Spine of the Fish  Day 3: going green

It isn’t easy being green on the Te Araroa, but the trying can be fun…

Wellington Train Station at rush hour

Plimmerton to Paraparaumu – 32kms

Walking is a pretty environmentally-neutral method of getting around but tramping, walking’s grown-up cuzzie, often comes with a heavy carbon footprint. There aren’t many cities in the country where you can walk out your back door and into the mountains. Most tramps require more than a few litres of petrol to get to and from the trailheads.

Te Araroa has changed that for us. The trail goes right past our house and we’ve always loved the idea of walking out our door and straight into a holiday. This trip is the second time we’ve done just that and we’ve had dozens of passing hikers arrive at our place in a similar fashion.

This is why we declined all the kind offers from friends to drive us to the Palmerston North railway station on the first day. It wasn’t the game we wanted to play…and it would have ruined our unscientific experiment to find out just how green a holiday can be.

Before you get worried about political correctness gone stark raving bonkers I’ll put you out of your misery. We failed to be carbon neutral before we began the walk. It took a tank and a half of gas to bury four stashes of food in the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges before we left…AND we’ve booked flights home from Auckland in June.

But the thought’s there…and we’re nurturing a few acres of neglected Ruahine Forest Park to offset the carbon. True, it involves killing thousands of carbon-sucking pine trees, but the new native growth is already sequestering carbon and supplying much needed food to birds and insects.

Our experiment is also a good excuse to spend a whole lot of time on trains…our favourite mode of reasonably green transport. Ironically the only city with decent trains is Wellington, the same city where resident politicians and bureaucrats have overseen the dismantling of train tracks throughout the country…because roads are more efficient, apparently.

Anyway…it was a train that took us from Palmy to Wellington and it’s been commuter trains that meant we could base ourselves and our big packs at one place while we walked the first couple of days, commuting back to wherever we were staying (with friends and relatives) each day after a hard day’s work on the trail.

It’s been brilliant.

Loose change is not a good idea when you’re walking long distances. Fiona giving heavy coins to some cat lovers.

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Our third day started with a commute out to Plimmerton, and because we had a place to stay in Paraparaumu for the night it was to be our last train ride out from Wellington central. The weather was overcast again and the wind was up.

We walked through industrial parks and past the large flax swamp that lies just south of Pukerua Bay. At about 30 hectares it’s Wellington’s largest remaining freshwater wetland. It looks pretty impressive as you rush past it in a car but up close it’s looking pretty tatty. Blackberry, convolvulus and other weeds are spreading through it. There’s a bait programme in place for rats and possums but we saw a stoat scurry across our path at one stage.

Taupo Swamp, Te Ara Harakeke (flax).

Abandoned train station and possible new DoC hut, Muri.

Yes we’re fussy when it comes to weeds and pests…but that’s what slow travel does. As we’ve walked the country we’ve seen what’s actually happening to our land…and sadly it’s usually not pretty.

Anyway…

We’ve walked south on this route before – but when we first did it the Escarpment Track hadn’t been built so we had to walk from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay along State Highway One. Today we were in for a treat.

Pukerua Bay

The track is ten kms long and reaches heights of 220m above a sea level that at times seemed far too low. I get vertigo and with the strong winds that day I found it a bit nerve wracking. Call me a wimp…but it’s steep, the bridges moving a fear (pun intended) bit as I made my way across.

Vertigo

It’s been a big year for TA walkers with record numbers making their way down the country. We’d heard reports of full huts in the Tararua Range as recently as a couple of weeks ago, but we haven’t met any of the hardcore crowd yet so we’re assuming that the 2016-17 season has finally ended.

Looking forward to Kapiti.

However, there were plenty of local walkers out that day, including three young staff from a bar in Paraparaumu out for a pretty massive walk before work that night. Jordan, Jordan (that’s right…two Jordans on one hill) and Karvah didn’t know what Te Araroa was, but now that they do, they’ll have some idea why all those hairy smelly and tanned people keep walking past their work on Raumati Beach every summer.

The day’s foraging find. Cape gooseberries on The Escarpment.

Karvah, Jordan (from Bluff) and Jordan (from elsewhere). Trail angels.

We met another woman who’d taken to walking recently and lost 25 kilos doing it. She did know what Te Araroa was and thought she might give it a go.

As we dropped down to Paekakariki we met Sue in a thicket of Ngaio trees. She was servicing one of nearly two hundred traps that, along with the planting of thousands of trees, are helping to develop what she described as a green corridor from Kapiti south.

Stairway from Hell

She’d heard of the Ruahine Whio Protectors, the trapping project that we work on so we had a lot of information to share. Her group, Nga Uruora, has been working on this project for twenty years. It’s really difficult terrain, but it’s starting to look great.

As we left her I nearly squashed two skinks as they scuttled across the track. A good sign.

The reason we’re happy to explore the idea of Green Tourism. This is what climate change looks like. Raumati beach erosion.

Down on the beach the coast seemed to stretch endlessly before us. A northerly blew sand and salt at us making listening to music or talking difficult. As it started to get intolerable and our energy really began to fade I looked up and Fiona was walking toward the dunes…no…a pub. We’d reached Jordan, Jordan and Karvah’s bar, The Waterfront.

It was a Friday night and the place was packed with end-of-the-week workers. Our dress standard was marginal, but as usual, my kilt worked its magic. We were soon the centre of some mildly inebriated attention. We were amongst friends,

A couple of beers (one shouted by the two J’s in the kitchen) and a bowl of the best chips ever (note: all chips on the trail are the ‘best chips ever’) and we were ready for the last leg of the day. We were soon hooning up the beach as the sun went down.

The perfect end to a long day.

Wilderlife