Day 30. Hamilton – (shortly before) Kapamahunga Range. 25km. Total 825km. Rainy day and blisters.
Last night I woke up in total darkness and was completely lost. I thought I am in my tent but couldn’t find a way out, I touched a wall and thought for a moment I had fallen into a big hole and got unconscious but then I couldn’t feel my backpack, then I panicked as I thought someone has imprisoned me and I couldn’t open the door. As I finally managed to open it there was light and I realised where I actually am. Completely soaked in sweat I calmed down and went to bed again. It seems I sleep much better now in my tent! I get up for real at 7am and get a call from my friend Peggy who is with a few others starting off a party (so funny to be just somewhat awake and talk to friends who already started drinking and head into a night out!). After the shower I take again the free breakfast before checking out at 9am and walking with René again to the outdoor store Bivouac where he needs to buy new boots as his were stolen while he put them outside to air out. Then we are off into a grey day. I thought after my rest day I would be full of energy but I feel tired and not in a mood for hiking. I’d rather sit in a cafe and watch a movie with this bad weather. Worst of all, my blisters are very painful now. But I walk and walk the first kilometers out of Hamilton. At the Arboretum I have to stop though, checking on my tape and taking a painkiller. I hate taking them for blister pain but I am at a point where I can’t stand the pain. I also get my music out.
René kindly waits for me and always asks how I am. Soon we have to get on our rain gear. We walk through some farmland for a while before joining other roads through Whatawhata. We can see a couple hiking before us and try hard guessing who it might be. Walking faster we finally catch up, it’s Jellybean and Carbo I already met earlier on the trail (they already hiked the triple crown). Their third hiking partner is missing and I am sad to hear she broke a bone of her hand in the Hunua Range and is now recovering in Hamilton. We stop for lunch around 1pm at a convenient bus stop, providing us shelter from the rain and a bench to sit down. Restarting is horrible, the blisters even more painful. We soon walk into more farmland and over endless stiles and through mud. Sometimes the trail seems just built anywhere to take us off the road. I really don’t want to be here hiking right now and just drag myself forward. René isn’t happy either but also continues. As I cross the last stream for a while I fill up on water. I am sure now I won’t make it to the picnic place at the stream, it’s still some 15km away. René waits at a B&B sign which also has a marked ‘trampers rest’. We decide to check it out. They have a lovely little cabin with a separate little kitchen and separate little bathroom shed (all so cute and nice) but it costs 160$. For 35$ we could set up a tent and use the bathroom and kitchen. But there is no space really to sit inside and we have just taken showers so we decide to continue a bit further.
Jellybean and Carbo arrive as we get out and we continue together until the next forest. It’s only 4.30pm but I am miserable anyway and after this we will be hiking through open land and hills so we rather get a little bit of shelter here. For the first time I set up my tent while it is raining and while I am wet. It’s not as bad as I thought, I leave my wet rain gear, shoes and backpack in the vestibule for once, change in my tent, pump up my sleeping pad inside… It’s still nice to be inside a shelter. I cook an early dinner and read a bit, well hidden in my sleeping bag as it’s pretty cold now. It’s still raining and tomorrow we have to make the Pirongia Traverse, mountains! There is a hut though which will provide shelter tomorrow afternoon hopefully.
Day 31. (shortly before) Kapamahunga Range – Pahautea hut. 22km. Total 847km. What a difference a night makes.
After sleeping a lot last night I wake up to a sunrise and no more rain! My tent is almost dry and I am the first to start at 6.30am. After a short road section and almost missing the entry point as there are no markers, I get onto farmland with sheep. It’s hilly and green and there are plenty of rocks, everything most beautifully lit by the sunrise. The Kapamahunga walkway really is so wonderful that I can’t stop taking pictures. Finally something to really enjoy again, making me even forget my blisters.
There are so many snails after the rain and I try to avoid tripping on them but every now and then I hear it cracking anyway. The walkway leads to a road which takes me in a few kilometers to a picnic area, which I reach at 10am. I cook myself a coffee with some more muesli (already hungry again!), filter water from the stream and relax a little as René catches up. He continues ahead as I follow on the easy stroll along the Kaniwhaniwha stream, the Nikau walk. But I have read the trail notes and I know that my first real summit is waiting for me, the Pirongia at 959m.
So after the Nikau walk, the trail leads into the rainforest and steadily uphill. The first part is still easy and not too steep, in wonderful rainforest. It’s only muddy every now and then so I can enjoy the trail and have my lunch break around 1pm. Then things get worse, a lot of mud and some very steep parts, almost climbing up rocks and pushing through the bush.
Some mud puddles are so deep I have to be very careful to not sink in knee high. Finally I am on top of one summit and think I am already seeing the Pirongia ahead. I am tired now and hate going through more tough steep parts and so much mud. When I finally reach the second summit, I am so devastated to see a sign saying Pirongia summit 30 more minutes. But trail magic happens, someone has installed a boardwalk leading me in just 15minutes to the summit with a lookout platform.
I meet a German couple there, they have started one month before me… I know I am not hiking really fast as others but I can hike long days, but one month after someone else shows me really how slowly you can be. They are enjoying the trail though and that’s the most important. Another 30 minutes later I reach the hut, finally, at 4pm. It’s awesome! A big dining room and a lot of space and it’s completely dry of course! Quickly I wash my shoes and gaitors, myself, put everything up to dry and do some stretching. Then time to relax and drink a tea, looking through the 160 pics I took today (I cannot continue like this for 4 months!). In the evening we are 5 German, 1 Swiss, 4 Americans, 4 Canadians and 2 French – all doing the TA! I have never seen so many hikers in one place since Ahipara. Dinner, blogging, it’s cold inside so I am soon going into my sleeping bag.
