It rains at night, a constant, loud volley of water bullets on the alicoop. I’m dry and snug as the morning begins, bird song and fog. I feel nervous of the weather. Will I get downpours today? Will I be warm enough? There are many hikers behind me, so I feel safe.
It is important to have options, a bailout. I hope to go further, but if rain inundates, I can stay in the next town about 10 miles away. For now, there’s just wind and no rain.
I enter very wet muddy farmland with hard to follow track leading into a field with an ‘intimidating bull.’ I hear some loud mooing and grunting and hope he’s distracted.
No bull, but Dutch Tom shows up and we use two heads to navigate this mess. I step ankle deep in mud.
It’s a slippery banana peal of descent into bush just as the thunder begins it’s long drawn out rumbling. Why am I doing this again? The forest is pitch dark at 8 am, but I finally let out into a field, wet but open and beautiful.
The next ascent, my feet slip right down and I hit the mud face first. It takes wedging my feet against fence posts to get past that vertical nightmare. But again, the track changes to long strides. Wet to the hip, caked with mud, the vista opens and I understand why it’s called King Country – big farms in a large bowl surrounded by hills.
I cross a bouncy suspension bridge only wide enough for my feet and enter the Pehitawa Kahikatea forest, white pines that are some of the tallest in New Zealand. Primevil, eerie green light with rain now smashing down, ferns and epiphytes participating in this ecology.
The fields are hard to cross because the markers are so wide spaced and often hidden by the hills. I have lunch under the trail marker and am unable to convince a guy going the opposite direction to turn around.
But now I’m lost and it’s pouring rain. What is the deal? Why do they make this so totally awful? I get back on the ‘trail’ but feeling really upset. To camp in a place with any sort of shelter costs money. The idea of just setting up somewhere is tough because the trail crosses so much private land. I don’t want to be in a town all the time, feeling like the cash cow walking in from this totally dreadful section.
I see blue sky ahead and the forecast did say the afternoon would be clearer. Being damp does not help my mood. Not exactly sun, but a stiff breeze dries me out and the views get better – as do my spirits.
I’m wet from grass in an instant, but there’s no more rain. Some saint writes on this marker where to head next.
Hundreds of noisy sheep bleating, not happy being separated from each other. I wash off the mud from my pants in a tank before heading straight up hill to Pehitawa Mast. Pirongia is completely shrouded in cloud far in the distance. It’s windy up here, and that explains the tall and thin cedar breaks along the farms. Te Kuiti sprawls below me.
But I have to first do one more straight down mud slide before town, and I’m determined not to fall. Then, it’s a stunning meadow I’d camp in if not so early. Suddenly in the tall grass, I spy a New Zealand disc golf basket sitting quietly under the trees.
Fully resupplied for six days and eating far too much food, I’m waddling like a drunk turtle to the iSite to see the exhibit on Sir Colin and brother Stanley, both lantern-jawed rugby stars of the All Blacks. Lots of memorabilia back to baby pictures when their destinies were obvious from the start. I top up my battery before I head out for six days.
Getting to the Mangaokewa river requires passing a lot of industry, where the lovely folks probably get sick of our getting lost, so post a few helpful signs, bleached in the sun.
Spectacular limestone cliffs line the river, one of the movie sets for ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I meet a Korean walker who walks just about my same sauntering pace.
Hobbits definitely live in this forest – rain is pouring, sun is shining and I’m barely wet. A herd of goats, long beards and stinky, rise as one and run up a hillside as I round the bend.
I take a calculated risk to forego the first campsite and walk further on this track where there’s word of a ‘cool campsite.’ The trouble is, once past the touristy section, it’s back to hard, slippery, overgrown, thorns-in-the-face tramping. I know I can physically handle the distance, but not sure if my daylight will last.
My map marks a spring and I purify some water making me even more heavy and unwieldy. I’m only a few km away but the trail heads straight up. This time, the mud is slick black providing no purchase up or down. Funny how I long for the mud pit on Pirongia that was wet and miserable, but fairly grippy.
When the trail zigs, I go straight and end up on a nasty herd trail leading to a pasture. Poor cows get to hear multiple expletives as I unwind that gaffe.
Finally on the right path, I head into a bit of pine and then onto a tiny bench in the river bend where someone has indeed left the coolest campsite – chairs, tables, a fire pit, even a shovel labeled ‘toilet, so far, dig deep.’
The alicoop is up; my feet are up and it’s just me tonight with the rapids singing a lullaby. What a way to end a hard day’s walking, one that had me feeling frustrated and struggling. I pushed myself and was rewarded with this awesomeness.
I’ll stay up a bit longer, but it’s starting to get cold. At least the sky is completely clear with rain hopefully just a memory.