Welcome back to another “actually on time” blog post. This is become a bit regular for my liking. Nonetheless, today I’ll be chatting about the longest stretch away from civilisation on my Te Araroa journey so far, from Te Kuiti to Taumarunui.
I left Te Kuiti quite late in the day (around 1 in the afternoon) after having had a lazy morning, doing some internet bits, chatted on Skype (yes, the internet in NZ libraries/cafes is good enough to Skype with and free and unlimited, unlike some countries I’ve recently been residing in), and had a final coffee (coffee has become my ultimate rest and relaxation activity, not to mention a very enjoyable way to pass the time). Almost immediately out of Te Kuiti the track passes into the Mangaokewa reserve and river tracks, which, after a few mills and quarry’s, take you out into the countryside, following the flow of the Mangaokewa stream (predictably). There were quite a few tents up this track at various points, though I never actually saw any people (mysterious), and while the walking was mostly very pleasant, there were a few very sketchy goat track sections over very steep valley sides, which were somewhat precarious with a big bag on my back. Fortunately, I didn’t fall off, and I ended up camping part way up the river track in a lovely little glade by the stream. The drawback of camping in such a picturesque area being that the constant babble of the brook made me need the toilet all night. The hazards of living in fantastic surroundings I guess.
From my camp, I made it out of the river track and onto a 35km road section to Pureora, a small Department of Conservation station with a campsite. The first 26km of the road walk were on a very quiet road where I saw a grand total of 5 vehicles (3 of which were big trucks involved in some road resurfacing), however by the end of this bit my feet were bruised and battered. Fortunately when I made it to state highway 30 (about 9km from Pureora, and about 2 hours before dark), another lovely kiwi stopped almost straight away and offered me a lift (again, I wasn’t hitchhiking per se, he just stopped and offered), which really made my day, as 9km of state highway are not the most exciting bits of New Zealand, and my feet might well have fallen off by the end of it. I spent that night at the DoC campsite, which was extremely comfortable, with toilet and potable water on tap, though as seems to be the trend out here, it rained over night, leaving my tent fairly wet.
I had a bit of a lie in the next morning, as it was going to be a relatively short day’s walking, and I figured after the long road walk I’d deserved a break. From Pureora campsite, it was up a mountain bike track called the timber trail, and then a small foot track to Pureora summit, at a grand height of 1165 metres above sea level, from which I had an excellent clear view in every direction (the weather kindly broke for my time on the summit). Then off the other side to a DoC hut called Bog Inn, which looks like it sounds. It took a fair effort to get the fire going in the hut (all the wood in the store was damp, and there was no dry kindling), and even when I did I’m pretty sure it made no difference to the temperature, but nonetheless, a fire is a nice thing to have when it’s damp and cold. I dried my stuff as far as possible, and then had a good night’s rest (even in the old huts, it’s great to be out of your tent and in the dry)… though something (which sounded like a bear, but was probably a large rat) spent much of the night scratching around on the hut, trying to get in… or out… or something.
The following day it started off drizzly, and then got a lot wetter. This was my first proper wet day on the trail, and it really went for it! By about midday I was utterly soaked to the skin (through waterproof jacket, trousers, boots, and bag cover) to the extent that when I came to a large stream crossing, I just continued walking, as I couldn’t get any wetter (my boots were already squelching).
This was a fairly miserable day of trudging through mud and up/down extremely steep muddy banks, but I knew that there was the Waihaha hut (again, I’m not making these names up) somewhere at the end of the day. I reached the hut at about 5, and was greeted by one of the best sights which could have met me – smoke coming from the chimney of the hut! Inside I found 2 policemen (Bill and Ian) who were out on a 5 day hunting trip (replete with big rifles and knives… hunting deer, not criminals), on which they had successfully hunted… Nothing. They were very interested in the route of Te Araroa, and gave me a lot of good pointers of bits which I should try to do over Christmas (when I’ll be taking a bit of a break from the trail for a while, more on that nearer the time), while I tried (unsuccessfully) to dry out my clothes and boots. As a side note, they also told me that New Zealand has pretty good whiskey availability, and you can get Aberlour out here, a delicious whiskey which I was totally unable to optain in Australia. Something worth noting for the future.
Unfortunately, the next day the rain still hadn’t stopped. I suppose the one saving grace of this was that my boots and socks were far from dry anyway, so it wouldn’t make much difference really. The rain continued until around midday, and then eased off (it didn’t really stop, but at least wasn’t quite so bad), and buoyed by the improving conditions and dreams of coffee (no joking, your mind goes to weird places on the trail) I hiked on, and got to the Hauhungaroa hut by around half past 3. This is a 6 person hut, fully stocked with coal and everything! It took little effort to get a fire going here, and so with a toasty hut all to myself, I spread out my belongs (all of which were utterly drenched, and began “operation dry out”.
The next morning everything but my boots was dry, but it was utterly chucking it down outside again. I had a look at my food supply (dwindling but still alright), and the distance left to cover to Taumarunui (about 40km, mostly along quiet roads), and decided to have a day of rest in the hut, getting my boots dry (at time of writing they’re still somewhat damp), writing this blog post, doing a bit of reading, and a bit of general Wildlife observation. At this point it seems fitting to point out how excellent the NZ back country huts are. They’re a fantastic resources for hikers, hunters, folks who fancy a night out of civilisation, and no doubt a bunch of other user groups I can’t think of. It’s really a giant morale boost to know that at the end of the day you’ll be able to sleep in a warm, dry, bed and dry out your clothes etc. Unfortunately, I fear they would not be plausible back in the UK, as the intense population would put giant pressures on them, not to mention our tendency to not look after things…
After my day of rest in the hut, I awoke early to a gorgeous sunny morning, with barely a cloud in the sky. Having had an excellent night’s sleep, I decided to get going asap, and use my new found energy to get ahead a bit. I was out and on my way by half past 7 (it now gets light here around 6 in the morning, if not a little earlier), and though the weather remained fantastically sunny and warm, the vegetation was all still soaked, and so my lovely dry boots and trousers were drenched again within an hour of setting off. The path down from the hut was in pretty good condition, though there were vast (VAST!) pools of standing water in places, which needed considerable circumnavigation.
On reaching the end of this track, I knew I was still a good 35km from Taumarunui, and so I was assuming I’d have to camp in a patch of woodland along the way somewhere. However, due in part to a titanic effort, and in part to a general downhill aspect, I managed to march out the 35km surprisingly quickly (largely due to having seen a sign around midday which said “Taumarunui 26km”, at which I thought ” I could get there by 6….”). On the way, I caught my first sight of the next leg of the journey, which (worryingly) is currently covered in snow, despite the temperature where I am being in the mid twenties!
Somewhat annoyingly, the holiday park where I was planning to stay was at the far end of Taumarunui, which is an extremely long, extremely thin, town. Nonetheless, I made it there by 7, and discovered that the owners are huge Te Araroa supporters, offering TA walkers a discount, and a lovely herb garden and Silverbeet crop (very rich in iron, so I’m told). As a consequence (and partially due to some very wet weather apparently incoming) I’ve ended up staying in Taumarunui for a few days, which is fine by me, as it’s a lovely little (long) town, and I need to psyche myself up for the next leg, over the Tongariro crossing, and past Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe… Which was used for Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films)!
I’m not entirely sure if the next post will be the Tongariro crossing post, or a small “kit” post, as requested by Ed, but either way, hopefully all will end up nicely on time.
Until next time