Te Araroa Part 6: The tramp that goes wrong
After a rest day in Hamilton, we were clean, fed and rested. So what could possibly go wrong on the next section? As it turns out, quite a bit!
A list of things that were intact when we left Hamilton, but not five days later:
The buckle of a drysack
A list of things that were still intact five days later:
Our sleeping bags
Our sleeping mats
All the other drysacks
All clothes except socks
All bodyparts except one
So all in all, not bad!
Hans and Monica dropped us off on the outskirts of Hamilton. We walked through a park and chatted a bit with a guy who was walking his dog. Once he heard we were on Te Araroa and thus likely to walk through all sorts of farmland, he gave us some advice to keep us safe: “See those cows over there? They’re Jersey bulls. Absolutely vicious. They kill more people than any other cow in NZ. Beware the Jersey bulls.” I knew it! He went on to say that other cows are all right but I’m just going to assume that all cows are killer Jersey bulls in disguise. They won’t catch me that easily!
Luckily, there was a nice fence between us and the bulls and we had a pleasant stroll in the morning sunshine through the arboretum. Afterwards, there was a bit of roadwalking until we got to Whatawhata, which was absolutely packed with people due to the Christmas market. The Backyard Bar had plenty of room and because it’s never too early for a burger we had an early lunch. TA walkers can camp in the backyard for free and it we were tempted to stay, especially once we heard there was going to be live music and beer. But we felt we had to go a little further than 10 km. After another bit on the road, the trail veered off sideways and skirted the edges of various backyards. The bushes got scratchier and the trail narrower as we continued. A bit later, the backyards were replaced by fields where some farmer had been a bit overeager in planting maize. It was all over the trail. Luckily it was early in the season so the plants were only about knee-high. Then, there were cows. So many cows. They were not Jersey bulls but they were clearly evil, because they mobbed Jasper when he climbed the stile. He had to walk between me and the cows and keep chasing them away. Eeks.
We realised we had gotten a bit spoiled when we sat down for second lunch. All that glorious food in Hamilton meant we didn’t really want to eat wraps with hummus & pretzels (we ate it anyway). The track got more interesting as we progressed. The green, rolling hills seemed to have grown teeth as rocky limestone outcrops began to appear. Something else also started to appear: holes in our shoes. Uh oh. We weren’t more than 20 km from Hamilton, where our spare shoes were, but they might as well have been 2000 km away because we weren’t going back for them. These shoes would just have to last until Christmas!
The views from the Karamu walkway were glorious and we were a bit jealous of Sarah who was already at the Pirongia hut. What must the view be like from up there? (We know because she sent a photo...) We didn’t really fancy camping in a random field so we pushed on towards the Kaniwhaniwha campsite. We arrived there as it was getting dark and were happy to see a couple of tents as we hadn’t seen any TA hikers all day. One of the tents looked familiar, and next morning we saw that it was indeed Marie (still unimpressed by everything). There was also an Italian guy called Alex who had started his TA in Whatawhata the previous day, as well as a Kiwi couple, Rohan and Andrea. The four of them left early while we took our time to dry our tent and put some dental floss stitches in our shoes. It was only a few hours to Pirongia and we really wanted to stay in the hut. The first part of the climb was easy but it soon became muddier. Near the summit, another track joined ours. This other track appeared to be a lot fancier than ours, because from there it was mostly boardwalk interspersed with bits of mud and “here’s a slippery rockface, good luck” to liven things up a little. Jasper made friends with a bug called Percy and then cruelly abandoned him. We reached the Pahautea hut in the early afternoon and spent the rest of the day chatting to Rohan and Andrea. They’re really into photography as well, their instagram is terratrekkers. The hut has a big sunny deck that we spread out our shoes and clothes on after a quick wash to get the mud out. Towards evening, two more couples appeared - the Germans who crossed the Okura estuary with us and whose names I can never remember (sorry, guys), and Carmen the Kiwi and David! We hadn’t seen them since before Kerikeri! We enjoyed the sunset together, with snacks of course. Cooking dinner was a bit annoying because the piezoelectric part of our fancy new stove broke. Jasper is getting quite good with the firesteel though!
