Mt Pirongia to Waitomo

Day 42 (Mon 21 Dec): Mt Pirongia

Started 7.20am, reached Pahautea hut 11am, end of Mt Pirongia track 2.30pm; reached pick up point on Okupata Rd at 3.20pm; 17k.

Pain in the head status: We were in bed by 7.30pm and I slept soundly until around 2.30am when I was woken with a headache that felt like a ‘sleep hangover’ headache- which is what I call the headache I get from getting a decent sleep after a time of being sleep deprived. The permutations of headache never cease to amaze. I figured once we got up and had breakfast this headache type would settle so I dozed until 6am- and I was right, it did. The only other headache of the day was when I smacked my head on a branch while negotiating a patch of mud on Mt Pirongia, causing some internal recriminations for being so maladroit.

View from summit of Mt Pirongia

Word of the day: Maladroit, clumsy, awkward

Today we conquered Mt Pirongia (959m). I have been up this mountain once before, but on a different track, which had such steep undulations that at one point, the friend I was tramping with, Denise, slipped on a downward bit, snagged her pack on a branch and was left hanging in a tree, like a leg of lamb at the meatworks. Fortunately the track up today (the Tahuanui track) was not as assaulting. However it was the first major climb since Whangarei Heads so did provide an initial shock to the system. I felt slow, although we made good time, but Tony bounded ahead like an Energiser bunny.

Despite the favourable weather forecast it was misty at the summit of the mountain, which made for cooler walking but not great views. We pressed on to the Pahautea hut for lunch- since my last visit, a new larger hut has been built, but this still gets overcome with Auckland trampers on a fine weekend.

Leaving the hut, my legs were disappointed to find that once an easy section of boardwalk to another lookout point was over, we were back into uphill climbs on the Hihikiwi track, which seemed unreasonable since we’d already reached the summit. The children we met an hour in were even more disappointed to learn they had 3k to go. We all got acquainted with the famed Pirongia mud, although due to the recent dry hot weather it wasn’t as fearsome as its reputation suggested.

Some steep stairs brought us to the end of the Hihikiwi then there was only a short bit of gravel road until Okupata Rd, where we (including Elise and Kees) waited for a pick up to our accommodation for the night – at the hospitable Lynn and Scott’s place, where we could camp on the lawn, have a delicious hot shower to scrape off the day’s mud and sweat, and be entertained by their chickens, the ex-sheep dog who was relegated to herding the chickens and the cat on a lead so it couldn’t chase the chickens.

Sad wildlife encounters of the day: No kokako and a dead tomtit on the track. I heard goats bleating to each other on the mountain and wrinkled my nose at the rank musty goat reek at points on the track. Someone had gruesomely strung half a dozen goat pelts, heads attached, over a fence on the gravel road. Pirongia has a goat infestation, even after thousands of them have been culled. It also has a possum problem as evidenced by the stands of headless tree ferns and trees stripped of foliage. I’m seriously thinking about how to expand my pest eradication efforts to include goats and possums.

Day 43 (Tues 22 Dec): Somewhere past Mt Pirongia to Waitomo

Started walking 7.20am, reached Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park 3.30pm, 27k.

Pain in the head status: Negative. Heat rash status: Feet and ankles, extending up calves.

Word of the day: Sempiternal, never-ending duration, having a beginning but no end

As part of the accommodation deal last night, we were able to skip a large section of road walking as our host Scott dropped us off at the point where Te Araroa entered a farm track. I’ve lost track of the number of farms we’ve passed through  – it feels like hundreds. But we were very pleased to miss some of the sempiternal roads.

This was another day of a rambling mix of trail – farm track, forestry road, following fences across paddocks, sloshy bush track, horse track where the clay had been churned by horse hoofs to orange butter, dusty bush track, stream crossing, bush track with a inch thick cushion of dead leaves, topped off with a bit of gravel road, tarsealed road and finally a brief stint beside the Waitomo Stream, featuring the karst the area is famous for and some huge matai trees.

The day’s walk featured many highs, and many lows, interspersed with some recovery flats. We must be getting trail-hardened as the feet only started to pound after about six hours, and the uphills slowed me down but didn’t leave me gasping like a fish out of water.

We picked up a food parcel at the Holiday Park, containing ten nights of dehydrated dinners, freeze dried fruit packets and peanut butter slugs. We’ll finish loading up with food at Te Kuiti tomorrow and prepare for a Christmas in some unknown piece of bush. The last clothes wash before Christmas has been completed. And the last hot shower. Hopefully not the last ice cream.

Number of the day: Eight other TA walkers seen, a record high.

Mt Pirongia in the distance, wreathed in mist

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