Day 32. Pahautea hut – Omaruma Scenic Reserve / Woolshed. 32km. Total 879km. How deep is the mud?
I wake up early and try to not make too much noise when getting up at 5.15am. I check my phone as I have some cellphone coverage and am surprised about so many messages enquiring about me. There was a big earthquake close to Christchurch last night, but we didn’t feel anything. There is also a Tsunami warning, but at 900m elevation we seem to be pretty safe. I send messages saying I am alright before I start after six, stepping out into a thick white cloud. The hike to Hihikiwi summit is awesome as it’s just on boardwalk, I am walking above the mud. I know though it’s not going to stay like that…
After the summit it’s just a regular rainforest tramping trail. Some mud and beautiful trees. Up and down and down and up again into ever more mud. I am starting to get sick of the mud, but I haven’t seen anything yet! Soon I am sinking in knee deep and just fighting to get my feet out again. I need to take a rest and eat something to treat myself and try to endure this further – even though it’s just 8.30am. One hour later I am finally out of the forest. The forest actually was really beautiful and it’s such a pity that I cannot enjoy it and actually look forward to a road walking section.
At least there is a stream right at the end where I can clean my shoes, gaitors, rain trousers and socks. My socks smell so terrible! I let everything dry for a while and have something more to eat and drink some water. Then I am off to some 17km of road, but mostly on unused gravel roads. René, the Swiss hiker is soon catching up, he brought my scarf that I lost in the forest, thank you! I continue and listen to music but at a busier road I crack again as my blisters are so painful. I have lunch at 11.30am and change into my sandals. That’s much better, even though I need to walk at a slower pace now to prevent more blisters. I check the news in between and check on the advice for the TA hikers but where I am it’s all fine. Others need to wait out a few days. Some highways are closed and infrastructure damaged. Two people died. I feel safe but being so close to it is a bit shocking and I feel so sorry for Christchurch being concerned again.
Around 2.30pm the road is finally done and I put my shoes back on, taping my feet. It’s a nice trail that of course soon gets muddy again. At a stream I fill up on water as I am not sure to make it to the next stream before setting up camp. The four Canadians catch up with their “BETTINA” shouting as always. So good to see them as I was a bit worried about where to sleep tonight. Now I just have to run like them trying to keep up to their pace (they started at least 90minutes after me this morning).
I can cope somehow even though my feet hurt. It starts to rain and we are happy to meet a farmer who proposes that we can sleep in the woolshed where his sheep are. A storm is supposed to come in this night and we are very happy. The shed is a few hundred metres off trail and a great place for us to stay as it keeps us well protected from the rain and wind that is getting ever stronger outside now. There is even a couch and a table where we can sit and cook dinner. While the Canadians can set up their free standing tents, I need to sleep right on the wooden floor. It’s much better though than being outside in my tent tonight! We are very lucky again. Just the weather forecast is worrying, 4 days of very bad weather ahead…
Day 33. Omaruma Scenic Reserve / Woolshed – Waitomo. 18km. Total 897km. From misery to magic.
The night was alright, but waking up every hour or so due to the storm and rain outside. Being thankful for the shelter! The shepherd is supposed to come for his sheep at 6am so we get up early and leave after a big thank you just after 6am. The rain has stopped but the sky is dark and cloudy. We are hiking on to farmland, up and down hills and into scrub that becomes rainforest. I am again too slow and tell Quinn, Matt, Brad ans Jess to go ahead without me. I hate it when people have to wait for me and I would walk faster than comfortable for me. The rain is back, ever more and more. The forest is easy to hike and not much mud but the rain is difficult to bear after a while.
I am reliefed once I have crossed the stream that you shouldn’t cross after hefty rain. For me it was about knee high only at this point luckily. Then another muddy section and another forest before reaching the road. By now I am soaking wet including my underwear. I am so miserable and hate everything. After I call the YHA in Waitomo I am close to tears as it’s fully booked as the other hostel in Waitomo. I will have to continue even further in the rain. For the first time since I started the trail I feel like I can’t take it anylonger, I feel so miserable. After what feels like a long time in my completely wet stuff I finally reach Waitomo at noon. I check once more at the iSite about accommodation and again it’s fully booked. I can however set up my tent at the YHA! That’s the solution! I can dry out my stuff, take a hot shower and hang out inside and just sleep in the tent. I am very reliefed and walk the lad kilometer to the hostel. After a shower and hanging up my stuff I have lunch. Then I feel ready for actually doing what Waitomo is famous for, the caves! The YHA advises to not do the big touristy thing but go with Spellbound. I am all in and the last space in the 2pm is for me, plus they pick me up at the hostel in 5minutes. OK, I pack up quickly and head off to the caves. 12 people are taken in 20-30 minutes to the cave outside of Waitomo. We get into the first cave and see our first glow-worms. Then we hop onto a boat for a moment in complete darkness, just illuminated by the glow-worms. It’s pure magic! Above us a sky of blueish glowing glow-worms and silence around us to enjoy it. We are the only ones in the cave, not as with the other tours. Afterwards we get a hot drink before walking to the next cave which we explore by feet. It’s amazing what a day can be different, from pure misery to awesomeness. Around 5pm I am back in the hostel, get to feed their little goat, hang out and relax. Perfect!