The Whanganui River, National Park to Wanganui (3 to 9 December)

From National Park to Whakahoro where I planned to start the river section was a two-day walk.  The rains had returned, making it a damp walk.

The trail wound through a steep sided valley with the river far below.  With the bad weather, I just kept my head down and tried to walk as fast as possible.  My bag was the heaviest it would be for the whole of the New Zealand with 8 days food, packraft, paddle and life vest added.

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A lady driving by, stopped a kindly advised that at Whakahoro, if I stop in at the Blue Duck Cafe, they give a free coffee to TA hikers.

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A little ahead of me at this point I saw part of the cliff give way with a small rock slide, hitting the edge of the road.  I speed up to get past this point!

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Stopping in at the Blue Duck, they do indeed give a drink to TA hikers.  I also had a toasted cheese sandwich to warm up.  Filling in the TA book at the Cafe, it was good to see that some friends had passed through as well.

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In the afternoon, the sun finally showed itself.

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At the Whakahoro campsite, I met Alex and Harriet (http://anoutdoorlifestyleblog.com) and Michael and Katie who were also heading down river, but had started further up.  They were great company down the river.

The next day I inflated my boat, loaded up the bag and set out.

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Video Clip: Cliffs and Water

Video Clip: Packrafting, the Lazy Boy of boating

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That evening we all met up at the John Coull Hut, and were joined by brothers Joe and Josh, played cards and drank beer & wine (Thank you, Joe & Josh and Michael & Katie for the wine and beer).

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On Sunday, I stopped with Joe and Josh to see the famed Bridge to Nowhere.  Built by a small boy (Mr Sandford, in the picture below), and then later not wanted by the locals, who all left after it was built, it was a truly Herzogian structure.

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That evening we all stayed at Tieke Kainga hut which is part of a Maori marae.

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We then popped over the river to grab an evening drink at the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge.  Alex and Harriet kindly taxied me over in their canoe.

 

The next day Harriet, Alex, Josh and Joe all left the river at Pipiriki.

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After a farewell ice cream, I set off following Katie and Michael down the river.

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That evening I decided to wild camp on the bank. After being moved on from my initial site by a guy in a balaclava who didn’t appreciate my site selection, I found a nicer spot about 5km down stream.

The next day was a short paddle to the Downes Hut. I think my favorite hut so far. Small and sweet.  Katie and Michael stopped by for lunch before heading on and Scotty, from DOC  also stopped by to do some work on the hut and in chatting it turned out he had lived in Tunbridge Wells, its a cliche, but it is a small world. That evening a German couple also stayed (apologies I have forgotten their names).

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The next day was a 17 Km paddle, to where I left the river and then walked the last 17 km to Wanganui.  The down side of the packraft, which was great on the rapids, is that in slow water, and in a head wind, it is very slow.

All the way down the river there were small rapids, but I had hoped for a few more and bigger ones, oh well.

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Tongariro Crossing Two and a break in National Park (29 November to 2 December)

I took Sunday as a rest day, and chilled at the backpackers.  I booked  the coach to the Tongariro crossing and in the evening went climbing with Matt as the backpackers also had a climbing wall.

Monday was the big day, the weather was looking clear, sunny and just right for going for a run. This was the best day in NZ so far.

After his defeat Sauron came back in the form of  a bright red, yellow and black grasshopper

Video: Steam vent coming from the Volcano

Video: Mt Ngauruhoe Crater

Though I didn’t escape completely unscathed

I spent the next two days resting and packing for the next section, the Whanganui River.

Taumarunui to National Park (25 to 28 November)

After several rounds of tea and toast in the morning, I finally got myself going. After a road walk to Owhango the path took a trail called the 42 Traverse which took two days.  Various signs warned of its remoteness and I had looked forward to this. But in the end it was disappointing.  And large sections of the trail had been churned up by quad bikes, who after turning one section into a swamp, just bulldozed around it, till that becomes a swamp, and bulldozed around that, turning that into swamp ad nauseum.

Though there were still some fairly good views and I was inching closer to Mt. Doom  Mt. Ngauruhoe.

Time for new socks?

Friday 27/11 Tongariro Crossing 

This day was an epic walk over the Tongariro crossing.  The weather had closed in higher up and with winds hitting 80Km/hour, I was forced to almost crawl crab like over the Red Crater. I have never been pushed down hill or to the ground by wind before.  The landscape once you cleared the vegetation line was like Mars.

Video: Mars

Video: Footage from the Pete Rover

Video: The Emerald Lakes

After the crossing, I got to the Mangatepopo hut.  It hut was looked after by John who gave all us staying a Maori welcome.  With another gale due through the night I weighted the tarp down with boulders and extra guy lines.

Through the night the tarp was battered by heavy winds and rain, but inside I was warm and dry. Though at various points I thought it would be ripped up and away into the sky.

Saturday was cold an wet and due to flooded rivers I was advised by a DOC worker I met in Whakapapa village, Boyd, that I would basically die if I tried to follow the trail. So I took the road round to National Park.  Passing over the river by bridge, I am glad I listened, many thanks Boyd.

