Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018
Day 58: Palmerston North to Toko Corner Road, 30km
Wahooooooo back to trail life baby!!! New kicks ready to rumble! I was finally able to quickly resupply food this morning before starting the last tracks to Wellington. Nothing beats a fully stocked food bag, it’s like a little fat, chunky baby just waiting for you to dig in so it doesn’t weigh 500 pounds anymore. Today’s hike was pretty mellow and there was some road walking involved, but it was majority calm back roads with little to no traffic, and mostly gravel versus paved. One section was on a mountain biking trail in the green tunnel, Nothing crazy but a million times better than a state highway! We cruised about 30 kilometers before setting up camp by a random lake amongst rolling fields of pine trees, and managed to set up the tarp just in time for the rain which accompanied us through the evening. Honestly just being outside again, walking all day, moving the body, sorting through thoughts, listening to music and sleeping in my tent has me feeling like a new woman already. I’m very excited for what’s to come.
Oh, also for an update on Clea since I keep mentioning the situation but haven’t explained it yet because it makes me sad. After Tongariro, she went back to the doctor and turns out her Achilles was torn even worse so she’s been rocking a boot for two weeks. After another follow-up this afternoon, a scan confirmed her Achilles is starting to heal itself! Fortunately that means she doesn’t have to have surgery, which is a huge relief because surgery is never a super fun event. The downside is she has to keep living boot life for a little while. She goes back in two weeks and, based on scan results, will know what the next step is. She obviously can’t hike, so we are temporarily separated until we can get after a few girls days together in Wellington so I’m stoked about that. But really however you look at the situation, it’s a big, fat bummer on both ends. And a huge reminder of the importance of being malleable, open-minded, and forwardly positive when life comes along and fucks up your original plans.
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018
Day 59: Toko Corner Road to Outdoor Pursuits, 33km
La dee daa! A fast, solo cruiser day in the green tunnel today got me feeling back to normal. I decided to have Matt meet me at the Outdoor Pursuits place which happened to be over 30 kilometers away so that we could have cruiser days through the forest all to ourselves. We’re just about the same pace, but he’s a little faster, especially when my foot is hurting, so naturally he winds up waiting for me here and there. We have also been together like 24 hours a day basically for weeks now, so I’m sure you can understand the necessity for some space. Any good team needs to be strong as individuals to continue being healthy partners so today was the perfect opportunity.
Ever since Palmy North, the air has been unbelievably humid. I was sweating buckets hiking into the Tararua Range, sinking into the perfect forest groove. Nothing was too steep or relentless today, just a lot of small ups and downs and stream crossings. Even though views were very limited because of the green tunnel, I hardly cared because I was so happy and feeling so spectacular. Thunder was crackling almost all day too, and just about every hour rain would pour down for awhile, just long enough to wash off the sweat and cool me down. I really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. I found Matt at the Outdoor Pursuits lodge, which is basically the camping and hang out area for the Outdoor Pursuits students. The owners run the whole organization and allow TA hikers to use their facilities including shower, washer, full kitchen, lounge, beds, etc. for free! They even gave us dinner including chicken sandwiches, banana, tomato and sausage. True trail angels. I was able to wash off the dirt and sweat too. But now I am very tired and going to sleep.
