It's been great getting back on the trail, and despite my reservations regarding the trail leading up to Auckland, there have been some cool moments along the way.
My first day back on the trail was a day walk from 25km south of Hamilton. William drove me out to my start point early in the morning so that I was walking before 9am. The walk consisted of road and farm tracks which was great for not overdoing my ankle and also allowing the muscles to begin strengthening on some uneven farm terrain. Highlights of the day was finding Excalibur (a real sword!) stuck into the ground on a farm track and being surrounded by 30-40 very interested cattle that really liked to sniff and lick.
Unfortunately, Sam caught a cold and wasn't up to tackling Mt. Pirongia over the weekend. So my plans changed, I decided instead that I would start moving forwards and knock out the mountain traverse a couple of weeks later. On the Saturday I had a easy-breezy footpath/road walk out to Ngaruawahia and on the Sunday I smiled my way over the Hakarimata Ranges, although, my fitness underestimated how tiring it can be to climb 1500 steps as fast as I could to get to the ridge. Towards the end of the Range I met a fella named Kerry that gave me an orange and joined me for the descent following the Kauri Loop Track rather than the TA which was very much worth it for the huge Kauri trees. Kerry kindly offered me a ride but I declined and began the 6km road walk into Huntly where I was questioned thoroughly by a group of children before catching a bus back to Hamilton so that I could see the physiotherapist on Monday.
I had the all clear from Paul at Hillcrest Physiotherapy and I was back in Huntly on Tuesday morning ready for plenty of farm walking...and that's exactly what I got. The weather was very nice, so nice that I had to unclog my sunscreen bottle. I primarily followed stopbanks along the Waikato River through farmland and some roads. The walking was easy and I was having a great time, so I decided to walk for longer than intended and almost knocked out 2 days in one. I ended up camping along the Waikato River amongst a beautiful strand of trees facing towards the sunset.
The next day was mostly smooth cruising. I had a few more kilometres along stopbanks and then through some pasture fields where I got followed/charged by some young bulls. Then it was on to SH1 to get blown around by trucks until the trail crossed under a road bridge and climbed to the Whangamarino Redoubt track. What I thought would be a straight forward few kilometres over some hills turned out to be losing the track from lack of markers and fighting gorse...yippee. To top it off, a deep spot of mud stole one of my hiking pole stopper thingos (the technical term for the bit that stops the pole digging far into the earth). I then passed through Mercer, walked next to SH1 again and followed a road through natural swamp to another stopbank track. The final 9km via road took me to the southern end of the Hunua Regional Park where I set up camp.
I set off early the next morning, climbing up a switch-back track to a ridge where I came across a couple of boars. Suspecting one might be the offspring of the other, I didn't want to get between them. I waited behind a tree as one of the pigs climbed to the ridge and became curious about the thing behind the tree: me. It took a moment to wander up right in front of me before it realised I could've been a predator. Following the ridge, I eventually climbed to a high point of 445m and then descended to the Mangatawhiri River. The rest of the walking day was spent on gravel roads. I arrived at what I thought was going to be a basic shelter to find out that it was a hut without a door. Pleased with my accommodation, I stayed and avoided having to walk in heavy rain.
Setting off the next morning under a gloomy sky, I followed a road that led to a very nice metalled walking track through dense forest. I arrived at another road that took me to the Wairoa Dam. I then began another track that started off on metalled path, but soon turned to muddy tramping track. After a couple of hours the track reverted to nice, graded walking. I took a short detour to check out the Hunua Falls in rain...a worthy trip. Once back on the trail I crossed a stream and climbed to a road. The next track started a few hundred metres down and descended to a river bank. I sloshed and squelched my way along the river for a few kilometres before joining a road that took me into Clevedon. I camped at the scenic reserve that evening and was accompanied by a scouts group with their ginormous tents. The rain came in hard that night and I learned that my tent seams have become less than waterproof when I awoke to pool of water inside at 2am.
By morning the sun was shining bright, but one of the scouts leaders informed me of impending thunderstorms as he handed me a plate of scrambled eggs and toast...little did I care, I had scrambled eggs. The start of my day was a climb through the reserve to a lookout platform, with views in every direction. Beyond, I soon walked through regenerating forest and into pasture before descending on a very slippery track to the road. From there I walked almost entirely on roads into South Auckland. Along the way I came across two unopened Corona's in a bus stop shelter...South Auckland's equivalent of Pureora Forest's trail apples. I was very fortunate to meet Tess at the holiday park that afternoon. We had some good chats and food kept landing in front of me.
