My birthday on the Te Araroa had everything from rain and mud to mountains and sun but it may have come at the price of my partner.
The wind, the rain, the sun, the mud, all made for exciting days in the Tararua Ranges!
DAY 46 – Mangahao Road to Te Matawai Hut
I woke up to a water drop falling on my face. My tent seams were no longer waterproof and the duct tape I used as a bandaid must have failed. It wasn’t raining hard but it was still irritating. Reluctantly I packed up my soaked tent and hit the trail with Tom.
The water level in the reservoir we’d camped next to seemed to have doubled; it had rained a lot overnight. We walked the road in the cold morning trying to stay warm. Soon we entered the forest and the trail was all mud.
The rain never ceased as we climbed up a mountain. It was slow and difficult. Of course there was no view. The descent was quick but we were dragging.
At the bottom we followed some streams and then had to cross them over and over and over again. At first I tried to keep my shoes dry and succeeded. I lost one of my water bottles as I crawled across a slippery log, high above a fast stream; it fell right out and floated away, full of potable water.
Tom was having a miserable time. I was managing but it wasn’t fun. We waded through a few ankle deep streams and at least it cleaned the mud off our shoes.
This was not the way I wanted to spend my birthday, hiking in the mud and rain. But we had to push on; Christmas was a week away and we’d already made plans in Wellington and the South Island. We had to get to Wellington and finish the North Island quickly. The only problem was the Tararua Ranges ahead. They are a large mountain range with challenging terrain and high elevation.
We stopped at an outdoors center that catered to hikers. The rain seemed to have finally stopped and we were able to sit and have lunch. Tom surprised me with some birthday candy. Maybe the day was turning around.
The man at the center printed the weather forecast for the Tararua Ranges. We were about to head into them and the weather wasn’t looking good. The trail is only 45km (28mi) through the Tararuas but it’s said to be extremely tough. One 7km (4.3mi) section can take hikers 5-7 hours to complete. We hadn’t budgeted this slow pace in our itinerary to get to Wellington for Christmas.
Tom was also not feeling well. His feet and whole body in general were in pain. Our aggressive hiking pace wasn’t sustainable. With severe weather forecast up in the mountains, he opted to take a break at the outdoors center.
And so we split up and planned to meet in Wellington. Tom would simply skip this mountain range because and do what he could at his pace before beginning the South Island. I set off down the road at a clip; I had a big afternoon ahead.
The skies seemed to be clearing as I entered the official track into the Tararua Ranges. The sign at the start warned hikers to be prepared for the changing weather, high altitudes, and not to hike alone…oops. Now that Tom was gone I didn’t really want to die in solitude on my birthday. It was 2pm when I started and I only had 13km (8mi) to hike to the first shelter. I’d be fine…so I thought.
The track was easy at first, climbing gently above a stream. It was beautiful and I was slowly drying out from the damp morning. There was still mud everywhere but I was good at dodging it.
After I crossed the stream on a suspension bridge high above, the climbing began. And it was exhausting. In the morning I had been soaked with rain, now I was drenched in sweat.
The climbing was as difficult as the White Mountains on the Appalachian Trail, except here there was mud everywhere. I hiked slowly but surely upward. Hours passed and my pace was a crawl.
Eventually I reached the tree line and finally got some views. The sun had come out and it was beautiful. I could see the mountains and the Tasman Sea. Maybe my birthday was turning around after all.
The track then descended steeply and I finally failed at dodging the mud. I stepped ankle deep in some mud which was irritating because now my shoes were filthy and there were no streams to walk through at this height.
The last few kilometers were tough. I hit a wall and was so exhausted. I had to ascend up to the shelter but I was so tired. This was by far the hardest day on the trail.
I arrived at the Te Matawai Hut around 8pm. This hut was completely enclosed with a main room and a bunk room. Four other hikers were in the bunk room already asleep though there was an hour of daylight left! I ate my usually dinner of ramen noodles and potatoes and a chocolate bar. I lit a candle in the hut for my little birthday celebration.
What a day. What a way to spend a birthday! I wish Tom could have enjoyed the views up here but it’s probably a smart decision for him to skip this section. The temperature is expected to drop with gale-force winds in the coming days and of course more rain. I am actually worried about the temperature because my rain gear doesn’t keep me completely dry. So it’s dangerous if I’m at high altitude in cold temperatures and wet with the windchill. Though the terrain is extremely tough, I’m hoping the morning will be rain-free and I can push as hard as I can. I’d like to finish the Tararua Ranges in two days to beat the bad weather (they recommend 3-6 days). Pray for me!