Together with Andrea and Rohan, we followed the Hihikiwi track down from Pirongia. The sign at the start said the road was 5 km away and would take 3-5 hours. When a sign says your average speed may be as low as 1 km/h you know the track is going to be interesting, especially as the first km was across boardwalk. The track did not disappoint. It was muddier than Raetea and Omaha, which is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write. Because people keep trying to avoid the worst mud the path is very broad and eroded in parts, but Jasper and I stayed in the middle where the mud was thigh-deep. That’s our Christmas card sorted! There was a beautiful stream to wash in just as we reached the road. As we were putting our shoes back on, a car stopped and the driver asked us where we were going. Well, just a couple of hours down the road. He then offered to drive two of us there and transport all our packs. Andrea and Rohan took the lift and we handed our packs over. With just daypacks, we zoomed down the road. An hour or two later the same car stopped beside us and the same guy told us to hop in, so hop we did. He introduced himself as Mark (“That’s M-a-r-k”) and chatted to us about the differences between Dutch, German and Afrikaans. He also complained about dangerous drivers on gravel roads and let go off the steering wheel to demonstrate how easy it was to drive off the road. Before he could do any more stunts like that we reached our destination - the house of Jon and Casey, trailangels who allow TA hikers to camp in their garden. There’s even a shower! We had another relaxed evening with Rohan and Andrea, plus an entire supermarket Christmas cake. In the middle of the night, we heard a dramatic crashing sound (“Do you want to look outside to see what that was?””Uh no, let’s sleep.”) Turns out a treefern had dropped a branch (and they are massive). Glad we didn’t camp under it!
The next morning we realised that our socks were getting holes in them. These are socks we got in Hamilton! I like Icebreaker socks because they replace them for free if they get holes, but I had sort of hoped they would last for more than three days before getting holes. Dental floss stitches in socks seemed like a bad idea so we just kept the holes. From Jon and Casey’s place to Waitomo was a longish day, with a bit of gorse, some mud, a river crossing and a lot of amazing forest. The mud was gloriously sticky and I kept almost losing my shoes. Once we reached the river, I took my time to wash only to be faced with more mud five minutes later. We had another, better wash at the hostel in Waitomo and then spent the evening as usual (eating). We started with ice cream and gingerbeer at the hostel while we waited for them to make us a pizza. The pizza arrived with apologies from the manager and a 10 dollar refund because it was slightly burnt here and there and had too much cheese on it (huh?). It was delicious. For our second dinner, we went to the Tomo bar. The guy who served us was the same as the hostel manager and he was a bit bemused at us ordering nachos after the pizza. It’s sometimes hard to remember that second dinner is not a thing off trail.
From Waitomo the trail goes to Te Kuiti in a very roundabout way. We kept thinking we were going in circles but this was the correct trial. The Pehitawa kahikatea forest was especially beautiful. We were also happy to learn the name of the kahikatea trees, because we had been calling them kauri trees with needles.
In Te Kuiti we took the time to resupply (there were no dried mushrooms, noooo!). For lunch, we had among other things a frozen cheesecake. “Serves 10”, as if! We also got some superglue so that we could glue holes in the mesh of our trailrunners, hoping this would stop them from unravelling further. We also carefully analysed the results of the First Great Te Araroa Sprouting Experiment. It failed, basically. We had gotten ourselves a small plastic bottle in Hamilton, with some holes in the top for draining, and put some lentils in. After an overnight soak and carefully rinsing every morning and evening, they were sprouting. But very, very slowly. After five days, some of the lentils had sprouted nicely while others had just gone soft. We abandoned the experiment in a rubbish bin. So that’s another thing that didn’t go very well this section.
Rain began to fall as we packed up, but we decided to continue. Bad idea. We tramped up the Mangaokewa valley, which is amazing. I can write stuff about how it looked, or just show half a dozen pictures. What is missing in these photos is the rain. Plus the brambles and gorse bushes.
The first part of this trail is well-maintained. People go here for Sunday strolls. There are swingbridges. Picnic benches. The TA continues upstream. The signpost has a skull on it, which should have been warning enough. We ignored the warning.
The TA leaves the Sunday strollers behind and crosses some steep slopes in a trail that can only be described as “rough”. The trailnotes say to take care on one or two steep slopes, particularly when wet. Other trampers have left comments in Guthook, saying it’s the worst trail on the TA. It was certainly interesting. It’s a diagonal track across a steep slope. It was raining. It was slippery. It was a bit later than we should have liked. I remember thinking that we would have to take care here, because we could easily slip and twist an ankle and plunge off the path to our deaths in the river below and - SsFFglmlmlmlmbrrrnnjjjjAaaaaaau! That was the sound of me slipping and twisting my ankle and plunging off the path. I did not fall to my death as some thorny bushes broke my fall. It took a few minutes and many scratches to extract myself from the thorns. I limped on, taking nearly two hours to do about two km. We pitched our tent on the first flat stretch we found. Darkness was falling and the rain was pouring down. We huddled in our tent, eating a miserable cold dinner (we were too miserable to cook) and wondered how we could possibly continue the TA.
To be continued...