This probably isn't a surprise anymore... - National Park to (almost) Hamilton

July 9, 2014

Well, I'm stuck, again. Most frustratingly, just as I was getting a decent rhythm again after the big hiatus from Te Araroa.

From National Park, I had to skip the Tongariro Alpine Crossing due to bad weather that didn't look as though it was clearing anytime soon. Instead, I followed a state highway to connect with the very eroded and boggy Waione/Cokers track in pouring rain. I arrived at camp soaked through, with a lot of my gear, including my phone (which was in a waterproof case, that apparently isn't so waterproof anymore!). My phone became unresponsive and without it I didn't have access to the trail notes I needed to prevent life on the trail becoming very confusing.

The next morning I set off in slight rain. After crossing the large Mangatepopo Stream and almost falling in a large pool of water, the track became more and more overgrown until I connected with the 42nd Traverse track, which is a cycle trail and well maintained. I arrived at the small settlement of Owhango by 2:30pm and decided to go for the road walk to Taumarunui in the same day, totalling 44km.

On the following day I had a short walk from the Holiday Park into central Taumarunui to catch a bus to Auckland in the hopes of getting my phone fixed. I was welcomed to South Auckland by a guy with 'WAIKATO' tattooed over his face threatening and harassing me on the bus after I asked him if he could not play the hip hop music on his phone directly behind my head. To make up for that experience, the ever awesome Nomads Auckland Backpackers kindly put me up for a couple of nights and went out of their way to try and help get my phone fixed. I can't say enough good things about these guys!

I was back on the trail by Monday for a reasonably long road walk out to the edge of Pureora Forest.

The next day was pretty short as it only took 3 hours to get to Hauhungaroa hut. Without daylight savings on my side anymore I wasn't sure if I had enough time to reach the next hut. The sun was shining and that seemed like a good enough excuse to chill out, get my clothes dry and listen to The Meters!

The clouds rolled in overnight and I left the hut in a bit of drizzle. The forest was spectacular through this section and reasonably easy tramping. I arrived at Waihaha hut by 2pm, but the sign claimed that the next hut was a 10 hour walk, so I got to stay dry and warm for the afternoon.

Although I wouldn't have made it to Bog Inn hut before dark the day before, I think 10 hours was a bit generous, as it took me 5. While there weren't any opportunities for views, the forest vegetation was once again, very cool. Unfortunately the sections where vegetation grows faster and windfall occurs frequently aren't very maintained. For the last 6km I was walking in a ducking position to get through the tunnels of vegetation, or navigating around the many trees that have fallen down. I was completely soaked by the time I got to the hut, and no firewood meant I was in my sleeping bag at 4pm listening to rain pounding on the hut roof. Sam, whom I will introduce shortly, said that she had to sing Alicia Keys' songs to make herself feel better about the giant rats in the hut, which I thought was hilarious. I didn't get to sing any songs to the occupants as they never made an appearance. Instead they left me some poo's at the end of my sleeping bag during the night.

The final day in Pureora was pretty cruisy. It was once again drizzling rain as I left the hut. After about 1.5km the trail joined on to a cycle trail which meant I could pick up speed. I opted not to divert from the cycle trail to climb the summit of Mt. Pureora as there were no views, and went around. I experienced some trail magic on the descent when I came across two fresh apples sitting right on the track. The temptation for fresh fruit was too strong, so I took one and boy it was good. Towards the end of the cycle trail the sun started to come out, the forest on either side became dense and even more beautiful which made the birdsong come alive. I emerged at a camping ground and spent some time enjoying the sun while having some food. From there, I followed back roads and a state highway for around 14km until I was fortunate enough to meet Wayne from Tiroa Station who offered for me to stay in one of their empty shearer's quarters. I was glad to have shelter as a thunder and lightning storm came in during the evening.

The day into Te Kuiti was long and wet. Wayne from the station suggested I could walk through the farm following a single road to the other side which cut off about 3km of a big road walking detour around the station. From the other side I followed a backcountry road winding it's way through a valley for about 21km. I have been asked by the CEO of the Te Araroa Trust, Rob if I could report on the condition and also map out some of the upcoming tracks. One of them being Mangaokewa Stream track which has been closed for a while due to logging. I had no mapped route and was relying on markers. I followed another road for about 6km to the start of the track. For the most part the track was still in decent (TA standards) condition. It follows an old forestry road and then onto farmland for a while, mostly sticking to goat and/or sheep tracks close to the stream. It had been raining pretty hard for a couple of hours when I met a young farmer dude as I was crossing through a property. He was keen to chat but didn't have much good news for me. The weather was expected to get even worse, and what he knew of the track was that it was about to get 'rough'. I kept on walking through to the edge of the property where I crossed a couple of fence stiles to get back onto old forestry land and from there I had a steep and slippery climb right above the stream, while fighting a tangle of blackberry bush vines. I continued to have my arms sliced and clothes ripped for around 500m until the track climbed up an old forestry road that was being slowly overtaken by gorse. About three quarters of the way up the track dived off the road down a steep bank and into more blackberries. I was already sick of being shredded and decided to explore the option of exiting via the forestry road. I climbed to the top of the road and found a quarry. After walking around the edge of the quarry I linked onto a farm road that led for about a kilometre out to the state highway and then into Te Kuiti. By the time I got into town I had walked around 45km and was soaked. I did a food resupply at the New World supermarket and walked back to the camp ground. The grumpy old owner had no form of heating to offer as I wanted to dry my clothes and gear, so instead I called the BBH backpackers and the owner offered to pick me up.

