Early in our trip, we met a German woman who was hitchhiking through New Zealand. Based on advice she received from the information centre in Napier, she passed through the Kaweka Forest on a hiking and camping trip. And based on her advice to us, we did the same.
We started at a campsite on Makahu Road and met the friendly camp warden named Warren. He invited us under his tent to share dinner and share stories, as we were the only campers there that night. As the full moon started to rise, he invited us to see his local glow worms. Along a small creek, beside a trickling mossy waterfall, all you hear is the water babbling through. The moon’s light is hidden in this small valley with walls lined with leafy ferns. We turned off our torches and the glow worms lit up the walls. Though it was dark, I could tell Warren’s face lit up too. “These are my natural twinkle lights,” he said, and I could feel the smile on his face.
The next morning, Simon and I began a 3-hour hike to Te Puia Lodge along the Makino River. Uphill, downhill, over rocks and along steep rock faces, we saw beautiful panoramic views of the river.
When we arrived at the lodge, it was empty, with only a forgotten cherry tomato by a bench outside from an unknown traveller off to other places now.
When we arrived, it was worth it. Exactly as the German hitchhiker had said it was. In the middle of the forest, with the river rushing behind you, you sit in a naturally heated hot pool, staring at a wall of faces. Every face had been carved by past visitors, some old and moss covered, some new and still fresh. So, sitting with my feet in the water, I carved one to add to the collection. Unfortunately, my camera died before I could document my artwork, but it is a little winking alien face blowing a kiss.
The following night, back at the campsite off Makahu Road, we visited the nearby Mangatutu Hot Springs. Sitting in the hot pools, with the bright moon lighting up the forested hills around us, quiet except for the sound of kiwis in the distance, it felt surreal, like a true New Zealand experience.