Day 53. Pouakai Hut – Waiaua gorge hut. Taranaki side trip. 18km.
WARNING : serious overkill of sunrise and Taranaki pictures ahead!
I wake up quite often at night, always checking the time so I don’t miss sunrise. I get finally up around 4.30am. There are clouds but I also can see some stars. Let’s try catch sunrise at Mount Taranaki! I have a muesli bar and pack up. No one else is getting up so I walk on my own with my headtorch to the two small lakes. I love the light before the actual sunrise even more, and today there is plenty! Taranaki is still hidden by a cloud but I can see the very top. I talk to Taranaki and the clouds, asking them to disappear. (sometimes I really fear I am getting crazy!). But it works again, luck is for those who walk the extra miles and don’t hesitate to get up even if it doesn’t look promising. I walk around in the swamp, trying to get the best view and soaking my feet. It’s so peaceful and beautiful, a very special moment all for me. I am so happy to have come here.
At 6.30am I am finally walking back to Holly hut, where I left the trail yesterday. Time for a real breakfast and tea in the empty hut before continuing the Around the Mountain trail at 8am. After half an hour I reach the Bells Falls, a short detour.
Then through rainforest to a stony riverbed. It’s tough today, the trail isn’t easy and not marked on the riverbed. I have to cross many rivers today – so it didn’t matter I already got wet feet in the early morning. There are ladders to climb and steep bits, trees and stones. I cannot see Taranaki at all and am a bit disappointed. I came here for a special mountain experience and I end up doing yet another rainforest. It’s a beautiful one no doubt and the rivers are a nice challenge, but I would rather climb up Fanthams Peak instead. Should I hike to the street at the next intersection instead of continuing the trail? But then the road trail is closed and as I look up I can see that the summit is again covered in clouds.
So I just continue my trail, eventually getting to an easy part that is simply walking uphill for close to 3km – and sweating a lot. At 12h I arrive at Kahui hut for lunch. Since Holy Hut I didn’t meet anyone, maybe I will have a hut all for myself tonight? I also understand better now why the others were advised that the Around the Mountain trail is difficult and they should rather do another trail. With the experience I have now I can manage but it’s definitely not an easy trail, it’s tough hiking and tough navigation.
After my break I have to continue my hike. It’s definitely not getting easier but at least I don’t need 4h for the 5km but only 2h30. A Kiwi tramper is sitting outside the Waiaua Gorge hut but he is just taking a break. Once he is gone I wash myself, try to dry me shoes and socks, spread out all my gear, do my stretching and enjoy my free time, hoping no one else is coming.
Day 54. Waiaua gorge hut – Whanganui. 13km and at least 1000m altitude difference.
Strange to be just on my own in my big hut last night. I had the feeling I need to close the door by key (but of course there isn’t). I got up in the middle of the night to see a beautiful sky full of stars. Wow. Then I got up for good at 5am to start hiking at 5.40am. Ladders. Mud. River crossing. Then I am at the Braeme Falls lookout and have a beautiful view on the falls and Mount Taranaki.
The trail is beautiful! I opted for the upper circuit as advised by the ranger. It means hiking up at least 1000m of altitude. In the beginning it’s not too hard, at least the trail is easier than yesterday. No more mud nor river crossings. But still scrambling up trees, stumps, rocks… And then the hike up the ridgeline starts for real. It’s exhausting. I am sweating all over. But it’s also beautiful with the sun.
When I am above the big trees I can see the ridge up ahead where I still have to climb. Oh gosh, I better have a snack to manage hiking up! Once I have reached the end of the ridge I am right below the impressive rocks or cliffs and now need to climb over big rocks just underneath the cliff. Throwing my hiking poles up first and then trying to push myself with my backpack up. Now I fully understand why it’s not advised to do the track for anyone. But I love it, it’s so beautiful!
After the rocks the tussock. But don’t think it’s getting easier now! No, plenty of empty riverbeds to cross which means a steep hike or scrambling down and then up again. And another. And another. I am very tired now and can feel my legs for the first time being tired as well.
I reach a first intersection and around 11am the second. This one is either another 90minutes uphill to Fanthams Peak or downhill to the visitor centre where I started. I take a nice break but then decide that my legs are too tired to do the peak, after all my real trail is waiting for me tomorrow and I still have to get back to Whanganui today.
So I walk downhill on too many stairs but reliefed it’s nice and easy now. At 12pm I am at the visitor centre carpark. Nice, including my breaks it only took me 6h instead of the 8h. I walk down a bit further to the Dawson Falls. I check how I look like in a campervan as I don’t want to have mud somewhere for hitchhiking. A Dutch couple tells me I look good so I explain why I checked. They say that they are just taking a coffee but can take me later. I ask where they plan to go and when they say Whanganui I cannot believe my luck! They are happy to take me so we first have a cappuccino (I invite them, the least I can do) and then we drive out of Taranaki. We take a lunch break and look for a cache. They are geocaching and I see it for the first time! It’s hidden under a bridge. Then further on, good chats until a next cache (which I find this time!) and a chocolate break.
Soon we are in Whanganui and they hug me goodbye at the Pack’n’Save supermarket! I buy some fresh fruit, salad, tomatoes and walk to the YHA. Liz is here, good to see her again. Washing, showering, dinner. Out to a free Wi-Fi to upload my last blog and pictures (in the YHA it’s limited to 250MB). And then another late sleep as always with Wi-Fi..