Day 67 – Whanganui to Koitiata

Date: 1 December
Trail covered: 38.8km, but watch read 43.4km – I did a few detours (kms 1354.8 to 1393.6)
Weather: hot at first but windy and cold by the end of the day

If anyone told me that I would be meeting the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, while walking Te Araroa, I would have simply said “don’t be an egg, ow”.

I mean the day started out like any other. Like every day, my internal alarm clock woke me up at 5.45am, even after nearby people were loud past midnight (Grrrr). I was aware that it is now officially the first day of summer. I wonder if the weather will suddenly change.

I was also aware that my clothes all smell like the Whanganui River. And there were lots of flies on my tent this morning. Little, colourful flies. And also, earwigs – quite a few earwigs. I wonder why these new bugs are on my tent, I haven’t seen them at any other campsite before.

The Whanganui Top 10 Holiday Park

Since I got my new charging cable yesterday, I can photograph things again. Yay.

The other four’s cabin in the morning

Now that I’m back on dry land after five days on the river, I really feel like a coffee and a decent cafe breakfast. That will be my treat today.

As I determined yesterday, I am the only one continuing walking today. I did learn that Fabian is bussing to Wellington and then going to Picton to start the South Island section of the trail. The Swiss family is skipping the next three days which is almost entirely road walking and are going to Palmerston North. Everyone else is taking a rest day.

I set out at 7am. My hopeful destination is a small campsite at the little settlement of Kotiata, 38km away. There is a river at approximately one kilometer before the campsite, which needs to be crossed at low tide. Low tide is 8:35pm tonight – how inconvenient. I’ll get there early, and the plan is to cook pasta for dinner while I wait for low tide, and then cross. I could also write some blog entries while I wait. It will be fine. What could go wrong?

My phone has no case now. I stopped using the waterproof case because since it got wet on the river it doesn’t seem to work well any more. I have to be careful – my phone without a case is very slippery. I hope I don’t drop it! I was tested just a few minutes into the walk, when a bumblebee flew into me while I was using the phone and I nearly dropped it because of the fright. I’m going to need to buy a new case in Palmerston North.

The walk from the holiday park to the city centre is about 6km, and is through the northern suburbs, which as I noticed, is not the nicest part of Whanganui. Along the way I passed this dairy:

Westlea Dairy

I thought their big long notice about getting cash-out was funny.

I just wouldn’t bother asking…

I also passed this cafe. I thought about getting my breakfast here but there were cars revving outside and while they were very cool, they were also very loud. I wanted a quiet breakfast. This must be a known spot for cars to congregate – the sign says ‘petrolheads parking”.

You soon cross the railway bridge to the other side of the river, away from the city centre.

Railway bridge

And you go past this free camping spot set up by the council. This is one of the places I considered walking to yesterday after arriving at the holiday park, but decided not to. It was quite a big bit of grass next to a toilet block, and there were a lot of campervans there. I talked to two of them (the occupants, not the actual campervans) tand they said they got a good night’s sleep here.

Whanganui Freedom Camping

Here’s a sign for Palmerston North – apparently it’s 74km. So why is the walk to it 105km? Because it’s the TA, that’s why. It doesn’t go in a straight line – from here we go down a beach for 20km and then divert through the towns of Feilding and Bunnythorpe which one wouldn’t normally drive through to get to Palmerson North (Palmy for short).

Palmerston North – 74km

It was a nice walk by the river and it appeared that today was going to be a glorious day, just like the 12 or so days before it.

I passed this cafe on the trail. However I didn’t go in – I’m not entirely sure why.

The Red Lion

I decided to go off trail and cross the bridge over the river into the city centre and find a nicer-looking cafe there.

Crossing the river

I found a cafe called Mud Ducks. It opened at 8.30am and I’m glad I arrived at 8:33am as it filled up quite fast. When I looked at my watch at 8.40am it was mostly full.

As I walked into the cafe, I noticed a few people in the queue to order food. The last guy in the queue was a tall guy in a crisp blue suit, and I joined the queue behind him. While I was waiting, four other guys in crisp blue suits came in behind me, and said hi to the other guy in the suit in front of me. I immediately thought “no way in hell are you four cutting in front of me”. I stood with my legs wide apart near the food cabinet so they couldn’t get past. It worked – they went around me on the other side and went and sat down at a nearby table.

