Day 60 – 72 | 1700km Whanganui to the Wellington City – The End of the North
Greetings from Wellington – we have finished the North Island and its gorgeous, often strenious and very adventurous 1700 kilometres! We have so far walked further than Cape Town to Johannesburg and further than the length of Finland.
The journey since the Whanganui river has taken us on roads, over the notorious Tararua Ranges and through beautiful native forests. After having finished the river section, we met with a local man Tim who we had got to know at a marae by the river. He invited us to camp on his family property and took us to his home to shower and do washing before resupplying and heading back to the trail. He named our group a Waka Crew which refers to the canoes that are used on the river by the Maori.
After the river, we were excited and had well-rested feet, but little did we know about the amount of road walk ahead of us for the next couple of days!
The first day we did a short walk on the road and ended up camping in a rose garden next to the highway. Walking on the road is propably one of the worst things on the hike, it gives blisters, creates inflammation in your feet and mentally drains you. But on the other hand, often important reflection takes place when you are fighting the so called “road blues”.
The lovely rose garden was followed by a volcanic beach at Koitiata before Feilding. On the beach, we met local people camping with their mobile home that looked like a ship. They invited us for coffee and we ended up being interviewed for their news letter. (Link here: http://www.koitiata.nz/news/)
Despite all the tedious beach sections so far, we really loved this one, in fact so much that we decided to camp on the beach, rejoice in the sunset and the view of Mt. Taranaki across the bay.
The next morning the trail took us soon back to the road on which we tramped our last day of the year to a small nature reserve of Mt. Lees. We celebrated the change of the year and our hiker friend Kelvin joined us from Wellington. The man managing the place was also an international orienteering advisor so Hannele had lots to chat with him, as orienteering has its origins in Scandinavia. We have witnessed on our trails that kiwis truly love bush tramping in untouched forests whereas other nationalities often long for established paths. Also, many have come into a conclusion that Te Araroa is one of the toughest and most rigorous thru-hikes in the world. Most American fellow-hikers have mentioned that no hike in the US reaches this level of intensity. One other big factor is the unpredictable weather.
As we were tramping on the road to Palmerston North, we could see dark clouds building up in the distant Tararua Forest Park we were planning to enter the coming days. We were exhausted from the couple days of road walk and apparently it was obvious too – two ladies in an ice cream truck stopped next to the road and gave us free ice creams and milkshakes! That was definitely the highlight of the day – once again the trail angels arrived at the perfect time. In the previous town the only ice cream shop was closed when we passed it.
Once we got to Palmerston North, it started raining. As the weather was supposed to get worse on the following days and a big storm was building up, we decided to resupply early and get as far on towards the forest as we could. On that section, there was a lovely bike track where we camped next to a river. We swam and washed ourselves in the river, and as we got into the tent, the rain began. The next morning we ran into our fellow hikers on the 1500km mark which felt quite rewarding!
We pushed through Burtton’s track which passed a whare of James Burtton, a kiwi who lived in solitude in the forests in the early 1900s. He died at the age of 41 as his selfmade swing bridge collapsed. The story reveals, that before heading to hospital with his broken leg and other injuries, he first crawled home to feed his dogs. Later, he unfortunately passed away in the hospital.
When we got out of the forest, the dark clouds were still looming around. After reassessing the situation, we decided to hike into the next forest section and camp somewhere on the trail. Not long after, the sky ripped open and a massive thunder was on us for a very long time. We found a camp spot in the forest, where we camped the night before heading out of the forest. The next morning we were luckier with rain as we tramped to a Outdoor Pursuit Center but bigger news were awaiting – a cyclone and a sub-tropical storm right behind the corner. The couple running the Outdoor Center for youth and other groups are also known as trail angels. They update hikers on weather before the Tararua Ranges where good weather is essential. We were right in the eye of the storm and were advised to wait out one day for the worst to go pass but to head into the ranges before the second part hits. The ranges are only 45km in distance but can take from 3 to 6 days to complete, depending on the weather conditions. The previous week other hikers had tramped in snow – at alpine conditions this can be the case even in the middle of the summer.
After the 0-day, which we found very needed, we headed to the ranges up a steep ridge climb. On the ranges, there are huts every four hours which makes it nice to plan the hike acccordingly. The first day we had nice weather and reached the first hut before the afternoon wind and clouds kicked in. That night, we were a big group of hikers in the hut as many of us had been waiting for the weather to clear up. This meant the whole section on the ranges would be rather busy.
The next morning, we walked on the ridgeline climbing to an altitute of 1400 meters providing magnificent views over the ranges. We were amazed by the good weather we had gotten right after the storm! We hiked to Nichols hut which was right after a bushline hike on an open ridge saddle. At times, we could feel the adreline in the open and exposed sections. That night we were 10 hikers squeezed in a 6-man hut. This didn’t bother us, we were glad to have a roof on top of us for the night.
The next day the weather was even better. There was no wind as we summitted Mt. Crawford in the morning. We could see both Mt. Ruapehu and Taranaki standing in the distance. The view was beautiful and humbling.
A few kays after, we were back on the treeline where a rather steep descent began. It was tough for the knees and we had to be careful with every step we took. Eventually, we got down and were rewarded with a swim in a river next to a hut from where we tramped another 10km out of the ranges.
The ranges is definitely one of the toughest parts on the North Island, lots of climbing, ups and downs and the risk of rapidly changing weather conditions. We were grateful to have good weather, for one day after the second big storm hit the ranges and hikers were advised to skip the section and return later. We felt the bad weather as well on our last days before reaching Wellington, non-stop rain started making Hannele feel cold, but the miserable weather felt like nothing as we got to be reunited with a friend Hannele had last seen in New York. We also met with a Finnish lady who now lives in Wellington with her family.
We were quite ready for a few rest days to explore this artsy city – not to forget to prepare ourselves for the whole adventure ahead of us on the South Island!