Te Araroa part 11: One down, one to go
After the Tararuas, the North Island was almost done. Almost, but not quite. We still had one big hill to climb plus some walking along the coast to do. The North Island did not want to let us go easily, so it threw everything it had at us: mud, roads and beaches, plus some interesting weather.
We set off with Courtney. The trail climbed over Pukeatua, a little foothill of the Tararuas. The trail started out nicely with zigzags and then went back to “muddy tramping track” standard. Courtney thought it was a very nice trail but after our rocky Tararua crossings we were disappointed to be back in the mud. There was a big cloud on the summit so we didn’t get any views but it was fun catching up with Courtney again. We descended rapidly and suddenly went from beautiful native bush to bare slopes where they had recently chopped down a lot of pine trees. The forestry road was ridiculously steep. We washed our shoes and socks in a stream, and had a lunch break while Courtney pushed on. She doesn’t mind the roads so much but I was dreading the rest of the afternoon. After an hour or two, during which my feet became more and more sore, we reached Reikorangi pottery, where the owners Janet and Wilf run a little cafe. They’re a lovely older couple, who were celebrating their 56th anniversary that day. We had scones there and a delicious banana cake, while we chatted to them and their friends. Their friends then offered us a ride into Waikanae, the next town and our destination for that evening. We jumped at the chance to skip a nasty roadwalk. They dropped us at the El Rancho campsite, where Courtney, Iben, Laine and Ralph were also staying. As we had recently crossed the 1600 km mark, we celebrated by going out for pizza and beer, plus whiskey shots. Ralph traditionally has whiskey every 100 km.
We planned on getting an early start the next morning, so we could reach Paraparaumu Beach in time for a late breakfast of pies from the famous local bakery. Unfortunately, Jasper may have had one beer too many (he had about one but hiking lowers your alcohol tolerance). He forget to set the alarm and we ended up leaving at nine, our latest start yet. The others were long gone. The path was great at first, through some newly restored coastal wetlands, but then we reached the beach and it started to rain. We trudged on. The rain eased off as we reached the bakery and I got the last vegetarian pie! In New Zealand, pies are savoury and nearly always contain meat. This is such a shame. I would love to have pie more often on this trail, but it’s pretty frustrating to go into a bakery and find that they have ten different types, but all contain meat. Even the one called “potato pie” has mincemeat. This time I got lucky because they had a mushroom and cheese pie! Delicious! We continued along the beach, with some great views of Kapiti Island. It silhouette is extremely familiar to us due to our high consumption of Kapiti ice creams. We reached Paekakariki in the early afternoon after some less enjoyable hiking on asphalt. From Paekakariki, the trail goes over the new escarpment track, high over the road, with some some amazing swingbridges. We skipped it. Not because we thought it would be too difficult or too dull, quite the opposite in fact. My cousin Sonia lives near Wellington and we wanted to do the escarpment track with her, but she had to work so we decided to skip ahead and just come back later with Sonia. So in Paekakariki, we headed for the train station and for the first time we were pleasantly surprised by NZ public transport. There were three trains an hour! We got off at the next station, Pukerua Bay. There the signs took us on a nice little detour to cross the main road by a bridge, before abandoning us all together by the side of the very same road. We took a random footpath and eventually ended up having lunch under a tree somewhere, before continuing on our way towards Plimmerton and Porirua. It was getting quite windy so we put our baselayers on, and for a while even considered raincoats. The TA sticks close to State Highway 1 on this section, but it was well enough separated from it to be comfortable. Unfortunately it was asphalt which made for tough going. It should have been an easy day after the Tararuas as there was hardly any elevation gain and the paths and roads were smooth and paved. However, my feet do way better on treeroots, scree and mud than they do on hard surfaces. I also felt that my shoes were starting to become really uncomfortable. I had bought a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.5 shoes online, thinking they couldn’t be so different from the 4 which were nowhere to be had. Turns out the shape is actually quite different. My heels slipped and the toebox was not as wide as it could have been. I made up my mind to get new shoes in Wellington, but meanwhile I still had to walk there. We reached Porirua in the early evening, feeling battered by the wind and bruised by the relentless roads. It began to rain, so we fled into a Burgerfuel and had dinner there (Burgerfuel is a fast food chain here that actually does good burgers). Luckily the campsite wasn’t far, and they had a cabin for us that turned out to be a prison cell of sorts but at least kept us out of the wind which was getting worse and worse every minute.