 

Waitomo to Taumaruni (19 -24 November)

“For the rain it raineth every day.” Feste

Thursday mornings walk to Te Kuti was over gentle hills through farm land.

In Te Kuti I resupplied for the next few days travel. Te Kuti is the sheep shearing capital of world apparently and had a giant statue to prove it.

After Te Kuti the trail became a bit more interesting, following the Mangaokewa Stream through a gorge. Half way through I set up camp. Then climbed up the side of the hill to see the view.  From a high perch, you could see how the stream had over millions of years cut the deep valley through the landscape.  Later the rain came in and I went down to bed.

Friday the rain continued and after following the stream out the valley the path steadily climbed up towards a series of sheep and cattle stations.

Late in the afternoon with heavy rain and few suitable sites to camp I jumped off the road and camped in a pine plantation. With Saturday the road and rain continued past more sheep and cattle stations and I got to the Ngherenga Campsite at 13:00.  I decided to camp, and dry out as much as possible.  So just got into my sleeping bag, made tea and read.  The Song of Kali  by Dan Simmons is not a jolly story, but it is one of the few horror books that is genuinely horrific.

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Sunday was the start of the next interesting section through Pureora forest.  Following the Timber Trail (a MTB section) the trail climbed upwards. Leaving the Timber trail the path climbed steeply along a narrow, muddy trail and entered the misty, moss covered alpine Elfinwood with its stunted forest made up of low, gnarled trees that are heavily draped with moss and lichen.  The trail crossed two summits, Pureora (1165m) and Weraroa (1088).  The last ten km to the hut were hard but it was an amazing section.  With the weather and magical trees, though a distinct lack of R.O.U.S.’s, made this one of my favorite sections. Plus I saw my first New Zealand parrot (Nestor meridionalis).

Video: Near Pureora Summit

At the hut I ran in to Simon (Germany) who I had first met all the way back, just before Kerikeri.

Monday woke to sun and blue skies. So started late, and hung up everything to dry in the sun. The mornings walk was enjoyable, following a stream, and the evidence of volcanic eruptions were everywhere, in lumps of pumice stone lying about.  It was fun throwing a few rocks into the stream and watching them float away.

Towards the end of this section I got my first glimpse of Mount Ngauruhoe, with snow still on the upper slopes.  The volanco was one of the reasons I wanted to come to NZ, and finally seeing it after all the walking filled me with joy.

Tuesday was a straight forward walk to Taumaruni and the campsite there.  To my delight, I ran into Sarah and Ian, who I met on the very first night on the trail at Twilight Beach over 1000km and 50 days ago.

 

 

 

 

Black Water Rafting to meet the Glowworms of Waitomo

To see the Glowworms I went on a Black water rafting trip in the Ruakuir Cave.  All the pictures are by Wayne one of our guides (thanks Wayne).

The ‘Glowworms’ of Waitomo are possibly one of the greatest examples of marketing ever! As Wayne our guide explained, they are not in fact worms but are maggots, and to be more accurate they are the Cannibalistic  maggots of a Gnat (Arachnocampa luminosa).  The parent lays its eggs in a clump, the first to be born, then eats the others, and then uses it’s bioluminescense emitted from it’s anus  to prey on other insects lost in the dark, and other members gnats.

After going through the Pupae stage they hatch as adults.  These are born with no mouth or functioning digestive system and have only one goal in mind, to breed, and after 48 hours of sex and egg laying, they die, only for the beautiful cycle to begin again.

So to recap, the beautiful and peaceful sounding ‘Glowworm’ should really be titled the ‘Cannibalistic, glowing arsed, sex crazed cave maggot’ but I guess they wouldn’t get as many visitors.

Despite the coldness of the water, drifting below the glowing worms, was like drifting below a blue starred Milky Way.

Also there were eels in the water, but sadly our guide didn’t point them out as some people might have become a little concerned.

This picture wasn’t from the trip but I thought I would add it as it shows the Milky Way effect. 

Old timey slideshow

Hamilton to Waitomo (15 to 17 November)

On the way out of Hamilton there were scattered showers.  The route lead up through foot hills and nearing the foot of Pirongia Mountain it had become a torrential downpour.  Getting to the DOC campsite near the bottom at about 6pm I set up my new palace, ate and went to bed.

It rained heavily throughout the night but I had a great nights sleep.  The morning was a climb up to Pirongia Mountain (959m).  The path up through forest was essentially stream and I’m sure behind the clouds, rain and mist there were some amazing views.

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On crossing the ridge I got to the Pahautea Hut at 12.  Being soaked through and guessing the path down would by now be a waterfall of mud, I stayed at the hut, spending the afternoon and evening drinking tea and reading 1950’s classic sci-fi The Body Snatchers.

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Looking through the hut book, I saw an entry from Scott, who I had met earlier “49 km to Waitomo. bring it on!”  hmmm would that be possible…

Video Clip Pahautea Hut

I had set my alarm for 5am for the big push to Waitomo, but waking up to the hut being battered by high winds getting up was one big pile of

An hour later I got back in to the cold wet clothes from yesterday and did some jumping jacks to try and warm up.

