Day 38 — 43 | 1075km Hamilton to Taumarunui
Another week on the trail with some more adventure.
This time we left after a couple of 0-days in Hamilton to give our feet a break. The first day back on the trail we started directly at the Pirongia forest after a local gave us advise on walking the original track up to the Pahautea hut. We try to keep as much as possible to the Te Araroa trail but take side adventures as we have learned over the last month on the trail that this is a really long journey and to get most out of it you should hike your own hike. The Tirohanga track up the Pirongia ranges was steep with a couple of fake summits and chain climbing. We did not mind being back in the forest so soon as this gave us an opportunity to escape some of the New Zealand summer heat. The hike up took about 5 hours and we reached the hut just before sunset. We met with a group of school leavers spending their first night after writing exams on the mountain and a kiwi couple from Wellington. We cooked a hot meal and watched the peaceful sunset on top of the multiple hills. Just before last light a Belgium couple arrived at the hut that we had met before on the trail and that had started with us on back on 1st November.
The Pahautea hut sits on the top of the Pirongia ranges with a beautiful view over the last bit of the Waikato and in the distance the start of the King’s country.
We started early the next morning and decided we want to push for a new record day as we had a short forest section left with a long gravel road that can win us some distance. We did indeed make up distance and managed to push a 33km day. Once you set a new distance record you realize that you can easily do it again. We finished the last half of the day with yet another beautiful forest walk over private land and crossing some airstrips as well, it was really well maintained by the farmers which seems to really support the TA. The night we found a good camping spot in a open field with some sheep.
We started the next morning early with good weather over the farmlands. After about 2 hours on the track, New Zealand held up to what it’s known for, fast changing weather. It was pouring rain for the next 3 hours. We pushed through the farmlands trying to reach the Waitomo forest which could give us some cover.
The Waitomo forest is beautiful and it felt mysterious with the mist blowing through the trees. About 20 minutes in we reached a steep downhill with the track winding down. This is when we heard a loud cracking noise and a tree coming down on Hannele. She luckily managed to get out of its way but her hiking stick was not so lucky. This was really our first encounter with danger in New Zealand. After a bit of an adrenaline rush with moved swiftly on and aimed at lunching at Waitomo Village. On the way there we walked more roads and took a wrong turn adding another 3km to the day. Every morning we wake up and say that today we will take it slow, which seems to never be the case. We walked 36km that day. First looking for a camp spot on the farm section before Te Kuiti but then reaching a hill where we could see the town in the distance and deciding to rather continue on with the hope that we can also catch-up to some of the other hikers. Upon reaching Te Kuiti looking at the local campsite, which had unfortunately closed down. We were however offered a dry bed just next to it by some young working-holiday workers. Another long day ending with a dry bed, some fish-and-chips and a sugar rush from the local supermarket – sweet!
Te Kuiti is the last town to resupply for about 7 days through the King Country forests. In the morning we met up with Noam, our fellow Israeli hiker, echoing what we heard the previous day about the next part being washed away and dangerous to hike through. We decided not to take a chance and rather leap this one to the start of the Timber Trail, the second forest part.
The Timber Trail was one of the most enjoyable and beautiful parts of this section. The trail starts off with a steady climb towards the summit of Mt Pureora before reaching a plateau and connecting to a old tram track that takes you for the next two days down the mountain. We started the first part of the trail with a short 20km walk in the rain and mist to Bog Inn Hut, a hut with real character, build in 1960 with only four bunk beds and a fireplace. We arrived just after lunch and used the day to relax out of the rain. Most DOC back country huts works on a first come basis and we were lucky to be first on the day as we ended up being 6 hikers and having to share the sleeping space.
The following day was all downhill on the tram track. This helped us to be swift and make an even bigger record with 43km walked for the day. Along the way you see the impact of the timber industry on native forests post World War 2. With the economic boom in the late 1940s and 1950s there were a huge demand for housing which led to investment in forestry but also the devastation of native forests in the north island. For some hikers this was an uncomfortable scene to experience but we were really impressed how progressive New Zealand was to show you the truth of the industry and take you through the rehabilitation process. Moreover, we found it very fascinating how these old tramways had been turned into solid bicycle tracks. With current conservation policies in place future generations will be able to enjoy the forests almost as magnificent as it use to be.
We slept the second evening at one of the old timber camps (Camp No. 10) which was known as the coldest part in the forest. We experienced this through the night and our tents soaked with dew in the morning. With a late start we managed to finish the timber trail by lunch time. A local man had given Noam earlier some oysters and fish for us to cook at the campground before Timber trail. He had also invited us to go stay in his house in the next town, Taumarunui, after Timber trail. We decided to accept the invitation, and ended up having a great evening with his family. Also our Australian friend Dylan joined us again and we were ready for a 0-day to prepare ourselves for the next section which entail volcanic landscapes and a multi-day river section on canoes. We are quite excited!