After visiting an Osteopath in Hamilton I hitched back to Waitomo and walked past Te Kuiti and onto the Pureora Forest. Passing through dale’s straight out of Yorkshire. These two days hiking solo were great for allowing me to find a natural pace that was easy on my back.
At the start of the Pureora Forest I bumped into Daisy, Luke and Renée. With a strong crew we set off along the Timber Trail into one of the most magical forests yet. We had easy days hopping between huts, enjoying rooty trails in the morning and sun bathing and swimming in the afternoons.
In Taumaranui we prepared for the Tongariro Crossing and our canoe trip down the Whanganui River. Psyche was high but the weather was coming in quick. We rushed the linking section on the 42nd traverse through the Tongariro Forest in order to make it over the alpine crossing before the storms hit.
Early starts are always exciting, they usually mean the day ahead will involve an adventure. It was easy to get up at 5am – we were going to climb up a volcano and pass Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom). The climb up the northern side of Tongariro can offer amazing views of Lake Taupo, for us we could only see the inside of the clouds. Within our range of visibility the old lava flows, impact craters and fuming vents were pretty exciting and fueled us up the climb. Cresting the plataue the clouds began to clear slightly, we glimpsed the Blue Lake before crossing an incredible moonscape plateau, akin to the planets of Star Wars. The clouds continued to clear and the Emerald Lakes lived up to expectation, insane turquoise pools in the alien landscape. Against the tide of day trippers up a scree slope that reminded me of the travelators on Gladiators, I was glad it was only Luke chasing me up instead of Wolf. Passing the Red Crater we descended passed Mt Doom and quickly down out of the wind. A surprisingly long and tough tramp on badly eroded tracks to Whakapapa was energy sapping after the excitement of the mountain had worn off.
Due to our push over the mountain we were ahead of schedule for the river journey. We opted to keep the original date and take four easy days through National Park to Whakahoro. Long lunch breaks, lots of tea and some excellent camping spots were luxury.
After a very brief introduction to canoeing and a whisper of river safety we received our canoes and pushed off for three days paddling down the Whanganui River. I always find travelling down rivers to feel incredibly adventurous, even on the river Eden only 500m from home floating down a river can feel like entering new ground which no human eyes have seen before. The Whanganui was exceptional, floating passed dense jungle, under towering cliffs and waterfalls. Floating in the sun listening to the sounds of New Zealands incredible bird song could possibly be the most peaceful moments I’ve ever experienced. Even though the busy campsites proved otherwise, for most of the day it felt as though the four of us were the only ones on the river.
Although relaxed floating was amazing, the rapids provided a good level of excitement. Renee and I agreed we would take the path of most resistance, busting through the largest waves we could find was great fun. Unfortunately for Luke and Daisy, following our path was a wee bit soggier and they enjoyed a fully clothed swim on one occasion.
Three days paddling was just enough, at Papiriki we swapped the boats for bikes. With our bags shuttled ahead we spent the next day cycling 70km to Wanganui town. The persistent rain was a welcome coolant and the quick but easy pace was excellent.
This part of the Te Araroa is open to interpretation with the official route generally being acknowledged as faffy, most people make up their own path between National Park and Wanganui Town. It was great to have a break from walking while still following the path South and enjoying some wilderness.
From Wanganui Town a disgusting road walk took us to an incredible baech of black sand and ivory drift wood at Koitiata. Witnessing one of the most magnificent sunsets I’ve ever seen made the road walk very worthwhile. A searingly hot walk into Bulls the following days killed moral and from there I hitched into Palmerston North to stay with a couple of trail angels Brian and Paula. While waiting for the others to walk into town Brian and I headed out to the Arapuke Mountain Bike Park, and enjoyed a few laps on amazing trails as well as cycling passed the 1500km (halfway point) of Te Araroa in the process.
