Sunday, December 24th, 2017
Day 49: Whakahoro to John Coull
The Christmas paddle is in full swing!!! We slugged around this morning, gathering all of our crap, putting on our Christmas hats, and wishing maybe we hadn’t consumed so much sugary but delicious cider. Taumarunui Canoe Hire arrived around 7:15 to transport us and our gear to their property for an early safety meeting. Honestly I was a bit peeved at first that we had to wake up early for a safety meeting, but it turned out to be an entertaining, super low-key talk on the basics of not fucking up a canoe, complete with quick white-board drawings of river situations. Considering I have very minimal experience with a canoe to begin with, the lecture was actually quite helpful. We also got coffee and bread so I really can’t complain! We departed soon after, and a 90 minute, bumpy, windy, nauseating car ride later we arrived at Whakahoro to put into the river. We secured our bins into the boat, stuffed our pockets with beer and candy, donned our Christmas hats, and pushed away from the chaotic, muddy boat ramp full of high stoke and holiday cheer. Clea and I spent the first hour figuring out how to successfully steer the tandem, and got into a rhythm just in time for lunch. Lunch was just the beginning of our excessive Christmas eating and drinking extravaganza. Our daily lunch spread included cheddar cheese, hot Spanish sausage, crackers, chips, hummus, cucumber, carrots, and olives. Also I have to comment about how gigantic the cucumbers are here. This thing must have been about 18 inches long and was so girthy I couldn’t even fit my hand around it. Anyway, we nommed hard and killed over half of our giant bottle of Green Ginger Wine, which is this absolutely delicious liquid that tastes like alcoholic ginger beer. The next stretch of the paddle to the campsite was a combination of laughing in the hot sun, beer drinking, paddling in the pouring rain, being towed by Matt, towing Matt, and eating lots of chocolate. We were for sure more focused on drinking, eating, and floating than actually paddling. And it was perfect.
We arrived at the John Coull campsite around 6pm, and managed to find a private picnic table with tentsites that somehow none of the other 50 people had claimed yet. Some of our trail friends were there too, so everyone came down to hang out and help us do work on our bottle of Wild Turkey. Christmas Eve dinner consisted of steak, sweet potato, asparagus, onion, and mussels, followed up with chocolate cake and a peach crumble. This Australian Josh was paddling by himself so he joined the crew as we stayed up until the stars came out, just laughing, having ridiculous conversations, and feeling totally full in every sense of the word.
Monday, December 25th, 2017
Day 50: John Coull to Tieke Kainga
I could never have imagined a more relaxing Christmas. Santa came too!!! He filled each of our gross hiking socks with candy and balloons and bubbles! In true gluttonous form, Christmas breakfast was complete with beers, bacon, eggs, muffins, apples, and banana/chocolate chip/blueberry pangoop. We named the pancakes pangoop because the batter didn’t really form a pancake, but rather a blob of delicious pancakey goop. Interesting but tasty. After breakfast we waddled our way down to the boats and set off. We managed to drink our whole alcohol supply yesterday, and were so full of food that we quite literally bloated and floated the entire morning. The Whanganui River is super flat water with maybe the occasional baby rapid, but basically flat. We had discovered that if you actually paddle, you’ll arrive at your destination in about half the listed time. Since we didn’t really have far to go and were so fucking stuffed and lazy, we wanted to maximize the river time and minimize our effort.
So we flotilla-d our boats and floated with Christmas music to a perfect lunch spot on some rocks along an inlet. I still don’t quite understand how we managed to eat lunch, but we found room in ourselves for more lunch spread. We even killed the rest of the two cakes and the entire blueberry pie during our 3 hour lunch break. We went swimming and took a nap in the sun and felt like giant blobs and it was awesome. Around 4:30 we set off towards the campsite which we thought was only an hour and a half away. We did not paddle at all. Clea and I literally took naps on the canoes while Matt gently steered us through the water. There were times I’d notice that we were basically moving backwards because we were going so slowly, and I couldn’t have cared less. My Discover Weekly was crushing the smooth funk jams as we just existed together on the river, not paddling, not even talking, not doing anything besides sharing the peace with one another. There was no noise, no fuss, no mess, no bickering, no rush, no responsibilities, no stress whatsoever. I’ve never experienced a Christmas day like that. 3 hours later we arrived at what we thought was our final campsite, but turns out was only the second stop. We had floated so slowly that we’d actually managed to double the listed paddle time.
