What a change of scenery the last 100 kilometers have been. Rolling pasture, mountain summits, cold creeks and a whole lot less of the hodgepodge of road walks that the northern bit put me through. It’s a tough trail, this Te Araroa. For one, you can’t look at a map and say, “here is where I’ll be tonight.” Because sometimes the terrain is REALLY rugged. So, compared to the AT, PCT and CDT where I could hike 30 miles in a day, I aim for 30 kilometers a day and I’m quite pleased with myself. SO, let’s break this last segment down, shall we. 30-minute time limit at the ol’ Te Kuiti library, here I go!
807-823km’s: Hamilton to Whatawhata: Not much to say here except a whole lot of road walking with a short distance through a nice wooded arboretum and a short pasture walk across farmland. The highlight was when I reached Whatawata and it’s one and only tavern. Out back, between the hours of 5-8, was an exceptional backyard and bar with big shady trees and a table of local joes. They all gave me a look when I walked up, one of surprise and delight. I had a warm welcome, a couple of beers and a big burger. Don’t need a side of chips when the burgers are big and good.After, close to 7:30, I left the pub and finished off a few miles to reach what I thought would be a trailhead. Indeed it was not, and I never did find it as in the morning, I hopped a fence heading in the direction my map said I needed to head and sure enough, about 1/4 mile later I found a stile and the classic TA post with orange marker. But before that, during the night before, I had a bit of a worrying scare. I was winding my way up this ill-frequented gravel road, passing through rolling hillsides growing ever darker in the night, when I got a little disgrauntled trying to find the trail. I knew exactly where it claimed to be (at least what my map said), but nothing came of it. I walked down the road a wee bit further, mumbling some unhappy words, turning back and hopping a fence to pitch my tent. Well, a short distance later a car’s headlight came up the road. Taking saftey precautions for them to not see me (you know, solo female in the woods by her lonesome…) I dropped low and turned my headlamp off. Well, turned out, they didn’t just have headlights, but headlamps AND they were shining it alll over the side of the road, taking a pause just ahead of me (now me reclining on ground, barely breathing trying to look real still). Anyway, they continued on. Whatever they were looking for I will never know, and if their intentions were good or bad, that I will never know either.
But let’s get to the good stuff!
This section includes a few separate sections, but for timesake I’ll group em together. A glorious ridgewalk through rolling hills, steep hills mind you, and a landscape that just screamed CDT! I miss that trail, it’s remote ruggedness, which although the TA is rugged, it has yet to have that remote feel. Patience, Mary, patience. After that the trail climbed up to a 950+ meter peak, Pirongia, with stellar views of the top. The climb was awesome, well-groomed, free of cobwebs (cuz other non-thru’s hike it) and that good ol’ feeling when you start to get nearer to a summit, the vegitation lightens, the mood brightens and bam, you’re standing at the top. At the lookout, I could see miles and miles, straight down to the much anticipated Mt. Doom. You know, the one in Lord of the Rings. That still stood about 300k’s to the north at the time, but boy it was a sight to see. Onward I went, walking what was one of the most impressive walkways I’d ever seen: the Noel Sandford Walkway. Pieces of this wooden walkway needed to be dropped down by helicopter, arranged and molded into the ever dense thick NZ bush.
After Pirongia, there was a short walk on gravel backcountry roads, then back to more trail follwing farm tracks and timber trails that really could use a bit of maintenance. A couple of really cold refreshing creeks to bathe off in and then a brutally long a tiresome bushwack and wham, I was standing at the Waitomo Caves. A good friend of my highly recommended them and indeed he was rights. I took a tour of the caves, learning all about the creation of stalactites and stalagtites and glow “worms” and all sorts of fascinating cave things. I can definitely mark that as a trail highlight, and one that I’d like to return to when this trip is over and if my budget allows. After that the trail wanders back into the bush, for a moment it crawls steeply up a HOT vertical mess of gorse. You know the mesquite bush inAmerica, the one with poking, prodding big thorns. This is it’s close cousin. It does end, and for those few TA soldiers following behind, just push through and hop in the Mangapu River when done. But before that make sure to pick up loads of fresh kale as the trail litterly walks through a field of it, I scooped up loads of it, eating it raw and later steaming it with dinner. At the end of the segment, I walked into Te Kuiti, where after cleaning my legs off with a wetted down bandana (they were filthy with plant resin and cow urine), a woman watering her garden asked if I was a TA hiker. What a delight as she invited me in for a cup of tea and a big bowl of ceral and milk. She was a real pleasure to talk to, a beautiful woman who’s a reflexologist and musician. Anyway that’s about all. I stoll a second 1/2 hour from the library to get this images out to ya. Hope you enjoy.