I wake up to an absolute cacophony of bird song, the wildest yet. We’re at about 500 meters and it is cold and damp, but – fingers crossed – clear.
I am a tiny bit cranky as I enter the timber trail, the finest podocarp forest in New Zealand. Folks showed up at 10:30 lights blaring on my tent. I yelled at them to knock it off, mainly so they knew it wasn’t party time. Then I wonder if I should have said anything, and rather just let it go.
Chloe says the lights were in her eyes, but I woke her up. I guess too it’s hard for me because I am walking all of this trail and I feel criticized by the others who skip large sections insinuating I’m trying to prove something. I simply want to walk it all and I’d prefer to feel celebrated or at least understood. I don’t think I could get to Bluff and say I walked the Te Araroa when I actually didn’t. All this hardship of rain, crappy trails, and this morning’s cold is part of that experience.
But now I’m off and they’re all behind me. There’s amazing stuff ahead on an actual trail, one wide and maintained. How lovely the forest looks when you don’t have to watch your feet every second. This preserve is only here because of tree huggers – or more accurately tree sitters – who protested unsustainable logging in the late ‘70s. I’m out so early the sun is angling in sideways in frosty beams.
As you surely have noticed, I can’t communicate as this area is quite remote and there’s no cell service. Richard follows me by GPS and knows I’m safe, but I feel a bit lost in my own head. I wish I had confirmation from my fellow hikers that I’m ok, that my choices are good ones.
Yesterday Chloe felt devastated about a mouse that chewed into her new tent and pack. It’s been patched beautifully so there’s no danger of leaking. I told her that repairs are a badge of honor, a reminder of what she’s accomplished. She said my perspective helped her feel better.
I wish someone could to do the same for me. I walked 56 hard kilometers, some in terrible conditions. She chose not to and hitched it, but when I complained about the state of the trail, I felt chastised. Of course I assume the risk and can choose not to walk parts, but that doesn’t mean the TA Association is acting responsibly to skip maintenance entirely and then describe the trail as ‘glissading, sometimes slippery when wet’ with ‘lovely picnic areas. ’
The forest opens into an area of clearcut and makes obvious the reasons people protested destroying the bush. I put on my sun hat now with much joy. ‘Cruising Rangers’ went into the bush first to determine the amount of timber.
They’d live in virgin forest for ten days, four days off. One picture shows a man in boots, wool socks and ‘Swannie’ – a heavy duty weatherproof woolen shirt – and shorts, lucky to have found a dry place to camp. Don’t I know. Two meters of rain per year – or maybe just this past week.
No bikes were available to rent, but I’m loving the freedom of walking. The forest began it’s life 26,000 years ago when one of the world’s biggest volcanoes blew up. Now, beyond this reserve, it’s all Monterey pine for the timber industry.
I’m absolutely loving the solitude of my morning walk. Rain gear off as it warms up. Last night, as I was telling a story, Chloe told me to get to the point. I didn’t realize I was so boring to others. Glad I enjoy my own company.
The Maori orchestra is made here in this forest! Every culture has music, of course. Matai is used for flutes. Mist rises from the moss-covered trees. I can see my breath.
It’s another mini-bog nightmare to the summit at 1,200 meters. I can see clear all the way to the snow-capped giant of flat-topped Ruapehu right from my grassy brunch spot. The tent is drying held down by rocks. I feel I earned this spectacular clear day.
Two bikers catch up and moan about the mud. Gentlemen, this mud is strictly for amateurs. The shortcut down the mountain is another wet slide of washed stairs and huge drops. At least DOC was honest posting a sign the trail isn’t being looked after.
Back on the timber trail, there’s flood escapes and pipes everywhere to control the water. One side is a long gully. Should the TA be maintained to this level? Perhaps it’s a bit much.
The totara – one of the many podacarp – in this forest are gnarly with twisted bark, no good for lumber. They create a moss-covered fairyland.
When Richard and I went to Wales on our honeymoon, I exhibited a skill he had yet to encounter – an ability to wayfind the wettest route. Evermore he’s called me ‘the bog finder’ Sadly, it’s so early in the day and rain seems unlikely, so I’ll take a miss on the recommended Bog Inn hut.
But it’s only a small detour to check it out – gorgeous mossy forest on, yup, you guessed it, bog. And what a dump! It smells like pee, flies are everywhere and it looks maybe water-proof, but if it was raining, this would be a perfect stop because there’s a wood stove. I eat some measured out chocolate that needs to last three more days, then take a muddy shortcut back to the Timber Trail.
I hear water far below before I turn a corner and cross a massively cool suspension bridge, hundreds of feet above the gorge. It’s bouncy but with protective rails. I cross four before joining Chloe.
I set the alicoop in a grassy meadow next to a stream, a toilet and a minuscule shelter. You can’t imagine how good it feels to sit in dry grass with the sun and wind on me. Heaven. Bliss. I am in my tights and orange down jacket using Alan’s big coke bottle for my head. My bottom is on my sit pad and wondering if I’ll last until the first stars as tui, warblers and an occasional kaka keep me company.
It’s actually a lovely night with Chloe. I share my fuel, she shares chocolate and we feel good with some idea of how to manage the coming days. An alpine crossing and several days canoe trip are ahead but all of it is weather and timing dependent so I’m learning to just live one day at a time.
Just as I crawl into the ‘coop, a hunter named Tim drives up on a 4×4 with Vera on board along with a deer, gutted and dressed. Chloe is a vegan and horrified, so we take the best cuts out of sight to cook up with the butter Vera carries with her to ensure she’s getting enough fat. It’s truy the finest food delivery of my life – tender, juicy, delicious venison that will give this hiker the energy she needs for tomorrow’s walk. Good night to an exceptional day.