"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…


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