If you want to read my bonus post on my equipment (an answer to Ed’s question of “What is working/what isn’t?”) then check it out here. There’re no pictures in that one, but there’s links so you can check out my recommendations etc.
This post is going to cover the trip from National Park to the bridge to nowhere to National Park to Raetihi… But for simplicity I thought I’d just call it National Park to Raetihi.
But why (I hear you ask) did I go back and forth and back and forth on my way to Raetihi… Which isn’t actually on the Te Araroa path at all? Well let me explain.
While I’m heading down the north island, I only actually have to arrive in Wellington by Christmas (ish) as my brother is flying out for some holiday. A bit of complex mathematics (vague guesswork) tells me that it’ll take about 35 days to get from here to Wellington, going slowly and stopping a lot on the way (I just met another TA walker called Elco who’s planning to do it in 12 days!), and therefore I had a couple of weeks to spare on the way down. I figured that on the way I’d take a little detour somewhere to see some additional stuff. The proper trail heads out of National Park and into the Whanganui national park. After a few days of walking in the park, you pick up a canoe and paddle down the Whanganui river for 2 days. However being skint, as I am, and thoroughly out of practice at canoeing, I didn’t particularly want to spend over a hundred dollars (enough for a good 3 week’s food) to paddle down a river for 2 days, magnificent though the Whanganui river is (and trust me, it is spectacular). Instead a bit of asking around told me that I could walk from National Park, out to the bridge to nowhere (more on that in a bit) and then down to Raetihi in about 5 days. I can then walk from Raetihi out to Pipiriki (I’ll add all of these places to my map of travels) and down the road to Jerusalem and on to Whanganui.
So that’s what I planned to do. However, having made it out to the Bridge to Nowhere, I decided this part of the walk was so beautiful (and peaceful, and not too difficult, and the weather is so fantastic at the moment) that it would make an excellent section to walk in, and fill up some of that spare time… So that’s what I did.
Heading out of National Park, the trail goes up Fisher’s track – a very well maintained cycle/walking path out to the middle of nowhere – which has some beautiful sections through the vast Whanganui forest, and is really easy to walk (and largely downhill on the way out from National Park). Although it’s a public road, it looks a lot like the back country roads you see in Lord of The Rings (easy to make links to those films for some reason). It then joins to some more solid roads (gravel and/or tarmac) down a beautiful valley of fields and forest, out to Whakahoro, which is a small settlement with a campsite, a cafe, and various touristy things (horse riding school, canoe delivery etc etc). This is a fairly long road walk, but it’s not unpleasant, as the road is very quiet, and passes through yet more beautiful scenery. That being said, road walking seems to take it’s toll on the soles of my feet, not so much blistering them (the term “thick skinned” has a very literal meaning on this journey), but just making them exhausted by the end of the day.
At the Blue Duck Cafe, they’re fans of the Te Araroa, and offer a free tea/coffee/hot chocolate to TA walkers as they pass through. As a side note, I should remember to write a list of “Dave’s favourite cafes along the Te Araroa” as a vaguely meaningless resource for other TA walkers… though I haven’t taken photos of any cafes yet, so it might well die a death. As another aside, whilst sat in the cafe with my free coffee, there were a few other people in there, including a Dutch bloke who had what seemed to be a world ending cold. This made me realise that in my whole time in Australia and New Zealand, I had one small cold for bout 2 days in Australia, and other than that I haven’t been ill at all (normally I catch everything which is going, as well as some things which aren’t!). Perhaps travelling makes you healthy…
Anyway, after staying at the DoC campsite at Whakahoro I headed out down the Whanganui valley. It’s largely quadbike and mountain bike tracks out there, and so is pretty easy to walk, with no roots or vines tripping you, and not even too much mud! The scenery through this valley is really quite spectacular, and I had to really focus not to spend the whole day taking photos and getting nowhere. I planned to stay at a campsite on the Mangapurua trig, however on reaching the trig I discovered that my map was lying to me, and there wasn’t actually a campsite there. Instead I had to push on another 2 and a half hours to reach the next campsite (another of the very well maintained DoC campsites). As it happens, the next day I would be spectacularly glad I had pushed on, but at the time, I felt near the limit of how far my feet were willing to carry me in one day, and so after a delicious meal of pasta and cheese (I might elaborate on food more in another post, suffice to say modern society would not consider my current diet “healthy”) I was asleep.
