Te Araroa: Day 40-47
Day 40: Whanganui to Koitiata Campground (39km) It was great to rest my feet for a few days on the canoe, but overall I was happy to be walking again. Unfortunately, the next few days would - yet again - be mostly roadwalk. The first day after the canoe trip started with a 5-6km walk into town and a steep climb up to a hill overlooking the city.
The "trail" than followed a road out of Whanganui to Fordell and Whangaehu until it lead onto a beach for a few kilometers. The beach walk was impressive and completely different from any previous beachwalks. Hundreds of seagulls were flying above my head while making quite some noise. The beach itself was black and covered in endless amounts of driftwood.
I followed the beach for about 3km until I was stopped by an estuary. For some 15minutes I tried to find a spot to cross without getting to wet, but than had to accept, that I had to cross that stream almost shoulder-deep. Once again I made my electronics waterproof, tested the water without my pack and than forced the estuary with my pack over my head. Just 500m from that estuary was a campsite were I dried out and pitched my tent for the night, before I went back to the estuary to watch Alex' crossing.
As we went to the beach to watch the sunset on a very stormy evening, we found a guy whose car was stuck in the sand. With the support of some locals, we helped him pulling his car out of the sand.
Day 41: Koitiata Campground to Mt Lees Reserve (41km) We continued along the beach for another 14-15km on the next day and found an old car in the sand.
The wind - which had already been quite intense during the last night - was still strong and forced me to use my windbreaker/rainjacket on the beach.
From the beach i hiked another 18 uneventful kilometers into Bulls, had some food there, and continued to Mt. Lees Reserve another 10km further east.
Day 42: Mt Lees Reserve to Palmerston North (35km) Awful day of roadwalking. I took a total of 10 pictures that day and got completely bored. My feet barely touched anything else than tarmac and started to hurt due to my rundown shoes.
My destination for today was Palmerston North, one of the bigger towns in the area, where I planned to replace my shoes, which already had multiple holes. Nevertheless, they lasted for about 1500km, which is quite impressive for that type of shoe.
I arrived in Palmerston North in the early afternoon and quickly completed all my chores (incl. buying new shoes) and due to the lack of any campsites in town, I booked myself into a small motel and watched CNN for the first time on trail.
What a frustrating moment to see the US and Iran almost at war just a few days into the new year...
Day 43: Palmerston North to Whare o Moturimu Hut (30km)
The Tararuas! The Tararuas is to TA-Hikers what Lord Voldemort, or Mordor is to Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings fans. A mountain range, known for very difficult terrain and weather conditions, which makes most hikers shiver. Yet...after all that roadwalking we were looking forward to some real trail and challenging days.
The first day started easy and just brought us closer to the mountains. The trail led through a series of city parks and than gently climbed slightly towards the new Whare o Moturimu Hut.
A few kilometers before the hut we passed the official halfway market of the Te Araroa trail. That night we were 6 TA-hikers at the hut. Me, Alex, Jack and Olivia, as well as a dutch and south-corean guy. The hut was equipped with 6 bunks, which was great for me as my sleeping pad kept deflating every night, even though I patched it as good as I could. The night was incredibly stormy and we were happy to be in the hut...which had no door. Urgs.
Someone must have realized this earlier and put a bed sheet next to the door, which kept some of the wind on the outside, but it was yet quite a strange place.
Day 44: Whare o Moturimu Hut to suspension bridge 1541,3 (41km)
Alex' weather forecast predicted rain in the afternoon. I ignored that and stayed optimistic for the next day, as I had learned that weather forecasts are not to be trusted in New Zealand.
I've never before seen such unpredictable and fast changing weather as we had experienced in the last few weeks. The trail followed a 4WD road for a few kilometres and than changed into a muddy downhill tramping track. It was great hiking and fun to jump over mud pools and roots on a quite fast downhill slope, but around noon finally happened what I had already expected earlier. Either during a river crossing, or in one of the mud pools, one of my trekking poles broke. I didn't immediately realise it, as I initially expected the pole to just have collapsed by a few centimetres due to a loose clamp, but when I tried to adjust the length of that pole again, I saw that some 5-10cm were missing. I turned around and looked for the broken part but couldn't find it anymore.
Not a great start for the Tararuas, but again, I already expected that too happen sooner or later, due to the muddy and difficult terrain. At 11 am I passed a dam and shortly after entered the Tararua Forest Park. The trail soon climbed up some 300m before dropping steep down towards the road to Levin. Alex, me, Jack and Olivia were leapfrogging regularly and all of our shoes were covered in mud. Close to the junction to Levin I had cellphone reception for a few minutes and managed to get a message out for my sisters birthday.
The day had been tough and included quite some up and downs, but I felt great and energised and hiked another 5-6km until I reached a suspension bridge. Just 50m from that bridge was a nice grassy spot, where I pitched my tent with some concerns. Due to my broken trekking pole, which also serves as my tent pole, I want too sure about the tents stability in windy conditions. Luckily my campsite was rather sheltered and the night remained calm, so that I didn't have any problems. While pitching my tent a dog appeared out of nowhere andstarted barking at me. I immediately grabbed my trekking pole and hoped for its owner to show up, but no one came. The dog turned out to be friendly, came closer and played with me for a few minutes. I than followed the dog back to where he came from and found his owner's tent hidden in the forest. The dog would return several times to my tent and was a great companion for that evening.
Day 45: Suspension bridge to Nicholls hut (20km)
Holy sh*t. Welcome to the Tararuas! 10m from my campsite one of the dreaded Tararua climbs to the "Gable End Ridge" started. According to the guthooks app, we should expect our pace to drop from about 5kmh to 2kmh.