I ordered an iced coffee and a bacon butty and sat down near the window where I could see outside and could also see the guys in blue suits. I noticed they were all wearing earpieces.

My attempt to covertly photograph the members of the blue suit brigade

And that’s when I started thinking. These guys look important. And why do they all have earpieces? They look like bodyguards. And there is only one person in New Zealand who travels with five bodyguards. The PM.

I wonder if she’s somewhere nearby. I looked around and at a table nearby I recognised Clarke Gayford, her partner. And then there she was, sitting with her back to me. Oh my god – how exciting. There were also three other people at her table who I didn’t recognise. They were having a meeting.

If Clarke wasn’t there, I might not have known it was her from behind. But it definitely had to be her. Ooooh wow, I’m so excited. They look like they’re having an important meeting. I don’t care. I sheepishly walked over and stood over the group and when they looked at me I asked Jacinda if I could get a picture with her. She was very obliging.

OMGOMGOMGOMG it’s Jacinda Ardern

She even took the time to ask where I was from, what I was doing and details about Te Araroa – she didn’t seem to have heard of it. But that’s all we talked about, I let her get back to her meeting. She was so friendly and polite, despite my rudeness at interrupting. She smiled the whole time and was very obliging with the picture. I may not agree with everything she says or does in politics but she is genuinely a nice, normal friendly person. And in what other country could you just go up to the Prime Minister like that.

And that’s when I realised that earlier on in the queue, I blocked Jacinda’s “secret service” from accessing the food cabinet. Oh boy. If I suddenly disappear overnight without a trace, you’ll know why!

I ordered more food because I didn’t want to leave the cafe until after Jacinda. I got a sugar-free cola and a slice called “gravel road” – seemed appropriate.

When Jacinda finally left…

There they go…

I left shortly after and continued on the trail.

Interesting chalk drawings on the concrete

I was so happy after that chance encounter that I didn’t even care that the next part of the trail was up a billion stairs.

You could take the elevator but you had to pay for that.

Durie Hill Elevator information

There was then a few more stairs and a viewing platform. This was not part of the trail but I had a quick look.

And a selfie of course

I had one last look at the Whanganui River and said goodbye to it.

View from the lookout

There was also this tower nearby. It was “erected to the memory of members of the armed services from this city and district who fell in the 1914-1918 war”.

You could walk to the top of it but I decided not to. I’d done enough walking up stairs right now.

Time to start the road walking. 12km or so to a place called Fordell, then another 15 or so km to get to a beach. This place just on the outskirts of Whanganui had some interesting sculptures.

And here’s a sight I haven’t seen for a while – the footpath in the town ending and the 100km/h area with only a minimal road shoulder beginning.

Goodbye Whanganui

Not a lot happened between Whanganui and Fordell. And I haven’t taken an 11am picture since I’ve been on the river. Now they can start again! Unfortunately this 11am picture is just looking back at the electrical substation where I had earlier stopped for some water.

11am picture – electrical substation

At one point I saw all these cars and wondered what was happening:

What’s going on here

Turns out, being Sunday morning, that it was a church service.

St. John’s Church

There were some cows and sheep in the same paddock, being buddies.

By Fordell, I was really craving a milkshake.

Ever heard of this place before? Nope, neither have I.

In this town you turn onto a side street fairly fast, avoiding the centre of town.

Ever heard of these places before? Nope, neither have I. Especially not Wanganui. It’s had an “h” in the name for a long time now.

But I looked on Google to see if I could buy a milkshake somewhere. Apparently the only two places in this town are a hotel and a petrol station. The petrol station is open 24 hours apparently, so I headed there. I would be happy with just a milk drink from the fridge.

It was about 700m off trail to the petrol station, and the same back again. I hope that it actually had a shop. In Auckland at least, these “24 hour” petrol stations are often just automated petrol pumps with no actual shop. When I got close, I saw cars parked opposite. Woohoo, that must mean the shop has staff!

Cars in the distance

And when I got closer, I saw that it’s also a dairy! My chances of getting a milkshake have improved!


