Palmerston North to Tokomaru Dam

We ended at the blue dot

Day 69 (Sun 17 Jan): Palmerston North to Burtton’s track in Gordon Kear forest (Whare o Moturimu)

Started 7.35am, finished 1.15pm, 21k plus 6k by car.

Pain in the head status: No pain in the head, a good start to this final section of the North Island.

Word of the day: Risible, laughable, amusing.

Today we passed the 1500km sign – so we are half way through the trail. We had a sit down to celebrate.

This came near the end of the walking day, after we had marched out of Palmerston North via the most direct route possible- so not via the TA which is The Antithesis of direct route. We felt justified in this short cut as we had already wandered along the meandering river route yesterday, and we had a long day ahead of us, with rain forecast in the  afternoon. Our direct route shaved off 3k from the distance we’d otherwise have had to walk. That made me happy as a 30km day with the heaviest pack of the trip did not equal enjoyment in my mind.

Black clouds being sucked into the Tararuas

We also accepted a lift from a pleasantly wacky man, with a look about him of Milton from Office Space, as Tony was anxiously watching the gathering rain clouds. That saved us 6k of road walking, much of it on a winding narrow gravel road that would have been awkward to dodge cars on. We were heading to Arapuke mountain bike park, and the road was fairly teeming with biking enthusiasts.

Happy Moo Year from Massey University

We walked through the park on the Back Track, which was a very pretty ramble beside a stream and then up onto a ridge. It has been days since we’ve had any immersion in native bush and it was wonderful. It was over too soon, though, and we were back on gravel roads and into commercial forestry land, and the start of Burtton’s track. We passed a broken ute waiting for a tow truck, which had been driven into head on by one of those idiot drivers I can find no excuses for, but no one was injured. Not that I could have assisted much, except to offer a plaster.

We reached our shelter for the night as rain drops plopped around us, but the downpours didn’t start until after two o’clock, coming in thunderous waves. I was very glad to have a dry place to hunker down. The Palmerston North Council built a shelter here for TA walkers in 2019 (the Whare o Moturimu) and what a boon it has been. It lacks a door, to get around technicalities that would arise if it were officially designated a ‘hut’, but has two raised platforms topped with foam for sleeping on, a bench for cooking, a couple of chairs and even a rubbish bin. It was so relaxing I even had a nap. All good preparation for tackling the Tararuas in earnest the day after tomorrow.

Most risible find on the side of the road: An unused ream of MAN 100 tablets, made by the Hong Kong Sang-hung Biological Technology Co. These claim (on the back) to enable a range of bodily changes such as preventing sexual dysfunction and restoring driving force of life; promoting rapid increase, enlargement and growth of penis, and enabling erection to be stubby and powerful. We left them in the whare in case any TA hikers need improved endurance and driving force.

Last exotic forest for a few days

Day 70 (Mon 18 Jan): Burtton’s track to Tokomaru Dam No. 1

We camped at the blue dot

Started 7.15am, finished 3.25pm, around 25k.

Pain in the head status: Zilch. Yay.

Word of the day: Cabal, secret conspiratorial association of plotters.

Tony relieved me of carrying the chocolate after I was complaining about how my pack was pulling on my shoulders yesterday and hurting my hip – what a difference a half kilo makes. Although it may take a few more days of eating our  supplies before I start skipping along the track.

The highlight of the day was a decent four hours or so of walking on a proper tramping track (not a bike/road, shared/hybrid/bastardised path), the like of which we haven’t seen since Mt Pirongia. Lots of river crossings, a bit of windfall, a few slips, one of which I could abseil down the bend of using a supplejack vine. Plenty of beautiful trees, mosses, ferns; and all sorts of trickling, gushing and falling water.

We had lunch at another welcome shelter restored for the use of TA walkers by a cabal of TA supporters in Palmerston North. The rest of the day was on gravel roads, with virtually no traffic. We deviated from the TA route after passing the lower Tokomaru dam, from which water is piped to the Mangahao Power Station, continuing on the road past the second dam to the upper one. The TA takes walkers to the Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre, from which it is relatively easy to get to Levin to restock. We decided to carry more food and get into the Tararuas more quickly; and we’ll rejoin the trail in a couple of nights, at Te Matawai hut. We’ve also done all the tracks to Te Matawai from the Levin entrance, including the South and North Ohau Rivers, but this way is new to us. I always like trying something new.

We crossed over the upper dam to find a sheltered spot to camp and it wasn’t long before I sought refuge in the tent to huddle in my sleeping bag. It was cold and windy but much less daunting than I’d anticipated. I thought we’d be walking in the rain for most of the day and setting up the tent in a state of sogginess, with our packs and clothes wet and nowhere to dry out. As it was, we had a couple of light showers that never amounted to anything and the wind served to whip dry any residual dampness. There must be rain around though as the floodgates are open on the dam, with water roaring through fast enough to fill your swimming pool in a couple of seconds.

Tough person of the century: Burtton’s track was made by and named after James Burtton, who lived and farmed half way along the track for forty years. He fell off a swing bridge and walked for 12 hours on a broken leg to reach help, but later succumbed to his injuries. Puts my sore hip into perspective; nothing’s broken and I haven’t slipped 8 metres into a riverbed. Nothing to complain about, really.

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