I had guessed right yesterday and the descent was waterlogged and muddy.

The next 40km passed through farm land and hills with impressive views and a walk across an airplane landing strip.

Video: great views at last

And after 49km and 11H30 of walking I got to Waitomo home of the Mighty Glow Worm.

 

 

Auckland to Hamilton (7 to 12 November)

Large cities are strange to walk through especially the outside edges.  I took the train to where I had left the trail last. Leaving Auckland the route went over a long bridge and wound round a pretty headland  and then the industrial area going past the airport then back into suburbia, ending at a busy campsite.

The next day had two long road sections but was broken up by a hill section.  The last 10km was great leading through wood land.  On the way I chatted to a guy mowing his lawn and recommended pushing on a bit to Hunua Falls, waiting for all the visitors to leave and camping there.  Turned out to be a great suggestion as there was also clean drinking water and toilets.  Plus the falls were pretty good too.  I also met another TA Matt (NZ Dunedin) who camped there as well.

Monday was a fun tramping track over to an impressive dam.

I took a break there and did some route planning.

Worked out it was only another 3 or 4 days to Hamilton.  I briefly met four other TA’ers and encountered a classic TA trail moment.  At a junction the map and the GPS route went one way and the notes and an arrow went another.  The more interesting looking route went via a mountain bike track but had a sign up saying it was closed due to wet weather.  As it hadn’t rained in ages, I took a gamble and went with the MTB option rather than the gravel road.  It track was very steep as aimed at expert bikers, but all was fine, but there was a tree over the bottom of the trail which required climbing through.

My note has only a brief entry for Tuesday

“Long, hot and frustrating. Started slow, bivi bag at end”

But looking through the pictures that does not really cover the day.  At the start the trail went along the Mangatawhiri Track, which carried a TA warning.

The trail went through some thick growth and at times was steep, and similar to the earlier forests.  Here’s a clip:

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I enjoyed this section and at the last part ran down the last hill to the bridge.

But I think it was the next section where the day started to drag.  the route went through farm land and followed a flood bank that had been churned up by cows, and then dried hard, making an unpleasant walking surface.

Then the trail went under a motor way and then followed it.  At times I felt a bit like Robert Maitland from J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island.

Video:

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The last part went past the Whangamarino Redoubt which occupied by British forces during the Waikato War of 1863-64.

The day ended with a walk along the Hamilton River as the sun went down.

Wednesday was a push to reach Huntly which would mean only one more day to Hamilton.

Huntly has a massive power station which provides 12% of NZ’s energy.

Thursday was the big push to reach Hamilton. On the way out of Huntly I grabbed a bacon sandwich and a coffee, chatted with a couple of old boys working on a car.

Then hit the Hakarimata Range. This started with a big climb to the ridge and then loads of steep ups and downs.  I loved this section and couldn’t help but start running the down hills and then the flat sections and power hiking the uphills.  The last section was a quad busting 374 meter descent down loads of stairs running past loads of other startled runners to Ngaruawahia.  This all cheered me up no end.

At Ngaruawahia I met Ian who had the smallest pack I have yet seen. He had done the TA twice, walked the length of the UK, was currently doing a variation of the TA route and was planning a circumnavigation of Wales.

We walked the rest of the way to Hamilton together, chatting about hiking, routes and gear. We then parted as he was headed to the campsite. I got the backpackers, checked in showered and then went for dinner, where I met Marco from Italy , who was staying at the same place. After dinner we went to the Irish Bar  for a few drinks.

Covered just over 43km, felt shattered and had one brillaint day

 

Auckland (4 to 6 November)

Woke up at hotel to torrential rain, and being the hardy type I made tea and got back into bed.
Once the rain stopped after lunch I took the train across town to the zoo.  The train map was cute, like a kids version of the London Underground map.
I had two missions see the eels and see a Kiwi (bird not fruit)
They had a large tank of Longfin Eels (I think the one I met on Ninty Mile beach was a short finned one) and they do bite!
 
Moving on into the reptile house I came across the Tuatara, which are an ancient order of lizard dating back 200 Million years.  And they have a third eye (Oscar does this remind you of anything?).  Tuatara are regarded as the messengers of Whiro, the god of death and disaster, and Māori women are forbidden to eat them.
 
In the dark nighttime house I saw a Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli), This made me extraordinarily happy.  As there are only 35,000 remaining they are quite hard to see in the wild. They are much bigger than I expected about the size of a chicken (of I guess average chicken size).
 
The next day I spent sorting out the bounce box and eating, as I’m alarmingly skinny and must eat more when walking.
On Friday I walked the Auckland section of the trail.  This takes in some impressive views of the city and I couldnt resist bombing it down the trail off Eden Hill.
I the evening I met up for dinner with C&L who plan to return to where they left off.  I felt a bit down and didn’t make it a late one as I was off again the next day.