Beautiful Forest, Absurd Hitch, and Ugly Jungle

Leaving Auckland, we did the last of our errands. We checked out of the hostel and organized our food from the kitchen. We would carry the remaining loaf of bread, hot cocoa and coffee mixes, an avocado, a liter of Coke and Georges’ apple. I made a slice of bread with Nutella and chicken flavored potato chips to finish these off. Heading downtown we went to the post office to get our bounce box. G wrote a hundred postcards to all his admirers while I went through our two bounce boxes (the original one we had mailed in Auckland and the additional one we mailed from Kerikeri). We added a few more things to the bounce box and I took out a variety of consumables–new dehydrated peanut butter, contact solution, toothpaste, etc.. I was luckily able to get all the bounce stuff back into our original box, so we could carry on with one box. I mailed it to meet us in Wellington just before Christmas.We then headed to the camera store to see if we could find a pouch for G’s extra camera lens. He has been carrying it in one of his hip belt pouches, but is trying to rearrange so he can put small stuff in the hip belt and put the lens up on his shoulder opposite the camera. After a long thinking and analyzing time, G purchased a second of the exact case he has the camera in and put his lens in it. Lastly, we searched for a new contact lens case, as mine leaks too much; and we searched for a big floppy hat to help my seemingly sunscreen immune, blackened ears and bright pink nose get some relief. We found both and headed to the train station. We figured out which train and got on board.

From Auckland we took the train to a village that’s name starts with an M and probably has an r and an n in it. We went to the grocery store because it was right at the top of the sidewalk from the train. We got some sweet gum and two treats from the bakery next door. We sat on the lawn in the parking lot and had lunch. Eating our fresh food and our bakery treats. We washed up in some public bathrooms and filled our water bottles. Finally, we set off for the trail.

We walked out of town on the trail and alongside a stupidly dangerous highway with no shoulder. A gal named Jen stopped over and offered us a ride. We accepted and showed her where on the map the trail next leaves the road. She happily drove us to the gravel road before the next pasture section. The kilometers she took off our feet saved us enough time to let us push through an extra track than we had planned.

We walked down the country gravel road for a few minutes. The land was steeply hilly and had small farms on it. The track lead us off the gravel and into a bull pasture. We walked cautiously by–not cautiously by the bulls, cautiously by the electric fence keeping us all in. The climb was steep. Over another fence and the climb became almost a ladder. Grassy climbs are nothing compared to wet, gloomy, muddy climbs through the jungle; so we laughed and joked about how extreme the angle of climb was. At the top there was a geniusly placed log acting as a bench. Crawling the last meter, we exasperatedly exclaimed at the unbelievable climb we just completed. Catching our breaths and laughing, we moved on. The trail continued through this higher pasture. It wove through pines and grassy fields. The views were great the whole time, and when we turned over our shoulders we could see Auckland’s sky needle in the far distance.

As with all great ascents, we eventually found the decent. We climbed down and down. Now we were traveling through huge bushes of super needles. We kept going and entered a change of scenery. The trail notes told us we were probably in the DOC’s unmarked scenic reserve. Here we found cool, short passages through different elements–all very wild, but seemed to be purposefully placed. Some under the palms, around great Kuris, under big willows, through tall grasses–pretty cool. Just as we were beginning to wonder when we would be somewhere recognizable, we hit a perpendicular trail cutting across. This new trail was very clean and had pea gravel instead of indistinguishable foot prints. We turned right and found ourselves at a lookout scaffolding. We climbed up and were afforded 360 degrees of views over rolling pastures, forests, farms and oceans in the distance. Continuing down, we started meeting evening exercisers and knew we must be getting close to the out.

We finally found the out and arrived in a parking lot by a scout’s club. Our notes told us we could camp for free behind the building, but we wanted to find someone to ask. We walked around it a bit and saw signs on the bathrooms saying they were out of order–not the best when you’re trying to ask permission the camp. The parking lot had plenty of cars and we could hear music from inside the building. We eventually crept in and G asked if we could camp outside. They were having a community exercise class, and the instructor told us we could camp outside….or we could sleep on the padded bunks inside!! She said we could use the kitchen and the dinning hall and even take hot showers in the morning!! Only thing we needed was to have our own toilet paper–which we do. Hooray! So we took our time picking which room we wanted to be in; I chose the girls dorm–figured it was cleanest. This dorm was small and had an attached bathroom with a heated shower room. We set out our stuff and made dinner–noodles–but with hot chocolate, too. 🙂 🙂

The night was very very cold. I was using the new sleeping bag liner I had bought in Auckland–it was a big improvement over the sleeping bag fabric, but I wasn’t used to how to use it. The cold, the couple persistent mosquitos and the thin mattress (which G had doubled his on my recommendation, but I couldn’t be bothered) kept me from sleeping any. :/

In the morning we had coffee and cocoa with breakfast and enjoyed hot, heated showers. We reviewed the maps and we’re excited for the day. The trail would be taking us around massive water reservoirs and dams. We closed the door behind us as we had been instructed and headed forward on the trail. We walked through a lovely village and stopped to chat with a school teach who was supervising he crossing guard. Carrying on, we left the town and headed into the countryside on a long lonely road. There was a duck that had nested right on the side of the road, so we stopped to take lots of pictures of the cute ducklings. Other than that, there wasn’t much to look at. A guy stopped and offered us a ride–which we accepted. He looked at our maps and happily took us to the start of the next forest track.

