I wake up early, pack and eat tuna for breakfast to avoid any more of that weird heartbeat issue. The weather is supposed to be awful tomorrow and Carol invites me to camp on her lawn – and sit in her hot tub! – so I decide to make a go of reaching Waikane tonight. After that, it’s coastal and city walk to finish the island.
I wait for Julian to finish his muesli and coffee, trusting he knows the shortcut across the river.
Which it turns out he doesn’t.
So we climb high above the river through muddy blowdown and roots, me f-bombing for most of the start. Somehow that endears me to Julian and we become like long lost tramping pals, separated at birth.
But Julian doesn’t muscle the climbs like I do, stepping high and heaving my body. Rather, he jumps. It’s actually remarkable his skill at managing this awful, root filled clagg – and with only one pole since he snapped the other yesterday on that savage downhill.
So I mimic his style, leaping up and thrusting myself over, under and down the wild terrain.
DOC predicts six hours though we manage this mess of trail in four, including a major detour to avoid a massive landslip that looks more like mountain-top mining than an act of nature.
Julian talks non-stop and I love it as we grind away on this forest misery of a trail. He talks about how English people tease relentlessly those they like the most, how he loves the attitude of professional fighters hazing their opponents and also of all of his wild adventures in the NZ mountains.
He opens my eyes to a different attitude, one more adventurous and up for the challenge, and also a bit more pugnacious when the situation calls for it.
The trail finally reaches a more calm grade and we cruise into Parawai where clean, sweet-smelling tourists day-walk the trails. Carol’s car is here and it’s time to say goodbye. The ‘lodge’ hut is pretty nice and Julian gives me a candy bar as we hang out and rest, the clean tourists shocked by the amount of mud on our clothing.
I fill up with water before heading out, but this over-achieving tramper needs more, so Julian offers to carry my pack up some very steep slopes on the next section towards Mt. Pukeatua. Is it because I’m a good audience? I love his stories and we really click. Perhaps it’s not always easy to find pals.
Julian hikes up and up this trail with me – a track TA hikers yearn for that’s well marked and relatively straight forward with no massive blowdowns and for once, manageable mud. Views open to the higher peaks, mostly with a veil of cloud and I’m so thrilled I pushed hard to catch the spectacular weather in the mountains.
But we finally part, and I learn later that Carol waited an hour for his return! I push up higher and higher into a mini goblin forest before reaching a summit with glorious views into the Tararuas. I cook a big lunch of noodles, tuna and olives, then head down.
It’s a long way through dark ghostly trees to a forest road on an astonishingly steep slope that’s been completely logged. At first I am not sure if this is trail, but I do indeed need to descend hundreds of feet on loose stones to a river, cross it, then head up through a few farms, across a suspension bridge and finally to road.
When I get signal, I let Carol know I’m on my way. Several people pass me in the wind and light rain on the road offering rides. I thank them, but keep walking. Even Carol’s lovely partner Brent pulls up, but knows how stubborn us trampers are and allows me to walk the 10 km to town.
At Carol’s, a few beers and a huge dinner await as I put up the alicoop in the back yard. Carol shares her thoughts on the trail, especially when it comes to the dangerous river crossings ahead on the south island. Her enthusiasm is infectious; I feel so lucky to have met her. And also thrilled Floris and Marjelein are here too, deciding to ride in with her from the car park.
I get some dog love with their sweet mutt, Max and a long soak in the hot tub accompanied by American hits of the ‘70s. What a way to end perhaps the hardest hiking of the TA.
Bushed now and tucked in as two months on the trail comes to an end and I think hard on all the wonder I’ve been exposed to – and the different attitudes to tramping and life. I am so happy.