Monday, 28 October 2013

Days 56-59: Where did the days go?

Day 56. Given the kick-ass speed of the day before, we awoke confident that we would blaze through to Whanganui, even with a late start timed to catch an outgoing tide for the tidal section of river (20 km inland, we were told). A rare opportunity to sleep in! We got going around 10.30 and soon found the tide timings were a bit off from the coast timing, and a squally headwind with lashings of rain worked against us. Pretty soon we were low on energy, and I for one was getting grumpy!
We missed our rendezvous with the canoe hire guys by almost an hour, so wet, bone-chilled and a bit dispirited we landed in Whanganui. However things were soon on the up after finding a hammock spot at the Tamara backpackers who also offer a discount for TA walkers. Dinner and wine and I was feeling MUCH better!

Day 57. A beautiful morning!
Hope the pic didn't scare you folk too much. Anyway- I was soon off to the market in Whanganui with Chris, where I found some foot ointment, pies etc. Pizza was offered for free after the guy found out I was walking for charity, which was very nice! A bit of resupply shopping including new socks and I was ready to go. Bila was a bit late to the meeting point (uncharacteristic for a German?), but I was happily ensconced in a pub overlooking the rendezvous point so didn't much care. It was a speedy road walk that afternoon to Turakina, and 'trail magic' in abundance! 
On the way into the town I asked a lady at Turakina Antiques and Collectables if the camping ground on the beach was open...she promptly invited us to stay at her place on the beach! At the turnoff to the beach a bloke came running over with cold Heineken beers, and we had quite a yarn with Eamon, girlfriend Rose and their friends who were celebrating a child birth.   We finished the day by walking to the beach to find Shona and Ian's place to take them up on their offer of accommodation.
Shona and Ian were amazing, very welcoming and fed and looked after us, all the while entertained by their resident dogs Emily and Blue. Their house is special, built by Ian and crammed with antiques and knickknacks. So it was a wonderful end to a great day!

Day 58. Our hosts took us to see a talented friend who owns the 'Red Bach Gallery' just down the way, and just to prove how well-connected we are as a country Barbara recognised me as a mandolin player as her talented daughter BB plays banjo (although where exactly she ran into me remains a bit of a mystery, at least to me!). Barbara is great with metal:
And the house next door captured my imagination- design ideas for the future perhaps...
We said our farewells to Ian and Shona, Blue and Emily (thanks a bunch, guys!) and started off for Santoft forest.
As much as I tend to dislike beach hiking, I loved this one! 
We ran into Barbara again, this time on the beach as she was picking up some rimu.
The kilometers raced by, we were soon into the forest...
...and heading for Bulls.
I called Dad on the way into Bulls as he lives nearby, so we secured another bed for the night, and after some discussion we decided to rest at the farm on Labour Day too. 

Day 59. Some detailed planning today, and it is clear I will be in Wellington about a week after I had originally intended. Not that I mind too much, weather delays etc taken into account I feel like my progress has been pretty good. Scotty and Adi dropped in on the way South, which was a fun catchup, but I missed seeing my brother and his girlfriend by only a few days. All in all, a lovely relaxing day here, with mostly settled weather to get ready for a big walk to Palmerston North tomorrow and the journey to my hometown. I can't wait!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Days 54-55: Raetihi to Pipiriki; By river to Downes Hut

Day 54. We spent a comfortable night at Catherine's Windmill Mountain Lodge, and the next day she invited the lads to help with feeding the calves and lambs...
The guys seemed to enjoy the experience! The St Bernard's were in a feisty mood this morning too.
But we have kilometers to do, so Catherine took us back to Raetihi township where she picked us up the night before.
BTW, anyone looking for a bus renovation project?
In no time we were on the road to Pipiriki.
There were slips in evidence everywhere, which had me thinking about the state of the river when we got there! Pity about the pub access, eh.
Six hours of walking and an hours-worth of rest breaks and we cruised in to Pipiriki, definitely footsore and looking for a place to sleep. 
Despite not having suitable hanging spots, we settled on a very reasonably-priced campsite with Whanganui River Adventures. We wanted to test and adjust our ground camping setup anyway! So the three of us constructed palatial sleeping abodes with our tarps, and then critiqued each other's handiwork.
Turns out Bila is carrying THREE tarps, one is blue PVC, one is rubberised nylon, and the third is canvas!!!! Why am I not surprised, Samwise/honeypot aka pack mule? I suggested he part with perhaps two of them at the nearest post office/flea market.
I made a simple leanto. 
Chatting with Josephine and Ken, it seems like we can easily get to Whanganui from here in two days! So we may well be there by Friday to get walking to Palmerston North. 