Unfortunately my back did not respond well to the road walking from Whanganui and I decided I should force myself to rest properly to give it any chance of recovering before the South Island. While Daisy, Luke and Renée headed into the Tararua Mountains – the final and toughest test of the North Island, I hitched around to Levin. Kiwi hospitality stepped up again and my first offered me his spare room for the night. The following four nights I spent moping around the campsite in Levin. Snapping my credit card, having it eaten by a cash machine and having to open a kiwi bank account was mildly irritating but gave me something to do in between going to the cinema eating chocolate and reading my book.
On Christmas Eve I met Sally, the owner of a local outdoor pursuit centre, and was given a lift into the mountains where she was hosting Christmas for any Te Araroa trail walkers who wanted to join. The centre was an amazing place with a large bunk house and open central hall where 17 other trail walkers had gathered for the most incredible couple of days of festive fun. Sally cooked an incredible Christmas lunch for us all and only asked that we did washed up and kept the dorms clean in return for her hospitality. After most of the other hikers left I hung and for another day and a half, munching left overs and chilling out. It was hard to watch so many new friends head off into the hills for an adventure, but I was strict with myself that I needed to rest properly so hitched around to Wellington.
Again I got lucky, on my way into Wellington I called up Doug to see where they had got. They were all in Wellington and had managed to bag a free room for the night in a proper posh hotel using his airmiles. Sneaking four dirty hikers into a 4 star hotel room was suprisingly easy. Robert and Anna were cutting their trip short and heading back to Slovakia the following day as Anna had received a job offer. We said some sad goodbyes as they ate the final TA meal in Wellington McDonalds.
I spent the next few days hanging out and exploring Wellington with Kevin, Doug and Pauline. Daisy, Luke and Renee caught up and we walked the last 12km from Wellington city center to Island Bay the end of the Te Araroa trail on the North Island.
On the 2nd of January I boarded the ferry to the South Island, apprehensive about the state of my back but hopeful it would be fixed enough to at least have a good go at some mountains. On the boat I bumped into Tom, Luke and Tom’s dad Colin who I’d met at Christmas in the Outdoor Pursuits Center.
After a night in Picton and a quick water taxi to Ships Cove we started out on the incredible Queen Charlotte Track (QCT). A rainy first day on surprisingly slick trails, hinted at the beauty of the (QCT). We camped at Camp Bay Cove, after dark we found glow worms hanging from a bank and headed to the jetty following a rumor that there were Phosphorescent Plankton. After a while waiting, wondering when/if they would appear Luke spotted that the water sparkled when it splashed against the support of the jetty. Swirling the water with a stick revealed that the plankton must be disturbed before they fluoresced. We giddily ran back to camp to wake Colin and grab our towels. Jumping off the jetty into pitch dark water, Tom, Luke and I had the most unique 15 minute swim of our lives. The incredible starry sky was exceeded by the insane spectacle of the glowing sparkling water.
After our night time swim the night was cold, but the sun was out the following two days of the QCT to were definitely very warm! The views were incredible of the inlets and fjords of the Queen Charlotte Sound. My back held up well, thanks to the lightish pack and short 20km days. Hiking alone for most of the QCT I listened more closely to my body as to when I needed to rest and how fast I could walk. I realised that although I was moving slowly, I was still moving and that as long as I keep being able to move I can manage whatever is wrong with my back and continue the adventure through the South Island.
We rolled into Havelock and indulged in their world famous Mussels and some goodbye beers to celebrate the end of Colins 4 week adventure before as he headed back home. Tom, Luke and I walked through to Pelorus Bridge, the final stage before heading into the proper mountains of the Richmond Range. At Pelorus we swam in the Pelorus river before hitching into Nelson to resupply and organise food boxes. In a couple of days we will hitch back to Pelorus bridge and head off for 10 days away from civilisation through the biggest and most rugged mountains we have yet encountered. Psyche is high!
Tom and Luke are keeping a much more professional blog than mine. For more trail stories have a gander at: www.onestepatatimenz.weebly.com