We probably set the record for longest time between sites! Tieke Kainga was listed as a 2 hour paddle, and given it was 7:30 already we decided to get the paddles out and enjoy a dusk cruise. We were there an hour later, just in time to set up camp and start cooking Christmas dinner. If you thought maybe we’d be too full for another meal, you thought wrong. We cooked up a whole ham, more sweet potatoes, broccoli and peppers and mushrooms, corn, mac&cheese, and more mussels. We almost lost all of it when one of the table legs collapsed, but only the corn went flying, landing on the floor like a sorority girl’s vomit. We killed another obscene feast before passing out into food comas for the night. A truly merry Christmas. We also wrote our own version of the 12 Days of Christmas so I will share.
On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
12 blobs of pangoop
11 kiwi calls
10 nasty toenails
9 Whittaker bars
8 TA hikers
7 creepy possums
6 random goats
5 days of no walking
4 slabs of meat
3 silly hats
And a bottle of Wild Turkey!
Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
Day 51: Tieke Kainga to Pipriki
Can you guess what we did this morning? That’s right, we ate more food! Polished off the kilogram of bacon, devoured more pangoop, smashed a dozen eggs with red capsicum, and guzzled coffee. I got into the tandem with Clea feeling a bit like a beached whale from all the food, alcohol, and minimal physical activity. Fortunately we actually were forced to paddle for awhile to ensure we arrived in Pipiriki on time to meet Taumarunui Canoe Hire with our boats. The weather was perfect so Clea and I let the nipples breathe for the morning as we paddled. I couldn’t quite pick up the vibe from passerbys. Were they shocked, disgusted, stoked, or concerned that we didn’t have shirts much less life vests on? I really didn’t care. The three of us eventually found Josh cruising down the current, and all four of us flotilla-d as much as we could to still make the 1:30pm pickup time. This section of the river actually had something besides flat water, maybe a very low class 2, but more exciting than nothing. Our canoe filled with water almost immediately and while we managed to make it through afloat, I basically tipped us over just as reached the closest beach. Woo excitement!!! Clea bailed all the water out of our boat, we cracked up at the situation, and continued on our way. I have to say, while flat water is relaxing and certainly allows for a proper float and bloat perfect for the holidays, if I ever do another paddle trip it will definitely be in a small kayak with actual rapids to navigate. We joined the other 367,378 boats at the Pipiriki takeout, organized our crap from the barrels, and waited for our van. The boat ramp was a bit of a cluster fuck considering there were at least a dozen other groups of paddlers waiting to meet their canoe company, so I kind of just packed up my shit and waited for people to clear out. My plan was to bike the next section anyway, so while 95% of people were getting on a van back to Taumarunui, I was figuring out what the fuck to do with my pack given I had a totally slick bike. The hardest part of the day was saying goodbye to Clea (still more on that later). We had such an amazing time together on Christmas and I didn’t want to see her go. She is my best friend for a reason. We planned this trip together for a reason. We laugh harder, think deeper, and enjoy life on a deeper level when we’re together. But she can’t ride bikes or hike, and thus was heading back to Auckland to housesit for a week while I kept on with the trail. At least the canoe company gave us cupcakes so I could eat my sadness. After all the vans pulled away, Matt and I cruised up to the holiday park where we found Chris and Kay, and Lucas and Chris. We made delicious ham sandwiches for dinner, after which I passed out so hard on the bean bag chairs in the lobby. I woke up 3 hours later, zombied to my tent, and continued into a deep, happy end of Christmas slumber.
Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
Day 52: Pipiriki to Wanganui, 80km
Back on the trail, kind of? People opt for one of three methods of transportation for this part of the trail. You can continue paddling down the Whanganui, walk, or rent bikes to cover the 80 kilometer road section. Paddling another 3 days on flat water seemed less than ideal, and a long boring road walk sounded even less appealing, so we opted for biking. Given my fat, whale-like condition, I was very grateful that the road was mostly downhill. I rocked the orange reflector vest the whole way too lest I should be run over! Aside from one pit stop for coffee and a smoothie, and one relatively long uphill, I was able to cruise with the wind in my hair all the way to Wanganui. We dropped our bikes off at this super weird little store full of random trinkets ran by an adorable Swiss man. Our packs were an hour or so behind us, so we set off on a mission to find a beer. If I had to pick one thing I miss the most about the United States besides the obvious family/friends/etc. it would most definitely be all the craft breweries with outdoor seating. All I wanted was to sit in the sun and sip on a strong, super hoppy IPA, but I can’t seem to find that anywhere in New Zealand! Eventually we found this funny, tucked away hotel bar full of drunk, older locals. The bartender let us enjoy our coldies in sunny solitude on the back porch. An hour or so later we had our packs back and checked into the Tamara Backpackers Lodge. This hostel was my favorite so far. Super clean, everything you need, comfortable. We made a mean grilled chicken salad for dinner and hit the hay.
Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Day 53: Christmas Extravaganza Recovery Day
You know those days when you don’t really feel like doing anything? Especially following the holidays? Well, that was absolutely me today. I cooked up a healthy egg and veggie breakfast with the leftover spinach, and washed it down with a massive French press of coffee. Initially I had intended to spend the morning catching up on my blog, talking to family and relaxing before walking a few kilometers in the afternoon. But as the morning went on, and I sunk further into the couch, the less I felt like walking at all. Fortunately Matt was on the same page as me, so we decided to book another room and just have a rest day. Honestly I was feeling pretty bummed out about the whole Clea situation too, and just wasn’t in the mood to start the next trail section. Instead I layed in bed and blogged, then went into town to finally get a New Zealand phone, ordered a battered muscle and fried scallop, and tried on dresses at a store. I met Matt at Countdown for dinner supplies including steak, broccoli, and a root vegetable combo of kumara, potato, beet, carrot, acorn squash and garlic. I’m really digging the healthy hostel meals we’ve been cooking up. I was out like a light.
Friday, December 29th, 2017
Day 54: Wanganui to Koitaita, 30km
Since check-out was at 10am, I made sure to stay in bed as long as possible drinking coffee and eating eggs. My motivation level and mood had improved since yesterday, yet honestly I wasn’t super amped to walk on a road for 30 kilometers. But it wasn’t all bad. Sure, I was walking down a busy highway with cars and trucks loudly whizzing by, and giant trucks full of sheep spewing piss smell into the air, but you know it could always be worse. I just did my best to ignore everything and also not get run over. When I caught up to Matt on the much quieter, much more peaceful Turanuki Road, he informed me that this old guy Bob had invited us over. Next thing I knew I was sitting in a kitchen drinking orange juice and eating cookies with Bob, his wife Evelyn, their friend Julie, and Matt. I couldn’t help but smile as this incredibly kind group of old people enquired about our adventures. I love this country. We thanked them for their generosity and continued the last 8 kilometers of road to the Koitaita campground where I ate, stretched, enjoyed the beach sunset, and went to bed.
Saturday, December 30th, 2017
Day 55: Koitaita to Bulls, 25km
This morning was pleasant and peaceful as I walked in the black sand along the beach, looking out at the Tasman Sea and pondering questions about the upcoming new year. I found myself in a bit of a situation though. I noticed yesterday after we left Wanganui that somehow the inside sole of my left boot had somehow melted into a weird golf ball sized lump that left zero padding for the ball of my foot. I thought maybe I’d be able to fix it, but by the time I realized I really couldn’t wear it anymore, I was miles or days away from a shoe store. My options were to wear the shitty broken boot or rock the Chacos. I opted for the Chacos and managed to make it the 30 kilometers yesterday with only minorly sore feet, but walking on sand is a little different. Once the sand gets under the straps and under your feet, it’s pretty much game over. I tried wearing the boots for another little bit, but wound up just walking barefoot until my toes started to ache so I put the Chacos back on. Talk about a pain in the ass! We accidentally walked past our turnoff, so we cruised down the beach a little further and found an exit road that required some stealthy, high alert, adventure walking through a firing range. At this point I decided to try socks with Chacos, but after about 8 kilometers on another flat, paved road the tendons on the tops of my feet were screaming. As much as I love my Chacs, they are not meant for walking long distances. I tried switching back to my boots one last time, which helped with the random pain but that damn golf ball was unbearable. Matt was way ahead of me and by this time I was so over the road. Seriously, why should I keep walking along a hot, stinky road when my shoes are fucked and my foot hurts? I debated with myself whether or not I was going to hitch because I was being lazy, or because it wasn’t worth causing tendon damage until I could get a new pair of shoes. 10 minutes later I was cruising to Bulls with a very lovely couple who even stopped to pick Matt up. They delivered us in town where we spent some time figuring out a place to stay for New Years. Meanwhile this super nice Kiwi pulled up, started chatting and invited us to share some sushi with him. So that was awesome.
