Trek for Life -Te Paki to Kohukohu

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Where: Te Paki to Kohukohu, Far North, Northland, New Zealand
Distance & Time: Six days of hiking, approx 200km, one rest day
Take: Sleeping bag, tent, hiking clothes, toiletries. Food, showers and toilets provided
Amenities on route: Breakfast and dinner provided each day, pack your lunch from the food provided. Medics available each day, toilet and shower truck also available.
Cost of the walk: The cost of the trek differs depending on whether you walk, bike or horse ride.


In March 2020, I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to do the inaugural Trek for Life, a wonderful week long event that brings together a fabulous community of walkers, bikers, and horse trekkers to explore Aotearoa New Zealand while raising funds for first responders in the regions.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect venturing into this. All I had to go on was the website, which got me very excited, and their facebook page. I knew it was going to be a phenomenal week, but ohmygosh, I couldn’t have imagined just how brilliant it would be. Or how incredibly sore my feet would get!

I had never been that far north in New Zealand before (shocking, I know), so I was really looking forward to exploring parts of Aotearoa that I’d never seen, as well as venturing through private land that I knew most people would never get the opportunity to see.

The Trek is between 25-40km each day, with three days on, a rest day, and then three more days of walking. I was expecting there to be more walkers, but all up there were 130 horse riders, 14 bike riders, and 48 walkers. Plus all the support crew, voluteers, marshals, chefs, medics, vets, and farriers – all up there were around 250 of us completing and supporting the trek.

Driving up to Northland, we parked our cars at the end camp at Kohukohu and jumped on the bus with our luggage for the three hour drive up to the top of the island. Shout out to our bus driver that stopped just outside of Kaitaia to allow us a bathroom break and to purchase a much needed ice cream!

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Our view from camp on the first night

Arriving at the start camp was slightly overwhelming. I was doing the trek on my own and didn’t know a single soul there. However, once I’d checked in and received my trek pass I was free to go and find a spot to set up tent. A couple of others that I’d met on the bus and I all set up our tents around the same spot before we congregated in the marquee for our first muster (daily briefing) and dinner.

The muster went over what we could expect from the week ahead and introduced us to the key people on the trek. Selina, Twyla + Lohnet were our information gurus, while Rob would tell us about the trek that would be ahead of us the following day. We were also introduced to our fabulous medics Simon + Ali, the marshalls, the vet and the farrier. So many cool people coming together for a brilliant cause and of course, to have a week load of awesome fun!

Day one – 28km Te Paki to Te Kao

Day one, although I didn’t know it yet, would be the only morning of the entire trek where I was able to pack away a dry tent. Breakfast was served from 6.30am and this was also the time where we would pack our lunch for the day. We were all asked to bring our own crockery for meals, and plastic containers for packing our lunch in, and this worked really well. All thoughts of perhaps losing some weight on this walk absolutely went out the window after last night’s dinner – roast chicken with stuffing, salads, vegetables, and sticky date pudding for dessert. YUM! Breakfast was similar with bacon, eggs, beans, porridge, cereals and toast all available for us. And for those who needed their caffeine fix, there was even a coffee cart!

After breakfast it was time to pack up my tent and bag, and pop it all into the luggage truck that would be transporting it to our next campsite. Absolute bliss not having to carry it all with me! I just had a day pack with some warm clothing, sandshoes, sunscreen, water and my lunch in it. And my trusty walking pole, although I didn’t have to envisage using it too much while we were on the beach portion of the trek.

Every morning the walkers would start off first, followed by the bikers 15 minutes later, and the horse riders 15 minutes after that. Our first day of trekking started with 13km along Ninety Mile Beach. We started by following the Te Paki Stream past the Te Paki sand dunes before we arrived on the beach. And ohmygoodness, what a stunning beach it is!

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Walking along Te Paki Stream to Ninety Mile Beach

There was absolutely no wind so the sea was incredibly calm, just a gentle wave breaking on the shoreline. We could see a wee island offshore with a huge hole in the rock (personally, I thought it was much cooler than its famous cousin on the East Coast) It was really cool starting off as a walker because the entire beach just stretched in front of us with no one else on it as far as we could see. The bikers soon sped past us though, they were loving the hard sand that they were able to easily cycle on!

