Day 26. Mercer – Rangiri (plus a hitchhike into Hamilton and back). 26km. Total 745km.
I had a horrible night. All my moskito bites were itching like crazy and I was feeling so unwell I couldn’t sleep. I had to read and do other things to not think about the itching. It was also raining all the time but at 5.30am there is a little rest from the rain so I get up and sort my stuff under the little porch of the pub. Luckily, as it starts raining heavily again, so nice to have a good place to hide while eating breakfast. Everyone else is still asleep as I start the hike into the sunrise.
The first few kilometers are pretty tough for me, it goes through steep parts up and down, it’s very wet and partly like a swamp. The grass is very high, up to my belly sometimes and I hate so much having already wet feet. My shoes are so ripped off that it’s hard to walk. There are some nice views on the mighty Waikato river though and it seems the sun is finally coming out for good chasing away the last clouds. Enough rain the last couple of days!
Afterwards I have to walk under the highway bridge to a trail right next to the highway, sometimes on the shoulder of the highway. Then into a beautiful part with the river, flowers, trees. Finally something I can fully enjoy!
It’s then a long hike just next to the Waikato, no matter what’s next to it (which of course is mud again!).
It finishes on a stopbank next to a rather deserted road which I decide to use as I have to switch for my sandals. I am going fast now to be early in Rangiri which is right next to the highway 1 which leads to Hamilton, the next big city. I arrive in Rangiri at 2pm and luckily Cathy, the trail angel who let’s hikers camp for free on the lawn of her cafe, is right there in her little cafe. I ask her for advice and then decide to try my luck, knowing that no matter what time I return I can just set up my tent and sleep here. There aren’t many cars bug after 15minutes or so I am lucky. A nice man going to a work appointment takes me in about 40minutes to a shopping centre out of Hamilton, from there I take the bus to the centre in just 15minutes. The first outdoor store doesn’t have much choice and nothing fits. At Bivouac I am lucky! The guy immediately understands what I need (wide feet, insoles, sturdy but no boots, waterproof) and hands me a pair of Keens. They are so comfy and look much more adequate to beat the difficult terrain I am hiking through. The Altra Lone Peaks have served 740km here but already before in Germany at least 300km. They are still wet and disgusting but the vendor doesn’t mind and throws them away. It is also very embarrassing for me to have so dirty clothes and the insoles I have to put in the shoes to try them are so dirty I am apologising. But instead, the vendor provides me with water and tips where to hitchhike back. While I am on it I also buy new socks, Icebreaker, they have a lifetime guarantee. If there’s a hole I will get new ones for free! The vendor is sure that my new shoes will last me till Bluff (but no guarantee for that one!). The price is not cheap but not as bad as I expected, 230$ for the shoes, about 160€.
Afterwards a short stop at the Countdown supermarket before walking to the roundabout with the highway 1 exit. Which is basically inaccessible so I have to look around for a good place and have a hard time finding something. Then it’s about 10minutes of smiling at all cars before someone finally pulls out. Another nice man coming right from the gym (and preferring his gym to my hike!) who takes me almost half way up to a good spot. Immediately after leaving his car another one stops. This time a German woman who lives for 28years in New Zealand and is driving home to Auckland now. She brings me right to the cafe where Cathy is still there at 7pm. She is amazed I made it and just a few minutes later, the Canadians arrive! Matt, Quinn, Jess and Brad! We set up our tents and the others go for dinner to the pub. I already had dinner on my way back and I am so tired now after a night without sleep and this eventful day that I just go to bed. And sleep through from 8pm to 4am (usually I wake up every two hours or so) and then till 6am.
Day 27. Rangiri – Hakarimata Forest. 27km. Total 772km.
I wake up just in time to see the sunrise from my tent. I start the day very slowly and get out hiking at 7.30am, before the others. After crossing the bridge over the Waikato, the hike follows some stopbanks and farmland for many kilometers.