The next morning I got a ride back to the trail, which took a bit to find. Once I did, I knew it was a case of finding markers as the mapped route was very wrong. The first half of the track was basically all through farmland on very slippery farm tracks. I'm surprised I only fell in mud and sheep poo once. I got confused a couple of times between distant markers that didn't give an indication of which direction to walk. I made it to a road crossing in the track and opted to walk out to the state highway where I hitched to the road leading into Waitomo Village, as I had information from Rob that the second half of the track featured what TA walkers have dubbed as the 'Te Kuiti Tunnel of Gorse'. I had already sacrificed enough blood the day before.

I was expecting a potentially long and rough day the next day. Sam informed me that she ended up in an overgrown gorge while attempting to follow the mapped route. After leaving Waitomo and following some roads to the start of a cycle track, I found a DoC sign showing a mapped route of the TA trail that was completely different to the actual mapped route. I had information that suggested the route on the sign was the way to go. I followed a cycle trail for about 8km and crossed a stream onto a more overgrown version of the cycle trail. Eventually it turned into single track and led through a pretty section of forest before emerging back onto farmland. The trail on the forest side of the fence was overgrown with shrub, so I jumped over and walked on a farm track that was partially overgrown with gorse. This led down to a stream crossing, and then backup a steep hill that was overgrown with ferns. I found it too slippery to climb with just my legs and used the fence to pull myself up. I then followed a farm track until reaching one of the steepest 150m climbs on TA. The track was cut through low lying ferns and bush lawyer (vine that shreds you and your clothes), and weaved in and out of the fence line running straight up the side of Hauturi. Once again, it was too steep and slippery so I found it easiest to drag myself up on the fence. I climbed to the top of Hauturi and continued following the fence line rather than circle around the summit like the trail did. On the other side of the peak I joined back up with the mapped route on a farm track. I followed the route on my GPS and discovered it was also out of alignment when it led nowhere accessible or marked. I decided to cut across some fields and speak to the farm owners at a house on the hill. A friendly lady came out and walked me down to a public road where the actual track leads into bush. She noted that I was one of quite a few people who have knocked on her door asking where the track was. From there I was back on the actual TA which followed the public road into a property and then onto the old Timber Trail, a cycle trail. Since it has been decommissioned and not maintained, the track has turned into a swamp in sections, and is also overgrown with ferns for majority of the track. I enjoyed this track mostly because there were no plants that sliced me apart when I pushed through them. Overgrown can be fun too. At the end of the track the trail jumped onto a very old dirt road which led down towards farmland. I found a nice grassy area just outside the farm property next to the road for a place to pitch the tent.

The next morning was a little bit rainy as I packed up my tent. I was eager to get the upcoming 20km of road walking done and give myself plenty of daylight to climb Mt. Pirongia, which I've heard is like swimming in mud. I crossed into farmland and continued down towards the public road. About one kilometre from camp, my journey was cut short when I was crossing a stile (steps that make it easier to cross fences). As I was stepping off the last step onto a patch of grass, my right foot half stood on a piece of wood that was covered by grass and rolled my ankle. I heard a 'snap' as I fell in some mud. It hurt. I rolled over, sat up, unclipped my pack and waited for a few minutes to see if the pain would subside and hopefully I'd be able to get up and continue walking, but it never did. I needed to accept what'd happened and get help. This meant I finally had the opportunity to see if the $450 piece of plastic that I've carried on my hip-belt all this time actually worked. Later I had a thought, I think Galvanize by The Chemical Brothers should play when a Personal Locator Beacon is being prepared to be turned on, just to add intensity. At 8:20am the beacon was activated...20 minutes after I left camp. Soon after, my mother was contacted by Search & Rescue to inform her, but had no information on my condition, which created unnecessary stress. At 10:15am the Search & Rescue helicopter flew over me. By 10:45am I was in Waikato Hospital in Hamilton.

X-rays suggested that I have an avulsion fracture, which is when a piece of bone is ripped from the ankle by a ligament being jerked, and the right ankle is also severely sprained, if that wasn't obvious. I've since seen a physiotherapist, who didn't tell me the kind of time frame that I wanted to hear, but seemed hopeful that it will repair well. It's looking like I'll be on crutches for another 1-2 weeks before I can start putting weight on it.

I've been incredibly lucky to have met Sam, the only other TA northbounder with the intent of walking the length of the country, not just the South Island. She made contact during the section between Palmerston North and Taupo assuming that I would still be walking on the TA and catching up to me. After trying to work out a way that we could walk some of the TA together, it was looking like I might've been able to catch up to her when she took a job helping with the construction of the new 20 bunk hut in Pirongia Forest Park that would take 3 weeks. As I was approaching Sam's home town of Hamilton, I found out that she had just been offered her dream career (not hut construction) and would no longer be finishing Te Araroa. Sam and her parents kindly took me in for a week after the accident and now we've moved into a share house with some super friendly and accommodating house mates. I couldn't be any more grateful for having a place to stay with awesome people while I recover, or for the overwhelming response of people in Auckland that offered a place to stay and the fact that this mission is still plausible on my now low budget.

Like all of the other injuries, this is frustrating, and even more so this time because I was finally feeling as though I was actually going to achieve what I've set out to do. I had the end in sight. There's no way I can give in after I've come so far, I'll just have to play the waiting game for a while.

I doubt I'll put up another post for a while as I'm sure no one is interested in reading about my days spent lying on the couch or trying to make cheesecakes on crutches...my first attempt at a baked cheesecake layered with persimmons is on the menu tonight, woo! So until I'm hobbling on the trail again, cheerio!

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