I didn't really believe that, as most signs and comments on the guthooks app are rather conservative and my pace had - so far - always been a bit faster than the overall average. The first climb of the day went more than 800m uphill with some 170m per km. That's...steep, especially given the muddy and slippery terrain.
At times it was so steep that I had to scramble uphill. I had to use roots and trees to pull myself up and really enjoyed this kind of challenge which was rewarded with some great views after 2 hrs of climbing.
The trail than went down from 960m to an elevation of 690m before it climbed back up to the Te Matawai Hut at 888m. I stopped here for an early lunch and refilled my water as there was no other water source on the mountain. From the hut, the trail continued uphill to the Pukematawai summit at 1400m. That climb was incredibly beautiful and provided fantastic views.
The trail now was above the treeline and still very steep and muddy. I had to fight my way through thick grass and a very narrow trail, that dropped down several hundred meters just next to me.
Luckily the weather remained good, besides a few showers here and there, but occasional wind gusts of probably more than 30-40kmh pushed me left and right. At 1:30pm I arrived at the junction on the highest point of the trail, having yet to hike another 5-9k to one of the next huts and water sources.
I rested for some 15minutes and than started hiking again, knowing that the next hut only had two bunks which might be occupied upon my arrival. The trail really challenged me. I was already tired from the initial uphill section, but hiking downhill was much worse. The high grass made it almost impossible to see where I could put my feet and the ground remained slippery. Stumbling here could result in very serious falls and I really had to stay focused as I hiked on. After about an hour it got easier and the trail reached the treeline again, showing some of the craziest and most beautiful moss covered trees ever seen.
At 3:15 pm I reached Dracophyllum hut and rested again. The sign on the previous junction indicated 3-4 hrs, but I managed to get here much faster and therefore decided to hike on to Nicholls hut, another 5k from here.
That section to Nicholls hut was probably the steepest on trail until. Several times I had to put my trekking poles away and scramble down some very steep slopes. Kicking down some of the rocks while hiking reminded me, of what would happen if I fell here. So I rested a few times to remain focused and concentrated, but still felt great and enjoyed every minute of this section.
At 6:30pm I finally got to Nicholls hut and found it empty. The hut was small, but nice and cozy, offering room for 6-10 people. I refilled my water, had dinner and enjoyed the solitude of this special place high up in the mountains. Alex, Jack and Olivia arrived about an hour later at that hut. After "just" 20km with more than 2000m up- and 1000m downhill, we were all pretty tired but happy as this had been the best day of the trail so far.
Day 46: Nicholls Hut to km 1590
This day looked much easier on the map than the previous day to those who still believe that going downhill is easier. It ain't, that's for sure. Nevertheless that day started with a 200m climb to the summit of Mt. Crawford.
It was a cloudy day, but every now and than the sun came through and provided great views and a beautiful lighting. The climb to the summit was easy and took less than an hour.
What followed was a steep decent of 1000m over just 3km. The terrain was rugged and difficult. I regularly had to climb or jump downhill, crawl over or under trees and use them to pull me up or down.
It was tough and slow going and put a lot of stress on my knees and I was so focused on not falling that I didn't take any pictures on that section. I was happy to reach the swingbridge in the valley in just under 2hrs and rested at the nearby Waiteweawea hut.
From here on I expected a much easier trail but was proven wrong. The trail remained difficult and soon climbed another 200m up to a side route. The official route was closed here because of a large slip in the stream. This alternate route was a beautiful but somewhat overgrown trail with an endless amount of fallen trees. Going was slow and strenuous and it took about 1.5 - 2 hours until I reconnected with the official and much easier trail.
I suddenly felt like I was flying. My pace increased from some 3-3.5 kmh to my regular 4.5-5kmh and it felt great to make some real progress again. I soon crossed another two bridges and some car parks before I stopped for my final break at the Otaki forks campsite.
I wasn't yet done with hiking for the day and ate my last package of ramen noodles, filled up my water bottles for potential dry camping and continued hiking some 15minutes later. Upon starting the Pukeatua track I met three TA hikers who were about to start the Tararuas northbound. 5 days earlier they had been told by a local trail angel that the weather conditions in the Tararuas would be too bad for an immediate start and so they went to Wellington first. Well...maybe that's why we hadn't seen any other hikers out there :-).
I continued uphill and hoped to find a campsite on the summit of Mt. Pukeatu, some 6km further south and 800m high. At 6:30 pm I arrived at the summit and wasn't too happy with the campsites and still felt great and motivated enough to hike on. Knowing that I would have another 1.5 hrs of sunlight I kept going and found a campsite just 3km further downhill, before finally leaving the forest on my way to Waikanae.
Day 47: Km 1590 to Waikanae
My gear is falling apart. Besides my broken trekking pole my air mattress deflated every night, so that I had basically slept on the ground for the last few days.
I therefore woke up early and quite stiff and left camp before sunrise. Just 5 minutes later I left the forest and continued on an old forest road which led downhill to the road to Waikanae. My spirits were high after the Tararuas and I enjoyed this roadwalk. It felt like a victory march and I enjoyed listening to loud music. While texting my family on the roadwalk a car passed me, suddenly stopped and turned around and asked if I wanted a ride into town. I thankfully denied and continued my 13km hike into town which ended with my arrival at a nice cafe in downtown Waikanae at 8:30 am.
After breakfast I went down to the Waikanae river to wash my new shoes, socks and rain pants, before heading back to town, where I spent a few hours. In the early afternoon I hiked another 5-6km to the El Rancho Holiday Park and pitched my tent there. The park was huge and popular with families who quickly identified me as a TA-hiker, offering me cookies and drinks for free.