Monday, January 30, 2012

Days 41-70 on the Te Araroa trail, dbbrad

dbBrad on the Te Araroa trail month 2. I'm changing my philosophy about hiking and what it means to stick to the trail and what it means to pursue a greater experience in New Zealand. For me now I'm doing the Te Ararao Freestyle.

dbBrad on the Te Araroa, freestyle!
Here are some pictures of days 41-70 which include brief descriptions of Te Araroa tracks from Pirongia, Pureora, Ruapehu up and over and the Whanganui river trip and encompass the period of Xmas and New Years. Enjoy!!
Two Mauri children who kept me company for a spell in the mustering town of Te Kuiti. Shown is the Shearing statue which the kids happily posed on before suggesting I give up a few coins each for their efforts!
I'm still averaging about 20k per day but took some time off during the holidays (Xmas and New Year's) as well as 10 days sick leave. Perhaps sick leave isn't the correct term as I wasn't getting paid, but I needed time to recuperate from my fall on Mt. Rupeahu.

During this period of hiking, after the first month, I made some changes to my 'rules of the trail' regarding hitch hiking. At times I think 'Te Araroa' is a fancy way of saying 'Tar-a-Road'

DOC shelter over an old tractor. I would love a job designing and building similar projects.
There's been a bit more road walking than I'd care for and while I desire to walk all the way across New Zealand, more important to me is to enjoy my time walking.

One of the many boardwalks in Pirongia Forest along the Te Araroa Trail.
For this reason I've skipped some of the long road sections one will find on the Te Araroa Trail between Auckland and Palmerston North in order to spend more time in Tongariro Park and along the Whanganui River. I've also used a few skipped road sections to generate time to heal after my fall.

The most I saw of Pirongia Park's topography due to cloudy conditions.
For me, dbBrad, I'm here in New Zealand to see the country, learn about the issues New Zealand faces ie. economic, social, cultural and environmental as well as to meet people. This is more important than feeding my ego with the notion that I hiked the entire Te Araroa Trail along busy and often dangerous road sections, some of which are major highways.

dbBrad along the Te Araroa trail next to a large log of beautiful wood, species to me unknown.
I'm being dedicated about hiking, and sticking to the plan is important, but also I've learned the importance of flexibility. To stop hiking to hitch a ride; have a conversation; study architecture; rest an injured or tired body; or to take a side trip to sightsee or surf adds interest and pleasure along the way.
Te Araroa Trail just north of Waitomo Caves. A beautiful section which is much steeper than it appears.
These little side trips are also part of why I'm here -- to see New Zealand and to meet the people. And they sure are more fun than getting wafted with dust and debris from passing traffic!

Phlip headed down very steep terrain with no formed trail along the Te Araroa trail.
Coupling side trips with hiking in the bush are the reasons I'm in New Zealand -- adventure, not road-walk. This newly revised hiking philosophy is what I call the Te Araroa Freestyle and the realization of the phrase 'hike your own hike'

On the Te Araroa Trail just north of Waitomo.
Day 41 to 44, Huana Range to Hamilton. Many dikes, called stop-banks in NZ, line the edges of the river and control the flow of water into the farm land used for agriculture and grazing. Much of this walk is along the river but a major road follows the river too. Sometimes you're hiking on a small strip of land between freeway and river but for the most part this was a very beautiful portion of the trip. During this section there are quite a few road walks and I started thinking that hitching these sections wasn't cheating so much as allowing time for the more pleasant and interesting hiking.

Nice structure of arched wood in compression and translucent tensile membrane at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.

Day 41 I hiked 26k and camped in a nasty little shack for duck hunters.

Day 42 I hiked only 11k, got very lost on one section and decided that with all the roads I'd take a ride. I ended up taking 2 rides totaling 11k and camping along a river slowly rising with the constant rain.

Day 43 I hiked 22k with a 5 k ride and ended up at a small town with a restaruant and bar which had a niftly little set of rooms above. I took a room and a shower and went downstairs for a very large plate of meat and potatoes and a couple of beers. This was New Year's Eve and the owner and one employee stayed late keeping the restaurant open and keeping me company. We all had a lovely small scale celebration.
Flore, Ludo and Graham, Te Araroa hikers 2012 as seen by dbBrad
Day 44 and 45 involved minimal hiking as I navigated by thumb from Ringiri down to Hamilton, and hiking only 8k through Hamilton on a lovely city walk. I ended up camping in an Arboretum on a very rainy night. I departed early the next morning and before I'd gone 2k met Grant Snodgrass, an older man who is a builder who invited me in for a cup of coffee. He reminded me very much of a good friend from NZ, Bennett White and I ended up staying the whole day visiting with him. He took me to the ocean and to Raglan falls. We ended the day with a BBQ at his son's new home. The next day he gave me a lift along the Te Araroa Trail, mostly roads, to the start of the Pirongia Forest Track, the next section of my journey.

