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.
Palmerston North to Makahika
23 November 2021
Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery Centre Palmerston North
Today we checked out the Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery Centre!
Pretty chuffed to get a tour of this awesome facility and learn about the amazing mahi going on here to rehabilitate our native birds and wildlife before they are released back into the wild.
We also met some of the Centre’s permanent residents — a 30 year old tuatara called Big Boy who lives here with his three girlfriends, a 23 year old kākā called Tāne and a couple of kererū.
Wildbase is also home to a few breeding pairs of blue duck/whio and brown teal/pāteke. That’s pretty exciting as pāteke are super rare – even rarer than whio – but thanks to a successful breeding programme, their numbers are recovering.
The Centre sees around 100 patients every year — all NZ native wildlife from raptors like falcons/kārearea and harrier hawks/kāhu to marine birds such as penguins and albatross.
It also sees its fair share of forest and more urban dwelling birds including kiwi, kākā, ruru, kererū and tuī.
Most of these taonga are injured by predators or people. For example, urban dwelling birds like tuī and kererū often suffer from lead poisoning by drinking contaminated water from gutters, while scavengers like harrier hawks can get poisoned after eating bullet-riddled rabbit carcasses. Clumsy kererū also often suffer impact injuries from flying into windows.
Thanks to the good sorts at the Wildbase Recovery Centre, these native treasures get a safe haven to recover in before being released into the wild.
Keep up the awesome mahi, team!
Day 26: 24 November 2021
Palmerston North – Kahuterawa Reserve (22 km)
‘Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me’ — and he did!
Today I woke with a little spark of joy that grew as we wandered out on the Trail, the sun shining upon us.
The additional rest day at Whiowhio Hut with our beautiful hosts Fi & Anthony had brought me back to life.
I was able to smile, tell stories, deftly deflect any bolshy behavior from Emilie and overall have a pretty nice day.
We had lots of love on our way out of Palmy — huge hugs goodbye, a surprise send off as we wandered along the riverside, and greetings from several other people as we crossed the Manawatū and headed out of town.
Today the Te Araroa trail was a pleasant mix of footpath and leafy walking trails until the glorious sun turned into a burning inferno, making us glad for the afternoon breeze on the descent to Kahuterawa Reserve.
We entertained each other by telling stories and talking to the sheep, mimicking the treble of the lambs and the deep bass of the sheep.
Right now I’m lying on top of my sleeping bag, too comfortable and tired to get inside it just yet, listening to the sweet chatter of tiny birds above the white noise of the river.
Emilie is outside making a fairy garden. I helped her start it off at the base of a tree, where a circle of exposed roots made the perfect place to create a tiny fairy court. We gave them flat rocks to sit on, moss and daisies for cushions and more daisies spiked onto a forked stick for the candelabra. I can’t believe that girl still has so much energy.
Tomorrow we’re heading on towards the Tararuas and looking forward to getting into the mountains and doing some real tramping again.
See you on the other side!
Day 27: 25 November 2021
Kahuterawa Reserve – Te Whare o Motorimu (12 kms)
Some hoons turned up to the reserve late last night and I slept all of four hours, resisting the urge to go and tell them to ‘shut the hell up’ in case they were bigger than me.
We packed up slowly, watching the pīwakawaka flit and chitter overhead, the morning sun already baking our legs.
By the time we were climbing though the leafy green of Arahapuke Forest Park, the air was hot and still and we stripped off to soak under a waterfall beside the nominal Te Araroa halfway point.
I was joined in my swim by a cave wētā who allowed me to scoop it out of the pool and photograph it, before returning to the sanctuary of the leaf litter.
After lunch my brain was tired from lack of sleep and too much stimulation. I reflected, not for the first time, that single parenting and trail walking is hard work. It’s not just physically challenging, but mentally too. Emilie enjoys companionship and is a fabulous entertainer. I simply was unable to keep up with the chat.
“I’ve told you three stories; now it’s your turn Mummy!” she chirruped as I puffed my way up the hill, slurring my words as I invented characters and story plots while desperately searching for a flat place to lie down and rest.
The track wasn’t so hard, but I was tired and it was hot. We found a second, much larger waterhole under the bridge before the entrance to Gordon Kear Forest and stripped off again to bathe.
Emilie loved leaping into the current and paddling her way back to the riverbank. I wondered what a sight we’d be for any passersby — two naked, giggling creatures splashing about in the sunshine, but we didn’t see another soul all day.
It was only 3pm when we reached Te Whare o Motorimu and I was tempted to press on, but Emilie wanted to stay and my resolve easily weakened.
