"Steep, hilly and arduous"…

These are not the words you necessarily want to read over breakfast as you peruse the trail notes for the day ahead.  The description however seems to have been the order of the day lately as we walked south from Auckland to Waitomo. 

The last 11 days have seen us tramp through many dense and mountainous forests which makes for a beautiful but exhausting challenge.

For days the trail has been a medley of steep forested ridges, thigh busting ascents and knee jarring descents, kilometres of muddy bog forcing you cling onto rotting trees whilst you hoist yourself around from one grass tussock to the next, trails so overgrown with head high ferns that you dont see the trail so much as sense there should be one there (and all the while hoping you dont trip over a hidden log or fall down a step), trees snagging your hair and pack, vines looping themselves around your ankles as you try to walk forward, slippery tree roots where you put all of your energy into pushing up to the next rock only to find that your lower foot slides futilely over the roots below leaving you no further forward but exhausted from the effort.

I’m not bad at an endurance challenge.  When we got lost in the Hunua Ranges for a tramping marathon that saw us escape the forest 13 hours later at 9pm with no water left between us, one of my French hiking buddies commended me on my calm and steady pace and attitude – “Always fresh.  You always look like you’ve just started out for the day”.

Whilst hiking for two days over the Pirongia Traverse, a seemingly never ending rollercoaster through dense and tree-rooted forest I crouched and crawled under a peaty log, sending a shower of dirt down the back of my neck, mixing with sweat and sticking to skin to rub under my pack’s shoulder harness.  I gritted my teeth and tried to summon something philosophical like ‘this too shall pass’…

But yesterday’s 11 hour traipse through the Mahoe Forest nearly broke me.  Once more I found myself bashing trough vines and overgrown tracks, one arm bloodied from the prickly gorse I pushed through.  Vines with tiny spikes latched onto my skin and ferns caught on my hair.  In places the narrow off-camber track, barely wide enough for one boot’s width, was overgrown and often required you to climb over fallen trees – a huge energy sap.  As I was slapped in the face by a tree for the umpteenth time, and slid and fell over onto rocks and roots I have to admit to a few tears of frustration and utter exhaustion.

Maybe its the forest, maybe its because I hadn’t had a day off in 11 days, maybe its my limited hiker diet not providing sufficient fuel, but it was a challenging day and I could have kissed the road when we finally reached it!

Today is a much needed rest day in Waitomo and tomorrow we head further south again, edging closer to the volcanic desert of Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu.

The ups and downs of the trail, both metaphorical and actual, continue…


Not crazy but not lazy…

It’s an interesting observation when you realise that your body has started to accept its new routine of walking all day…every day.  I remember before leaving home reading other hiker’s blogs, talking of walking huge days of 40km and thinking to myself “Pff….well I won’t be doing that any time soon thank you very much!”  But within the first few weeks I found myself having done a 40km day and it actually wasn’t that difficult.

Before this journey the longest I had ever walked in one day was 30km (without a pack).
Before this journey the longest I had ever hiked with a pack was 65km (over 5 days!).  
And now I find myself in Auckland having hiked over 500km, still with a few thousand odd to go.  Best not to think about it….

The last few weeks have seen me trek a lot of the northern east coast of New Zealand, along beaches and coastal cliff top paths, past beautiful little coastal bays with dotted with dream homes and ‘baches’ (the New Zealand beach or holiday home), across muddy estuaries, and through a few more muddy forests.  In the past when I’ve thought of New Zealand the mind conjures images of impressive snow capped mountains and wilderness.  I had not realised there were so many beautiful blue swimming beaches and lush flower filled coastal settlements as well.

Coastal walking is lovely but does require some planning to avoid high tides, and in places the official route requires that you coerce a local boatie into giving you a lift across a harbour or river which does add an element of vagueness to the schedule. 

It was a weird feeling drawing closer to Auckland, hiking the northern beaches, flanked by amazing houses and filled with Sunday beach-goers.  I picked my way through swinsuit clad bodies smelling of scented sunscreen and perfume, with my huge pack on, still with mud from the Dome Forest caked to the bottom of my pants. 

Over the last month I have bumped into perhaps 15 other hikers on the trail.  Everyone has their own goals and plans with a few planning to religiously hike every kilometre of the trail, a few choosing to hike the ‘interesting’ bits and skip the road sections, and others who are limited by time just doing one island.  Some are on a mission to hike from dawn to dusk, whilst for others its more a journey of meeting as many interesting people as they can and accumulating experiences.  To quote one of the guys I have been hiking with for the last week, our pace is ‘not crazy, but not lazy’.  Generally I’ve been on the trail between 8-9.30am, and setting up camp between 5-7pm, with a rest day every 6 days or so.  My feet have reached a point where the ‘cankles’ have subsided, and blisters no longer require daily taping.  Pain is a daily occurrence but you learn to live with it and focus on the good bits.

It is difficult to maintain a rhythm long term that exactly matches other hikers, so from Auckland I will venture forth on my own.  Time to study the maps and see what I can expect from the next few weeks!

Until then…