We have made it through our first stretch without service, civilization, or opportunity to restock. It wasn’t easy and it for damn sure wasn’t pretty, but we are pleased, regardless. I’m happy to report that our fitness related growing pains have lessened and our strength has increased. Now we can almost get up from the ground with our packs on without toppling over, and though we are basically incoherent at the end of our 6 to 8 hour hiking day, and it takes us twice as long as the few young sprigs that have passed us to get anywhere, we are still covering substantial distances over challenging terrain, with much less cursing. Unfortunately, we have only one good knee left between us, but Advil￼￼, combined with the kick ass anti-inflammatory drugs that Gord brought, are helping us get by.￼
The first 20 km was through the Mangaokewi reserve and river walk. It was a lush, rolling, primeval forest and life was lovely. We chanced upon a small group of wild mountain goats with two very large Billy’s dancing around and rearing up and crashing heads, locking their horns together again and again. It was dramatic to see and we felt like we were in the middle of a wildlife documentary.
The next section through and around the Pureora Forest almost killed us.￼ Vertical hillside with only narrow sloped (almost nonexistent) goat tracks to walk on.￼ it was stunningly beautiful to cross some of (what we read) was the most wild and untamed forest in New Zealand. I would have loved to take more pictures but we were too busy trying not to fall and die (and the ones I did take don’t indicate the actual scale of it). I think we made it on pure adrenaline. When we finally broke out again into farmland, the entire hillside across the river was terraced with sheep and every one of them was watching us stumble past. It was hilarious, if a little unnerving.￼
Then came the blackberry incident. Wild canes lined the trail and we gobbled pints and pints of them, marvelling at our good fortune. As the bushes became thicker and thicker encroaching on both sides of the trail, we weren’t quite as excited.￼ When the trail itself became buried in them and we had to wade through thickets with the plants grabbing and tearing at us, we emerged out the other side bleeding and cursing blackberries (we have since made our peace with them and have enjoyed many more pints with no mishap).
The last section was the Timber Trail – an 85 kilometre old logging track that was perpetually uphill or downhill, but on a beautiful, level, wide, stable, easy to follow trail that was a joy to walk on. All we needed to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other and gaze at the towering twisted trees, the bizarre hanging vines, the interesting moss-covered roots, and listen to lovely the birdsong of the kereru’s, the kaka, the kakariki, and the pitoitoi (think several cheerful R2D2’s in melodious conversation). And the suspension bridges were amazing!
Most of the time we rough camped in the forest and one night we found a perfect river pool. The water was ice cold but incredibly refreshing and appreciated. Even Gord (who hates cold water) jumped in with a hesitant “son of a bitch”. We washed ourselves, our hair, our clothes and it was amazing.￼
At the moment we are in￼ Taumarunui for the night resting our knees for the next next leg of the Te Araroa (pronounces tee – are – a – roa) called the 42 Traverse. We generally hitchhike through the road sections as we don’t have time to tramp the entire 3000 kilometres and want to spend our time in the beauty of the actual trail. We have been lucky with the weather so far. We have just stocked up on food for the first time since leaving Canada and so are packs are fully loaded and heavy again. But, oh right, we are stronger and fitter now so it’s all good. My ankles are behaving, it’s just the knees.￼ Fingers crossed they tow the line and stop acting out.
Again, I don’t seem to have enough service to post pictures now so I will post them when I do. Happy Tuesday from New Zealand!
I had to look at the calendar this morning to see what day it was. It is Friday January 17th and we have been on the trail for over a week! It feels like only a few days and it feels like forever. Time is such a funny thing.
We have hiked on rich volcanic soil and rolling green hills beside the Waikato, New Zealand’s longest and mightiest river. We have seen darting possums, jack rabbits and heard the distinctive warble of magpies in Bilbo Baggins-type trees. We have hiked through towns and across golf courses (and even slept on one when Gord’s knee gave out and we had to stop immediately for the day). We have camped mainly in farmers fields where we have met lovely people and been invited to eat our fill of oranges off the trees. We have hiked, inadvertently, through sacred Maori temple grounds, and through the lush landscape of middle earth (or there abouts – I’m pretending because we don’t want to pay $85.00 to walk through the real middle earth at Hobbiton). And most recently, we have hiked across the strenuous Hakaramata range….
