Day 51. Whanganui Holiday park – Whanganui. 7km. Total 1377km.
Whanganui – Stratford – Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. Hitchhiking. To Waingongoro hut 2.5km hiking.
Last night ended very late watching Lord of the Rings, shouting out every time they show Mount Doom as we have been there (plus me getting crazy about Hobbiton) and eating ice cream, Stollen,…. So after a short night of sleep we are lazy getting started in the morning and only head into Whanganui around 9am. It’s just 7km so we can enjoy soon the very nice Saturday market down at the river. There are plenty of stalls where they sell nice handcrafted items and plenty of food. We drop our backpacks (did I mention how heavy mine is again?) and walk around. I am still full from my big breakfast but I buy a huge muffin for just 3$ anyway, it’s delicious!
But now it’s time to say goodbye and give a big hug to all my five favourite Canadians. They will continue the trail later today but I really want to go to Mount Taranaki. I make a stop at the post office to send some Christmas gifts to my family before walking to the highway. A nice Kiwi sees me walking and gets out of the car to my side of the road, offering to take me a bit further out of town where I can more easily hitchhike. How nice! Then it’s 10-15 minutes of smiling and putting my thumb up before a truck driver stops. He is going to New Plymouth and can easily drop me off in Stratford. How lucky I am again, there’s just a 10 minutes stop on the way when he has to get his load onto his truck – his other truck broke down yesterday so he got a new one to take up his load of cement.
I am at 2pm in Stratford and head to the iSite. The summit is definitely not possible at this time of the year without crampons and ice axe. There aren’t any groups going as far as the iSite knows so I cannot join an existing group and rent crampons. But I can do the Around the mountains tour without problems, just the weather could be one. Mount Taranaki is very exposed and isolated so the weather can change extremely fast. It’s also completely covered in clouds right now. I have a quick lunch on a bench and then walk to the intersection leading to Dawson Falls and wait another 15 minutes before being picked up by a French couple who heads to the falls. Just before 4pm we arrive so I can still walk into the visitor centre for better information. I shouldn’t walk now to the two huts farther away. One is too far and it gets dark fast in the bush. The other one, the Sym hut, is in the clouds and there is no visibility, other hikers today had to turn around. I really wanted to go to that one as it’s at close to 2000m altitude and has great views in the morning. But in addition to it being late and cloudy it’s 1000m higher than I am now. So I take the reasonable choice and walk in 40 minutes to the Waingongoro hut (marked as a 90 minutes walk but the ranger already told me it’s going to be much shorter for me. It’s a ‘family’ walk so timing is large. And I meet two men with very small children on the way. It must be pretty hard for them as some parts are steep stairs.
When I arrive at the hut there is no one else and I have a perfect view on the summit which has no clouds left now. Maybe I should have gone up Syme hut? But I am tired and it’s always better in the mountains to take the reasonable and safe option. I do my stretching in the sun with mountain view. A couple comes as well, then the 2men with the boys. The boys are only 2.5years old and it’s the first time they try this. I cook dinner and organise my stuff. The boys eat but then don’t want to sleep, it’s too exciting. At least there are two dorms so they can have their own.
Day 52. Waingongoro Hut – Pouakai Hut. Taranaki side trip. Km?
I slept very well and wake up at 5.45am to the voice of one of the boys asking where his daddy is. I am getting up and have a nice breakfast before starting at 6.30am. It’s pretty cloudy outside as I hike back part of the trail I came down yesterday. At an intersection I turn towards the Stratford Plateau. It’s a nice and easy hike slightly uphill. The sky clears up from time to time for some views on the valley.
The Stratford Plateau is basically the end of a road with toilets. From there I can already see the Manganui lodge. It’s a beautiful hike up there through a tunnel and empty river bed. When I get there I can even see a ski lift next to the private empty lodge.
I continue the trail to Tahurangi lodge, on the way I meet two German girls who I already met before during the Whanganui river journey. New Zealand is so small! We talk for a while before continuing in opposite directions. The views are nice for the few minutes the clouds disappear and I really enjoy the hike. It has some difficult stone scrambling in between some easy hiking, up and downhill sections but never feels too hard for me. After Tahurangi hut I hike on to Holly hut, a longer stretch where I meet a few day hikers.
I reach Holy Hut at 12.30pm and enjoy a nice lunch even preparing a big cup of tea. The ranger told me yesterday I should stay at this hut today but it’s still early. The next hut on Around the Mountain is another 5h30 though. Plus the two German girls told me that if the sky is clear you get an amazing view from the small lakes close to Pouakai in the morning. They showed me amazing pics. Taranaki is still covered in clouds and I doubt it will clear up, but I decide anyway to walk to the Pouakai Hut. It’s 2h30 from Holy Hut and tomorrow I would either have to hike back here to continue the Around the Mountain or I could decide to change trails and continue on the Pouakai track instead. I will just take my decision depending on the weather, it’s supposed to become rainy and I don’t want to continue my side trip in very bad weather. I am OK with bad weather on the Te Araroa but not for the side trips I do to enjoy a special place.
I am heading down to the swamp which has a nice boardwalk even though some of it is also under water.
Then it’s a rather steep climb up the ridge line of the Pouakai mountain. After just 90minutes I am already at the hut. The clouds are now up to the hut and you can’t see anything. Then it’s starting to rain. I am happy to be inside chatting with two girls from the USA (and another coincidence, I met one of them yesterday in Whanganui plus I know one of her friends, Liz, who is doing the Te Araroa). A German couple is there as well, they kindly offer me their full gas canister in exchange of my almost empty one. Dinner is lentils, couscous, peas and a very good honey soy sauce followed by yummy TimTam cookies, the Christmas gift from my Canadians.