Graham and dbBrad along the Te Araroa Trail.
Day 46 was only 8k after a great breakfast and leisurely morning with Grant. About half way up the steep trails I came across a woman, catching a brief view through the cloud, low and behold it was Phlip. We hiked together up to the first hut and though it was early, the weather was rainy and we both stayed the night with two other local young trampers.

dbBrad on suspension bridge between Waitomo and Te Kuiti
Day 47 Phlip and I hiked 30.3k and arrived at a clearing out of the forest up on a hill with a splendid view where we cooked and camped for the night.

New Zealand without the nut shell! Steep pasture, unlikely fences and grazing animals.
Day 48 hiked 28k down to Waitomo. Phlip and I separated at lunch but met up again in Waitomo. The Te Aroroa Trail takes a turn several k north of Waitomo and neither Phlip nor I were able to find it. The alternate route (the only trail we could find) descended down unused mountain bike tracks which were pleasant enough but not 'the track'. Camped in Waitomo after visiting the Glow Worm Cave entrance, which is a lovely piece of architecture. Another suprise in the evening was the return of Madeline, back from vacation with new gear. Her parents and brother came to visit her over the holidays and during their travels their camper van was broken into and Madeline's pack was stolen. This apparently only renewed her commitment to finish the trail.

Ludo and Flore, a cute French couple on the Te Araroa trail.
Day 49 I took off early to hike a difficult section to Te Kuiti. In front of me was an older gentleman in shorts whom I thought had on muck boots. I couldn't figure out how he was hiking so fast and then he stopped and climbed over a fence exactly where I was headed. It turned out to be Graham (with gators) who I'd met and hiked with in Auckland. At first we wandered around a pasture looking for the trail and low and behold, two more hikers from the Te Aurora, Ludo and Flore, appeared. They took the road while Graham and I took off together and hiked a steep and difficult 21k to arrive at Te Kuiti. This section of the trail was poorly marked and difficult to find and involved lots of steep terrain with no definitive trail. But also it went through a 'royal forest', through beautiful pasture and farmland, and across a suspension bridge. All in all a great day but a few more orange triangles would have been nice. In the end, Graham and I found a camp ground with two other trampers (Ludo and Flore already settled in a cabin) and before the night ended, along came Madeline and Phlip. It was like a little Te Araroa reunion! Six of us all together sharing stories of wet feet and disappearing trails!

A foot bridge over a bog near Bog in Hut, Pureora.
Day 50 (5k hiking and 55 hitching) was mostly a hitching day getting from Te Kuiti to the beginning of Pureora. This section of the Te Araroa Trail is mostly road walking with a few sections in the bush which rumor had were very overgrown and not very pleasant. Grant and I hitched separately but shared one ride and were then separated but met up again at the trail head. It was raining, hard, so we stayed in a lodge hunters use which had pictures of hunters and prized deer all around the walls and a ping-pong table in the middle.

dbBrad and a very large tree along the Te Araroa trail 2012
Day 51 I left Graham and hiked 20.5 k to arrive at Bog Inn Hut. As I entered, I did my usual, 'honey, I'm home' thinking no one was there. But as I walked through the door, low and behold Ludo and Flore were there. They had arrived the day before and stayed because of the hard rains. They had a fire going and the hut was warm and cozy and welcoming. I changed out of my wet clothes and into my damp clothes, hung what I could next to the fire to dry and had a great evening with these two lovely French hikers. Ludo and Flore are just so lovable.

Ludo and Flore at Bog Inn Hut (a hut more than an inn, near a bog)
ready to tackle another day of rain on the Te Araroa trail, 2012
Day 52 was still raining. Flore and Ludo had decided to vier off the TA trail and head towards the east on a more direct route to Tongariro and I continued on the TA path hiking 21k to arrive at Waihaha hut, a newer hut that was more like a mobile home than a cabin.

A note to future TA hikers, the distances on the maps throughout Pureora Forest are wrong, typically short by 10-15% as verified by my Garmin GPS.

Just a shot of one of the giant spider webs you're bound to walk into being the first one (or only one) on the trail.
Day 53, 14k to Hauhungarea Hut, set high up in a clearing on a ridge, is perhaps the cutest hut I've been to yet. It's got light colored wood paneling, a small stove with bunks along one side and a table in the corner. Lots of windows and a small stainless counter to cook on. Lovely. Less rain today, but not dry and sunny either.

dbBrad enjoying the spectacular view from Mt. Pirongia! Not!
Clouds, all clouds, Te Araroa trail 2012
Day 54 I got an early start and descended 13k down the mountain towards Taurmerunui where I then hitched a road section headed towards Tongariro. Along this section of the Te Araroa trail are the Blue Duck Track, closed, the Kakahi Connector, 19k of road and then traverse 42, 34 k of tramping along 4x4 tracks, which given all the rain, would be muddy and slippery. No thanks. I ended up getting a second ride from Nadine. Nadine lives on a sheep farm with her husband Tawhy. It was getting fairly late so Nadine and Tawhy invited me to stay for dinner and spend the night.