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My first glimpse of Ninety Mile Beach. It is glorious.

Soon enough the horses started to pass us too. They were quite good though and the riders would say ‘horses on your left’ so we weren’t too startled as they came past – it’s really hard to hear horse hooves in the sand.

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Walking along Ninety Mile Beach

Once we came off the beach into a forestry track it was time for lunch. While we were able to stop and eat anywhere we wanted, a truck would be at around the half way point with water, a portaloo, and if people wanted to stop walking here, they could jump in the van for a ride up to the camp.

After lunch we followed the forestry track as it meandered through pine forest. I hadn’t realised that pine trees grow so readily in sandy ground, but there you go! After an hour or so we went through a fence and were on farmland and in the distance I could see the endcamp. After a bit of up and down hill walking we eventually arrived at camp. I was one of the first walkers home and was super eager to set my tent up, shower and relax. However, my plan was thwarted when upon arrival we realised we had arrived before our luggage track! But it was all good as it enabled the walkers to get to know each other a bit more before the luggage track arrived. As soon as the truck arrived we all set our tents up as close to the luggage truck as possible as we didn’t want to have to lug our bags too far!

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First sight of camp – you can see it on the hill in the distance

Honestly, that first shower was absolute bliss. It was short, but it was wonderful.

I was in bed by 8.30 that night. As I think most walkers were, considering that we knew we had a huge day ahead of us tomorrow!

Day two – 40km Te Kao to Hukatere

This day started with packing up a very damp tent after a night with some rain and no wind to dry it. Every other camper was in the same position though, and we knew that it would be able to air out in a few hours once we were at our next campsite.

This was our longest day on the trail at 40km, with 20km along forestry roads before another 20km along Ninety Mile Beach. We started walking while there was a wee bit of drizzle but we all soon warmed up and the rainjackets came off!

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Forestry tracks that alternated between sandy and gravel. My least favourite terrain to trek on.

I got over the forestry road very quickly. It’s flat, it is gravel, and it’s pine trees as far as you can see. Even though I was wearing my hiking boots which I’ve had for years, my feet were starting to feel pain at the lunch break, which was not a good sign!

But to get out of the forest we had our first obstacle to overcome – trekking through a knee high bog. I thankfully had my sandals in my bag so switched my boots for them to wade through, others pulled on their gaiters or went barefeet or just kept their sneakers on. I’m glad I took mine off even though I’m sure it can’t have been good going through that water for my blisters. 

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The bog – you can see a cyclist just coming to the end of it

Following the bog we were back onto the beach but unfortunately we didn’t have the stunning weather that we had the day prior – it was overcast with a rainy patches and the flat sea of yesterday was a memory. I managed to hang on for another 10km, all the time hoping like heck one of the trek vehicles would come past and I could grab a lift to the camp. When one finally came I jumped on gratefully and as soon as I got back to camp and had set up my tent and showered, I went to see the medics to have my feet seen to, and as you can see from the photo below, they needed it!

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The state of my feet after seeing the medic. I’ve done loads of multi-day hikes before but my feet had never reacted like this.

At dinner that night, I had a few looks as I was walking gingerly on my feet and everyone could see the bandages as I was wearing my jandals. I ended up chatting to a guy in the dinner queue and as you do, was asking him how he’d found the day. He had biked it and found it ok but was switching to walking tomorrow. I immediately lit up and asked if that meant he had a bike free, and if so, would he mind lending it to me as I didn’t think my feet could do 35km of walking the next day! He very kindly offered me the use of his bike for the following day, I just had to hope my feet would be ok!

Day three – 35km Hukatere to Ahipara

Waking up today and knowing I had two days of not having to walk ahead of me was heaven. I was a little bit anxious of how riding a bike on the beach was going to go, but the cyclists had seemed to do ok so far so I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. After breakfast I went to pick up the bike off Ra + Colleen, and I was off! As I was riding past the walkers on the beach they all asked how it was and my honest answer is that it was absolutely glorious! I was riding on hard sand, my feet weren’t hurting in my sneakers, and I was riding at a fairly quick pace. However, there was one thing I’d forgotten – the incoming tide.

