Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Leaving Las Trail!

Trail Notes Day 41- Given up numbering or just plane given up.

Pirongia traverse, started out pretty easy, then as you get closer to the summit it gets progressively more difficult. TA mud made a return and we could only laugh.
Very well maintained track and Pahautea Hut is pretty damn posh. 2 huts, more water tanks than you can count, loads of tent sites, dog boxes and a helipad. It's Saturday night and about 18 + people up here.

A pretty cold night at 1000 meters but comfortable enough. Too cold to yoga so we set out after breakfast and got a bit of a shock as the track to Hihikiwi was Boardwalk all the way. They must be expecting a royal visit.
After that we got the pole stealing, boot sucking, balls deep mud back. I'm beginning to enjoy it now.
4hrs later we hit the roads and covered another 20km before setting up a wild camp literally at the beginning of Mahoe forest track, all we have to do in the morning is take our stove off the stile and we are away. Spaghetti, broccoli, mushrooms, peas in tomato herb sauce, a trail favourite.

The trail notes for this section and leading up to it are a load of bollocks. So trust the maps and your gps. Although I've been noticing position errors of about 300 meters at times.

Last night was a bit of a wet night, so packed it and headed off by 8am again. Some really muddy bogs but easy to get around on this section. Then came into some really nice bush before hitting farmland again. Saw a few goats in the bush. They bolt when spooked but you get pretty damn close before they notice you. Hunters would have a field day. Heard a couple of shots fired first thing too, so take care and be visible.

After another road section we headed back into the bush. A newish unformed section which then comes out to one hell of a steep descent to Mangatiti stream, it follows a fence line and the batons and posts were invaluable hand holds. You climb again on the 'wrong' side of a wire fence (easy side the other side) pushing through Manuka as high as your head. After another decent you meet the stream, it's in a beautiful lush little valley so we decided to camp here the night. And if you turn right instead of left as per the trail immediately after crossing the stream, travel a few hundred meters and you'll find a little cabin. Think this is an old shepherds hut and there are signs of life a few days old.

Sleeping... We both drop off okay and have a solid few hours (when we are knackered) then start to regularly wake from about 2am to change position as a body part goes numb. It was a warm night in the cabin, there were a few scratching sounds but I don't think we had visitors. Leaving it cleaner and tidier than we found it, we set off up the ridge on what resembles a wild goat trail. I even managed to sneak up to within 15 feet of a couple we came across. Some of this section is overgrown with scrub and gorse and requires some bush bashing to get through.
Farmland, bush, then out onto an old clay access track with some steep lung busting never ending hill climbs, leading to metal roads, then sealed roads and wallah, Waitomo.
There is only one stream crossing which was quite fast but only mid calf high, one to watch though after rain.
Mostly today we have been singing
'The Only Way Is Up'
'I'm stuck in mud' (aka - I'm stuck on you - Lionel Richie)
'You'll never walk alone'
'Slip sliding away'
We had drizzle most the day which progressively got heavier. Now it's pissing down like you wouldn't believe. So we decided over a pint at the pub to stay at the BBH instead of camp. It's a really nice hostel just a km or so out of town. Only down side is the bed is too soft (much prefer the bush floor in a tent)
We both have stiff knees and tight muscles but plan on yoga in the morning.

Weather (in this order): hail, baking sun, driving rain, baking sun, driving rain, 90km/h gusts, baking sun, driving rain, hail.

Track from Waitomo to Te Kuiti: this track is an abomination. Once you head over the farmland the markers lead you to a sheer cliff drop (if you try to get through the overgrown track, which I did). We turned here and went to a nearby farmhouse to ask how to get through. They said this track has never been maintained despite over growing and slips. After getting some directional advice, we set off to find some very steep sections. Both Sherren and I had some bad falls that could have resulted in serious injury had luck not been on our side. Sherren fell on a descent only being stopped by a Punga in the mid section and I slipped on an ascent only stopping by pushing my leg through a barbed wire fence and almost dislocating my shoulder on the base of a gorse stump. The adrenaline was pretty intense and I must admit I wanted to seriously assault someone at the TA Trust at this point.

Up Up and Away!