My new shoes keep my feet amazingly dry! I pass a lot of fields with cows which either are very interested in me and stare at me coming close, or afraid and running away. Feels like I am chasing them sometimes. I listen to music and my Spanish lessons.
Then I am finally in Huntly, eating lunch next to a Spark phone cabin for Wi-Fi. Some nice neighbours invite me to use their bathroom and fill up on drinking water. Then another 5km or so of road before reaching the Hakarimata Forest. There are some works on one part of the trail and the helicopter is picking up some gravel to take it further up.
My trail is still open (but will be closed for maintenance in 4days). My feet are pretty sore now with the blisters from my hike in sandals yesterday plus I feel some new ones (new shoes!). The trail leads up many stairs and I enquire with a couple about the the trail and camping possibilities. As the trail is supposed to take 6-7hours and now it’s already 2pm I will not make it and have taken enough water to camp somewhere. I continue to the upper lookout with great views as the 4 Canadians arrive. They are so fast that soon after they are already gone. The forest is stunning and I enjoy the hike.
As my blisters start hurting too much I look for places to camp and finally come into an airstrip where I set up my tent at 5pm. It’s 28km to go to Hamilton and I wanted to go further especially as the forest section is still quite long. But I have to take care of my body which cannot cope with the sore feet to continue. And this forest is the most beautiful I have seen so far (and by now I have already been hiking through plenty of rainforests!), so why not stay here and enjoy it further.
Day 28. Hakarimata – Hamilton. 28km. Total 800km.
Wow, I am already hiking for 4 weeks now but it doesn’t feel so long yet!
The night in the forest has been warm and I wasn’t scared at all on my own. Seems I am finally getting used to it now. I get up very early and start hiking at 6am. I was hoping to see the sunrise but only clouds and grey sky – no rain though. I am hiking about 90minutes to a lookout platform with a view on Ngāruawāhia. From there it’s an easy hike of 2km of stairs down to the town, the last part along a beautiful stream where I can fill up on water. It’s early morning and there are many people running up here for exercise. They are surprised by my pack and all the mud so I have to explain.
At the parking I can wash my shoes and legs, from here into Hamilton it will be only nice walkways and I don’t want to arrive in town completely dirty (my clothes still are of course).
A 6km road section at the highway later, I finally reach the walkway that will lead me into Hamilton. It’s still 22km to go but an easy hike now. I taped my new blisters with my kinesio tape this morning but my feet are sore anyway. (I just love the kinesio tape though as it stays in place, not getting off while hiking as all the other things I tried).
I listen to music, try to organise a hostel, talk to bikers and do everything I can to not think about my feet and just move ahead. Hamilton’s hostels are pretty much full but I book a single room in the Backpacker Centrale. At 49$ per night (shared bathroom) it is relatively cheap (a dorm would have been 30$). After 4 weeks I think I should treat myself to some more luxury especially as I will still be hiking for a couple of months. Around 2pm I arrive at the hostel. The receptionist is very friendly and shows me around. She tells me that the room is a bit old but she gave it to me as it has a window (what? There are rooms without?!). It’s OK for me, I don’t have much anyway. Both the laundry and the bathroom are just next door and I start my cleaning mission. Afterwards, I head to the iSite to book my trip to Hobbiton tomorrow. More luxury for myself, Hobbiton is so expensive (79$ for a 2h guided tour plus the cost for the bus). But I have heard that it’s just fantastic and I need a day off trail anyway now. Then again to the outdoor store to buy new Gaitors (I have finally waterproof shoes so I need the corresponding Gaitors to avoid the mud coming in from the top).
More shopping in the Pack’n’Save supermarket (I found Pumpernickel!!!) and back to the hostel to prepare a big salad with eggs for dinner, followed by some yoghurt and chips (eating a lot again!). I enjoy being in my own room and as always when I have Wi-Fi I will sleep very late…