The local camping ground was unnecessarily overpriced so we walked along the river until we found a place to freedom camp. It’s probably the least luxurious place I’ve camped yet considering we’re by a highway, a dirt bike track, and lots of litter. To be totally honest this section of the TA is pretty lame. I feel dirty, and not in the “I’ve been in the woods for a a week” dirty, but more of the “I’ve been walking on a sticky highway with semis and goat piss and rubbish in a city” kind of dirty. There are a few more forest sections coming up before Wellington, but I’m pretty ready to be in the mountains on the south island. In the meantime, I’m staying positive, listening to my body and making the best of the weirdness!
Sunday, December 31st, 2017
Day 56: Bulls to Palmerston North
NEW YEARS EVE!!!
So my foot was feeling less than stellar this morning. There was about zero percent of me that wanted to try walking any distance on the highway to Palmerston North, especially when my Chacos were the only option. I think it’s probably a minor tendonitis situation, and that requires rest anyway. So I decided to hitch the 25 kilometers into town to use my day more wisely. We stayed at the New Railway Hotel which is a perfect, cozy place right next to the main square. After checking in, we hit up the grocery store for dinner and New Years supplies. I also decided that I wanted to buy a dress for NYE because why not? I’ve literally been wearing the same shirt and skort every day for the last two months, and I wanted to feel like a woman! I also decided that I wanted to dye my hair red again. I had red hair for like 10 years, but decided almost two years ago to let it go back to natural. I thought I’d be able to pull off the natural hair forever, but I underestimated my love for cherry hair. After finding a new pair of trail runners, I headed back to the hotel to blog and do my hurr. I was happy to get the blog mostly updated, and even happier to have my hair a sick shade of red! My foot appreciated the rest too. I donned my New Years outfit just in time to cook a delicious steak dinner. Then we hit the town square in Palmerston North for fireworks, live music, and an official countdown. After midnight we meandered down to the local clubs and danced into 2018 with all the locals. Hell yeah PALMYYYYY!!! I lost Matt and wound up getting a ride home from two very kind cops who didn’t want a female walking home by herself. It was an interesting night for sure, but memorable nonetheless.
Monday, January 1st, 2018
Day 57: New Years Recovery in Palmy North
Jesus I was a blob today. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again because it’s too true…I am too old to party. Last night was fun for sure but I literally laid in bed all day watching movies and sleeping. I left the room to get something to eat and resupply food, but the grocery store was closed for New Years so I just ate some Tikka Masala and came back to my room instead. I watched Close Encounters and went to sleep. Literally accomplished nothing. Pretty much a waste of a day but I needed the recovery. All I can say is that I am SO DAMN READY to get back into the trail groove. We’ve got about a week to Wellington and then we hit the South Island mountains. The holiday indulgence has been fun, but that’s not what I’m here for, nor does it create the best version of myself. If I’m being totally honest, I think the combination of not having Clea around, being on a kind of boring, repetitive section of the trail, perhaps missing friends and family, and too much food and booze with not enough physical activity over the holidays has me feeling a bit down and out of sync with myself. My stoke level has been unusually low so I am beyond ready to walk into the rest of 2018 with health and happiness and all of the goodness waiting for me on the Te Araroa!