Day 73 (Thurs 21 Jan): Te Matawai hut to Dracophyllum hut
Started 8.50am, finished 1.10pm, 8k.
Pain in the head status: Again, woke around 4am with a migraine radiating from my neck. Again, it eased off quite quickly with medication and I was perfectly fine the rest of the day. I can only hope this pattern breaks soon as I have no idea what is triggering them or how to stop it.
Word of the day: Heuristic, a rule of thumb; or enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.
I started the day offering Tony a special birthday present- a three pack of raspberry chocolate licorice logs, to be eaten at his pleasure, that I’d carried from Palmerston North and saved for the occasion. It wasn’t exactly chocolate cake and ice cream, but it was all I had. He kindly shared them with me as a lunchtime treat.
The tramping day started later as we waited for some squawly showers to pass. We were hoping the weather would break, as predicted by our long range forecast, but we hadn’t been able to update the forecast since Palmerston North so knew it could have changed. So we weren’t taken aback to find high winds persisting on the tops and low cloud for much of the walk. The wind was fairly comparable to Wellington-on-a-blustery-day until we reached Pukematawai, the high point on this section of the track, where some fierce gusts had me clinging to my poles so they didn’t blow away. But it was walkable so we carried on, dropping elevation quite quickly then undulating across some lesser peaks. The mists lifted briefly to reveal tantalising glimpses of a river far below and on the other side of the range, red flashes of the roof of Te Matawai hut from which we’d come.
The track was muddy in places, no doubt aggravated by the boots of thousands of TA walkers in recent years, and the overgrown grasses were a definite trip hazard. But the main issue was the cold. It was still freezing, with pockets of hail stones lingering in the tussock, and the wind chill turned our fingers to senseless blocks. So when we reached Dracophyllum hut, just before some rain set in, it was an easy decision to stay put and not push on to the next hut, Nichols. We always knew the weather could set us back so were prepared to wait it out.
So another afternoon tucked up in the down jacket and sleeping bag, wearing every piece of dry clothing to maximise the heating. Fortunately there were no other hikers mad enough to be out here, so we had this cosy two bunk hut to ourselves. We set ourselves the challenge of hanging an item onto every hook and nail provided, but there were too many, even with every wet sock and glove on an individual perch. Although the chance of anything drying out was virtually nil, it added to the ambience and the wet-tramping-stinky-boots smell.
Reflection of the day: Doppelganger Fiona from Palmerston North had told us about the ‘umble’ heuristic that can alert you to when you need to make an assessment of your tramping situation. The umbles are: stumble, mumble, grumble and rumble (tummy). If I were to pick my signature umble, it would be mumble, which I tend to do with a migraine and is a sign I need to take care. A statement of fact can be a cautionary grumble, such as: “I can’t feel my hands.” I think we manage the rumble quite well, with scheduled muesli bars stops and a ration of barley sugars for low energy moments. The stumble has only been a significant feature in the Tararuas. But I’m sure we’ll be dealing with more stumbles in the South Island so this is good practice.
Day 74 (Fri 22 Jan): Dracophyllum hut to Waitewaewae (YTYY) hut
Started 7.25am, finished 4.55pm, 13k.
Pain in the head status: No migraine this morning! I did get a ‘tired’ headache at the end of the day, but this eased off with Nurofen, food and some rehydration solution. The toll of two nights of sleep disturbed by wind, hail and rain, and a long Tararua walk today.
Word of the day: Capriciousness, unreliability, given to sudden and unpredictable changes of mood or behaviour.
Today was the day our ambitions to depart from the Te Araroa trail and complete the Tararua Southern Crossing were thwarted. We woke up to a promising weather change – the wind had died away to virtually nothing, and although we started out in a fog, this cleared to reveal the long lines of the Tararua ranges. We navigated the undulating ridge through more goblin forest to Nichols hut in good time then it was on to summit Mt Crawford (1462m). We could see out to Kapiti Island on the west coast on over to the Wairarapa on the east. This is what makes trudges into the Tararuas worthwhile.
But at Mt Crawford we finally had a patchy bit of cell phone coverage and could get an updated weather forecast. It was completely different to the forecast from Palmerston North- instead of sun and low winds there was a severe weather warning for the next three days, right when we would be exposed on the tops. Nothing for it, the capriciousness of the Tararua weather meant we aborted our Plan A and reverted to Plan B, which was to continue on the TA and exit out through Waikanae.
We took our time wandering over the tops, relishing the brief window of clement weather, considering it might be some time before we come here again. Then came the knee-grinding, ear-popping 1200+m descent to Waitewaewae hut. All that elevation gained over the past few days, gone in an hour or so.
Once again we had the hut to ourselves. The upside of Plan B was we now had a definitive excess of food so I had no problem persuading Tony that we could use up the emergency Backcountry meal I’d been carting all the way from National Park. We had this as an entree to our usual home-dehydrated dinner. Creamy carbonara had never tasted so good.
Mystery of the day: At Te Matawai hut, a TA walker had written in the intentions book two nights before we arrived. That would have put him out on the tops in some appalling wind. When we reached Nichols hut, we found his name again – he had stayed there for four nights, changing his intentions from pressing on over the tops, to retreating back to Te Matawai. But we didn’t pass him going out, and he wasn’t at Waitewaewae- where did he go? One possibility is that he had been airlifted off the mountains, as we had heard a helicopter early in the morning. I guess we’ll never know – it will remain the Mystery of the Missing TA Walker.