TA Day 33, Whatawhata to Pahautea hut – 33 km

Irene told me Pirongia is the muddiest place on the Te Araroa.
Irene told me Pirongia is the muddiest place on the Te Araroa.

What a fantastic place to sleep, dead quiet until about 4 am when the trucks revved up again in this safe, grassy nook between highways. They even left the toilets open for us after closing the bar itself.

It’s gray and threatening this morning while I sit at a picnic table with a healthy breakfast of oats, seeds, protein and dried apricots. I’m curious to see how new fuel makes me feel this long day ahead.

And right then, it begins to drizzle.

Tracy working her way over a stile that took the trail off road but down into wet, muddy "trail" which the notes describe accurately as swamp.
Tracy working her way over a stile that took the trail off road but down into wet, muddy “trail” which the notes describe accurately as swamp.
Farmers reluctantly allow trampers through their fields, but only on the edges.
Farmers reluctantly allow trampers through their fields, but only on the edges.

In five minutes, orange markers lead to a dead end. What the hell?! It might just be easier to walk on the road as the trail ducks in and out, but still so maddening.

Good news is the rain stops and it’s cool, and it’s not too many kilometers of a diversion on road to wherever the trail is supposed to be. Tracy is ahead and spots the cutoff into deep grass. Within seconds, my shoes and socks are soaked through. Makes sense since the trail notes tell us we will wall through swamp.

This section so far reminds me of a boundary waters trip I chose for Richard and Debby and me on summer. It was through ‘less traveled’ lakes, and barely maintained portages of overgrowth and fens that we managed to get through with a three-person canoe on Richard’s head. Yes, it was a total nightmare, but made for great storytelling.

Just below the clouds in the Kapamahunga Hills near Pirongia.
Just below the clouds in the Kapamahunga Hills near Pirongia.
Bucolic and wild, cattle were skittish but also a little curious.
Bucolic and wild, cattle were skittish but also a little curious.
The orange triangles often assured me I made the correct turn rather than directed me toward the correct turn.
The orange triangles often assured me I made the correct turn rather than directed me toward the correct turn.

This next part is more aggravating than the part after Mercer – a totally pointless river walk in overgrown bog. It gets me nowhere I couldn’t have easily walked on road. It’s deep with mud, I’m wet to above my knees, nettles bite and sting and I move like a sloth all so some farmer protects the edge of his crop. And then they block things off with an electric fence and nearly impassible stile. What is the point, I ask with a few f-bombs.

Back on road again as the sun peaks out so maybe there will be a bot of drying. I have so many swirling thoughts in my mind when a tiny door opens for better understanding. When I go to open it, it disappears, only a vapor left but a whisper of enlightenment. It reminds me this whole endeavor is for me and not to try to explain why I need it to anyone. I know that sounds totally selfish, but much of my life I’ve tried to please and garner approval.

It leaks into everything – friendships, work – and while I believe in integrity and always giving my best, I don’t want to feel so drained all the time trying to ensure other’s are happy – or try to get them to like me. I can’t really succeed anyway in making everyone happy, so it’s better to work on my own integrity and let other’s manage theirs.

Curious pancake-stack rock formations in the Kapamahunga Hills under threatening skies.
Curious pancake-stack rock formations in the Kapamahunga Hills under threatening skies.
A goat followed me along Fillery Road.
A goat followed me along Fillery Road.

Just now a beautiful toffee-colored cow with long lashes looks over at me. I make another friend, a goat who follows me a bit.

When I was little, I felt unbearable pressure to be a certain way. It was how I earned love. Competition was fierce in my family, and sometimes I was in and sometimes out. Only in recent years did I step out of the game, but knowing I’d never had – and would never get – that safe, full-on, unconditional love has left a void. I do have many blessings and heaps of love in my life now – I recognize and celebrate that – but missing out early makes my steps sometimes tentative and even self-destructive.

I begin climbing, happy for the overcast day so I won’t overheat. Sheep graze on the oddly treeless, humpy hills. A couple of chatty cyclists pass me in slow motion; a trail runner all smiles comes downhill in pinks and purples.

Wild foxglove taller than me along the grassy trail.
Wild foxglove taller than me along the grassy trail.
A whole gang of farm animal friends came out to greet me as I walked past on Limeworks Loop Road.
A whole gang of farm animal friends came out to greet me as I walked past on Limeworks Loop Road.
Beginning the Tahuanui Track up Mount Pirongia as the mist begins to fall.
Beginning the Tahuanui Track up Mount Pirongia as the mist begins to fall.

The sky is heavy but it’s a funny thing on a thru-hike – unless the weather is dangerously nasty in an exposed area, you usually just go out rather than wait it out. “Whatever the weather” is the attitude. And, of course, good gear.

A farmer padlocks the gate I need to go past to get across the Kapamahungas and there are no signs. Sheep scurry ahead of me bleating their complaint. The Hakamiratas, two days back, are in cloud. I stop on a rock for a snack. The wind picks up, so just a short break for protein powdered water and cashews. I really am feeling better and this spot is sublime with rock outcroppings and long views.

