I’ll apologise now for the giant space between posts. This has largely been due to me being rather busy running around doing bits of work, bits of planning, and bits of running off to new countries. To summarise, I’ve been up to the Northern Territory, over to Queensland, down to Victoria, up to New South Wales, and now off to New Zealand.
Due to the technicalities of technical issues, blog posts covering the stuff I’ve missed out so far are on their way, but will be released in an eclectic manner as and when they become available/complete/suitable for public consumption.
In the meantime however, let me give you an intro to the second section of my galavanting: New Zealand. New Zealand is famed as a country for outdoor pursuits, with many folks coming over here for the skiing, skydiving, bungee jumping, surfing, and just about anything else you can do to get the blood pumping round you a bit faster. However I’m reliably told (by various resources about walking) that walking/hiking/”tramping” (as the kiwis call it) is the national pass-time of New Zealand. It therefore seemed a pretty obvious opportunity to get stuck into a bit of hiking for an alternative way to see a fantastically beautiful country, without doing all the usual tourist stuff. A bit of reading around showed me that there is a track, akin to the U.S.’s Appalachian trail and Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Cape Reinga at the north of the north island, to Bluff, at the South of the South island, called “Te Araroa”. This trail is essentially made up of loads of separate tracks which are connected together over public and private land, so that you can literally walk none-stop from one end of the country to the other.
How hard can it be? I’ve walked before, I’ve camped before, I’ve travelled before. It’s just that… but on a slightly larger scale.
All of the recommendations for the trail suggest starting around October in the North, and then walking south, which allows you to miss the worst weather, and various lambing seasons (when sections of private land are closed) and other stuff. Therefore a plan formed, to start in October, walk to Wellington by Christmas, meet my brother there for a bit of holiday (he was looking for an excuse to go on holiday), and then do part of the South island in the new year, before I head home.
After a bit of consideration, it became clear that I probably couldn’t do the whole trail in the time available to me, and so I decided to cut it down a little, and do sections of it instead.
As I would be flying into Auckland airport, and Te Araroa passes straight past the airport, that was a logical place to start, and getting from there to Wellington (around 30-50 walking days) by December seemed quite possible. So that’s what I’m doing.
I arrived in Auckland to immediately get caught up in the biocontrol system. Having been working in rural Australia and using a tent out there meant I was asked many questions, and my tent was unpacked and checked for seeds etc when I arrived at the airport. Fortunately all of the staff were super friendly (a general attribute of New Zealanders) and so the whole process was actually very smooth. Having successfully immigrated (at around 10 in the evening), I then spent my first night in New Zealand sleeping on a sofa in the airport… classy… and free.
The following morning I began my journey, walking out to Clevedon, to the East of Auckland. This was a pretty massive urban walk, mostly following back roads and the occasional road verge, though the Auckland traffic quite quickly quietened down, and I found myself walking country roads by the afternoon. This is the perfect testament of how sparsely populated New Zealand is. Half a day’s walk from the main airport and I was in rolling hills and quiet countryside. Looking up the statistics, the population of New Zealand is roughly 3/4 the size of the population of London. This explains a lot.
I spent the night free camping out in the bush above Clevedon, and then strolled down in the morning to pick up a few supplies, before heading out to the Hunua ranges, a set of forested hills/mountains, with walks all through them.
The Hunua ranges were my first experience of north island forests, which I’d heard were pretty tough, but experiencing them in person was still quite an experience. Even the well trodden paths were entirely slippery mud, tripping roots, and catching vines, which made it very slow progress indeed, particularly given the rising and falling landscape. It took me about 4 hours to go 6km (average walking pace on normal ground is around 4km per hour). Fortunately, at the end of this tough slog was a lovely “basic” Department of Conservation campground, which was just what the doctor ordered after a tough day’s walking.
I then went a little slower the next day, planning to reach the end of the Hunua ranges by the end of the day. This was all going to plan, with some lovely gentle walking around some of the reservoirs and wetlands of the area, until I got to a point where the official Te Araroa route was closed due to forestry operations. Not to be perturbed by such minor problems, I decided to take a detour slightly to the East… over mt Mangatangi… which turned out to be rather a large mountain, covered in deep forest. Not quite what I’d planned.
Unfortunately, due to my detour, I was now somewhat out of place for resupplying at Mercer (as was the original plan), and so instead headed for Rangiriri, the closest place on the Te Araroa route. This was going to be a day of significant road walking, which isn’t the most enjoyable thing in the world, but thanks to kiwis being incredibly nice, it turned out to be a very pleasant day. I began the long walk early in the morning, and after only a kilometre or so, a car pulled up, and the lady inside offered me a lift 12km or so to the next junction (note: I wasn’t hitchhiking per se, she just pulled up to see if I wanted a lift!), so suddenly my pace increased significantly. I then walked around 15km further, and the same thing happened again, though with a Welsh expat this time. Suffice to say I made it to Rangiriri by mid afternoon, and having camped (or slept in an airport) every night so far, decided to stay at the Rangiriri tavern for the night (mostly because I wanted a shower and to wash my clothes). This was a very welcome break for my legs too, and the following day I felt thoroughly refreshed.
It was then a morning’s walk over flat farmland down to Huntly, before heading up the Hakarimata track. This was a much more pleasant northern forest experience, with a relatively dry track, and some fantastic views over Huntly to the north and Hamilton to the south. I spent the night on the grassy summit of one of the hills on the Hakarimata track, and then ventured down to Ngaruawahia in the morning, which turned out to be a very steep and very popular descent over steps, which people were running up and down (…lunatics)! From Ngaruawahia it was a gentle (if a little dull) walk into Hamilton, where I have spent a few days sorting out bank accounts, phone sim cards, and other odds and ends.
I’ve been very fortunate so far to avoid rain for all but one morning, though I don’t know how long my luck will hold out for on that front. The next step is 5 or 6 days of walking down to Te Kuiti which should be pleasantly out in the wilds and hopefully not quite as dairy farm riddled as the land so far.
Until next time (which might hopefully be from Te Kuiti)