Thursday, January 4th, 2018
Day 60: Outdoor Pursuits to Dracophyllum Hut, 22km
Where do I even begin the story of today’s radical adventure?! I guess morning makes the most logical sense, just so much dopeness happened today I’m just excited. After rubbing my eyes open on the couch in the Outdoor Pursuits lodge, I enjoyed a steaming cup of French pressed coffee as I wondered what I did to deserve such an incredible, free gift of hospitality. I pulled on my freshly clean and dry hiking outfit that has become somewhat of a second skin, and put forth my best efforts to leave the kitchen cleaner than when I arrived…literally a valuable lesson I can throwback to the Girl Scout Code from the sixth grade. John, one of our hosts, had informed us that the local weather was forecasting a small, tropical storm to hit today and tomorrow with super high winds and heavy rain. We were heading deeper into the Tararua Forest which is notoriously susceptible to rapidly changing, relatively severe, weather. With exposed ridges and steep, rooted, muddy terrain, severe weather could quickly double, if not triple, your normal pace. I’ve been through enough Northland Forests now to understand the slow moving nature of certain tracks! Our food supply was perfect to comfortably get us to the next town on the assumption we crushed 25 to 30 kilometers a day, but the last thing I wanted was to be tired, hungry, wet, and cold because the forest took twice as many days as expected. So we accepted John’s offer for a ride to the local supermarket, followed by a quick lift five kilometers down the road to the trailhead. John wished us luck and drove off while Matt and I devoured some muffins, much to the excitement of the greedy, nearby chickens who very closely and vocally begged for all the crumbs. Around 10:30 we began the steep, forested ascent of the ridge track to the Waiopehu Hut. The 2,500 foot gain to the hut was a mixture of high, rooted steps, steep declines, and flatter, leafy sections that combined with thick, muggy air and a fast, cardio pace to spit me out at Waiopehu looking like a soggy beach towel you accidentally left outside in a thunderstorm. I was so god damn drippy and sweaty I thought I might be overheating or something, so I was pleased to discover Matt also drenched, rinsing his sweaty ass shirt out in the sink.
The expansive views from Waiopehu provided a perfect backdrop to snarf some snacks, chug heaps of water, and let our bodies return to a somewhat normal temperature after dumping cold water over our scalps. We had covered the first ten kilometers with significant gain in less than three hours, so it didn’t seem outrageous to assume we’d crush the five kilometers with relatively mellow vert to the Te Matawai Hut in about an hour and a half. Well, turns out the track following Dora Ridge is very muddy, very overgrown, and very sharply steep with ups and downs, which makes walking much more of a foot and body dance than a cruiser hike.
The track is also partly out of the green tunnel, instead on exposed, tall grassy terrain with incredible, open views of the Tararuas begging for you to stop and absorb their beauty. All that said, I arrived at Te Matawai two and a half hours later, yet again looking like your neighbor’s dog who eagerly, and without invitation, jumped into the pool at your 4th of July BBQ. Despite the forecasted storm, and aside from the ridiculously wet air, the weather had been pretty calm all day. No thunder, no rain, just clouds and sun. So around 5pm we were faced with a decision: do we stay at Te Matawai to stay dry and enjoy the nice, large accommodation, or do we send the next seven kilometers up another 1,500 feet and along a ridge to the small, 2-bunk bivvy Dracophyllum hut? Seven kilometers isn’t really that far, but at the rate we’ve been moving through this terrain that could be another four hours, which was just about how much daylight remained. I was feeling groovy as hell, Matt was feeling stellar as fack, and 5pm just seemed too early to stop. So after a quick conversation and some snacks we were putting one foot in front of the other towards Pukematawei Peak. The track was a relatively steep, consistent uphill climb so I sunk into a solid rhythm as clouds and a light misty sprinkle rolled in. Fortunately I was able to get a mental image of the full route ahead before the clouds completely enveloped everything except the ridgeline under my feet. We efficiently conquered the vert and turned right to follow the south ridge towards Dracophyllum. The rain picked up just as we began the descent, making for a perfectly slippery, sliding, splashy mess of mud, wet grass, and rocks. I only ate shit in the mud like four times. I loved it. The majority of the track since we left Te Matawai was out of the bush and into the scrubs too! I don’t know if that’s officially “above treeline” or not, maybe you call it “bushline” or something, but we were out of the green tunnel. We were walking on an exposed ridgeline that, for really the first true time since being in New Zealand, gave me a genuine alpine feeling. I felt a similar sensation in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest, but this one hit much closer to home. When the thick rain clouds started to break into distant, misty puffs rising up through the valley, I could see layers of mountains in all directions. I could see where the heavy, green vegetation turns into fluffy, tall grasses yellowed from the recent lack of rain, a clear visual of where the green tunnel sets you free. I could see the fingers and spines of the mountains running from their summits down to the river in the valley below. And it wasn’t just one isolated vista like I’ve been experiencing in most Northland forests, but rather I was walking amongst the mountains, seeing nothing but their beauty wherever I looked, feeling their presence encompassing me like a giant hug. Sure, I bet the distant views are unreal on a clear day, but something about the sky being clear enough to expose the Tararua Range, yet hide everything else beyond, added an extra sense of intimacy and remoteness that I have been craving. Besides Matt, trail marker poles, and the occasional view of the small, red roof of Te Matawai, there were no visual reminders of other humans, no roads, no buildings, no electrical wires. I was in my element, and so was Matt. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we dipped back into the forest. Only this wasn’t any ordinary forest.
