Robb starts the trail with me for just a few feet before pealing off. Our drive into where I left off yesterday reveals the rain’s damage – big rocks in the road, swollen river, waterfalls pushing across our path.
We part and I walk up the Backtrack – which is exactly what I do when I hit a massive landslip, backtrack! I try to climb over, but sink deep into the wet and shifting mud. At first I feel completely done in and walk back to the car park hoping for a lift.
But then I sit down on a stump and quietly calculate an alternate route. I really feel smart and tough able to carry on which is no problem on this piece of bike trail, although I keep my eye out for possible campsites should I get stopped again by another landslip.
Well there’s nothing like a dose of mansplaining for Christmas. A follower took issue with my critique of the Te Araroa’s road walking. Sadly, while I have made my peace with the fledgling trail and the need to put walkers on road, this Kiwi’s unenlightened attitude has proven extremely unhelpful and has shed a spotlight on how truly terrible the TA’s tactic is to place almost 40% of this ‘trail’ on road.
The follower tells me only cars and bikes are allowed on roads and that hikers are in the drivers’ ‘domain’ and need to move out of their way. I don’t hike in the road, but on its edge. I always pay attention and walk against traffic. I move out of the way on blind corners and never surprise a motorist. I am always visible.
While 90% of drivers are polite knowing only they can maim or kill and should responsibly offer clearance and/or slow down when passing, there are a few who adopt this man’s attitude – that we walkers don’t belong there and should get out of their way. This man suggested I wear a high vis vest, but seeing me is not the problem. Entitlement is.
The TA posts no signs to warn motorists and – as far as I can tell from this follower’s comments – offers no education that in certain sections the road will be shared. The onus is placed entirely on the vulnerable hiker to protect herself on what is the official trail. This is absurd and it is my obligation as a writer to point this out. The majority of TA hikers are European and American and come from countries where – for obvious reasons – pedestrians have the right of way.
I am not ‘stressed’ by road walking, I am angry with the wrong-headed attitude of this man who appears to be acting as an ambassador for the walk. Unless you are a hitch-hiker, the TA has a lot of growing to do and it should start by getting its drivers on board sharing the road.
But for today, anyway, there is minimal road walking as I scurry up zigzags and think I see Robb at the shelter. Oh my goodness, it’s Koen! What a fabulous boxing day gift as we both have our eye on hiking the Taurarua in the next three days while the weather moderates. I have never been so happy to see another TA hiker’s smiling face. Poor guy slept out in the rain last night, but he’s ok and ready to move.
I walk on track through forest before cutting into Burtton’s Track deep in bush – with loads of mud. Mud, mud, mud on slippery track through bush that I love, but have seen so much of. I feel overwhelmed and tired trying to skirt around the squishiness as the trail goes down.
And then, more down.
To a big stream, which I hear getting louder as I approach in the dense darkness. The Tokumara River is swollen from the rain and crashies in rapids over half submerged rocks. Soon I realize I am expected to cross it. Good Lord! Koen is far behind and I have a mind to reach the outdoor pursuit center tonight to position myself for the range. But it takes serious scouting with my feet submerged in cold water to choose a path.
I take a few awkward steps right at the orange triangle and see the water is far too deep. So I move down a few feet, but the water is really boiling and a spill would place me in its teeth. So up the river I go some 30 feet to find a reasonably doable cross.
I walk like a crab facing upstream. My poles have to be pulled out completely and repositioned each step to counteract the force of all that water. I move slowly, deliberately and finally reach the bank.
The deepest section of the river is funneling at this side, so there’s no way to work back down to the trail. Instead, I have to hoist myself up the steep bank and find a way down. It’s tricky as the slope is steep with a jumble of fallen trees. I tiptoe across them, though some palms seem ready to give way. Muddy and exhausted, I finally meet the trail and carry on.
Several more minor stream crossings follow – some with spectacular waterfalls full and loud – and I soon discover I must cross this same river two more times! It’s a bit dangerous, but mostly time consuming as I search out the best crossing.
Finally the land begins to change as I get scratched up in a gorse tunnel. I’m heaved out on a road and walk to a reservoir where I meet some kids driving a truck with a giant sticker reading ‘Fuck 1080’ under a longhorn steer. I ask if they have a beer, but they don’t.
It would have been nice for the slog of forest ahead, one more mossy and beautiful, but of course, deep in mud. I wind up and down and out on a long ridge before coming to a few stunning lookouts, the second looking down a long valley where I know I’ll have to walk.
Down and down again to multiple streams. I have a few hours of daylight, but I’m nervous that I’ll meet more difficult crossings I’ll need to carefully read. Instead, I come across a few streams coiling over on themselves while the trail crashes straight on. I lose count after crossing number 30. You now see why I wear sneakers that dry quickly. It was fun and absolutely beautiful down in those streams all by myself, Koen never quite catching up.
The sun aims into the valley casting an orange glow as I pass a few nervous cows and find the Pursuit Center. I am greeted with a beer, a delicious prawn salad with veggies, bread and a glass of wine. Incredible thoughtfulness as the first stars appeared just as I sat down.
John gives me superb Tararua advice before I climb into the alicoop, my eyes heavy after a long and exciting day filled with new challenges, the river here is singing me to sleep and reminding me of my successful crossings – as well as practice for the hundreds of river crossings coming up on the South Island. Sweet dreams!