By this point I’d seen enough of the Whanganui national park to know that I could happily spend some more time walking around the area, and so decided to head back to National Park to re-supply, and then head back in and though to Raetihi. On waking up, I figured I’d get up early, head over to the bridge to nowhere, and then head back as far toward Whakahoro as I could. I’d been a bit silly though, a nd hadn’t actually loo. ked at how far it was from the campsite… It didn’t look too far on the map… (massive rookie error). Four hours of fairly brisk walking later, I reached the bridge. I guess now I’d better explain what the badgers is up with this bridge. The tale goes back to soldiers returning from World War 1 (which incidentally, a signpost over here referred to as “The Great European War”, rather than “The Great War”… Interesting). The government offered these soldiers plots of land up the Whanganui river, with which they could basically do what they like, though obviously most would use them for farming. The soldiers were promised a road would be built to access the land, and so 40 or so families invested 20+ years trying to make something of the land. Access was via days of hiking through bushland, or over the river. After years of no road being built, a bridge was finally put in place to join up land from either side of the river, however a few years later the whole road idea was abandoned (because the land was too remote), and so the bridge never got connected to anything. Ironically it’s apparently now one of the most popular areas to visit in the Whanganui national park.
Walking back I made it to about 10km shy of Whakahoro, which was another ludicrously long day’s walking through ferocious heat. The next day I just walked to Whakahoro and spent the day washing clothes, writing blog posts, and resting my feet. Another obscenely long walk got me back to National Park (seriously, it’s about 45km!) for a day of total relaxation, with much food consumption and lethargy. Before heading back out to Whakahoro in another colossal day. By this stage I was somewhat getting used to 35+km days, however I discovered that I have entirely burnt off all of my fat. Obviously in normal life this is great. However, while walking, it isn’t. The basic issue being that without fat to burn, I’m hungry… a lot… all the time, which means I eat through my food supplies quickly, and therefore have to bring more food, which is heavy, and means I need more energy to carry it, so need more food, which is heavy… you get the idea. Talking to other walkers/cyclists/active people, they tell me that the trick is to put fat in everything. Apparently the common solution is just to get a few big blocks of butter, and put them in everything you eat. So far I’m struggling with this approach (it’s difficult to see fast food as the healthy option!), but equally I need to do something, or else I’m going to either eat all my food long before I reach another re-supply point, or else I’ll just eat my way through my bank account.
Just to round off the trip, on leaving Whakahoro for Raetihi, it started raining and didn’t stop for 2 days, so once again everything I own got utterly drenched, though this time there was no hut to dry things out in. This posed a slight problem, as walking when you know everything is totally soaked (and therefore there’s no warm dry shelter at the end of the day) is rather miserable (especially when your waterproofs stop being waterproof, so you’re cold and wet through the day too). When I finally made it to Raetihi (a nice bloke gave me a lift the last 5km… shame I didn’t meet him two days earlier) I spent an evening with everything spread out in the lounge/kitchen area trying to dry it, and then irritatingly the next 2 days have been blazing sunshine! What this teaches me is that the New Zealand weather forecast makes the UK forecasts look like accurate factual documents.
Anyway, a few days in Raetihi and my feet are feeling good, my legs are recovering, and I’ve bought my first totally new (I.e. not a replacement) item since being in New Zealand – a pair of thermal merino long-johns. I got these because I keep waking up in the middle of the night with cold legs, indeed the other morning there was frost on my tent!
Anyway, I’ll leave it there because (as the title suggests) I’ve rambled on for way too long. Next stop: Whanganui.
Until next time