck inside at work. The trail eventually left the beach to become a bush walk where you could see the bay from gaps in the trees and ferns. The air was chilly and fresh and kept me cool as I started to warm up from the activity.
Another thing about New Zealand trails is the estimated time is usually too short, at least for me. I spend a lot of time taking pictures and stopping to check out some plant or tree I’d never seen before or standing there with my head cocked listening to some native birds warble.
The day continued to warm up and I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. This began a normal pattern for my visit to New Zealand in winter: Start the day off with rain shell and warm insert, gloves and maybe a scarf and end up with jacket tied around my waist, gloves and scarf in my backpack.
Opua is a tiny town with less than 1,000 residents so there wasn’t much to do once I got there. I visited the public toilets (another plus for New Zealand, free and clean public toilets everywhere) and then got some food from the general store by the main pier and ferry landing. This is where I’d come through the afternoon before on the ferry from Russell.
My plan was to hike back on an inland ridge route through the bush so I walked up a steep street and ate my lunch on a bench overlooking Opua before setting off for the return route.
Remember when I said “most” trails in New Zealand were well-marked? This bush route was one that was not and I never found the trail head. After I walked down a dirt road for nearly 5K I started to worry that even if I did find the trail I’d get caught out on a hilly bush walk after dark. And dark in a rural area in New Zealand is dark. I gave up and turned around and headed back to the main road. I walked the road back to Paihia and it was only slightly less terrifying than getting caught in the pitch black bush would’ve been. The road was narrow, curvy, and hilly with no sidewalks. By the time I made it to the outskirts of Paihia and the Roadrunner Tavern I was more than ready enough to stop in for a beer.
Refreshed by my handle of Speight’s Gold Medal Ale, I continued on and made it back to Paihia without being run down by a truck.
Later that evening while relaxing in my AirBnB studio apartment, I was happy and tired and so glad to be in New Zealand.
Next up: Kawakawa, Waiomo Caves, and Haruru Falls.