Labour weekend, two weeks before we were due to start Te Araroa. We hadn’t been tramping since February, what with COVID-19 and work busyness, so we needed to test ourselves. We had thought of doing the Mt Taranaki Round the Mountain track, but the forecast was dire. We had to find somewhere within driving distance of Wellington that wouldn’t involve swollen rivers or being blown off mountain ridges. We landed on the Matemateaonga track in Whanganui National Park. Most people walk this one-way, and start or finish with a jet-boat ride on the Whanganui River, but we decided to walk there and back, starting from the Stratford end.
Possibly the most painful part of the track was the drive to get there – five and a half hours from Wellington, culminating in a dirt road that my little Toyota Echo was not well adapted to. But it was easy one and a half hour wander up to the first hut, Omaru , which was heaving with trampers from the Auckland Tramping Club. We made use of the tent for some peace and quiet, a necessary refuge as my head had started exploding. It was a bit of a rough night.
The next day we truly appreciated why the locals call this the Muddymuddyaonga track. We christened our boots with all the variants of mud imaginable – sticky clay mud, stinky bog mud, sandy white mud, slippery earth mud. And we started testing our wet weather gear, as the rain began. After lunch at Pouri hut, the trail turned into a goat track, literally, as we saw goats running along it in front of us, but also overgrown with ferns and horopito. We spotted red-crested parakeets, kereru, fantails, but mostly heard the birds rather than saw them – grey warblers, shining and long-tailed cuckoos, robins, ruru. Tony spotted seashells in the rocks along the track – evidence that this ridge had once been under or near the sea many moons ago.
The lovely new Ngapurua hut was our lodgings for the next two nights; we did a day walk to the end of the track and back to the hut, then started the trudge back to the car. For me, the mornings were a challenge – I’d wake with a sore neck and head and require the trifecta of caffeine, nurofen and triptan to get me going, fortified with a stiff porridge. I’d scavenged together coffee sachets that we’d pilfered from motels on past trips for our morning libations, but had tragically failed to notice that half of them were decaffeinated. Tony took it on the chin and sucked up the decaf while I made do with black tea.
All in all, the Matemateaonga prepared us well for what we expect on Te Araroa. Plenty of mud, consecutive long days of walking, mental endurance for monotonous slogging, finding out where our packs wet out and wearing my feet into my new boots. (I don’t know why we say we’re wearing our boots in – it’s the feet that take the hammering.) Important lessons (or ‘learnings’ if you are a Wellington policy wonk): 1. two pairs of underwear are not enough; 2. you always need more caffeine.