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Being on a bike meant almost having the whole of Ninety Mile Beach to myself! I was pushing the bike at this stage as the sand was too soft to walk on – you can see the tire tracks with my footprints next to them.

The first hour went by very quickly but after that I found I was having to jump off the bike and walk it more and more as the hard sand was disappearing as the tide came in, and with it, I was getting chased higher and higher up the beach, until I was almost in the dunes! Oddly, walking while pushing a bike was easier than just walking on my feet, I think because I was able to lean onto the bike to take some of the pressure off. Just as I was starting to think I must be near halfway (ie, lunch stop), a woman walked past me on the beach. Considering there wasn’t any sign of civilisation that I could see in the distance I asked her where in the world she had come from, and she replied the landing where our lunch break was, about 15 minutes away. Hurrah!

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With the tide coming in I had no option but to push my bike on the soft sand and try to stay out of the water!

At lunch most of the bikers were there as well as some of the horse riders. The bikers and walkers ended up having a long lunch break as we needed to wait for the tide to start going back out before we could resume our trek along the beach. Fortunately, it wasn’t a hard ask, to sit on the grass, eat some kai and have a wee nap!

After an hour or so I was starting to get restless so took my bike back down to the beach. It was similar, a bit of walking, then a few metres of cycling, back to walking, and so it went. Every so often I’d walk my bike onto the wet sand to see if it was hard enough to ride, if so I’d jump on until it got too wet and off I’d come again. Still, it made things interesting. I could see Ahipara in the distance and knew that’s where I needed to get to! Just when the sand started to get easier to ride on though, we got a head wind. That made things a bit tougher but I just kept cycling and eventually came to the pink flag that told me to head up the beach, cross the wee creek and follow the signs to our camp in Ahipara.

Amy’s Advice – take more pairs of socks on this walk than you think you’d ever need, and always take at least one-two pairs in your backpack with you each day, if you hate walking with wet feet (which most people do!) 

I was quite content cycling through Ahipara and having a wee look around the small town when I came across something incredible. I didn’t even think, I just steered my bike across the road, parked it up and went inside. It was a dairy. With icecream in the cone! I swear to you, I have never tasted an icecream as good as my double cookies and cream and goody gum drop icecream tasted that day. Sensational. I was sitting outside with my treat waving at all the horseriders who were coming past, but many of them had made a rookie mistake and not bought their wallets with them! However, a few of them did and stopped to get their icecream treat but instead of parking up their bikes, they just parked up their horses – the sights you see on this trek!

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Bikers, walkers and horses all getting their ice cream fix at the Ahipara Store!

While putting the tent up at camp it was so nice knowing that I didn’t have to take it down the next morning, and could even have a sleep in. There was a band after dinner that night in the marquee but I decided to hunker down in my tent instead to rest my feet, and it was super cosy, lying in my tent while listening to live music outside.

Day four – Rest day in Ahipara

Even though breakfast today was served later than usual I didn’t bother to get up and instead slept in until after 9 and it was so worth it. At muster the previous evening they had mentioned that there would be rides into town throughout the day for those who wanted it, so I got myself sorted and in the process started chatting to my tent neighbour who said they were heading in and had a ride and I could jump in with them if I wanted. So we went next door to the horse paddock to meet the couple who were giving us a ride and it ended up being in their camper, so we chilled on their bed as they drove us the couple of km into town. I jumped out at the cafe as they kept going into Kaitaia, as they were heading to a friend’s place to do some much needed washing!

Spending the day at the beach and eating and giving my feet a break was exactly what they needed today in order to be able to do another three days of walking.

That night an auction was held to raise money for first responders in Northland and everyone came to the party with more than $16,000 being raised – an epic amount! Some of the goods and experiences on offer were incredible, my favourites were the stunning homemade rocking horse made from natural wood that was just beautiful, and the most adorable wee puppy! The puppy elicited much joy from everyone at camp that evening, and he went to a great home at the end of the night!

Day five – 35km Ahipara – Herekino

This was my favourite day on the track. My feet felt better after two days of rest (hurrah!) and we were going to be mixing up the scenery today with walking through gum fields, beach, sand dunes and forest!