The next forest section was one of my favorites. It was heavily travelled by horse, so the path was muddy at times, but in pretty good shape. It started out following a beautiful, boulder and stone filled stream–it wove through the grass and flowering trees high on the bank. Eventually, the trail turned away from the stream (climbed a mountain) and went then through the forest. At parts we were under large pine trees on needle-strewn paths; others we wound around through the peaceful jungle.

We came out to a blacktop road. The trail lead us left (uphill) 700 meters and then back into the forest on the other side. Buuuut, out of the blue, a car drove past us and offered us a ride. Laughing a bit, I told him we only had about 600 meters to go. He shrugged and said hop in! We joined a guy and his girlfriend who were simply out for a drive. They took us the 15 seconds up the hill and let us out for our next track. We thanked them lots–all of us laughing–and headed back into the forest.

The trail was now in typical jungle, but the path was wide enough to keep it at bay. We hiked down to a stream, followed it for a bit, crossed it and carried on into the jungle. We saw a sign for waterfalls, twenty minutes round trip off the the trail. G and I decided to check it out and have lunch there if it was nice. The waterfall was cool–tall and skinny. There was a parking lot there so we were in a well visited place. We ate at a picnic table near the falls and took advantage of the bathrooms and photo opportunities. The couple that had given us a ride showed up as we were leaving–small world. 🙂

After lunch we went back to the trail and hiked on. It quickly became unmaintained and very steep. Laughing at us, the jungle mountain took us round and round and round the face of the mountain without ever giving us a summit or a view. The hours began to pass. Thankfully, nothing was muddy; but the trail was again very hard work. Thick jungle with palms and vines trapping you. Steep climbs and sharp descents. No views. None of the lakes or dams we had been looking forward to. Nothing but jungle.

Our goal for sleeping was a shelter marked on the trail notes. We understood the notes as the shelter being 1 km after we hit the road, which we hit as we hit the first dam. I was very very tired and ready to be done for the day. I made G agree that, even if we hit the camp with a few hikable hours left, we would stop hiking and set up camp for the day. I didn’t want to go any further than our goal. When we hit the dam we took in the view and sat to rest a bit. We enjoyed the sheep grazing on the grassed, non-water side of the dam as we crossed. After about 20 minutes, we wondered where the campsite was. We were following the only road in the only direction. Eventually we came to a sign that explained that the road on which the campsite was a kilometer from, was 4 kilometers further through the jungle. It was beginning to rain and it was getting late. We realized this meant it could be as long as two more hours to the road and another half and hour to the camp. My heart dropped right through my stomach. I was already past done for the day. I had put in the hours of hard work. I had enjoyed parts and not enjoyed parts. I had stayed motivated and made it to my goal.

But my goal had been formulated on a misunderstanding. Even if I sat down and cried in exhaustion and stress for the coming rain and darkness, the campsite with the shelter was five kilometers away. I’d wished quitting had been an option. It wasn’t though, so holding back the tears of defeat we turned into the uphill forest and pushed. Pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed.

Miraculously, we made four kilometers, uphill, in the forest, in light rain, in forty minutes. We hit the road and the rain stopped. We turned and pushed down the road toward the campsite. The views up here were great–the one view we thought we would spend the day enjoying. We found the road to the campsite and turned up it. (All we ever do is go up.)

Shortly, we arrived. Finally. All my stress and anger and defeat evaporated. And! The shelter turned out to have bunks!! Our first hut! It had three and a half walls. Inside, there was a picnic table. On the longest, back wall, was a counter. On the side and half/front wall were lower and upper, L-shaped bunks. It looked like the short side of the L was actually too short for a person, so I started unpacking with G in bottom and me on top, both of us on the long sides. G went to the water tank and started filtering water. I cleaned off the boards and checked for splinter risks. I blew up the air mattresses and pulled out the sleeping bags. Then I got dinner started while G continued to filter water. We would be having soup and a noodle packet for dinner.

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Suddenly, and quietly, a man appeared in the doorway. I was certainly surprise to see another human, but I worked to clear space in the hut for him. I figured he shouldn’t have to sleep with me or Georges, so I moved G to the top long bunk and put my pad on the top short side–my sleeping pad just barely fit. The gentleman, a kiwi from Nelson, looked absolutely exhausted. And long. I noticed immediately that he was a bit taller than Georges, and his feet and legs were quite long. I asked if he was a fellow Te Araroa hiker and he confirmed he was. As he slowly went about resting and getting his dinner, we learned his name was Eelco and he had slept the night before in Auckland–reminder, we slept in Auckland two nights before and had taken the train and several hitches to get where we were. It turned out he had hiked 50+ kilometers each of the three previous days. (That is a huge thing)

Eelco was good company. We talked about food and gear over our various dinners and unpackings. We also picked his Kiwi brain for more information about local food brands and options. It was dark before long, though, so we settled in to sleep.

How odd it is that when you are backpacking you sleep and live in spaces much smaller than you would normally ever spend time with another person. Three grown-ups were sleeping in a shelter the size of an average sedan. Instantly intimate and fully accepting. Friends from first appearances.

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