Here at Wilderlife, we’re collating Victoria’s diaries, photos and videos into a digest. Each post spans a section of Te Araroa between major towns and rest days.
Walking with her seven-year-old daughter Emilie, together they are raising funds for Federated Mountain Clubs and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy.
Taumaranui to National Park
Day 7: 19 October 2021
Taumarunui to Ōwhanga (20 kms)
We spent the day wandering along country roads listening to the sound of spring — sheep rumbling to their lambs, a bull bellowing in his paddock, birdsong and the occasional passing vehicle.
It’s all very beautiful in a green and blue country way, but right now I’m struggling with some unpleasant emotions and feeling a little bummed out.
It’s quite a jump to go from the freedom of Ninety Mile Beach to the rolling agriculture of Kings Country and to put it simply, I wasn’t ready for it. I wanted to be immersed in native bush, not surrounded by paddocks and exotic plantings. To hear bellbirds and tui, not sparrows and starlings. But there’s another 20km of country road walking ahead, so my challenge to myself is to breathe deeply and try to objectively appreciate what’s around me (even if it’s not quite where my heart wants to be).
Once I got past that first hurdle, the day got better. The locals were friendly and inquisitive; well, the horses at least showed some country hospitality. The cows were interested to a point, but the sheep were mostly mad and panicky and the wild goats were leery about getting too close.
We even passed an ostrich who walked alongside us for the length of his paddock, much to Emilie’s discomfort. He was shaking off his feathers so I stuck one in her backpack and enjoyed watching her jauntily stride along.
My favourite encounter was with a beautiful big Clydesdale with a soft nose, lording over his harem of three mares and their knock-kneed foals.
The sun was shining amongst marshmallow clouds and the wind blew warm on the backs of our legs.
Eventually the road turned to gravel and slowly climbed up and up, threading through patches of native and exotic bush that provided brief but welcome shade.
As we wound higher, the pockets of native bush grew thicker. Every so often, I’d round a corner and startle a herd of wild goats with their kids, who usually ignored me until one of them gave the signal, then the whole lot would turn and melt away into the bush.
We were both pretty beat by the 20km mark and still three or four kilometres from the small town of Ōwhanga, the entrance of the 42 Traverse track that would take us to Tongariro.
We decided to jump into the bush at the edge of the Hikumutu scenic reserve and had the good luck to find a flat place amongst the tree ferns to pitch our tent, with a little stream nearby.
And now we’re lying here, listening to the beautiful evening song of native birds, including the bellbird and the throaty call of tui.
I popped back onto the road to find some clear sky for my InReach and saw in the distance the gleaming white head of Mount Ruapehu, its base shrouded with clouds.
Pretty magical to think we’ll be walking around this special maunga in a few days’ time.
Day 8: 19 October 2021
Ōwhango to 42 Traverse Track
By 9am we were out of the bush and stomping down the country road, wondering if anyone out there would like to cook us bacon and eggs for breakfast, as our porridge hadn’t quite filled the void.
And do you know what, they did! We wandered into the Blue Hill Café hoping to charge our InReach and the good sorts behind the counter recognized us and shouted us breakfast. We got chatting to the locals and it was happy days, until we remembered that we were supposed to be hitting the 42 Traverse track — after spending last night being sheltered by giant tree ferns in the beautiful Hikumutu scenic reserve.
The locals recommended we check out the Ohinetonga Scenic Reserve, so we did, and spent another couple of hours wandering through giant tree ferns adorned with flowering clematis. We found the local swimming hole and lazed around in the sunshine, alternating between the icy water and the warm sandy shore. A dabchick paddled up to check us out and Emilie dared me to swim to the other side of the river and back which, being the responsible parent I am, I did.
Reluctantly, we pressed on across the bridge and up the road, past a large DOC sign warning us ‘NOT TO GET LOST.’ Ominous, but our InReach was fully charged and we had our Topo map at the ready.
As it was already 5pm (time flies when you’re having fun), we decided to stick the tent on a grassy patch at the start of the trail since the dense forest looked dark and gloomy. Tomorrow, we told ourselves, we’d do some serious walking. We’d trek all the way up to Ten Man Hut and check out the form of these North Island huts. All this tenting wasn’t helping us with our Hut Bagger score, so it was time to add one to our list.
The birds were bloody noisy but good on them, and once the light drained out of the sky, a pair of morepork serenaded each other through the trees.
Day 9: 21 October 2021
42 Traverse Track to Ten Man Hut (15 kms)
Dawn broke with a cacophony of birdsong, so we packed up our tent and stumbled off into the Tongariro Forest, gaping at the massive trees towering above our heads.
Rimu, Lancewood and Totora rubbed shoulders with huge tree ferns. Kērēru flapped lazily about and tui chortled and gurgled. It was bliss.
As this part of the world is all new to us, we were determined to take our time and explore some of the nearby gems off-Trail.
We thought we were pretty clever in taking a shortcut up to Ten Man Hut, which was clearly marked on the Topo map, but not as a DOC track. If it all worked out, we would cut about half the distance off the trip.
But just over halfway, the four wheel drive track petered out into an overgrown trail, swept with toetoe and ferns, with muddy pools filling up the ruts. Our shoes and socks were all shades of brown when we finally rejoined the 4×4 track.