This was the craziest, most mysterious, trippiest forest I’ve ever seen. In fact, it has to be the absolute most trippiest natural place I have ever been in my life, especially when it’s kind of foggy and drizzling. Absolutely everything was covered in a thick layer of some type of moss. The gnarly, curled trees had thick, yellow-green moss swallowing their limbs with mint-green, lichen-ish stuff growing up their trunks. Dead trees had been swallowed by the moss epidemic too, some yellow-green, some a darker, more olive green. The green growth was squishy to the touch, and depressed like six or more inches with pressure. It turned an otherwise common forest into what looked a trippy zoo of green, mossy animals. If you’re looking for a fun place to indulge in some psychedelics, I found it for you. This is the place. I swear I couldn’t get over it, I had to keep stopping to touch and stare and literally say out loud “oh my god that’s sooo cooooool” because it was. And then the little orange Dracophyllum Hut simply appeared. Described as more of a bivy than a hut, the very small, simple structure housed a top and bottom bunk, and a built-in counter.
There was still a water tank and toilet so it was basically perfect. I immediately stripped off all of my uncomfortable, soaking wet clothes and discovered some pretty nasty blisters happening on my feet as a result of new shoes. Just happy to be dry and also generally super stoked on the whole day, I made some tasty peanut-butter ramen before addressing anything. I had already eaten all my chocolate, so I indulged in some proper blister care for dessert instead. Squeezing rubbing alcohol into a blister has proven to be an awesome technique for sterilizing and drying out a wound, but OMG HOLY SHIT THAT SHIT STINGS!!! But you gotta do what you gotta do out here and I obviously survived so it’s all worth it in the end. Whew. What a day. Stoke level is rising and more epic adventures are on the way. And hopefully Clea will continue to heal and be able to join me again soon because I miss my babe!!!
Friday, January 5th, 2018
Day 61: Dracophyllum Hut to Nichols Hut, 5km
Well I don’t know if I’d exactly call it a tropical storm, but the wind last night was out of control! I kept waking up in a dreamlike state thinking the gusts were going to rip the windows off the walls, but fortunately that never happened. The storm was so loud though that I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I was very pleased to see blue skies and sun when I woke up. I was pretty stoked on the change in weather, so I took my time packing up and drying my clothes out in the sun. I was just in a good mood and living in the moment, what can I say?! By the time we started walking, the skies were still blue, the humidity from the last few days had gone, and the air was crisp. Right after we left Dracophyllum (which I think has to be named after all the moss… there has to be an explanation) and turned the corner, we saw a huge, magical rainbow down in the valley below.
The trail combined more trippy, mossy forest track with exposed, grassy shrub track as it followed the ridge south with more epic views and positive vibes. We had just started the trek over to Mt Crawford when the rain started. I knew there was a hut right before the summit track, and had already been thinking about stopping there for a dry, snack break. Given the nature of the slow-going track and deteriorating conditions, it took us two and a half hours to travel the five kilometers to Nichols Hut. We stopped in around 1pm for a break, hoping the rain might let up so we could enjoy some views as we crossed over Crawford. Well, an hour went by and the rain didn’t stop. Then I fell asleep. I woke up thirty minutes later and rain was still falling. I drank some coffee and blogged for another thirty minutes. Rain was still falling. I ate some pretzels and wrote for another hour. Rain was still coming down. By this time it was about 4pm, also known as decision time. Again, we were faced with two decisions: do we head out into the cold, pouring rain and trek the eight kilometers over Mt Crawford to the Waitawaewae Hut and certainly miss all of the views? Or do we stay warm and dry at the Nichols Hut, wait out the storm, and get an early start tomorrow with hopes of clearer weather? At this point the choice seemed pretty obvious, especially considering the rain had picked up and visibility had decreased even more, so we settled in for the evening. I switched into my comfy clothes, Matt got a fire going, and alas I’m still writing, thinking about the delicious dinner I’m about to make.
