Day 71: Tokomaru Dam to Mangahao Flats hut (Tararua Forest Park)
Started 8.05am, finished 2.15pm, 9.5k.
Pain in the head status: Woke up with a migraine, which I tried to pretend wasn’t a migraine but eventually had to concede that it was a nasty one that needed treatment. Almost worse than the pain was the nausea, which was like a dragging weight sapping strength from the body, but by around 10am, the medicines had kicked in and I was mostly normal again. It slowed me down on this slippery uneven track, as the migraine seemed to affect my depth perception, making it more difficult to judge the best place to put my boots. Migraine = whole body experience.
Word of the day: Stochastic, random.
Ah, the Tararuas. So different from anything in Te Araroa so far. The moss-swathed trees, the swing bridges, the track that slows you down to less than 2k/hour. That was a shock. The DOC sign at the start of the Mangahao Flats track said it was 9.5k but 6 hours – which was pretty much how long it took us. So accustomed to knocking out the kilometres on the road, this slashed pace was difficult to adjust to. I felt like a snail with an oversized shell, crawling (literally on occasion) through the trees. But slowing down brought the beauty of the forest into relief – the intense almost fluorescent yellow greens of the mossy, ferny ground cover, the purity of the water, the straight sharp lines of the beech trees.
The slowness was due to the constant repetition of back country challenges – slabs of sucking bog, precipitous ascents and descents, rock climbing obstacles and twisting tree roots. Also river crossings. Four bridges carried us over four of the larger crossings but not far from the hut, the main river had to be crossed twice. An inland diversion track offered an alternative route, but we only went a short way up this before the buffeting of the wind drove us back to consider the river. It turned out to be flowing fast but very clear and it was straightforward to cross, if cold on the feet. We had been sheltered from the wind, hidden in the valley beside the river for most part, but had tasted its ferocity on one of the swing bridges, where gusts hurtling down the Mangahao River ripped through the netting of the bridge and attempted to tip it over. The wire stays held fast, thankfully.
We escaped being rained on for another day, but the rain is promised for tomorrow. And snow on the tops, and winds in excess of 100k/h. In preparation for this awfulness, Tony lit a fire at Mangahao Flats hut, so we have a vivid memory of being toasty warm and dry to comfort us in the cold and wet. The hut is a grand one – spacious and tidy with views over the river. When we arrived there was an eight-pointer stag by the deck. There are also resident rats, so we have plenty of company.
Random find of the day: Part of a Dome tent, in a bag hanging in a tree. Other stochastic items on the trail so far: collapsible cup, underwear, jandals (single and paired), socks, pack cover, unopened rehydration sachet, t shirts.
Day 72 (Wed 20 Jan): Mangahao Flats hut to Te Matawai hut
Started 9am, finished 2.15pm, 7k.
Pain in the head status: Woke around 4am with another migraine but since we had a shortish day of walking ahead of us, only five hours, we slept in until 7am and hung about until some rain showers passed. By the time we started walking, the pain had eased off. I don’t know if this is real, but it feels like a migraine due to extrinsic factors, like maybe the weather. It doesn’t feel like a migraine triggered by stress or exertion. But who knows.
Word of the day: Gelid, icy
Cracking thunder and downpours overnight. Yet we still managed to escape any significant walking in the rain. We walked in some hail, which briefly turned to raindrops, but the only showers we experienced were while we were safely sheltered in the huts.
Yes it hailed and it was freezing. It would have been more tolerable but we ended up having three stream crossings in which we took our boots off to save them getting saturated. These were gelid waters that made the bones of your feet turn to icicles.
Otherwise it was another day of bush in many hues of green and yellow, mud in many hues of black, grey and brown, water in many hues of white and silver. The track could be a relatively easy climb to the Tararua tops, if it were cleared of windfall and maintained. But many obstacles would need to be removed for that to become a reality.
We rejoined the Te Araroa at Te Matawai hut, where we noted that the water tap was broken, just as it was the last time we were here in February 2020. In the interim, DOC has visited twice but has failed to fix it. This does not reflect well, but perhaps reflects accurately, on the state of the department. Nor on the decision made a few years ago to assign responsibility for the upkeep of the western Tararua huts to the Masterton DOC office, which is on the eastern side, rather than the more conveniently located Porirua base. Pure nonsense.
There was no firewood to set a fire so we wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags and wished for a hot water bottle. A hundred jumping jacks before bed had to substitute.
Challenge of the day: Putting damp socks onto wet feet when you can’t feel your fingers or your toes (or your nose but that is immaterial to the challenge).
First loss on the trail: My sunhat, which I was using as a potential rain guard, but when it wasn’t needed, I tucked it into my hip belt. Mistake. It wiggled away without me noticing and I was not about to go back to look for it.