This was a 950 meter climb and the highest of TA so far. We had been told to expect mud nearly as bad as Raetea Forest so were pleased to get a ride by Frances’s brother-in-law for the road section. This meant we would be fresh and ready for whatever was thrown at us. This is Te Araroa – there is no choice, no turning back, delaying tactics do not work, just harden up and handle it.
I began to think that were were on the wrong track as it was dry and even crunchy underfoot. There were some occasional small muddy areas but I managed to arrive with dry socks and we had passed the 800 km mark. The track got steeper the closer we got to the hut but the dreadful mud did not materialise. Another day where we expected the worst and were very happy with the outcome.
We walked most of the way with Zilla from Germany so had some interesting conversation to make the day go quickly.
Eventually we arrived at the lovely new Pahautea hut. There are about 5 tracks leading to the hut and it was Saturday night so the people just kept on arriving. Luckily we had chosen our bed space as soon as we arrived. This was to be our first night in a Doc hut on the trail. For the overseas TA walkers this was a milestone for them and an introduction to our DOC huts. This was a nice new hut so I hoped they weren’t getting their hopes up that they would all be this nice,
The nice little tent sites scattered in the bush around the hut were soon taken up and a large group went to sleep in the warden’s hut. That had been the hut before the new one was built in 2017. Some late comers slept in the kitchen area.
We were very pleased with our fitness levels as we did not find the climb arduous at all. Yes, we were dripping in sweat and huffed and puffed a bit but could easily have done more. My theory was that our first few weeks walking would be our training for the next bit has proven to be right. Now this 950 m climb is the training for our 1,800 m climbs in the Tararua Ranges. We are getting fitter and thinner by the day.
There was about 15 of us there among the local trampers and we were first into bed. 7 pm is a late night for us lot. Among the TA Walkers was a father, Dave, and his 14 year old son, Baxter, from the Wairarapa. Baxter was very confident speaking with all of us and they seemed to be enjoying their time on the trail.
Day 41. 1 December 2019 Down Mt Pirongia.
We left at 6.45 am and ended up walking with Jo, a mining engineer who was originally from South Africa. She was great fun to be with.
The first 800 meters of the track was board walked so easy going, except that it was quite high in some places so I had to concentrate as I thought it would be embarrassing to say I fell off a wooden pathway. I did drop my camera over the side and was able to retrieve it with some clever actions with my walking pole.
After the boardwalk we continued up and down a bit through thick bush wondering where all the mud was. There was some patches but they were small and we were still getting through without wet feet.
Eventually we started the 3km decent and found the mud. There was not a lot but what became across was very deep and I managed to get quite stuck and had a fight to get my shoe out. Jo and a couple coming in behind us helped me while Frances laughed at me while making a video of the spectacle. Yucky stuff but a lot of fun.
After 5 hours were were off the track and onto a 8.5 km road walk. We had lunch in the sun with Moritz, the days token young German man and washed our legs and shoes on a well placed little stream.
A 26 degree day made the walk hard so we played a game to keep us occupied…”I walked the T A and took with me my phone” then the next person adds something and in it goes…walking poles, sunglasses which I lost, hiking poles, a carrot, sunscreen a PeeRag, 3 pairs of socks, sunhat etc. Etc. Etc. This gives us something to occupy our minds instead of focusing on our tired feet and how far we have got to go.
When were were all tired and had 4.5 km to go a nice fella stopped in his 8 seater van and dropped us at our Trail Angels’ place. I am proud to say that I actually ran 10 meters with my pack on to get into the van first.
Casey showed us around her lovely garden and we pitched our tents and had quick hot showers. Later a man from Stuff and the TA Project came and interviewed, photographed Frances and I and even took drone footage of me doing my foot yoga.
Casey made pizza and gave us Tui beers before dinner so a good evening was had by all. There were strawberries and fresh farm eggs for breakfast. We boiled our eggs to take for lunch.
Tomorrow is a 31km day to Waitomo, on country gravel roads, and across farmland and through bush tracks.
Day 42. 3 December. Pirongia to Waitomo (nearly)
We left at 6.45 am aware that we had our biggest day ahead of us since 90 Mile Beach. Frances was hobbling with sore ankles so we took it easy on the 6km of road walking. We are really in the back blocks of Waikato now so no cars were on the road. Panadols and Ibebrfen were the flavour of the day.
After a slight detour because the TA App was wrong, we started onto a farm road. These little detours make up for the little hitch hikes that we do.
It was easy going with some good views as we got higher. There were some muddy patches that were quite slippery as the soil now seems to have more clay in it.
We came across some very large bulls, lots of sheep, some of the bulls progeny, 4 big goats, a few horses and a chicken coup. The only animals that answered me were the sheep. The rest were not very talkative at all. The German lad seemed to think it was hilarious that I talked to the animals. Maybe German animals don’t understand human talk.
I think that this day has been the nicest walk so far as were were on bush trails through farmland, then out over paddocks, then back into bush all day. It was overcast too which was a nice change from the hot sun we had had for weeks. With 4 of us there was a good chance for a change if conversation and some fun times were had by all.
However Frances was not doing well so we hatched a plan when we stopped for lunch at a farm airstrip. It was 12.30 and we still had 15 km to go, 5 to 6 hours without any injuries. So Jo and Morris went on heading faster towards Waitomo and we plodded on slowly to a place where we knew there was room to camp near a stream. This would mean we had water to cook our dinner and breakfast and Frances could get off her feet sooner.
We had agreed that we would stop but Frances wanted to make doubly sure she had a legitimate reason for camping in an area that camping was prohibited. So she had her first major fall, slipping on the clay, and falling sideways onto her walking poles. There was an almighty crack and I hoped that it was her pole rather than her leg, that had broken. Luckily it was only her pole that broke but her already sore ankles got another hammering.
Therefore it was a slow careful walk down to the stream and nice little campsite having walked 21km in 8 hours.
I know some people may think that is slow but we have about 12 kgs on our backs and we are walking this day in and day out, up and down over difficult terrain. None of this is a walk in the park.
The first person that arrived after us was a policeman walking for charity. We made it quite clear that were only breaking the rules out of necessity and he went on his way. Dave and Baxter arrived an hour later and pressed on too.
My dinner was some flavoured couscous with dried meat added which was a nice change from our usual dehydrated BackCountry meals. Then we settled down to listen to a podcast.
It was about 6.30pm when a couple of young kiwi girls arrived. One in particular looked exhausted and I was slightly horrified when they said they were going to carry on to Waitomo. Based on the rate they had walked that day I reckoned they would not finish till at least 10.30pm. Very risky, I thought.
Anyway it turned out that one of them was an osteopath so she gave a tent side consultation and treatments for Frances.
When she had finished I suggested that they looked far too tired to carry on so, thankfully, they put up their tents and joined us for the night.
It was drizzling as we went to sleep but we felt happy that Garry has kept the Weather Gods happy so far for us.