After reading the guest book, apparently we are not the first people to wait out a storm at the Nichols Hut. What’s the point in being cold and wet and not seeing anything when you can be relaxed, enjoy yourself and have a chance to enjoy the hike the next day? It’s not like I have anywhere else to be, and that’s a pretty beautiful thing. A long, existential Pink Floyd jam sesh over the patter of rain falling on the roof couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end this day of trippy forest and dreary weather.
Saturday, January 6th, 2018
Day 62: Nichols Hut to Parawai Hut, 18km
I had imagined waking up to sunshine and rainbows again this morning, but instead woke up early to more rain and more wind. Since we had already spent almost 24 hours waiting out the storm, we figured we might as well just send it over Mt Crawford because who knows what the weather will do. By around 7:30am the rain had let up at least so we left the Nichols Hut and set forth up the mountain in the heavy fog. The ascent was like being in a gray tunnel as I couldn’t see anything besides the track right in front of me and grayness on either side. A light rain was falling but the wind was powerful and cold, blowing the rain forcefully onto me. Sure, sun and views would have been rad, but I kind of enjoyed the intensity of the high ridgeline storm. I was reminded of winter and really just thought about splitboarding the whole time and fucking crushed it. The trail was pretty slow moving too, steep and rocky with lots of muddy ruts, slippery footholds, and unstable brush. But eventually we began the descent towards the Waitawaewae Hut and whaddya know, the sun came out and the skies turned blue! But hey, how can you be upset about sunshine, even if it means you missed the views? The descent was a pretty brutal, relentlessly steep 3000 decline over slippery roots and moss. My knees were about ready to punch me in the face for such a beating, but I got to the hut just in time for a warm, sunny lunch break. For the next four hours we walked through a much mellower forest with smaller ups and downs, and flatter ground so I was actually able to stretch the legs out. We enjoyed some solid trail conversation before arriving at the Parawai Lodge, just before the rain began. We had the hut to ourselves for awhile until a very interesting Kiwi couple showed up. The pair shared their fruit and biscuits with us which was awesome. But even more awesome was the astronomy magazine that the dude had. Flipping through the pages, and with space being as fucking crazy and mind blowing as it is, Matt and I wound up in an intense, trippy conversation about the universe. I absolutely love diving into the space realm with people. The ideas thrown around are so far out my brain eats it up. This particular hut was uncomfortably full of cobwebs and spiders everywhere you look, so naturally I wanted Matt to eat one of the nasty, crusty webs. The odds were one out of a hundred and we said 72 and 73. I was so close but alas he got away without a cobweb down his throat. The couple probably thought we were total freaks but whatever. Sleep was calling my name and soon after I was asleep on the porch, free of spiders and any other creepy crawly thing in there!
Sunday, January 7th, 2018
Day 63: Parawai Lodge to Waikanae, 30km
The one downside to hut life is when you get a really loud, aggressive snorer. I slept outside with ear plugs and was still woken up by the obnoxious, persistent drone of a man snoring. So I definitely didn’t sleep very well, but the couple gave us fruit and biscuits so I guess it all evens out. The first few hours of today’s walk were a mellow, cruiser tramp through the forest to the summit of Pukeatua, then down to the road through pine trees. It was a tunes kind of morning and I found myself lost in the groove, reflecting on everything that happened in 2017, feeling optimistic about what the future holds, and generally feeling strong and empowered. The weather was absolutely perfect too, so by the time I hit the road section I was feeling like a million bucks! We only had to follow the road for about 10 kilometers before arriving in Waikanae. We did a small resupply and poached the wifi at New World to find a place to stay for the night.
