Day 51 (Wed 30 Dec): Taumaranui to Owhango
Started 8.05am, reached Owhango Forest Lodge 2.20pm, 27k.
Pain in the head status: Still have the leftovers of the Timber Trail migraine but it is ebbing off. I took some aspirin at lunchtime as my hip was hurting, which also helped the head – poor hip hasn’t been this loaded up with weight for a while. We have five day’s food to get us to National Park, which will be our last supply point before Whanganui.
Word of the day: Banal, dull or stale because of overuse; hackneyed; commonplace
I was hoping for a sleep in today, as we were all packed up ready to go and only had to roll out of bed, eat breakfast and be on our way. But my system is so attuned to early starts that I was wide awake at 6, but was determined not to get up before 7 so googled random questions like how many calories am I burning a day, what makes a cow’s eye cloudy and bulging and whether my expanding feet will go back to their pre-Te Araroa size. They have got a little too big for my boots, at least by the end of the day. I’m looking forward to getting new boots in Wellington.
Once we’d consumed our coffee and bircher muesli (appreciating the fresh fruit and yoghurt, which will be absent for the next few days) and got going, it was a perfect morning for walking, clear but cool. The trail led us out of Taumaranui and onto some quiet country roads, at first alongside the Whanganui River, then diving east towards the Central Plateau and Tongariro National Park. This is the section where we do a big dog leg to get us to the Tongariro Crossing – a worthy diversion, but a far cry from progressing down the island in a straight line.
It was an easy if banal road walk through farmland, only rescued from tedium by the diversity of animal life spotted – the usual sheep, but also a black-faced variety (that’s the limit of my sheep identification); the usual dairy cows and beef cattle, but also deer, goats, alpaca and an emu; lots of horses including a friendly Clydesdale; rabbits (not domestic) and hedgehog (roadkill).
We arrived in Owhango with some ambiguity about where we were staying but ended up at a lovely ‘lodge’ (basically a big house) just off the state highway, which we had mostly to ourselves. We set the tent up on the lawn but lounged around on couches inside, after making good use of the hot showers. I’ve driven past Owhango countless times but have never stopped here and have always wondered about the sign pointing to biking and walking tracks. Tomorrow, I’ll finally discover what these are about.
Disappointment of the day: The cafe at Owhango is closed over the Christmas period. No second breakfast tomorrow.
Day 52 (New Year’s Eve, Thurs 31 Dec): Owhango to Mangatepopo stream campsite
Started 7.55am, finished 3.50pm, 27k.
Pain in the head status: I’d like to report that the migraine remnants had all gone but it persisted in the night and lingered at a low level during the day. I was well ready to finish and very happy to give Tony the responsibility of blowing up my mattress.
Word of the day: Persiflage, frivolous or bantering talk.
Lots of TA walkers had described this section as one to avoid, but it really wasn’t too bad. It started on the 42 Traverse, a 4WD road and mountain bike track- we saw quite a few quad bikes, motorbikes and 4WD vehicles but no cyclists. This wound its way up through forest recovering from being milled, with the occasional view of the mountains – rugged old Tongariro scarred and blasted by numerous eruptions and youthful peaked Ngarauhoe; Ruapehu still streaked with snow.
After lunch we dropped down to a stream (Waione) that needed boots off to cross dryly and after this we left the 42 Traverse to take another but much rougher track, the Waione Cokers track. This was overgrown and muddy in places and in rain would be very unpleasant- plus the second stream we crossed on this track, the Mangatepopo, was knee deep and flowing strongly. It would be difficult to pass during rain.
We set up camp next to the track, beside this stream, which originates on Mt Tongariro, rushing down the western slopes and past Mangatepopo Hut on the Tongariro Crossing. While we were contemplating the optimal time to get dinner ready, two other TA walkers who we’d already met stopped to have a snack and dry their feet after the stream crossing. They were pressing on for another 11k to reach the Tongariro Holiday Park, motivated by the thought of a hot shower and getting onto the Crossing tomorrow, before the forecast rain arrived. Nothing could have motivated me to do another 11k at this point, not even the prospect of an ice cream, but I was momentarily concerned that there was too much persiflage and not enough perambulation as they fluffed about putting their boots back on, not leaving until quarter to 5. But they were young and strong and probably don’t need to go to bed at 8.30pm like I do (more like 7.30pm tonight, I was so tired). Another reason I didn’t want to go to the holiday park is that it’s New Year’s Eve and there’s always someone in such places who wants to sing auld lang syne at midnight at the top of their voices. None of that here- it’s the snoring chorus for the whio.
Health issues of the day: Something in this forest is making me sneeze so badly I was worried I might suffer dehydration from snot loss. Thank goodness for antihistamines. And I started to get hungry an hour into the walk today, notwithstanding the Taumaranui pig-out. I wish humans had a storage stomach that would regurgitate scrambled eggs, cheese and cherry tomatoes when I craved them. I know this is kind of the function of fat cells but it’s not the same.