The following day was quite uneventful. The trail followed cycle ways and roads past Auckland Airport and around the Manukau Harbour until I reached Ambury Regional Park. Not sure if I would be able to camp there as the trail notes said bookings are essential, I was wandering around when the caretaker asked me if I wanted to camp. After some chatting he learned that I was walking Te Araroa and waived the $12 fee. I had a beautiful sunset looking over the harbour that evening.
The next day was a very short 8km walk into the 'burbs of Auckland. I caught up and stayed with Jono whom I met on Outward Bound a few years back. Thanks for having me Joyful Jon!
Heading into Central Auckland the next morning, the trail followed the Coast to Coast Walkway which linked up parks throughout the suburbs. The highlight being the view from Mount Eden which afforded views in all directions around the city.
I then spent a few days in Central Auckland, staying at the Nomads Auckland Backpackers...once again, thanks to these guys for all they've done for me. As a company, they really know what good service is and how to deal with travellers from all over the world in the friendliest, most helpful way I've ever experienced.
During my time in Auckland I had the opportunity to meet the incredible people behind the work of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ at their office. It was so nice to receive such an enthusiastic response from everyone about my mission, and to get a better insight into the work that the NZ entity of The Foundation focuses on. Out of this, Angela from The Foundation has set up a text campaign so that people in New Zealand can make an easy $3 donation by texting WALK to 4462. Note that this only works for New Zealand numbers, but just incase you're feeling inspired right now and aren't in the right country, here's the link to my fundraising page.
I also went over to Waiheke Island and hired a scooter to get around and see as many beaches as I could in the afternoon before Greg and Darlene from Adelaide took me out for an amazing dinner on Ponsonby Rd. (the fancy restaurants road).
Come Friday evening, I was back in Hamilton and ready to take on the traverse of Mt. Pirongia with Sam over the weekend. On Saturday morning Will drove us out to the site where I broke my foot and I conquered that fence stile! After Will drove off Sam and I began walking the 17km of road to reach the southern end of Pirongia Forest Park in looming rain. The moment that we arrived at the forest edge the rain started to come in. We slowly climbed and the track got muddier and muddier. Both of us were looking forward to experiencing the brand new 20 bunk hut that has gas heating and embraced the rain as it got heavier. We reached the summit of Hihikiwi Hill at about 5:30pm and I was amazed that there was board walk for the last 400m to the hut, which made it much easier to get there before dark. We arrived on the new hut's verandah looking like drowned rats to find a notice on the hut door that said the hut still hasn't been finished and is not open for public use. Luckily the old hut was still open and we could stay there, just without the luxury of heating and getting our clothes dry.
I had great expectations for getting up early and leaving before 8am on Sunday morning, but the time came when it was pouring rain with lashing winds all around the hut and I had no motivation to leave my sleeping bag. In the end I don't think we got up until 8:15. The wind and rain eventually settled so we could begin the brief climb to Mt. Pirongia summit and descend to the northern edge of the Park. To begin with the track was more like a stream, and once over the summit it became the sea of mud we got to know the day before. We both made the most of being completely soaked again and rather than use up time trying to walk around the mud pools, we instead used the same amount of time jumping into them and seeing how deep we could get. We met a fella who's name I cannot recall, that seemed to think a fun thing to do for your Sunday is climb Mt. Pirongia in poor weather! He ascended and then descended much faster than us and walked with us for the last few kilometres out of the Park. The sun came out just as we got to the northern edge in time for a brief road walk to the next track. I didn't think much of the final track as I assumed it would be a fairly average farm track route. To my surprise, we were constantly rewarded with views of beautiful valleys and rock formations, as well as a look right across the rolling hills of the Waikato region. Because of this, we spent a bit too much time taking photos and left Will waiting at our pick up point for half an hour...sorry bro!
I'm so fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to not only walk with someone for a small portion of Te Araroa, but to have been able to walk with someone that has made my whole experience in NZ that much more incredible, despite the fact that this all came about because of a broken foot. Thank you, Samantha Taylor!
I apologise for the huge delay of an update. I have been having some incredible experiences and making good progress as I've walked north of Auckland over the last week. Today I'm embarking on a journey within this journey as I start a 10 day vipassana silent meditation retreat. I will do another update after the retreat for the latest section.