After that we hit the track overgrown with gorse, so I spent a little time here cutting some of it back to prevent getting scratched to bits (I'm carrying a machete as so many parts are overgrown). Coming out into farmland again the markers sent us to another sheer drop, which we eventually found was the opposite direction to where we were supposed to go. Blah blah blah, so on an so forth, we made it to Te Kuiti, stopped at the Super Liquor and bought a bottle of Jameson.
Now relaxing at Casara Mesa Backpackers. Cleaned up, dried and chilled out ready for the next section.

Be warned the markers here are unreliable, as is the gpx. Note parts are accurate and parts inaccurate. Use you common sense and take your time.

Thought for the day from Glen: Pirongia mud is my favourite thus far. It's black and rich in nutrients. I want to bathe in it.
Sherren: I laugh, Glen goes into a murderous rage.

Now just to clarify things. I didn't ever expect this trail to be easy and even relish a challenge. But some parts are very dangerous and in the absence of notes you only rely on common sense and judgement. However, when you are supplied notes you tend to trust them and they are not always correct. In future I'll be assuming all the notes and sometimes the markers are flawed to some degree and will rely on our own senses, topo maps and gps location to navigate.
I can appreciate the magnitude of the task the TA Trust has but this trail is gaining international interest at a rapid rate and too many negative experiences could damage this trails lasting image.

Getting off the soap box now. Time to head into the bush for 3 or 4 days and check out the huts.

There's a funk emanating from our shoes that could resurrect James Brown! Ow! Got our socks cooking dry on top of the little fire place at the Bog Inn Hut. It took a long time to get it going as all the wood here is wet and as always the good twigs near the hut are all gone.

The Bog Inn

The Timber Trail is very well maintained and an easy walk. Heading up to the summit has a lot of boardwalks but coming down its fallen into disrepair and the trail has all but washed away.
It's a shame to see this as it took time, effort and money to build once. Surely maintaining a trail is easier and cheaper than completely rebuilding it (if that ever happens).

This Once Had Steps

We missed out the road section from Te Kuiti today. Instead of hitching we opted to pay for a lift with 'Artdoc' based in Benneydale. At $30pp we thought it was well worth it and it guaranteed we got a good early start in the bush. Maurice from France runs this place with his Dutch wife. He is a real nice guy and has learnt loads about the history in the area.
There's a school trip up at Bog Inn too so the place is not as quiet as we thought it would be. Especially after being told by a hunter this morning that it was a rat infested shit hole and even they won't stay. Let's see how it is tonight after dark. There is certainly a lot of droppings about.

Well the rats did come after dark but they spent most the night hustling about outside. So with that level of separation we had a fairly peaceful night.
Bidding farewell to the Canadian cyclist Barbara and the students at the hut we set off to Waihaha Hut. It was raining hard and we were among the clouds pretty much the whole day. Within a few hours we were soaked through and spent a total of 9 hours marching to our next camp. It was just too cold to stop and for most of it I couldn't feel my fingers. On top of that there are about a hundred fallen trees to navigate. Making it another gruelling day.
We've had a bit of a chat now we're warm and dry in the hut and think that maybe The TA is not for us. We don't expect it to be easy as I've said before but with the sum total of 4 or 5 fine days to date and the state of many of the tracks, it firstly isn't enjoyable and secondly but most importantly we just can't fit any yoga in due to cold and wet conditions and the time restraints we have of getting to the next camp. It just doesn't fit in any way shape or form what we had planned! The level of yoga practice that I was really over the moon with has just gone down the shitter. It will take months of a daily practice to get that back. 
Sherren - the best plans have to be flexible, there are definitely bits of the trail I would like to do, that will be so much nicer when we can check the weather forecast and just have a chilled out walk in the sunshine, with time to stop and appreciate the surroundings. Yesterday I spent most of the day shouting expletives which is quite unlike me, and today remarked 'I'd  rather be at work' something amiss I think!  Anyway we are smuggled up in the rather smart hut for the night and tomorrow will start out two day journey out-a-here.

Waihaha to Hauhungaroa: This track is in pretty good condition. Poorly marked in places with some fallen trees but enjoyable with some challenging climbs. We had a cold, wet, windy, sunny mix today. But dry enough to take a 10 minute break every hour to make sure we didn't exhaust ourselves and made the hut in 6 hours. Notes say 10 and sign says 7. Just for the record I find the notes very inconsistent for timings which is frustrating.
A bit fed up with that thorny creeping vine tearing up my waterproofs and skin. And that feeling you get when the muddy earth is pulling you down, sucking at your boots and poles. It's the stuff of folklore.
Not made a decision on what we're doing yet. Will chill a couple of days in Taumarunui and read up on the coming trails and see.
For me: I've never felt a sense of achievement upon completing anything in my life. It's the actual task where my satisfaction comes from. After that I just shrug my shoulders, humph and move to the next thing. So if the road ain't fun, don't travel it.