The El Rancho Holiday Park was close by and offered the most affordable prices so we cruised over there. Unfortunately the first room they gave us had the same uncomfortable bunks and mattresses that the huts have. I don’t mind them, but when you’re paying as much as we were, you want a real bed. So Matt went back to the office, worked some magic, and got us upgraded to a much better suite with a kitchen, living room, and actually comfortable sleeping arrangements. Matt cooked up a mean seafood stir fry which we happily devoured before hitting the hay.
Monday, January 8th, 2018
Day 64: Waikanae to Wellington, 35km
Nothing beats a big bowl of scrambled eggs, a big bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt, and heaps of hot coffee to get your day rolling. Once I was nice and fueled up, I started the lovely morning walk through a neighborhood full of weird, old people, and onto the beach. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, the air was light, the sun was warm, and the water was an exceptional shade of blue as I walked on the perfectly soft sand. A few hours later we took a quick pit stop in Paraparaumu for some scones, bacon, and free WiFi. The remainder of the beach to Paekakariki was a cruiser walk, perfect for headphones. At one point I walked past a mother and her daughter who must have been about 5 years old playing on the beach. As I kept walking I became keenly aware of the little girl running after me. She followed me for about 15 minutes before I laughingly had to turn around and make sure she got back to her mom!
The 10 kilometer escarpment track after Paekakariki was absolutely phenomenal. The track climbs stairs and steep ground about 200 meters above the highway to give you expansive views of the turquoise ocean and distant mountains. I thought Matt was going to wait at the end of the section, but he decided to keep cruising towards Wellington so I was left to my own devices. The trail followed a concrete pathway along the highway before arriving in Porirua Bay. By this point, my blisters were aching, but I was still 40 kilometers from Wellington and Clea. Matt was long gone, so I decided to take the train into the city. By 7:30 I was at the hostel with Clea, eating chicken and catching each other up on our lives. We spent the rest of the my until 2am drinking fancy cocktails, running around the city, and indulging in late night McDonald’s. It was a perfect reunion and a fantastic way to celebrate the completion of the North Island walking!
Tuesday, January 9th, 2018
Day 65: Rest Day in Wellington
Well I hardly slept last night because the 10-bunk hostel dorm room was so unbelievably hot I almost sweat to death. Especially for someone who is used to sleeping outside every night, I was fucking roasting. So I woke up at 7 and went down to the lobby to check the interwebs until Clea got up. Once she awoke, we threw in some laundry and set out for some brekky, coffee, and exploration of Cuba Street. Wellington is a way cooler city than Auckland too. It has a way more authentic, local feel with more delicious food, unique shops, and a more genuine aesthetic. After brekky, Clea went to get her hair done and I cruised over to my friend Owain’s house. Remember the story about the super charming, sexy Kiwi with the curly hair and heart-throbbing smile who gave me and Matt a ride to Taupo and ate enormous kebabs with us? Well I hit him up and he was kind enough to let me crash at his place which was conveniently located right downtown. He was at work for the day so he told me where the spare key was and let me make myself at home. I swear the Kiwi hospitality and generosity is unlike anywhere in the states. So I dropped my things off at Owain’s and headed out to run some errands. I’m walking down the sidewalk towards the pharmacy when lo and behold I run right into Tim and Renee, two other TA hikers. They invited me to join them at Husk for a beer and some appetizers. How could I refuse that? Clea joined us not too long after and we enjoyed the afternoon chit-chatting. We all parted ways and I went back to Owain’s to change for a run. My favorite way to explore a city is through a long run, and I actually happened to have my running shoes and proper sports bra, so I couldn’t resist.
I decided to run through town and up Mt Victoria to hopefully get a better view of Wellington, but unfortunately the weather was too cloudy to really see. Regardless, it felt so unbelievably good to run again. I got back to the house, took a quick shower, met Owain’s awesome flatmates, and helped cook a tasty vegetable and bacon roast. After dinner, Owain and I met up with a few of his mates for a beer before heading back for an early night of much needed sleep.