Waitewaewae to Waikanae

Day 75 (Sat 23 Jan): Waitewaewae hut to Parawai hut

Started 8.35am, finished 2.45pm, 10k.

Pain in the head status: All good; am thanking the restorative power of sleep, the most incredible recovery tool ever invented.

Word of the day: Compos mentis, of sound mind, sane.

The reports on the track ahead were variable but with some consistency- it was likely to take longer than expected. This was our experience also. I’d heard the track was muddy but this didn’t turn out to be a problem; instead it was the amount of windfall, some of it layers of trees laid upon each other like a ghastly mass-arborial-murder site. Skills in acrobatics, climbing and tunnelling were required.

After hours of this, we had a brief reprieve when reaching an old tramline, but my excitement over this well formed track was short-lived as we were diverted onto a scrappy overgrown line that raised us over a huge slip carving out a rocky gash down to the Otaki River. Disconcertingly, this diversionary route had a large crack running through it, suggesting that its days may be numbered and it may also soon become acquainted with the river.

Another swingbridge across the river and the final challenge of the day was to find Parawai hut amidst the grassy flats of Otaki Forks. Once this was achieved, with no assistance by signage, we leisurely settled in, expecting another quiet night on our own, but then a tramper from Wellington arrived, having had his weekend Tararua tramping plans upended by the weather. Then another TA walker arrived, whom we’d met in Palmerston, then another, then a couple we’d heard about but never met, then three more, just before 8pm, proving that you don’t have to be compos mentis to do the TA (it might even be preferable not to be). After days of seeing no one, being in a small hut with eight other people was somewhat daunting. But it was delightful to be the recipient of extra treats that people were offloading. Banana cake and peppermint chocolate; creamed honey from a lady who lives at Otaki Forks and comes to check on the hut, now that DOC no longer has a ranger here, due to a large slip that has closed the access road. The way to a TA walker’s heart is through food.

Wildlife observations: We finally heard some bird life today, including tui, long tailed cuckoo and kakariki, after days of virtual silence, except for swallows roosting at the huts. Maybe it had been too cold for the birds to sing but up until now we’d had more sign of goats and deer than native species. It was a relief to know that the Tararuas contained  some birds after all.

Day 76 (Sun 24 Jan): Parawai hut to Waikanae via Pukeatua track

Started 7.05am, finished 2.20pm, 14k.

Pain in the head status: No headaches today.

Word of the day: Epithet, a descriptive name or title.

All the heavy rain that was forecast for this morning fell on the hut during the night, leaving only a cooling mist, which was perfect for our final climb out of the forest on the Pukeatua track, with a high point of 812m. This track was a walk in the park compared with the other Tararua tracks we’d traversed – only minor and infrequent spots of windfall, mud that lacked sinister intent and a kind gradient.

As we dropped down through a forestry block towards Waikanae, the sky brightened and the air warmed and it was a relief to strip off our boots and socks when we reached South Mangaone Road end, where we were picked up by our personal trail angels from Te Horo. It was also a relief not to walk that road into Waikanae – 10k of narrow winding car-dodging nightmare.

Our trail angels have been reading my blog so took us straight to Koru Ice for gelato to fill a week-long ice cream void. Then they plied us with food, which we set upon like ravenous hordes in an apolcalypse. Having TA walkers to stay must be like having a plague of locusts. We were taking to heart the advice for TA walkers found in the Parawai hut book: Eat until you are full, and then eat some more…

So the Tararuas are finished. They have a notorious reputation for inclement and unpredictable weather and for being rugged and challenging, epithets which are well deserved. But this was also the first significant piece of back country tramping in the North Island, with days in the bush and mountains without a cow in sight. A taster for the South Island, I hope.

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