It’s Halloween! …not celebrated here…
I woke to hear Eelco folding up his tent. Georges slept through all my packing until the very last bit and, as we had agreed the night before, he waited until I finished before he sat up and started (constant problem solving and proactive habit making). Peeking out of the dew covered tent, I saw Eelco’s spot deserted and acknowledged the pang of sadness I felt at his absence. I crawled out of the tent and carried my bag over to the patio on the other side of the fence to pack it on dry ground. Eelco was there at the table, just finishing packing his own bag. 🙂 I was happy to tell him good morning, glad to hear his tent was perfectly dry for him and relieved to have the opportunity to wish him safety for his continued travels. He said goodbye to Georges through the tent before leaving, and I saw the last of his pack when I headed out to the town bathrooms. As he crossed the far highway, I again acknowledged the sting of farewells.
Georges and I started hiking shortly before 8. We didn’t choose Eelco’s idea of following the town road until it more safely crossed the big highway and then looping back to the bridge. Rather, we again jumped the guardrails and wire median to take the shorter, more direct path. My right foot was very painful. Where I had been ignoring the painful reminder of bruising on the bottoms of both feet everyday, I now had incredible pain in just the one foot. It made the bruising completely irrelevant. We clambered through the still vacant construction site where they were building an interchange and multilane bridge access and jumped out onto the road just before the long bridge. The bridge was a typical one lane and had small walkways on both sides of the lane. G and I walked carefully on our skinny walkway and marveled at the wide river below. The bridge must have been nearly a kilometer long and took us quite a while to get across. The haze and fog of the morning still hung over the banks and small islands of the river, so we took our time enjoying the experience.
Once on the other side, we reviewed the maps. The trail followed the stop bank of the river until the next town, Huntly. The road also followed the river closely and we could see the stop bank running parallel to both the river and the road. We decided to walk the road to avoid the wet morning grass and hopefully to help my foot–which was almost impossible to walk on. We started down the long flat road. I soon took an ibuprofen to try to ease the pain in my foot. Once that started working, walking became much easier. Still, the road was really boring; not even many houses or livestock to look at. We tried to hitch what little traffic there was, but were unsuccessful until we had nearly completed the distance to Huntly.
We accepted a ride from a dairy farmer, his girlfriend and their big golden retriever, Zoid. It was one of the more kinda-racists folks we chatted with and the gentleman explained where the Moiri people (‘darkies’) lived in Huntly. We were still grateful for the ride and it was nice to sit with a big dog. They dropped us at the grocery store in Huntly and, it being about 10:30, we decided to get our tortillas and something for the day’s lunch too. We didn’t need to resupply dinners or bars or anything. We just didn’t have enough tortillas.
We went in the store and got two bananas and an apple each for lunch. We saw a bulk good trail mix we decided to scoop out a bit. Then found the tortillas and then walked past the muesli bars. We found our favorite brand and varieties of bars (also the most expensive) to be on super sale!! We loaded up. They are usually $5-6 a box and here they were just a couple dollars. We bought every flavor and then got a bunch of other brands too because they were also a really good price. With a dozen boxes of muesli bars we went to find some bread for lunch. I looked to find a gel insole for my shoes, but couldn’t find anything except an Oder Eater insole. We found two delicious, huge breads: a garlic butter twist and an Italian pizza bread. We checked out and plopped ourselves outside the door to have lunch and repack our bags.
You would think we hadn’t eaten in weeks by the way we scarfed, unabashedly, these two huge breads. We each were holding a loaf and a banana and eating off each other’s loaf as we took massive bites of the soft delicious bread. (We had large dinners the night before…) Lots of people stared at us, but we absolutely didn’t care. Many smiled at our socially off putting behavior. A couple pointed to the large mountain behind them and asked if we were going up today. We nodded our heads to these questions, as our mouths were full more often than not.
After our gluttonous lunch of two loaves of bread and four bananas, I started repacking the food. We had a lot of muesli bars. A lot. I filled my huge food bag for the first time in its life. G took the trail mix and tortillas. We didn’t have room in our tummies for our lush apples, so we stowed those in my pack. Shouldering our packs, we found them really pretty heavy. Not too heavy, by certainly noticeably heavy.
We crossed back to the other side of the river and started toward the next forest track. Walking next to the road is long and boring. This road, again, had no shoulder; and traffic was moving fast through the curvy passage. In New Zealand, we have found, pedestrians have absolutely no right-of-ways or respect. Do not expect a car to pull into the other lane a little as they pass you–nope, they just travel as if you don’t exist. Which means, when there’s no shoulder, it sucks. We made it to the trailhead alive and sat down a bit before entering.
We had planned to camp before the forest today and then the next day complete the forest, camp on the other side, and on the third day hike into Hamilton–where we had an invitation to stay with Linda and Marius who we had met at the bed and breakfast off Ninety Mile Beach. Checking our watches with the listed time in the forest track, we found that if we stuck to the pace listed, we could just barely make it through the forest today. It was only 12 p.m.. The track was listed as 12 km, 7 hours. Sun set at ten minutes to 8. We could make it as long as we stuck to the trail with good motivation. We talked about it and decided we would push through the forest and ask to camp at the first house we found after the track.
By the way, 2 km an hour is the worst a track gets. It means you are traveling only 3 meters a minute on average–sometimes faster, **sometimes slower**. Compare that to the typical walking speed of 7-8 meters a minute and consider why it would be so much slower–hills, mountains, ridge lines (lots of tiny mountains), jungle, mud, poor maintenance, no maintenance, rock climbing, stream walking, lions, tigers, bears… The closer to 2 km an hour a track is, the less fun it is going to be (which is the positive way of saying, the more miserable it’s going to be).