Just south of the town of Huntley, at the end of the day, the trail turned a sharp right and the steep wall of Rimu forest that we had been walking beside loomed directly in front of us. It was a daunting site! 350 meters straight up and then undulating ups and downs along the ridge line for 12 more rugged kilometres to the summit. We set out at 8:30am the following morning, each feeling different emotions: I was excited to be on a good challenging trail but nervous for Gord, Kael was pure excitement, and Gord was moving forward with resigned determination. It would be our toughest day so far.
About an hour in, Gord stopped having fun. I heard mutterings and cursing behind me until he didn’t even have the energy to grunt. At one point he completely turtled but I didn’t see it and he somehow managed to right himself. There were a few ‘face in the dirt, this is where we camp’ type of moments, but with no water or flat ground available, it simply wasn’t an option. We knew before we started that it was a do or die type day. And we didn’t see another person until we finally reached the summit at the far end 10 hours later. Then there were two kilometres of stairs to get down to the town below (with half of New Zealand’s population doing training runs on them). We met a fireman who had many tales of trail rescues and I was glad that we didn’t add to his collection of stories. Once at the bottom, we staggered over to a sliver of sloped grass 100 feet from the stairs, pitched our tents, and slept there until morning.
At the moment we are at a rugby friend of Gord’s in Hamilton for two nights. It’s amazing how quickly sleeping in a bed can feel like a luxury. We are increasing our mileage every day as Gord’s fitness level increases. His knee has caused him a bit of grief, but overall, he’s doing great. He hasn’t felt anything remotely close to a ‘hiking high’ but God love him, he’s doing his damdest. Our little unit is meshing together nicely. It’s been a pleasure having Kael with us and a treat to get to know her better.
I will finish with the Maori prayer for Te Araroa walkers. But I like it for everything
Kia tupato kia pai to hikoi.
Me te titiro whanui kie koa
Ki nga taonga kei mua i a koe
Walk the path in safety
Look deeply and learn
From your surroundings.
We didn’t exactly hit the ground running. I arrived in Auckland wearing the scent of aux de la stomach bile. It was mainly due to getting only five hours of sleep in the preceding 56 hours, but after a nights rest, I was right as rain. We met up with Kael (Gord’s daughter, who is hiking with us for two weeks) at a hostel, repacked our bags, and set out the next morning.
We took the train to the edge of Auckland but the ‘trail’ was still passing through urban sprawl. Four hours of road tramping later we finally reached countryside, and shortly after that, our bodies told us we’d had enough for our first day. Our backpacks are military style heavy as we are carrying enough food to feed an entire platoon for a week. But our little unit consists of only of a spunky 29 year old aspiring half-Ironman triathlete, a 59 year old beat up ex rugby player, and a 58 year old out of shape hiker who still has illusions she can do such things, so we have enough food to last a good long while. (In our defence, our original plan was to travel to the northern tip of the island first, where given our pace, we needed two weeks food supply. We chose instead to hook up with the trail at Auckland and continue south from there). So we will eat, eat, eat and soon our packs will get lighter and we will get stronger. But I won’t be fitting into my hiking pants again anytime soon (sooo many Christmas cookies).
Last night we got permission to pitch our tents on a small hobby farm. It was lovely, with fruit trees and gardens everywhere. It also had ticks everywhere! Everywhere! New Zealand doesn’t have Limes disease so it wasn’t the deal it would have been in Ontario, but I hate ticks and had to just try and close my mind to them. We had a water supply and the use of a bathroom and were super grateful. In the evening, the son-in-law and the daughter came for a visit, bearing a cooler full of local beer and wine. Such nice people!
Today our day was longer and much harder. The trail is still on the road but was predominantly uphill. Tomorrow we will get off-road. In the meantime, we have another awesome place to sleep. It is in the manicured back yard of a beautiful home with amazing gardens, a tennis court, a stunning view, and a bathroom available to us. We were invited in for showers and supper and spent an thoroughly enjoyable evening visiting with Ian and Shona. More super nice people!
The sky isn’t orange anymore on account of the smoke blowing in from Australia but we are told the fires are affecting the weather here. It’s not as warm as I had hoped but it’s comfortable. So far it’s in the low 20’s during the day and a cool 11 or 12 degrees at night. Which is now… time to settle in.