Admittedly, most of the walkers did get a ride for the first 8km, which was along the road and up quite a large hill. My thinking was that I didn’t want to waste 8km of my feet along a road as I wasn’t sure how they were going to be today. And also I just wanted to get to the epic sand dunes, we had been told we would be trekking down them for more than 3km, which I was very much looking forward to. 

We got dropped off at the top of the hill and started our trek through the old gum fields. I wasn’t really that focused on them though, I wanted to get to the sand dunes! And ohmygoodness, what incredible sand dunes they were. 

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Walking through the old gumfields

It was pretty special to be some of the first people to trek down the sand dunes in the early morning. The views were spectacular and it was just such fun slip sliding our way down the dunes. We thought that once we reached the bottom of the dunes that that would be our sand walking done for the day, not realising that 90% of today’s walk was going to be sand based! 

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On top of the most amazing sand dunes!

I had heard about people spotting free/wild horses while walking but I had yet to see any (admittedly, I hadn’t been looking for them) but today was my lucky day and it was so neat to see these majestic creatures just roaming the land. We saw a couple of adult horses and their foal at one of our river mouth crossings, and then another couple of adults near the beach towards the end of today’s walk. 

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Sand dunes galore

There were a couple of small holiday homes that we passed and I think the only access must have been by beach as there were no tracks that we could see. They were in the most amazing location and the definition of getting away from it all, with no cellphone reception and no other sign of civilisation around! We came across a small settlement and met a guy there who had driven his 4WD along the beach and was now waiting until the tide went out, and we were able to have a good chat to him. He’d grown up in the area and told us some incredible stories of who lived here, and what life was like as a child here. It felt pretty special to have him there to share a part of his life with us. 

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Trying to climb up a sand dune is much more difficult than going down

After we left the settlement we had the fun of trying to clamber up a giant sand dune. As you can imagine, this was a wee bit harder than going down one but we had fun. I had never realised how incredibly sandy Northland is, and how much can grow in sand. On our drive up on the first day there were thousands of avocado trees planted in sandy ground (they love it apparently) and a lot of foresty is planted in the sand too. 

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I was not a huge fan of horses prior to this trek, but they grew on me

We curved in and out of several bays, sometimes walking along the shoreline and other times on the hills above the beach. All of it was glorious although it sometimes felt a bit perilous being a walker in a narrow sand walkway with horses coming up behind us, especially with those horses that had a red ribbon in their tail – a sign that they didn’t like people/were a bit skittish! These were the ones that walkers were most nervous of passing us, especially in spaces where there wasn’t a lot of room to step aside. 

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Walking around one of the many bays

We left the beach and headed up through forestry to our lunch break but we took a wee pre-lunch break when we found some shade just to have some water and a snack as we had been walking for 3+ hours without a stop, and it had been a hard sand slog for 90% of that! 

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Beach, river, horse, me.

At the lunch stop I made the decision that I was going to get a ride back to camp. There was 8km to go and it was along gravel forestry roads – not particularly exciting and the worse terrain for me to walk on with my feet in the state they were. I wasn’t the only one who made this decision, and the van was full heading back to camp. 

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A trio of free/wild horses we spotted

At camp that night we had the option to head down to the Herekino pub for cocktails and karaoke. I made what I think was the clever decision to head to bed, as we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow but I didn’t miss out completely, as there was a bit of singing going on around the camp until the early hours! 

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The ride that was put on for those going to the pub tonight

Day six – 28km Herekino – Broadwood

Our second to last day of walking and our first day where we didn’t have any beach walking at all. Today was farmland and it was actually a really pleasant change from what we had done so far. All the walkers were lined up at 8am ready to go, and when we were asked how many of us had made it to the pub the night before, none of us raised our hands! We all knew the benefits of getting to bed early and not walking with a hangover.

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Walkers at the beginning of the day (we spread out quite a bit after the first 30 minutes)

Walking up the road until we hit the bush made for a really pleasant morning of walking. The ground was quite rutted from previous rain so it was a case of taking it slow and really watching were we walked. Once out of the bush it was back up a gravel road to our lunch stop and then it was all farmland. 

I actually really enjoyed trekking over farmland, but ohmygoodness I felt sorry for the bikers today. They had it rough, there were very few parts they could easily bike so they mostly ended up walking and pushing their bikes today. It was tough going! 