Day 55. Rained last night, my gear and inside of my tarp is bone-dry unlike the lad's tarps- I win! Excited about getting on the river, we met Simon from Canoe Safaris at 9 am. A relaxed briefing and we were in the water, aiming for Downes hut by the evening. After the first hour it became obvious we were going at a fast pace- about 8-10 kph (fast compared to walking).
Frodo and Sam on the river...
You can see the water damage from the flooding of the previous week everywhere! Including about half-a-dozen canoes/kayaks strewn on the banks. No sign of the occupants, but I assume everyone was safely accounted for.
The landings weren't easy to find (were there signposts to Jerusalem, for example? None now!), but we pulled up on a bank for a leisurely lunch stop.
Boys being boys, Chris and Bila decide to construct a sail. This is deployed soon after lunch, much to my amusement as they went side on to the flow and got a bit tippy. Happy they didn't capsize though as they have my pack onboard!
By 3 pm we were at Downes Hut, its red-painted walls visible even though it sits back a bit from the river on a high bank.
A DOC signpost shortly after alerted us to a landing.
We dragged our boats up a silty bank which also appeared contaminated by motor oil. Probably from the floods from last week! The hut was cozy, the only problem being an empty water tank. Water restrictions til Whanganui, lads!
Firewood battoned, a local stream investigated, and a nana nap for me. High tide tomorrow will be at 3 pm, so we have to time our run in for that... Sleep in and lolly gagging is now officially allowed, otherwise we will waste time and energy later. Won't get on to the river  until 11 am. I'm hoping the post office will be open on a Saturday!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Days 52-53: Zero Day in National Park; Road walk to Raetihi

Day 52. Spent today planning the river section, alternatives and talking with DOC, local guides and other knowledgeable people as the recent weather effects have closed three of the tracks and the Great Walk section of the river til at least Sat. I definitely did not want to sit around for the rest of the week, so we organised to get in the water at Pipiriki and out at the Top 10 holiday park in Whanganui. But this meant a two day approach march via Raetihi on SH4- about 63km all up. We reviewed our recent walking pace and decided it was doable. Time to carbo-load!
After a spot of sunbathing and drying out feet and shoes, we teamed up with Belgian Jeff who we met at Mangatepopo hut to get dinner sorted. The shopkeeper wished us well, hoping we would 'dine like kings' tonight- we should, we paid enough for the groceries! :-)
A large spaghetti bolognaise with fresh salad, red wine and convivial company made for an excellent meal and night chatting with other travellers attracted to the noise and possibly the free-flowing wine. Backpackers can be a bit hit-and-miss with the company, but the YHA today was awesome!

Day 53. After leftovers for breakfast we pointed our noses South and got moving... Today I hooked myself up to my iPhone to get some musical inspiration, thanks to my daughter using my iTunes account I have a new appreciation of Taylor Swift and Pink. Thinking ahead I also bought some walking music (old school rock).... And boy did the kilometers fly by!
36 kms in 7 hours, including a 45 min lunch break. Comes with optional blisters and old man shuffle the next morning.
On the way a lady let us know her place was available for accommodation, and she would pick up and drop off back in Raetihi town centre. We did a spot of shopping and chatting to some locals at a cafe and pub, and I even ran into an Army buddy who plied us with food (thanks Matt, and special mention to Liz for her awesome homemade fruit slice!). In short order Catherine drove in after hanging a cow, and we were crammed into her ute with two St Bernard's (thankfully the cow was in the butcher's truck). The cottage (windmill mountain lodge) turned out to be perfect- lots of beds, hot water, fireplace, and we even got homemade banana cake to eat while watching Top Gun on an old school video.
A happy ending to a hard road walk, with more to follow tomorrow! 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Day 51: Mangatepopo to National Park

It was beautiful, chilly morning that greeted us this morning... Definitely something else to walk amongst these mountains!
It was a short walk into Whakapapa village where we hit the Visitor center for an update in the Whanganui River and tracks, a bite to eat at a cafe, and I dropped by the Whakapapa Holiday Park to have a chat to Garth who has been following my blog and has some excellent local knowledge- he's been keenly following TA trampers since Geoff, so he was a good guy to talk to, and has some basic supplies available too. Lots of trees for hammockers, but we planned to press on to National Park. Not before I got a pic of the Chateau for my Grandma though, as we have a family connection with this hotel!

The forest and alpine bog was spectacular all the way down to Mahuia campsite, and we had fun despite the soggy/underwater track.
Seemingly in no time we were at SH47, so after a quick meal we did the small road walk to National Park to find a backpackers. Tomorrow we will try to sort out the next leg- still hopeful of minimal delay before canoeing down the Whanganui... If that doesn't pan out, looks like a long road walk!

Days 49-50: Tongariro Crossing

Day 49: The Cokers track took us til the morning to finish and to get to SH 46/47, we stopped briefly at the Tongariro holiday park to eat lunch and refill water before pressing on to the Ketetahi car park. 

Lots of visitors there waiting for their bus transfer home, noisy and I wasn't keen to hang around... Besides the hut on this side is still closed after getting hit by a rock from the eruption last year. So we stealth camped in a forest nearby... 
And it was a pleasant afternoon!
It was supposed to be overcast with drizzle the next day, but I think that weather blew in early- rain during the night.

Day 50. I was up a little earlier so headed up before the lads.
With someone to chase they made good time and ran me down at Ketetahi hut. Aside from the cold wind, it was a brilliant day! And here's why the hut is closed.
...and the 'smoking gun'...
There were literally bus loads of visitors on the mountain today, but that made for some fun exchanges along the way to the craters and lakes.
The familiar terrain had me happily gambolling down the mountain!
Meanwhile Chris and Bela re-enacted Frodo and Sam's journey to Mt Doom...
Mangatepopo hut was near full when we got there, and a steady stream of travellers meant it was a bit of a squeeze. Mostly international guests, so the usual Kiwi sharing of bed space went by-the-by, but everyone found some floor space somewhere. A Kiwi family kindly shared their wine with me, and the lads got some beautiful fresh lamb! Met Dave from somewhere near Palmy, and had some entertaining discussions about the Camino (he has walked it twice, including starting in France). All in all, a fun night and it was easy to fall asleep despite the numbers!