But… my bubble burst when I realise that it’s closed on Sundays. Google was wrong.


Deflated, I just sat on the forecourt and ate some cheese and crackers and some of the chocolate I got yesterday at The Warehouse. The milkshake will have to wait. I also spent time updating the opening hours for this place on Google so others don’t have the same problem.

Back to the trail, more road walking. The bit of road after Fordell is long and straight and there isn’t much space to walk.

It’s not too busy though. That all changes once you get to State Highway 3.

Wanganui or Whanganui?

This road is a lot busier.

Being a State Highway and all…

Apparently up until this year, the walk along State Highway 3 was long – like 20 or 30km long. They’ve rerouted the trail this year so the walk along here is only 2 or 3km. I was grateful for that at least.

I did find this VW badge which I presume had come off a car.

A rest area along this stretch of the highway was also marked on Guthook as a possible place to camp. If I was feeling really really full of energy yesterday, I had identified this as a possible camping spot last night.

Rest area

This got me thinking – perhaps the universe wanted me to be in the same cafe at the same time as Jacinda, because it knew I’d be so happy about it. Not walking beyond the holiday park, leaving earlier than anticipated this morning, and skipping the first two cafes I came across for breakfast – this all must have happened so I could meet Jacinda. I was still buzzing about it by this point.

Since I never got my milkshake or a proper lunch, I wanted to stop at this rest area and have lunch, but the guy in the red car was playing some kind of house music really, unbearably loudly so I just walked past.

Walking along Highway 3 wasn’t too bad. Most of it was on the other side of these barriers. The worst part was all the dead bits of plants that got inside my boots.

The bridge you can see in the background has a large footpath. It crosses the Whangaehu River, which was a bit cleaner than the Whanganui River.

Whangaehu River

Just over the bridge was a place called Whangaehu. Is there a shop here? Would I finally get some lunch? It was 2:30pm by now and I was getting hungry. But no, no shop. Just these two friendly horses.

Then a turn into Whangaehu Beach Road, which was a small road to the beach.

Whangaehu Beach Road

The topographic map made it look like the road headed all the way to the beach, but actually the last bit was across private farmland. It made me think of the TV commercial where they wonder who will get them across Mad Mick’s to Boneyards if their friend is drunk and incapacitated. I might have the same problem here.

Maybe I should call Jason Gunn.

It wasnt a problem though, it’s well signposted and along a 4WD farm track.

Past a lot of staring cows.

I was nearly at the beach now. I sill hadn’t had any lunch by this time. I was going to be at the river crossing fairly soon, and I would be four hours early for the low tide crossing, so I’ll wait until then and cook some pasta.

I was excited to get to the beach. I hadn’t seen the beach since Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore.

Still going the right way, apparently

Finally, I got a glimpse of it!

Can you see it?

There were more signs reminding you that you are on private land.

These cows are here making sure you respect the whenua.

When I finally got to the beach, I was a bit disappointed at what I saw.

I soon after felt a burning on my left ankle. I figured it was sand that had got into my boots and was rubbing. I was wrong. It was this:

I didn’t know what that was. I tried to think what it might be and as I was doing that, an earwig crawled out of my boot and onto the sand. Oh gee… has that been in my boot all day since the holiday park, where I saw them on my tent? Probably! I think it had bitten me. Ouch.

I changed into my crocs so that I didn’t irritate it, and also because the river crossing was coming up soon.

This beach wasn’t as nice as I hoped. It was a black sand beach, and with all the dead trees it kind of reminded me of the elephant graveyard from The Lion King.

And the wind… oh god the wind. I had not anticipated this. There is no way I will be cooking on the beach in this wind. Sand was constantly blowing down the beach – everything I had was getting covered in sand. Aargh. I’m going to be very hungry for a while, it seems – probably until I get to camp at about 8pm.

At least I was walking with the wind, rather than into it. If the wind was blowing towards me, that would have been a nightmare.

I tried to capture a photo of all the sand blowing down the beach

I was at the river crossing at 5:15pm. Low tide was 8:35pm. Nearly three and a half hours early.

Cross here

Looks deep. Not that you can really tell.