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Lunch stop

Today was one of the few days that there were kilometre markers out on the course as well. Four of us ended up walking most of today together and my goodness, I think we all needed it. We kept each other motivated, well hydrated and sunscreened! There was a huge amount of walking today but the part I actually found the hardest were the kilometres down a gravel road, although the cyclists seemed to enjoy it! 

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Quite different views and terrain to what we had the previous few days

One of the bonuses of today was coming across a field of berries! While we were at the end of the berry season, there were still a few juicy morsels to be found and this was one of the benefits of being a walker – we could stop and easily pick and eat the berries! I did my good deed of the day though and shared my bounty with some of the horse trekkers that were there at the same time. My karma was quickly rewarded when we came to a water crossing that we weren’t expecting and one of the marshalls gave us all (and our packs!) a piggy back ride across! 

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Picking the last of the wild berries

At dinner that evening I found that he and another marshal hadn’t only given us four a piggy back across, they’d given most of the female walkers a ride (no such luck for the men, unfortunately!) We all banded together to pop some coins together and shouted them both a couple of drinks, and I was nominated by the other walkers to stand up and share this story as part of the daily ‘Koala Award’, a nightly occurrence when stories were shared of good deeds done on the trail that day, while the Monkey Award went to that person who did the most muppet-like thing on trek, and had the ignominy of wearing a soft toy monkey around their neck for the next day.  

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Getting a piggy back ride across the water crossing!

That night I had one of the best sleeps I’d had on the trek so far, my tent was set up on nice firm grass (we were at the Broadwood showgrounds) and I was feeling good with our last day of trekking tomorrow, and our shortest day so far. 

Day seven – 20km Broadwood – Kohukohu

The last day and I had to seriously suck it up to get these last 20km done. I’d gone to bed the night before feeling great. I’d seen the medics and had my feet seen to and even though they were sore, they were not as bad as other nights. However I woke up this morning and my feet were aching, my blisters were incredibly painful and I was limping right from when we left camp to start the walk, which didn’t bode well at all. I wore my sneakers and I just had to keep moving, I couldn’t stop otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to get going again. 

We started on gravel road heading up hill again today which I didn’t mind as it took pressure off some of my blisters but I did find myself doing a weird mish-mash of a walk/hobble/jog for most of today’s walk, and I relied very heavily on my hiking pole. 

I found myself switching between chatting to different walkers today as my pace was so bizarre that I couldn’t really stick with any one group as sometimes I would have to slow my pace right down and other times I was almost running to try and change the pressure up of my feet in my shoes. 

Knowing that we only had 20km I had estimated that I’d be getting into camp around lunchtime so I didn’t need to stop to eat today, I just ate some snacks while walking. The main topic of conversation from the walkers today was how pleased we were that this was our shortest day and what our plans were next, our future travels for 2020 (obviously this was before we realised how much Covid-19 would cancel many of our planned trips), and how much we were looking forward to the trek next year! There was talk of the big party at camp that night which a few of us were staying for, but there were quite a few of us who needed to leave as soon as we got back to camp. It was so good arriving and being able to say goodbye to quite a few of the walkers, and I know that I’ll see many of them again next year. 

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Our final camp! I got a bit choked up finally seeing this in the distance

The whole week was the most phenomenal experience. I went up knowing absolutely no one and having no idea what I was in for (apart from a lot of walking!) The jaw-dropping scenery, incredible hospitality from our hosts and many of the locals we met along the way, the generosity of many of the landowners, Iwi and whanau for allowing us to trek along their land, the many volunteers who spent their time laying out the course, marshaling, looking after the horses (and the humans!), feeding us, and of course, the brilliant organisers who spent months putting together this week. They all did an outstanding job and I cannot wait to see what they have put together for us in 2021. 

The photos of me were taken by some very kind people on the trek, in particular Jude + Mandy, and I took the others!

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2 comments

  1. Oh gosh, that is quite an effort! I have some training to do before I get to that stage haha! Well done you! What an achievement and a beautiful life long memory. Isn’t New Zealand so stunning?

    1. Thank you! Northland is an absolutely stunning region of New Zealand, definitely want to get back up and spend some more time there!

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