The wind was still there the next morning, but we didn’t notice it so much as we climbed up to Colonial Knob because most of the climb was in the forest so we were nicely sheltered. Once on the ridge, we got the full blast of it. I can totally see why Wellington is nicknamed “Windy Welly”. Jasper’s ears were ringing with it and he felt pretty woozy. After a brief descent, we stopped in a sheltered spot to make a nice cup of tea. A few hours of roadwalking provided welcome relief from the wind, but soon my feet were more annoyed than ever. Luckily, we weren’t alone anymore. Brianne, who we had briefly met on the 42 Traverse, caught up with us. She was staying with relatives nearby and was taking the train every morning and evening to and from the trail. This meant she could get away with bringing only a small daypack, but also meant she hardly saw anyone else on the trail because she was just out of sync with most people. She set a good pace and we kept up, until we reached a small cafe where we stopped for snacks and cold drinks. Afterwards there was another climb and some more on the ridges: Mt Kaukau. From up here, you have breathtaking views over Wellington. We were almost blown away by it. Or perhaps that was the wind. I struggled to stand, let alone walk.
A brief descent later, and we were in Wellington! After all the roadwalking on the North Island, we were expecting a dreary slog through suburbia but Wellington was better than that. The TA follows the Northern Walkway, through parks and across wooded slopes, before going through the botanical gardens and finally, finally reaching the coast at Oriental Parade. The North Island TA wasn’t done yet, but we were so we called it a day and went to the station, intending to catch a train to Sonia’s. There was a replacement bus service (for the Dutchies: “NZ zet bussen in”) but that got us there too. After tea and drop (liquorice, Sonia is an addict), we were ready to crash into bed. We got up late the next morning to finish. From Oriental Parade, we walked up Mount Victoria and went up the Southern Walkway. We met Brianne again. She was sitting under a tree, snacking, and waiting for other TAers because she didn’t want to finish on her own. It was nice to have company on this final stretch. We got some good views over Wellington, including the baboons in the zoo. The North Island TA finishes at Island Bay. There is a nice plaque which someone placed at the back of a playground rather than on a more dramatic site, such as the beach just across the road. We took the same photos that everyone takes, then hopped on a bus back to the city centre for celebratory beer and pizza.
Ok, so technically we didn’t really finish the North Island because we skipped the Paekakariki escarpment track. We did it a few days later, with Sonia and her husband Richard plus daughter Isobel. The weather started out wet and windy, and we realised the zipper of Isobel’s jacket had broken. Woops. In true TA style, Richard fixed this with ducttape, after which the sun came out and it got too warm to wear a jacket. Typical. It was an absolutely amazing track, beautifully graded, with zigzags and two swingbridges that swung in the wind. There was a fair bit of climbing involved with a lot of stairs. Isobel counted the steps at first, but gave up around 700. Lots of steps, anyway. We celebrated the end of the track with more drop. These three are now officially TA section hikers!
We had time in Wellington for fun stuff as well: we ate lots of food and ice cream, we visited Te Papa (the museum), and we met up with Courtney and Sarah. We also did our food shopping for the South Island. On the first section shops for resupply are few and far between, so like many people we bought several weeks worth of food in Wellington, and sent it to various places on the South Island: Pelorus Bridge, St. Arnaud and Arthur’s Pass. We piled a big supermarket trolley full of couscous, dried mushrooms, Snickers bars, wraps and various other TA essentials. We got talking to the woman behind us at the checkout, because she wondered what sort of weird diet we were on. We ended up being invited for tea and lunch and met her family, including her Dutch father in law. Lovely people! After this we spent the rest of the afternoon repacking and portioning the food. There was so much of it that it covered virtually every surface in Sonia’s kitchen, but in the end we managed to pack it into boxes and send these to the South Island. I looked for new shoes, but it turns out there are no shops in Wellington that stock Altra shoes. Eeks! I dreaded walking the Richmond Ranges in my Lone Peak 3.5 shoes. Luckily, the Trek ‘n Travel in Hamilton saved the day! I bought a pair of Lone Peak 4 shoes online and Colin shipped them by courier to Pelorus Bridge so I would have them in a few days. Hurray! South Island, here we come!