Te Araroa – Hamilton to Taumarunui
or the mountain, the river and the forest … and THE RAIN! or (as well) the skipping stone, the tourist, and THE RAIN!
I start again from Hamilton on Tuesday the 9th… by bus… ok, let me explain. There’s about 14km of road walking to get out of town, and it is 38km to the next campspot and the ideal start of the next track up Pirongia mountain. So in order to be gentle on my hip, I decide to have a shorter day and miss the Hamilton roads. This is the skipping stone’s first bounce … I share this leg of the journey with Patrick, from California. Patrick is a very talented photographer, I strongly recommand you to go and take a look at his website : www.pcooley.com The bus drops us off at Whatawhata (pronounced warawara). And as it is grey and drizzling, we start the walk by having a hot chocolate and a coffee at the Lizard Cafe… (there are some things along the way a long distance hiker just can’t resist…). Then it is a nice and easy 24km hike, following the Waipa river first and then crossing some sheep paddocks with very beautiful limestone rocks. The destination of the day is Kaniwhaniwha campsite, a neat little spot with picnic tables, longdrop and a stream to get our water from. We pitch our tents under the cover of the trees and by the time we cook dinner the weather clears up nicely.
After the visit of a possum just as cute as he was curious, in the middle of the night, I wake up to a bit of sunshine in the morning of the 10th, but the sky is quite overcast.
Today we’re hiking up Mt Pirongia…. The Tahuanui Track on the north side of the mountain is nice. It starts with a gentle climb in some pretty bush then gets a bit steeper, taking us into the clouds. As we gain altitude it gets colder and the mist turns to drizzle then to proper rain when we reach the summit where the hut is located. The new Pahautea Hut is still closed to public so we find shelter in the old one…it doesn’t matter at this moment, all we want is a roof over our heads and a hot drink… From the hut, the trail follows a nice long boardwalk all the way the the Hihikiwi summit. And then, one word:
The Hihikiwi track on the south side of Pirongia is 5.6km long… 5.6km of MUD. It follows the ridgeline for a while, going up and down, sometimes so steeply that we have to haul ourselves up with the help of a chain. I manage to keep my spirits up pretty much the whole way. I guess I have learned how to deal with mud during these last few weeks… but when I get to the gravel road at the end of the track, it starts pouring down rain, I am covered of mud and I am cold…and my high spirits are not that high at all anymore… it seems that I still have to learn how to deal with heavy rain!!! I try to keep a positive attitude as Patrick and I wash our pants/socks/shoes in the stream… Smearing mud all over my cheeks, I am the mud warrior!! But I know the evening is going to be hard, it is around 5pm and we still have to find a place to camp in the pouring rain… so we keep on walking, hoping for any kind of shelter to spend the night under… …when we hear an engine in the distance… a few minutes later, a big work truck appears… we don’t even bother sticking our thumbs out, thinking the guy is at work and is not allowed picking up hitchhikers. We just move to the side of the road to not be run over. The truck passes us at a good speed, the driver waving at us… and I must look like a kid in front of a Christmas tree when I see the tail lights of the truck turn red… And this is how we end up getting a lime truck ride to Te Awamutu and then a ride all the way to Raglan where Craig, the sympathetic driver, lives with his family. Shower, dinner and a very good evening with him and his daughter Emily who is on a holidays from university. Again, the magic of the Trail brought us a trail angel, and I feel extremely grateful as I lie in bed and hear the heavy rain and strong winds outside…
So on the next day (11th) Craig gives us a ride (at 5am! aye, bakery hours, it’s been a while!) to Pirongia village, from where we hitch to Waitomo Caves. That is the skipping stone second bounce… (missing the road in the Mahoe Forest). A bit tired and unsure about the weather, we decide to spend a zero day in Waitomo. So here we are, two smelly and dirty hikers, taking the tour amongst clean and perfumed tourists to see Aranui Cave and the breathtaking glowworm Cave …. In the evening, Eef, P-J and Serina are at the backpackers as well and we all go to the pizzeria to share a good meal and our trail stories about getting caught in the rain…
The next couple of days (12th and 13th) the weather is OK and we are back on track. The trail takes us through farmland into Te Kuiti, with a very prickly section through a nice big patch of gorse… (why did I decide to hike in short today again?). Then along the Mangaokewa River. This section of the trail is stunning, with farmland on one side with nice limestone formations and the river with dense native bush on the other side. The trail normally follows the Mangaokewa road for a good 30km or so… In order to catch the next spell of fine weather when we are in the forest section, we decide to catch a ride to the start of the Pureora Forest Track. On the trailnotes, the phone number of a person offering rides to the Pureora Field Base is given, so we try our luck for tonight. (that is the skipping stone third bounce …) We meet Maurice Louis (from France) and his wife Monica (from Holland) who run an art gallery/music venue/accommodation called the Art Doc Gallery, and the Magic of the Trail occurs again … : Long story short, I end up in Benneydale, hosted by a French guy who, by the craziest of coincidence, happens to know two friends of mine and has just invited them for dinner this very evening!!!! So Patrick and I pitch our tents in the backyard of the Art Doc Gallery and spend a lovely evening in good company!
The three following days (14th to 16th) take place in the Pureroa Forest. It is hard for me to say which part of the Trail I have preferred so far… but the Pureroa Forest is without a doubt way up on my list. Even the 18 km in the cold pouring rain the first day to get to Bog Inn Hut are not so bad. We timed our hike well and get nice weather the next 2 days to the Waihaha Hut and the Hauhungaroa Hut. The forest is absolutely stunning. Very green with lots of lichen and moss on the trees, no nikau palms but more broadleaf trees, it has got a much more South Island look than the rest of the bush we’ve walked in so far … What makes this track so special to me are the trees and the rich birdlife. I walk with my eyes turned upwards, looking at the biggest Totara and Rimu trees I’ve ever seen and being so delighted to get the chance to see the beautiful and rare Kaka!! And of course, staying at some huts is something I will never get tired of. We share the huts and some good times with Rebecca and Graeme, two other very nice TA hikers.
Wednesday 17th, the weather turns grey again…. it is 7km to hike out of the forest and then 30km of road all the way to Taumarunui. Rebecca and Graeme do all of it in one go. Patrick and I decide to take it slower and spend the night in Ngakonui, where the principal of the school generously let us pitch our tents in the school yard. (and from this day, to the Ngakonui kids, we will forever be the “talking tents”…)
I am now in Taumarunui, resting some chin splints (ouch …that road walk…) and waiting for some good weather to venture into Tongariro National Park.