Te Araroa – Palmerston North to Wellington
or the North Island in 80 days ….
This last leg of the North Island is the longest stretch of the Trail I have done in one go, and can be divided in 3 parts. First: Palmerston North to Poads Road (the start of the Tararua Track) -> 3 days Second: The Tararua Mountains -> 5 days Third: Waikanae to Wellington -> 4 days
After a day off to do the usual prep and also buy a new pair of boots, I leave Palmerston North on Thursday the 8th of January, solo, and with a painfully heavy 8 days of food in my pack… It feels good to be travelling by foot again. I have to say that, as much as I enjoyed the Whanganui Journey and those couple of cycling days, I was starting to forget what it was like to walk… and yes, I just LOVE hiking. Also, I am happy that, after all that time without walking, these 3 days between Palmerston North and the Tararuas are quite easy. It would not have been good to climb into the Tararuas after 10 days of, literally, sitting on m
y ass… I am gifted with beautiful sunny weather, and that lifts my spirits up,even though there’s a small hint of anxiety creeping up inside me at the idea of getting into the Tararuas soon…
The Trail on this first section is nicely varied, with a mix of tar-sealed roads, gravel roads and track going through farmland, pine plantation and native bush. It follows some beautiful tracks, with the names of Back Track, Burttons Track, Mangahao-Makahika Track… This is also another side of doing this Trail that I enjoy a lot, it takes me to so many places I probably would never have come to if I was just travelling “normally”. I am absolutely alone for those 3 days, talking only to the few people I meet on the tracks. I put some music on to boost me up in the more monotonous parts, and enjoy the peaceful tranquillity of the native bush. Outside of the hiking itself, what I love about thru-hiking is finding a spot to pitch my tent at night. There’ s something so special about being in a tent in a beautiful forest, for free, alone, and with the sound of the morepork to put me to sleep….
On Saturday the 10th I camp in a sheep paddock at the Tararua Forest Park boundary. And on Sunday the 11th, filled with a mixed feeling of apprehension and excitement, I head out in the formidable Tararuas. I have heard so much about those Mountains … that they are challenging, dangerous and treacherous… but all the people who told me those stories also had that little sparkle in their eyes when speaking about these mountains … as if held spellbound by their beauty… And that day, as I walk up the Track to Waiopehu Hut, I talk out loud to the forests and the mountains, asking them to, please, accept me here and to, please, keep me safe… The track climbs steadily in the bush, and when I reach the Hut, I also reach the clouds… I stop there for an early lunch break and push on to my destination for the day, Te Matawai Hut. I go over Twin Peak in a white and chilly atmosphere, but get under the clouds again and have a nice view of the valley from Roberts Knob. I arrive at Te Matawai early in the afternoon and am later joined by Gael, another Te Araroa hiker from France, and the ever-smiling Eef and P-J.
The next day, the world outside has disappeared, lost in a silent white mist… I take my time in the morning, debating if I should stay here and wait for better weather or walk on… We are supposed to go over Pukematawai Summit, at 1432m ,and the conditions might be unfavorable up there. Gael head out first,and I follow not too far. I will see how it is going up and can always turn back if the conditions are too bad. The climb up is OK, with no wind and just a bit of drizzle, it is pretty warm and I hike in T-Shirt. As soon as I reach the summit, the wind picks up, and it gets quite cold, and I am grateful for my sturdy rainjacket. The trail follows the thin ridgeline for a while, and I am a little disappointed that I can’t see anything around, because it must look awesome on each side… Then the track drops down under the tree line and the protection of the bush. This forest is absolutely stunning, with the trees all twisted and completely covered of moss. It creates such a mystical atmosphere in the fog… Lunch break with Gael at Dracophyllum Hut (cute little bivvy), and we walk on to Nichols Hut. It is longer and harder than I thought to Nichols Hut, but luckily the weather clears up nicely, and having Gael to talk to during the few breaks is nice. I am happy when I finally see the hut, and the expansive views we have from it. We meet Jo and Chris, a couple of teachers from Auckland, walking the TA in sections during the school holidays.
The next day, the climb up towards the summit of Mt Crawford at 1462m takes us above the clouds… We go slow, admiring our surroundings and taking many pictures… and we take a nice long break at the top. The four of us remain mostly silent while sitting there, left speechless by the beauty of the scenery, and taking it in…. an ocean of fluffy white clouds, with the nearby peaks sticking out like islands, Ruapehu in the distance, and us… wandering sailors on a drifting ship…
I don’t want to walk down…. I could stay here forever… I now understand fully how you can get ensorcelled by these powerful Mountains…
The hike down to Waitewaewae Hut is a brutal 1240m downhill … I have lunch there with Gael and hesitate on moving on to Otaki Forks or not, as it is already 2 in the afternoon…. I decide to go even if that means a long day…(another 5 hours of walking) but 40 minutes in our hike we misunderstand the markings… We lose a bit of time finding our way back to the right track, so I decide to walk back to the hut… I’m tired and don’t want to push… and I think it is a very good decision as I lie down on the warm pebbles after taking a swim in the beautifully clear Otaki river, and relax at the hut.
And after walking to Otaki Forks the next day, I am happy I didn’t do all of it in one go, as it is quite long and the diverted track to avoid a slip is not a very nice walk. I camp with Jo and Chris at Schoolflat campground, and we walk up and over Pukeatea down to Waikanae, being joined up at the summit by Graeme, Nicolas, Rebecca, Serina and Patrick. The Tararuas are behind us now… but for some reason, I have sparkles in my eyes when I look back towards the mountain range…
We take a short day to Paekakariki the next day, with an easy and pleasant walk along beaches. Then it is into Porirua, and finally over Colonial Knob and Mt kaukau to get into Wellington. How do they call Welli again? the windy city, right? well, I understand now. As we walk over Mt Kaukau, I consider crawling on my hands and knees to actually make some progress … good thing it wasn’t like thins on the razor thin ridges of the Tararuas!
We arrive finally in Wellington… woohoo!!!!… but are not quite done yet.
We save the last 10km of the City to Sea Walkway for the next day (Monday 19th)… Rebecca, Serina, Nicolas, Patrick and I reach the rock with the Te Araroa plaque marking the end of the North Island Section, under a hot sun and in high spirits… We made it!
It took me 80 days to walk one Island… 1686km … Wow, it feels quite surreal to be here… It is quite an accomplishment, yet it also feels like the serious things are only just about to start….
The South Island is awaiting… and I feel as nervous as I was before starting in Cape Reinga.
The adventure is far from being over…