We collapsed in the shade and I lay watching a tiny spider repair its web between two long stems of grass while Emilie collected buttercups and daisies.
The pine forest was quiet compared to the native bush this morning, but it was peaceful with the white noise of the nearby creek and gentle sway of branches in the breeze.
Later we lay on the warm concrete outside the whare in the evening sun and everything seemed to slow down until the light began to fade from the sky and it was finally cool enough to go inside and try to sleep.
Day 28: 26 November 2021
Te Whare o Motorimu – Tokomaru Shelter (15 kms)
Today was one of my favourite Trail days, as we quickly left the silence of the pine plantation for the hum of native bush, sliding down a steep hillside to the valley floor on Burtton’s Track.
We navigated numerous stream crossings as we followed the Tokomaru River past the site of Burtton’s whare, pausing to read about his unfortunate end where he fell eight metres from a swing bridge and broke his leg, yet still managed to make the long walk out to find help.
It was pretty sobering considering we were puffing away with our four good legs, staring at the scenery in a daze of exhaustion and rapture.
Emilie’s storytelling was in fine form today. Her character, the Bush Baby, drew inspiration from our trip to Wildbase Recovery by opening her own bush hospital for all her injured wildlife friends.
We had wandered up to another crossing of the Tokomaru River when we came face to face with a trio of goats, busily grazing on the far bank. As we paused to quietly observe them, the billy goat locked eyes with us and continued chewing, as if to say, “Yeh humans? So what?”
Eventually they moved on, slipping silently through the undergrowth and we wandered through the cool water, enjoying the sensation on our toes.
As we came to the final river crossing we spotted a huge eel lazing in a pool, seemingly enjoying hanging out in the sunshine as much as we were. As we watched him he seemed to sense our presence and swam away.
Dappled sunlight shone through the towering rimu and smaller lancewood. Exotic purple foxgloves added a pop of colour against the subtle green natives.
Every so often we’d pass slips that ripped open the landscape like an open scar, exposing red earth and tangled roots.
Tonight our resting place was the Tokomaru Shelter, basically a tin shed with a concrete floor and single platform bunk. It was eerily quiet, surrounded by tall pine trees. We squatted in the creek to wash the mud off our legs before eating a simple meal and lying down to sleep.
Day 29: 27 November 2021
Tokomaru Shelter – Makahika (18 kms)
It’s 6am with a warm wind blowing and I’m sitting outside with my morning coffee, sleepily observing the trees.
I’m listening to the rumble of the approaching gusts and watching how the high branches sway in the wind. There must be some science in determining the wind force by watching the trees, but I don’t know it, and it occurs to me how little bushcraft I do know.
It also occurs to me that walking Te Araroa is not the nature immersion I’ve been craving, simply because the nature of thru-hiking is to move through the environment. There is new terrain everyday, with little chance to sit and learn how to read the mood of the bush around you.
But now we’re approaching the mighty Tararuas and I wish the trees would tell me their secrets.
The low roar of the wind as it sweeps through seems to suggest rain, but the early morning grass is dry and the wind is warm. I can see low mist kissing the tops of the old growth forest across from the shelter and watch as it suddenly sweeps through, obscuring the greenish brown tops.
I’m nervous. The search and rescue book I found in the shelter last night spoke a lot about bushcraft and reading the weather. One of the standout recommendations was to not go into new territory alone . . . and probably not with your little mate in tow.
I suppose later today we’ll get a taste of the wind as we climb around 600m on the track before descending into Makahika. There, we will hopefully pick up our resupply package (maybe even hitch into Levin for more), and get an updated weather forecast and some local knowledge.
When we left Palmerston North four days ago, the forecast showed sun, sun and more sun, but that’s not what I’m seeing now. We had two roasting hot days, but the cloud has descended and the wind has picked up as we enter the low lying flanks of the Tararua Forest Park.
I don’t mind hunkering down in a hut for a day or two, but I don’t want to get blown off Gable End Ridge on my way up there tomorrow.
For now, I’m going back into the shelter to snuggle Emilie awake, still wrapped in her yellow sleeping bag like a caterpillar in a cocoon, feed us both and keep moving forward.
Mother Nature, I’m in awe of you. Please be kind to us little girls.
Now I’m sitting beside a stream with my back supported by a moss-covered punga, sipping on a much needed cup of tea. It’s the first stream we’ve come across in hours since traversing the Makahika track. We made the wobbly descent through the supplejack and lancewood forest, bright fronds of native mistletoe showing up against the brown leaves and mud underfoot.
We’ve been walking since 8am and I gotta say, I’m exhausted. My body feels jarred from slipping and sliding down the steep track, but there’s still a few hours to go . . .
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.