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.
Whanganui to Whiowhio Hut
Day 22: 12 November 2021
Whanganui – Koitiata (25 kms)
We left our new friends Dani, Nelson and their whānau and headed back on the trail today.
The rural roads finally opened up onto beach — the first we’ve seen since Cape Reinga! But instead of hard golden sands, this section of beach walking saw us sludging through deceptively slippery dark grey sand, which slopped into our shoes.
The overcast skies were reflected in the choppy greeny-brown waves lapping the shore.
My favourite part was wandering past a nesting colony of huge southern black-backed gulls, gracefully taking off in unison to settle bobbing on the sea.
We found one huge beauty recently expired, its feathers so soft and its body warmed by the sun.
Emilie solemnly drew a love heart in the sand around its body and we stayed with it a little while, stroking the brilliant white plumage on the back of its head and admiring the red splash of colour on its bill and around its closed eyes.
We were met on the beach by Lydia and Ian who guided us home to their little sanctuary for the night and made us chocolate cake.
Day 23: 13 November 2021
Koitiata – Bulls (33 kms)
This morning we opted to walk the forestry road adjacent to the beach, preferring the firm soil cushioned by pine needles to the slippery sand.
I felt happy and nourished after our overnight stay with Ian and Lydia. Although as I started the morning walk, my pack felt heavy, my back ached and my legs were sore.
Maybe six days in the canoes had atrophied the killer leg muscles I thought I was growing and yesterday’s sand walking had been a rude shock to my system.
And yet we made the 14 kilometres to the end of the beach section in fairly good spirits, dropping back onto the beach for the final five kilometres and wandering dreamily along the tide line.
Emilie did beach art while I stripped off and played in the waves. It felt great.
The darkened coastline was completely empty, apart from the huge twisted limbs of bleached white driftwood. Eventually the columns of rain caught up and sent us scuttling into the sand dunes.
We stomped down the country roads towards Bulls, plastered with rain, until a good bloke in a farm ute gave us a ride the final few kilometers into town.
Day 24: 14 November 2021
Bulls – Fielding (20 kms)
I struggled through the morning with ghosts in the attic.
We’d only just stopped at Mt Lees Reserve for lunch when the rain hit.
We stood around in our wet weather gear holding each other, and I watched Emilie’s lower lip wobble and her big brown eyes fill with tears as she looked around the empty park, wind and rain coming in thick through the trees.
I could tell exactly what she was thinking and told her, “It’s okay love. I know it feels sad that we are here all alone in the rain. But don’t worry — we’ve got a warm bed to go to (thanks to our lovely Fielding trail angel) and there are lots of people who love us.” It made her feel better and you know what, I started to feel better too.
We stayed huddled in the tiny pergola with the broken roof until the worst of it passed, then continued down the road. Another bucket load of rain blew over, so we hid in a hedge and then staggered on.
Mentally it was a hard day of road walking down narrow country roads with traffic zooming past every few minutes. I’d like to say I enjoyed soaking up the agricultural sights and sounds, but I didn’t. The rolling green fields and muddy streams made me yearn to be back in the native bush.
Our lovely trail angel rescued us as we wandered into Fielding and the sun came out long enough to dry our stinky socks.
Day 25: 15 November 2021
Fielding – Palmerston North (20 kms)
We started our day with a trip to Countdown for blister pads and donuts. My feet were feeling squishy after yesterday’s punishing road walk in the rain, so I wanted to get in there quickly before I got a blister.
The clouds were looming dark and ominous so we wanted to scuttle along to Palmy and meet the lovely folks at @whiowhiohut.
Road walking isn’t the most fun, so give us a smile and a wave if you ever see us go by!
We made it to the metropolis of Palmerston North and met up with @onewalkingerin along the way, which was lots of fun.
Today the Trail took us alongside the road and through the back of farms. We met some lambs, crossed a few stiles and ate chicken and chips in Bunnythorpe, which we washed down with ice cream.
By the time we’d emerged from the farms we were entering the industrial wasteland of Palmerston, heading for the nearest pub.
Once replenished, we made it to the beautiful @whiowhiohut and met our lovely hosts, Fi and Anthony, stopping to fall in love with a very cute corgi named Alice along the way.
We have a rest (busy life admin) day planned tomorrow before heading into the Ruahines to help out on a hut restoration project.
What does a native duck that can surf whitewater rapids (and is rarer than a kiwi) have to do with a tiny orange suburban hut on the Te Araroa trail?
Well, here’s the deal:
A Palmerston North backyard may seem like an unusual location for a bright orange replica Forest Service Hut. But since 2018, this three-bunk piece of paradise has been a welcome resting place for many weary Te Araroa trail walkers.
Built as a labour of love by former trail walkers, Fi and Anthony, trail walkers are asked for a koha (donation) to stay at @whiowhiohut. All money goes to the Ruahine Whio Protectors.
So what’s the deal with these white water rapid-loving taonga that feature on the New Zealand $10 note? Why do they have a hut named after them?
Whio, New Zealand’s only native duck, are rarer than kiwi with around 2,500 of these endangered birds scattered across the north and south islands.
Thought to be an ancient species of waterfowl that appeared at a very early stage in evolutionary history, these beautiful birds have evolved with some special quirks.
They live, breed and hunt in clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams and have serious aqua-dynamic skills that the most hardcore of whitewater paddlers would envy, taking churning rapids, huge boulders and fallen logs in their stride.
Dirty rivers mean no whio and for decades these special birds have been fighting a losing battle, as human activities destroy their habitat by clearing vegetation from streams and rivers banks. Cattle and stock is allowed to trample and poop in streams, while water is diverted for irrigation and rivers are dammed for hydro-electric schemes.
They’re also at real risk of becoming wiped out by introduced predators such as stoats, feral cats, possums and rats.
Let’s help the Ruahine Whio Protectors save our whio!
Here’s what you can do:
Donate! Ruahine Whio Protection Trust a/c 03-1522-0409211-00
Volunteer! Contact Fi and Anthony on 0274 709 829 or email Anthony@swampthing.co.nz
Buy a Wild Ruahines calendar! Available via the RWP website or at Bivouac Palmerston North. Funds go to the Trust’s conservation efforts.
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.