An early start

Waikanae to Waitewaewae Hut

The alarm went at 6am. At 6.15 we both swung our legs over the side of the bed. Our feet were pink and swollen. They looked like they belonged to giant babies or freshly shaved Hobbits.

Yesterday’s walk was the last road walk we would be doing for a while and although we had a few aches, pains and blisters we were doing alright. Tramping is easier on the feet than treading endless kilometres of tarseal so hopefully they would get a chance to recover.

At ten to eight we said our goodbyes to Ruth and made our way into the Tararuas. A few hundred metres in we came upon Adam. Ruth had seen him walking up the valley the previous night as she drove to work. He said he didn’t usually camp on the track but he had been exhausted by the time he got there. We empathised, although couldn’t really as he’d walked about twice as far as we had.

Adam and his campsite

He’d come from all the way from Bluff so was really trail fit. We left him to pack up and wandered up and over Pukeatua, a track that has been made specially for Te Araroa.

It starts in Radiata but quickly turns to beautiful broadleaf forest. Rewarewa leaves littered the track. They’re almost as nice to walk on as pine.

Pine forest at the start of the track to Pukeatua Track.

Rewarewa litter.

Adam caught us about an hour and a half after we left him. Perhaps we were fitter than we thought. We’d expected him to power past much earlier.

Walking into the mist with Adam.

It can be lonely walking Nobo – most TA walkers take the southward option – so we think he really appreciated the company. We yacked our way up and over the track. It was good catching up with trail gossip. He’d stayed in a hut on the Two Thumbs with Brian, a Sobo who’d stayed at our house in Palmy before Christmas. Brian was still wearing, and enjoying, the Palmy Girls’ High School kilt he’d bought before leaving town.

Meadow above Otaki Forks

Taking a breather – Otaki Forks

We got to Otaki Forks for a late lunch. We’d taken five hours on a track that was marked as six to seven. We felt pretty good. This was all about to change.

There’s nothing worse than a whinger and so I apologise in advance. I’ll also take this opportunity to explain my policy on swearing in the blog.

I’m not against the liberal use of what’s become known as the F Bomb, but if I was to accurately portray its use that afternoon, even the most ardent Quentin Tarantino fan would blush. Tarantino’s liberal use of swearing works because it’s dressed up with guns, blood and good music.

Our swearing on that muggy Sunday afternoon was dressed up in mud, roots and orange arrows that always pointed up.

“What’s the track like? “ I asked one of the fathers of a large family group as they passed. The kids had just flown by in a flurry of laughter and energy…it must be alright I thought.

“Absolute rubbish….Absolute rubbish,” he said twice just to make sure we understood that it was going to be absolute rubbish.

Adam had left us in his wake. He planned to skip Waitewaewae Hut, our destination, and make his way up to Nichols Hut. Oh how naive the young can be.

The Waitewaewae track follows an old logging rail track up a valley beside the Otaki River. Iron railings mark its way.This would usually signify an easy walk – trains usually require a gentle gradient.

Sadly the track has been plagued by slips over the years and has now become a nightmare.

I really must apologise for the lazy title of this story. Stairway to Hell would be an alright description except that the stairway we walked that day was upwards…not down where we all know hell resides…the stairway we walked was also not a stairway. It was a boggy, slippery, rooty, windfall-covered, intestinal tract of a thing.

It was absolute rubbish.

Edge of darkness.

Conditions Bad

A sign at the beginning of the track said that due to the slip the track had been ‘upgraded’. DoC don’t employ people for their written English skills, but we suggest someone buys a dictionary for the sign-writing team.

Every time we thought the trail was heading down it would head up. Every time we thought it couldn’t get worse it got worse. It went on…and on. Up…and up. Not in a clean vertical way, but in a random, jerky, taunting way.

As the day turned to dusk the light changed. It’s a weird time in the forest when only the brightest greens can capture the last rays of a sinking sun. As most of the forest darkens some plants start to glow.

We stopped at a possible campsite to rest drink and mourn over our map. We were still three and a half kms from home…as the Tui flies. We were tempted to set up camp, but it was cold, damp and depressing. We needed a hut.

On we trudged. At least we’d come off the ‘upgraded’ track and were on something more well trod. Not that this improved our mood or energy levels. It was probably quite beautiful, but we and the surroundings were too dark for any appreciation.

At one stage we came to an impossible moss-covered mound. The trail cut right through it in a ridiculous but ornate way. It looked like somewhere fairies would live.

“What the BEEP is this supposed to be? The BEEPING set from BEEPING Game of Thrones or something? Peter Jackson should BEEP off and get a proper BEEPING job…the BEEPING BEEP.”

I was furious. Fiona laughed. We stopped for a barley sugar.

We’d been in this situation before – five days into our South Island ‘conquest’. There had been a  day in Longwood Forest just north of Invercargill where we’d both burst into tears. The combination of a never ending trail, lack of fitness, overwhelming discomfort, exhaustion, huge amounts of endorphins and the dark dank environment…some would call it character building. I’d call it BEEP BEEP. So again…excuse the bad behaviour. It won’t be our last.

We reached the hut at 8.15pm. As we stumbled into the clearing we were greeted by Adam. There were whoops and high fives all around.  We’d been in the track for 12 and a half hours. It was the longest day we’d ever done.  Even the trail-fit Adam reckoned it was one of the worst trails he’d been on.

‘Where the hell are we?’ Plateau Creek Campsite

We ate. Did our stretches. Collapsed into bed.

Tomorrow would be another big day. The track to Nichols is Te Araroa’s steepest continuous climb…