Not many people seem to stay at Hauhungaroa going by the hut book. Really tidy modern hut. Found the fire ready to light with Joe and Graeme of Dunedin doing the TA last in the book. So thanks to them if it was them and I'll pass on the favour.
They got coal here too. Got the fire so hot I've had to open the windows and door. 
Great views out here too. GPS says 1009 meters. Windy, cold and changeable out. What will tomorrow bring?

It's amazing how arriving at a hut with a great view, even from the long drop! A roaring fire, a full belly can make the world a better place. Today seemed more positive, a lot of the walk is along the river which is beautiful and some crossings meaning our feet were wet all day, but there's coal here so it looks like boots will dry for the morning - yipee
I've had a quick look at the notes, for the rest of the North Island Glen really wants to do the 42 Traverse and I the Whanganui, we both think the alpine crossing with its lava and volcanoes sounds good too (all in fine weather)... We need to spend some time planning how we can do those given that yesterday we were ready to jack this whole TA thing in!

Bog Inn



Today is day 50 and we're at the 1048km mark in Taumarunui and quite possibly the last day of through hiking for us. It seems a shame as we're a third the way and in a matter of weeks we would be done with the North Island.
But 50 days with less than 5 fine days. I'd be more than happy with a 50/50 split but 10% is just not good enough. We have been failed by the New Zealand weather.

Up Till Here My Only Dry Bit Was My Socks.

After a cracking evening blasting out some sounds through the iPod and mini speaker (surprisingly loud) while baking in the heat of the coal heated hut. We rose to visibility of 20 meters, almost freezing temperatures and pissing, driving rain. After walking for around 30 minutes we were soaked through again. Seems $600 dollar Gore Tex is no match for the NZ bush. You can't beat a black sack with 3 holes cut in it! No shit! 
The sign said 2 hours to the road and the notes 2 and a half. Again we hauled ass without stopping to prevent getting hypothermia and it took us nearly 4 hours through muddy, overgrown track to get to the road. At one point I had to get my machete out and cut through blackberry again. At this point I noticed I'd lost the use of my fingers and could only grasp things. I had to release my pole clips with my teeth to stow them away while I hacked at the bush.
Once out of the bush at the road the wind picked up and we were colder still. Fortunately at this point the rain eased so I thought it best to get my gloves on. I'd resisted up until now so those wouldn't be wet through too. After all you need something dry to change into. Problem was I couldn't unclip my bag. So again I employed my teeth and then again to tear open the plastic bag I had them in.
Upon seeing the sign on the gate offering a taxi to Taumarunui, we called and arranged a pick up. Met them 20 minutes down the road and are now drinking beers and eating junk food in a warm cabin.

I've been trying to convince myself to keep going but we've checked the forecast for the 42 Traverse and Tongarero Alpine Crossing and we're expecting gale force winds, rain and a maximum of 1°c at 1200 meters. 
Doesn't really seem like fun to me.

It's not good bye to tramping nz, just goodbye to the through hike from a to  b, when the dry season starts we will be doing the good bits, Whanganui, 42nd and Tongarero as well as the best of the South Island walks and Stewart Island, the TA route has also missed some great bits on the way down so we might end up back tracking too... 
Need to pick up Yoga again and find a way to fit this in..
Met some fab people along the way and hopefully will catch up with them again.
Stay tuned!

Glen, Barbara and Sherren in Taumarunui


  1. Shirley Fraser11/18/2014 5:47 pm

    Wow what a descriptive blog. You have done it hard and the weather is only going to get worse this week! Taking time out so you can enjoy the beautiful Central North Island in better weather is a very wise decision. If you decide to take a side trip come and visit Taupo and soak in our natural hot pools. Good Luck.

  2. Sounds like you've had a few struggles. I think this has been the wettest, coldest November I can remember - such bad luck. However no excuse for such poor route marking. I hope you get to enjoy some more trails in much better conditions!