Day’s Distance: 33km (20.5mi)
Total Distance: 1,550km (963.3mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,450km (901.2mi)
DAY 47 – Te Matawai Hut to Parawai Lodge
I woke up in the hut, not wanting to move. I wish I could’ve stayed in my sleeping bag but I knew I had a big day ahead. With severe wind and possible rain coming in the afternoon, I wanted to get the high peaks out of the way and get out of the mountains.
Two Scottish hikers, Steven and Ewan, were packing up and left ahead of me. It was cloudy and cold outside so I wore my long sleeves and my rain jacket.
The climb was hard as I ascended into the sky. It was nonstop climbing up and up. The clouds were so thick I kept thinking I was at the top, only to slowly see another rise materialize out of the mist. Occasionally I would get a brief view.
The morning went on like this until I summited Pukematawai at 1,432m (4,698ft). It had been an exhausting climb. Of course no views.
I hiked steadily onward to another hut where I had snacks with Steven and Ewan. I couldn’t believe they were hiking without trekking poles! My knees needed them to take the weight off my legs, especially on the downhill. I put on my rain pants to keep my knees warm and put on my winter gloves for the first time on the trail.
From there it was another climb to the next hut. I passed through beautiful moss covered forest. Everything was so green!
At the next hut turn off, I debated not stopping. It was actually quite a descent to the hut that I’d just have to climb back up again. But my body needed the break.
I met up with the Scots again and ate some chocolate. I was too tired to make real food and the next and final peak was ahead. My guide warned that the weather can be severe in this part. I was anxious because the forecast had predicted strong winds rising to gales in the afternoon. I wanted to get this done so I could get down the mountain to safety; the following day’s weather would be worse.
I set off into the clouds once more. I was a bit cold at first but the climb warmed me up. The wind began to gust so I turned my music up louder to drown it out. There’s something foreboding about climbing a mountain above tree line in high winds.
The climb wasn’t so bad. I had some new energy or the chill of the wind made it easier. The wind did rise to become quite strong and nearly knocked me over a few times.
I was up on a ridge climbing steadily. At last I reached the summit of Mount Crawford at 1,462m (4,796ft). There was no sign or view but I knew this was it. Very anticlimactic.
From there I followed the ridge and was exposed to extreme winds. It was a bit scary but I knew it was all downhill from here! It seemed to take a long time but at last I reached the cover of the forest.
It was a steep descent down and down and down. It had taken most of the day to get this far. By 5pm I reached a nice shelter by the river, nearly at sea level. Ewan and Steven were there with some other hikers. I was utterly exhausted.
After shoveling down some wraps I decided to hike on. The forecast rain had not come yet but I knew it would be worse tomorrow. The others thought I was crazy for hiking onward.
Off into the woods I went for ten more kilometers. It was mostly easy now, meandering through the woods. It would get dark so I hiked quickly, dodging mud everywhere. I had this renewed energy on the easy terrain.
I thought how amazing the body is. I can’t believe all the things I’ve put my body through and it perseveres and heals itself. My knees hurt from all the downhill but my body just keeps going, even when it would be better to rest. I also wondered, though the body can handle all I put it through, why do I do it? Why am I out here hiking? It’s definitely not fun trying not to get blown off a mountain. Maybe it was those brief thrilling moments or the challenge of doing something so crazy. Maybe I’m trying to prove that I can do it. I still don’t completely know why I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail and here I am on the Te Araroa Trail.
The trail was quite pleasant for the most part as it grew dark. There was a point where it followed an old tramline and the tracks were still there in places.
At dusk I crossed a river and eventually made it to the Parawai Lodge shelter. Some Americans and Germans were inside but not asleep yet. We chatted a bit as I about collapsed. The Germans had attempted the Te Araroa but quit after Ninety Mike Beach and were now just traveling around. It was so nice to be in a shelter and not a tent! With huge storms coming in the morning I was so happy to have made it this far and survived the Tararua Ranges…and in only two incredibly hard days (they recommend 3-6 days)!
Day’s Distance: 30km (18.6mi)
Total Distance: 1,580km (982mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,420km (882.5mi)
In the video from the trail, I reached Mount Crawford after a hellish climb and thought, “is that all there is to a mountain?” Here’s Peggy Lee’s hit:
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