I come upon a pine forest that calls out to me in the hushed whisper of a seashell next to my ear. The field is half black cow, half ivory sheep, mahahaha, behhhhhh, euuuuuu in all timbers.

The cows block the path and give me the once over, aggravated moo’s and cross before waddling away. A lot of drama on the farm today and I walk right past my turn.

The path begins as "easy tramping" through ferns and tawa.
The path begins as “easy tramping” through ferns and tawa.
Roots reaching out like octopus arms.
Roots reaching out like octopus arms.

I hop over a poorly constructed stile into sheep poo central, a bit leery that this is another diversion for the sake of ‘adventure.’ Bindie suggested we name the nasty bits of the TA things like ‘Road Warrior’ or ‘Temple of Doom’ to give ourselves a bigger sense of accomplishment. He also tells me New Zealand’s great walks are a manicured foot massage highway. A ridge in the distance is full of windmills. Finally I see Pirongia under a tablecloth of mist.

It turns out this section is really cool up and down through pastures. A pond ribbits as one organism. Then, in an instant, back in bush, tuis singing. I scare off a trio of parrots – red, blue, fluorescent green behinds – multi-colored bee hives in this field.

Another junction and no sign. Feel like an idiot walking around trying to figure out where to go. It certainly proves the argument tramping signs are erected by non-trampers.

I finish the Karuma walkway and enter Khaniwhaniwha paralleling a bustling river and looking for a chill place for lunch. You may have figured out that there is lots of road walking, but after the awful muddy hell, it’s actually wonderfully soothing.

Moss covered tawa gives me the clue that this place is normally very wet though right now, I still have a view.
Moss covered tawa gives me the clue that this place is normally very wet though right now, I still have a view.
The view begins to disappear as I ascend into cloud on Mount Pirongia.
The view begins to disappear as I ascend into cloud on Mount Pirongia.

A cow, a horse and a goat follow me along the fence – and their pal the pony comes round too just to say ‘hi.’ Birds with dandelion-yellow heads flit forward on post after post as I approach. A big gust sends several honeybees right at my face. I keep my mouth closed.

I’m finally in Pirongia forest park, a gorgeous walk with babbling brook and many-a-bird.

I take a detour to the very nice rustic campground for lunch and meet a Kiwi who built the boardwalk and tower on the mountain. He gives me a blow-by-blow of what to expect, saying everyone complains about the mud, we had to build something, though it doesn’t cover the entire track. He also mentions a huge storm is blowing in tonight. A hut is sounding pretty nice right now.

Ha! Not a detour at all. I went back to the fork and it sent me directly back to the campsite. Good grief. But I am on the right trail now into gorgeous bush along the water. It drizzles a little.

It’s only 2:00 in the afternoon and already dark in the bush, the wind swaying in the canopy. I get lost momentarily, used to ferns growing into the trail and no signs, but I go back and see where I missed the turn. I am more vigilant going forward. Compared to Raetea, this is a super-highway, wide and clear – for now.

The mud gets deeper too.
The mud gets deeper too.
In a total white out at the summit.
In a total white out at the summit.
Helpful boardwalks lead the tramper directly to the muddiest bits.
Helpful boardwalks lead the tramper directly to the muddiest bits.

The worst of the mud is just below the summit, slowing me to a crawl. Mist flies over the top, eerie and damp. No wonder the trees wear moss.

The boardwalks appear on a ridge and keep me out of the epic mud for seconds before redelivery. I slip on a rock.

Suddenly, it’s a super speedway to the summit at 959 meters. Absolutely no view. Cold, windy, mist, so I squish down to the hut, my poles sinking in an arm’s length.

But so nice here when I arrive, Swiss, Dutch, Swedish, lots of laughs and all in down coats. I nab a bunk with a window, cozy in the corner.

Mud-caked shoes, socks and trousers. Fortunately the hut has a "mud room."
Mud-caked shoes, socks and trousers. Fortunately the hut has a “mud room.”
Friendly faces greet me when I arrived.
Friendly faces greet me when I arrived.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Hmmm. This section a character-builder…or -tester. Not that you need either test. But the wonderful end with people and shelter and candle-lit meal. This hike is so much Bout the details. Kinda like life, I guess.

  2. Bravo, I say! “Hiking to Enlightenment” might be the working title of your book that could appear at the end of of the trail.

    I’m 73 in 2018, and so I’ve been on a long through-hike of my own. I’ve learned a few things while underway: 1) Being a Pleaser is not only hard work but also not necessarily helpful to one’s own self; 2) make time to “be” rather than spend all of it in “doing”; and 3) Love doesn’t have to be a scarce resource.

    I’ve learned more than these concepts, but these are the ones that I work at implementing on the last few miles of my own, private trail.

    So, godspeed, Alison Young, and thank you for sharing your discoveries about your through-hikes, the ones on the outside as well as the ones on the inside.

    Marc

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