Day 45 (Thurs 24 Dec): Waitomo to Te Kuiti (Mangaokewa Reserve)
Started 7am, reached outskirts of Te Kuiti 11.40am; much eating and social interaction ensued; left Te Kuiti some time after 2pm, reached reserve and campsite around 3.30pm, 20k
Pain in the head status: Got a ‘tired’ headache in the evening, not long before it was time to retire. It wasn’t a migraine but it felt like my head was giving me a time-for-bed alarm. I heeded the alarm, took a couple of Nurofen to help me sleep and the alarm receded.
Word of the day: Matutinal, early, of or in the morning
We were up early to resume our matutinal walking; Tony was almost back to Energiser bunny state. This was a special day – the first time we have walked for hours in the rain. It created unanticipated clothing dilemmas. We started out in rain jackets but got too hot so took them off, opting for being wet by rain rather than wet by sweat. It really would have made little difference as the long grass and overgrown bush saturated us with water they had collected in their leaves. After a short time it was like sloshing through puddles while having a shower.
The next change of clothing was when we dropped down from traversing a ridge of bush to open farmland where the wind whipped frigidly through our wet clothes. Wet weather pants and raincoat back on for the relentless slog up and down paddocks. The TA mantra of ‘the track goes up wherever it can’ was fully realised in this day’s walk. The only really pleasant part of this section was walking through a remnant of kahikatea swamp forest but this only lasted for about five minutes.
Finally, not far from the outskirts of Te Kuiti, the sun came out and we had our final clothing change – for me, back into my wet shorts so they could dry as we walked. Despite emptying the boots of water and wringing out socks multiple times, the feet remained soggy.
Fortuitously, as we came into Te Kuiti there was a fresh fruit ice-cream shop, so we gave them our business. Then it was into town to do a grocery shop, have toasted sandwiches at a cafe and engage in socialising, including talking to complete strangers who wanted to know what we were doing, randomly meeting a friend from Wellington at the New World (NZ really is small) and catching up with some other TA walkers at the cafe, one of whom was new to us; the other we had met several times before and he could tell us where all the other TA people we both knew were going for Christmas.
The final walk of the day was to Mangaokewa Reserve, a few kilometres out of Te Kuiti. We set up camp then realised we were right in the middle of where the locals had done donuts on the grass and burnt a picnic table a few nights before, so we shifted to a more protected site. Circling the loop of gravel road around the campsite appeared to be one of the top things to do in Te Kuiti, as car after car came to complete the circuit, sometimes more than once, on several different occasions. Clearly, Te Kuiti needs to diversify its entertainment offerings.
Wildlife encounters: Lots of cows. We tried our best to pass carefully through a group of bulls we had been warned might be threatening. But one of the bulls was so terrified at our slow gentle approach that it jumped over a fence to get away from us, then looked reproachfully at us as it realised it was stuck on the wrong side of the grass. Farm animals can be very thoughtless.
Day 46 (Fri 25 Dec): Te Kuiti to Pureora (Ngaherenga campsite)
Started 7.45am, reached farmer’s camp at 2pm, started walking to SH30 at 2.30pm; reached SH30 3.30pm and got a lift at 3.55pm (only had to wait 25 minutes until someone stopped to pick us up); reached Pureora/DOC Ngaherenga campsite a bit before 5pm. 22k walking; total distance travelled 52k.
Pain in the head status: All good.
Word of the day: Parsimonious, excessively frugal or sparing
The track from Mangaokewa Reserve to the end of Mangaokewa Road takes the cake for being the worst piece of TA trail so far. Hazards included steep, narrow, slippery, half-fallen away goat tracks that would drop you 100m into the river below if you misstepped, rutted overgrown grass tracks with ankle-twisting holes, track markers you could easily miss as they suddenly turned you sideways and marched you sharply up a slope you had no interest in ascending, gorse and blackberry traps and tunnels and unavoidable ankle-deep bog.
The podocarp forest and rushing river were beautiful but to be honest I was too consumed by the difficulty of navigating the track to give them the attention they deserved. We had been warned about this track- an article in the local paper, the Waitomo Times, chronicled the efforts of a Te Kuiti hunter and tramper trying to get someone to take responsibility for clearing the worst of the gorse and blackberry, that was making the track potentially impassable and dangerous. However, this was on private land and so both the Council and the Department of Conservation had washed their hands of it, despite it being part of the TA and the rampant invasion of these weeds – the owner clearly didn’t care what state the land was in. I could say more but won’t waste my breath. I crawled under the gorse to get through at one point, and we both have plenty of scratches, but we did manage to pass.
There was a sweet farmer’s camp near the end of this dreadful trail but we had to press on (and parted ways with the lovely Dutch couple we’ve been walking in parallel with since Mercer). We had booked bikes to start the Timber Trail on the 26th and the start of this was a long way off. We had to eschew a long section of road walking (pity!) and hitched a ride along SH30 to Pureora. We actually got two lifts – an obliging local came across us on the usually deserted Mangaokewa Road and took us to SH30 and a friendly couple from Taihape cleared out their car to make room for us on their journey to Taupo – Pureora was on their way.
We camped at a DOC site, Ngaherenga, very close to the start of the timber trail- which we could have walked but that would have taken four days instead of two on mountain bikes. The lure of faster travel was irresistible. The campsite had an excess of bird life- chattering kakariki, fluting tui, and my favourite- the primeval soulful kraak of the kaka. I’ve missed the kaka – we hear them in Wellington day and night and I love the sound. It makes me believe we can restore and live harmoniously with nature, if we brought back kaka to our capital city.
Since starting the trail, we’ve realised our regular tramping meals are too parsimonious, so have added in another muesli bar at lunchtime (most recent lunches have been a wrap dribbled with peanut butter and a muesli bar as filling). For a Christmas special tonight, I made rice pudding out of dehydrated rice, sugar, coconut milk powder, a sachet of hot chocolate and a few chunks of Whittakers fruit and nut dark chocolate. Not haute cuisine, or equivalent to a Christmas trifle, mince tarts and fresh fruit salad, but at least it was something.