So, without even making it out of the Wellington region I've had to stop due to injury, again! Knees, what are they good for?!
I had spent a couple days in Wellington having a look around the city and preparing some logistics for the North Island. On Thursday the 10th I woke up with a cold and caught a bus to the southern end of the city where the trail officially starts (ends) in Island Bay. The walking throughout the day was a combination of very easy tramping on small hills walking tracks and road/footpath through the suburbs. Surprisingly I've found having the GPS useful for the first time while 'navigating' my way through the suburbs. Occasionally I found it difficult to spot trail markers because they weren't always in obvious places or had been removed by vandalists, which caused me to go down the wrong path at times. As I left the suburbs, the rain and wind began to pick up while I climbed towards the Skyline track. It was easy 4WD track and probably offered great views, but I was faced with howling wind, low clouds and sideways rain which slowed my progress dramatically. Once I made it to the end of the track I followed road that was much more sheltered through a valley for around 9km. I had hoped to get to a campsite that was still about 7km away, but the day was getting late so I knocked on Paul & Rachel's door. They were very friendly, and kindly let me camp on their property.
The following morning I was woken by rain causing condensation in the tent to drip on my face. Not feeling very recovered from the road walking and huge amount of stairs the day before, I set off through Spicer Forest and up towards Colonial Knob. Fortunately the clouds were high enough for me to get some cool views of the town Porirua. The trail then led down into the town to a short walking track before getting onto the road. I had switched trail pants while I had my mountain bike backpack in Wellington, but unfortunately they were causing discomfort from chafing. I figured I would have a very unpleasant experience when I got into the mountains if I didn't do something. I found the cheapest solution in the form of a $50NZ pair of boxer underwear! The price tag was worth being comfortable though as the rest of the day followed road, including a busy state highway which required a lot of mental energy to get through. I stayed at the Hilltop Hideaway with Denise in Paekakariki that evening. Turns out I know her husband Peter through Facebook as he has done a similar off TA route through the Ruahine Ranges. Such a strange coincidence! It was unfortunate he was out on the trail at the time.
I planned for a shorter day after two longer days on hard surfaces. I left the backpackers around 10:30am into rain. Shortly after leaving, the rain stopped, and didn't return. The trail followed a road until it ended and a coastal track started. I spent a few minutes walking on the coastal track before descending to the beach as it was nicer than undulating and winding through the reserve. The beach took me almost all the way to the Waikanae River outlet, but the trail turned and wandered through an estuary until I met with the Waikanae River. I crossed the river via a footbridge and arrived at El Rancho Holiday Park. I wasn't sure of any places to stay a few kilometres beyond the holiday park, so decided to stay rest for half of the afternoon. I wanted to do my food resupply for the upcoming section through the Tararua Ranges so walked out to catch a bus. I was at the bus stop a bit early and managed to hitch a ride easily. Unfortunately the dude thought I meant Wellington when I said 'town' and started taking me south until I realised. He was kind enough to drop me right at the supermarket. Apparently he thought I wanted to head into the city to go nightclubbing...in thermals, a beanie and my very fashionable blue-strapped sandals.
My legs still felt sore the next morning (for those who may be wondering, I stretch everyday), I set off with a slightly heavier pack along the Waikanae River. Within a few kilometres I could feel a sharp kind of pain in my left knee. The trail met with a state highway and led into the town of Waikanae. After only about 5km my legs were very sore and the pain in my knee continued to build. I persistently followed a road that would end at the trail head after about 13km. As I walked my mind started to ponder how I would manage the huge ascents and descents in the days to come with a knee that was becoming more unstable just walking on flat surface. About 5km from the trail head I had stopped to look at the map. When I took a step to start walking again my left knee buckled as the pain hit me hard. I hobbled to the side of the road where I could take my pack off and sat down to consider my options. It became clear that my knee wasn't going to get better with more road walking or rough terrain. I had to stop.
Within a few minutes I got a ride with some fancy ladies that said they don't pick up hitch-hikers, but because I looked like a real tramper they made an exception. I guess that means I've mastered the homeless look! Once back in Waikanae, I was able to book a bus to Palmerston North where Steve and Maria drove to pick me up. I met Steve and Maria way down south in the Takitimu Forest not far from Te Anau. I can't thank them enough for their kindness and generosity over the past week. Not only have they invited me to stay on their property at the southern end of the beautiful Ruahine Ranges where I have been able to 'study' it's weather, they have taken me back to Palmerston North for physiotherapy and helped organise a newspaper article in the local Guardian multiple times.
As for my knee: rest and stretching has helped to repair the cartilage damage and overused muscles. I'm feeling the urgency of getting back to the trail as the weather gets closer to winter. Even though Cyclone Ita has had an impact throughout the week, it seems like the weather around these mountain ranges can be very sporadic and unpredictable.
If I don't have good luck with my health, then hopefully it will come in the form of nice weather!