So, we started up our track–7 hours of track at a pace of 2 km an hour. When you get up and go to work in the morning, you might think about the time. You might say, only eight more hours of work and I’ll be done. It seems like that’s the whole day, right? Well. I was starting something at noon and trying to conceptualize and rationalize 7 more hours to be spent at this activity–with only a work day to compare it to–which I didn’t find very comforting. All the same, I was energized by the feast of good bread and bananas we had had for lunch, and I knew we had to stay motivated to complete the goal on time. The tracks started with stairs. 1,500 stairs, to be exact. There were others using the trail for exercise or a Sunday afternoon activity–this is good for us because that means it is probably well maintained. Stairs, stairs, stairs. Sweating and wondering why we had bought so many muesli bars, we kept going up.
There were two lookout points shortly into the trail. The views were great.
But I did notice they looked exactly like some puzzle boxes I’d seen in target. Puzzles are easier than 1,500 stairs. I’m just pointing that out. From the mountain we looked down on the valley–flat and lush green, but cut by the wide meandering river we had been following for days. A couple villages could be seen spotting the grass with white buildings. We rushed our picture taking, knowing we were pushing the day right up to sunset.
At the second lookout we met a couple who chatted with us about going through the whole track (rather than the typical trip up to the look outs and then back down). They told us that the village at the other side of the track (the one we were hoping to camp in) had very low socioeconomic standing and it was not a safe place to camp. They said there was some gang activity and we would be better off not knocking on those doors. They told us about another trail which had a place we could camp at the end. Ever conscious of the time passing, the four of us looked at maps and found the trail; it split off at the end of the track we were on. The Te Araroa took us down the ‘stair trail’ but there was camping at the end of the one-hour-longer ‘rail trail’. We decided we might try to get down the rail trail to camp safely there or we might try to push through the town and out into the country in hopes of a safer place. We would decided in 5 hours at the splitting point.
Thanking the couple for the information, we headed back to the trail from the lookout. It was now 1:13. The sign said it was 6 more hours to the end of our trail. On we pushed.
The trail wasn’t muddy, but the trail maintenance stopped after he lookouts. Typical. Expected, really, but still not very kind. It is my strong opinion that if there is any unemployment at all in New Zealand, they should be hired by the Department of a Conservation and tasked with trail maintenance. A machete and some logs go a long, long way. Oh well. We stomped on roots and rocks, disrupted soil and young plants, surely transferred some Kuri Dieback Disease–it was the way they left us to get through the forest. (Kuri Dieback Disease is spread by moving soil and is killing all the island’s Kuri–an old massive tree which houses lots of animals. We have to wash our boots and poles at the beginning and end of all the tracks to help stop the spreading.)
The hours crawled by as we went up and down through the ridge line. The work was hard and slow, and six hours is a lot of time to break down into more manageable pieces. It gets really boring, to be honest. The trees and plants on a ridge line don’t change, so once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. There also were only a couple vistas from within the dense forest. Hours and hours. We hiked pretty fast, nearly top speed, and rested only once or twice. We talked mostly about how stupid it was for us to have bought sooo much food! We were totally carried away with the bargains…
In five hours we arrive at the summit. There was a scaffolding tower and we climbed up. We enjoyed the view but were also discussing what we would do for the evening. I liked the sound of the campsite, but G didn’t want to add the extra kilometers. The tower was well visited by people coming up the opposite direction to us. We met another couple and started chatting. I asked if anyone was local and everyone said no; most were from Hamilton and here to exercise. The couple though repeated the advice we’d heard earlier–the village wasn’t a safe one. We had not heard that from anyone about any part of New Zealand yet, so we were really uncertain about exactly how unsafe the area must be.
In light of the time, we were considering pushing through the town and getting it to the country. The trail leaves the town and follows the river to Hamilton. It is three hours from the end of the trail (we still had 1.5 hours from the summit to the bottom) to Hamilton–we couldn’t make it all the way by dark. We decided to call Marius to let him know we would be sooner than we anticipated, having shaved several days off our plan in the last couple days. While talking to Marius, Marius said he and Linda were actually near the village and would be happy to just pick us up in their way home. Perfect!!
…except Georges said we were 30 minutes from the bottom of the trail…..so Marius said we should be in the village in 45 minutes….
We started jogging. Soon we passed a sign saying we were 1 hour 30 minutes from the end of the track. Geeeez. Another 1,500 steps…at a run….with a million unnecessary muesli bars….
The area of forest was beautiful. This section was very well made and followed a small stream as it flowed and water called down the mountainside. The trail was very busy with people exercising and taking family outings. We ran past them all. We snapped a couple pictures, but we ran, ran, ran.
We reached the end in 23 minutes. Several kind people offered us rides to Hamilton and the city center. If we had known it was that easy to get to Hamilton, we wouldn’t have bothered Marius!! We accepted a ride to the city center. With so many minutes to spare we, jogged into the local grocery store and grabbed some avocados for Marius and a chocolate bar for Linda. Plus, a Coke for G, some beer for me and a small chocolate bar us both.
We went outside and sat at a picnic table by the road to wait for Linda and Marius. We chatted with a couple of young kids walking by, enjoyed our chocolate bar and took bets on what kind of car Marius would be driving.
It was great to see Linda and Marius. They greeted us happily and helped us load our stuff into their car. We caught up on the ride to their home and looked forward to showers and laundry. 🙂 We thought we would be in Hamilton three days from Huntly…turns out we’d be there the same day. So glad we bought so much food in Huntly.