No one else arrived at the dilapidated old hut, which had clearly seen some heydays.
We washed our bodies by the fireplace with warm water and soap, listened to a Jungle Book audiobook and tried to ignore the big rat cruising around the rafters.
All I could think was, ‘God I hope it doesn’t jump on me in the night.’
I almost lost my nerve around 7pm and wanted to dash outside to pitch the tent, but was brave and slept with my liner pulled up over my face!! Rufus the Rat was well behaved and kept to his corner, once I’d given the bunk above me a good kick to make sure he wasn’t nesting up there!
Best thing was I found a full can of rum and coke in the kitchen and figured since I’d swept the place out, it was finders keepers. One happy Mum. Cheers!
Day 10: 22 October 2021
Ten Man Hut to Blue Duck Bivvy (18 kms)
I woke at dawn pleased to discover my face still intact and nothing obvious had been nibbled in the night by our nocturnal hut companion.
Emilie was still snoring so I padded about heating water for my coffee and wandered outside to gape at the pink sky.
There’s something about this forest that’s deeply magical – and all the trees seem super sized, from the towering rimu to the giant tree ferns. And there were heaps of species I’d never seen and didn’t know their names. I entertained myself by taking photos of various plants and their leaves for iNaturalist. My favourite was the splashes of white flowers amongst the dark green forest canopy – fragile throws of native clematis.
But for such a big place it can be eerily quiet, as you expect some large life form to be moving in the undergrowth. Maybe they’ve all been eaten, as we spotted a few telltale signs of carnage on the track — a flurry of feathers, marks of little feet.
Once we reluctantly left the old hut (we could have stayed and tidied it up all week with the state it was in), we got into our groove and made the 8.8km down the the junction with the 42 Traverse track in just under two hours, then slowed off to tell each other stories and stare at the scenery.
At some point, the lure of the Whanganui River pulled us down a steep and overgrown side track barely marked on our Topo map.
We wandered along looking for a spot to pitch our tent, when around a bend appeared what seemed to be a perfectly good hut. While at first glance it was a DOC hut — dark green, unlocked and welcoming — it was clear this labour of love was someone’s special place.
Later we fought through the blackberries to put our toes in the river. I didn’t see him at first, the whio, resting one-legged on his log and regarding me with a cool yellow eye. Once he felt assured I wasn’t about to plunge into his river (it was a little late in the afternoon for such antics) he tucked his head back under his wing, leaving me to admire him.
Day 11: 23 October 2021
Blue Duck Bivvy to Tongariro Holiday Park (15 kms)
I started my day with coffee and watercolours, soaking in the lush green scenery around the bivvy. Emilie joined in and we happily did art together until around 9am when it was probably time to get on the Trail again.
Today we planned to finish the Waione-Cokers track, then make our way to the Tongariro Holiday Park to collect our resupply package and get ready for the Crossing.
Compared to the wide and flat terrain of the 42 Traverse, the Waione-Cokers track was narrow and overgrown, muddy and undulating.
Our arms and legs were soon scratched up by toetoe and our socks were full of mud. We gave up skirting around the huge puddles and instead enjoyed walking right through them, making sure to stay on the “ridgeline” between the wheel ruts.
Emilie’s bravado faltered a little when we came to the confluence of the Okupata and Mangatepopo streams.
The water flowed swiftly over greenish brown rocks and would be at least up to her waist. We talked about our strategy and I showed her the mutual support method, moving slowly in tandem across the wide water to the safety of the other side. I was very happy to be crossing today and no later, as rain was forecast in the next few days and I wouldn’t like to attempt that on my own with an anxious child.
Once we were across, she quickly bounced back and it was awesome to see her confidence flow.
You’re a little legend, Miss Emilie, that’s for sure!
Reaching Tongariro was a bit of a downer, as the Holiday Park didn’t have our resupply parcels. The courier post confirmed that the parcels had been delivered to their PO Box in Turangi, but they hadn’t been collected and due to the long weekend, we had no way of accessing them until Tuesday.
We paid for a bag of pasta and a jar of sauce, washed our hair and hunkered down in our tent to reassess our plans.
24 October 2021
Replan and resupply
C’mon, someone give us a ride! It’s raining!
From here, Te Araroa continues on via the Tongariro Crossing, but the weather has packed in and we can’t do the crossing today. So we’re heading down to National Park to get some real food, since our resupply package is stuck in the post office until Tuesday.
Sounds like the forecasted rain will push back the next part of the journey on the Whanganui River too . . . Adventures, aye!
With full bellies and dry gear, we’ve come up with a plan to make the most of what the weather has thrown us.
Gear is packed, food restocked, and we’re off on Tuesday to head ‘Round the Mountain’ on Ruapehu.
Victoria and Emilie are walking the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They are raising funds and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy. To see all their stories, visit wilderlife.nz/adventures_with_emilie/ and follow them @adventures_with_emilie on Instagram and Facebook.
90% of the funds raised are donated evenly between the Mental Health Foundation and the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ Mountain & Forest Charitable Trust. 10% is going towards some of the expenses of walking the trail.
If you’d like to help them out, please donate via their give a little page.