The weather looks nice here, but the wind was howling and the rain was threatening. I’m here way before low tide but I might as well try to cross. I took my pack off and started to walk across the river. But it became too deep quite quickly, so I retreated.

There was no shelter from the howling wind and blowing sand here. And it was freezing cold by now. So much for the first day of summer. I put on my jacket and just stood there, facing away from the wind.

I sent a message to Ethan telling him what to expect tomorrow when he came through this way, but didn’t do much more than that because the phone was getting sand in it. So I sat down behind the biggest log in the area to try and get some shelter.

An hour later, at 6:20pm, I tried the crossing again. I shuffled out into the river, very slowly. My decision was that if it didn’t reach my groin, then it would be okay as it wouldn’t get my pack wet. But at about halfway it started to get too deep. I retreated again.

I walked up and down a bit to see if there were other places that might be better to cross, but it didn’t look like it, and because of the colour of the water, you couldn’t see how deep it was anywhere. Plus they had put these orange markers out, so somebody has clearly done this research already. While I was doing this, people were on the other side of the river in the distance in 4WD vehicles. I think they wondered what I was doing just standing there doing nothing. Or they thought I was some idiot that didn’t know about the low tide crossing. I did know about it obviously… I just didn’t anticipate the wind.

At 6:50pm, I tried again. Success – I made it across and my shorts remained dry as I had rolled up the legs of the shorts as much as I could. So I crossed back to the original side, got my pack, and did the crossing again. Hooray, I had crossed the river – 1 hour 45 minutes before low tide.

The campsite was just a bit further on – down a track that 4WD vehicles were using to drive onto the beach.

The unpowered section of the Koitiata Campsite

I was the only tent on the Koitiata Campsite. There were a few campervans, but they were mostly in the powered sections which were at the other end. I think this is the first time I’ve camped in my tent with no other tents around since Mt. Tamahunga, north of Auckland, when I camped in the gorse. That was a while ago now.

Finally, at 7:30pm, I got to have some food. I missed lunch, but I had a big pasta dinner to compensate. And yes, by this time I was still buzzing about meeting Jacinda. I might not get any sleep tonight!

I then spent two minutes going to the bathroom. When I got back, a bird had crapped on my power bank! I was only gone two minutes!!

You little shit (literally)

One thing I did notice today is a crack on the back of my phone. That’s very strange – I don’t remember any kind of impact or anything that would cause this. The same thing happened to the front of my phone earlier in the year – cracks on the screen and I don’t know how they happened. I might have to buy myself a new phone for Christmas, and it won’t be another Samsung.

And I guess the weather did change for the first day of summer – change for the worse it seems.

Although in saying that, I stayed up writing blog posts until after dark. I went over to see the sunset as the sun went down. It was beautiful – much more beautiful than this picture shows.

Koitiata sunset

I kept writing until 10.20pm with the headlamp on, when a big cockroach appeared on the table where I was working and so I ran off to the tent. Eww, how did it get there – in the centre of the table top – had he been there the whole time while I was cooking my pasta? I won’t be eating breakfast there in the morning!

Come to think of it, maybe that’s how random bugs are getting inside the tent every now and again. Perhaps I keep stuff outside, then bugs get into the stuff and I bring the stuff inside the tent later. I’m definitely gonna be more vigilant from now on. I do NOT want any cockroaches inside the tent. Nor any spiders as big as the one I saw on the canoe yesterday.

This certainly has been an eventful and long first day back walking after five days on the river. I can’t work out if meeting Jacinda was better than the Tongariro Crossing or not. I’ll have to have a think about that one.

Today's walk on the map (blue = Te Araroa, red = today's walk):

4 thoughts on “Day 67 – Whanganui to Koitiata

  • gidday matt you are meeting a lot of people, that was a surprise meeting jacinda.
    good luck with the rest of your trek you will soon be in wellinton.

  • Hi Matt, I will try to keep tabs on when you get nearer to Otaki. I presume you will go up to Otaki Forks and do the “fence line” walk enroute to Waikanae and later the Escarpment track which I am sure you will enjoy of the weather gods are smiling for you.

    • I don’t know where the route goes after Palmy yet. I haven’t got around to studying it yet! The escarpment track sounds familiar though.

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