One of DoC's huts at the top of Pirongia, perhaps the nicest one I've seen yet
Hauhungeroa Hut, Pureora, TA trail, NZ, 2012.
Day 55 (81k hitched and 8k walked) I was pretty sick in the AM for some reason, so hung out and watched sheep being mustered, counted and sorted. Great fun. Tawhy gave me a ride down the road later to Takaanu near the southern end of Lake Taupo. From here, a German couple picked me up and dropped me off on lake Rotoaira Road where I started on the Tongariro Track. I hiked 9k up the track and camped off the trail by a waterfall. The weather was nice but during the night things changed.

Are the sheep coming or going, its hard to tell!
Day 56 I stayed put. I was commited to getting a view of the Tongariros and with all the fog, rain and wind that wasn't in the cards so I decided to wait another day. Before the end of the day, I'd had enough of the bad weather and walked to the hut where the ranger informed me a storm was coming (and I'd thought the storm was already here!) and I should stay in the hut. I walked back to camp, broke it down and gladly came to the shelter of a rigid structure.

A frog from a pond and a kid from a sheep farm
Day 57(9.5k) Still wanting to see the Tongariro crossing in good weather, I traveled a short portion of the northern circuit and stayed at Oturere Hut. The weather was again foul but afforded intermittent views of the local landscape.

Sheep everywhere during a muster and sort in preparation of sale.
Day 58 (22k) The weather is still really bad but I've given up on waiting as I'm running out of patience and food and have decided to do the 'Tongariro crossing' today anyhow. It was miserable, cold, rainy, with some sleet, and winds up to 120kph. I never saw the crater, the lakes, red crater or a any view whatsoever. I did, however, almost manage to achieve flight in the high winds. My rain pants were puffing up as was my jacket and with my back pack I must have had a slight wing shape because I could hardly keep my feet on the ground. I was hiking with one other individual (name unknown). We were the only two people to do the crossing on this stormy day. On good weather days there can be up to 2000 people making the crossing. The weather was so severe my hiking companion crawled on one section. Despite horrible conditions, we made it up and over and then down to Mangatepopo Hut where we had lunch and warmed up. From there I headed south on the Northern circut to Whakapapa village where I got a room in a ski resort lodge that doubles as a backpackers hostel and had a hot shower, jacuzzi and a wonderful meal.

Nadine and a puppy with dbBrad riding the 4 wheeler back to the house.
Day 59 Only hiked 6k but started at 1140 meters and climbed to 2797m to summit Mt. Ruapehu. Though I had endured crappy weather for several days waiting for a view, it seemed my luck had changed and I had an amazing evening up on the mountain. For more detail, go to posting 'Ruapehu up and over'

Ruapehu Hut above the clouds, dbBrad Te Araroa Freestyle
Day 59, tragedy strikes. Although I'd had an amazing climb and evening up on top of Ruapehu, I froze during the night in the little hut. Cold air was all around me and though the freezing level was supposed to be over 3000m, it dropped to below 2500m. Thus, the soft snow I hiked up on was like boiler plate in the morning and I could barely make my way across the summit. I hung out for an hour while the sun heated up the snow and then all was dandy. I worked my way over the saddle and decended in a counterclock wise fashion towards the southern end of the mountain and the Turoa ski resort above Ohakune. The sun was out and there were patches of snow I could glissade down. I was moving quite fast when I saw the terrain drop off in front of me and out of sight.

Summit of Mt. Ruapehu
Seeing the steep drop off I tried to stop but being on the south side of the mountain the snow was too hard and my arrest only succeeded in breaking my pole. I skidded over the edge and down a very steep slope, out of control, for about 50 meters, slamming into the rocks at the bottom. I had shredded my arm, my pants and severely impacted both legs ending up with bruises on my right buttocks and a very sore and dysfuctional left knee.

Beck Helicopters Bell UH1 Iroquois (Huey)

Barely able to walk, I make my way another 1.2 k down and around the mountain to the ski resort where construction crews were pouring concrete for a new ski lift. I talked to one of the guys who happened to be the right guy to talk to. His name was Jeff Beck and he was the owner of the helicopter I'd been watching fly overhead all morning as I decended the mountain. He not only gave me a ride down the mountain in the helicopter, but also drove me into Ohakune, took me to lunch and delivered me to a backpacker's hostel. Special thanks to Beck Helicopters and the construction crew for taking care of an injured tramper.

Days 61-63. The next day I followed through with my plan to canoe the Whangaui river with Ludo and Flore. I probably shouldn't have, but thinking sitting in a canoe for 3 days would help me heal, I did it anyhow. Following are pictures from the Whanganui canoe trip with Ludo and Flore from Whakahoro to Pipiriki.

steep mossy cliffs along the Whanganui river.
The Whanganui river is deep and moves a lot of water. The Te Araroa Trail follows this river from the Bridge To No Where down to the town of Whanganui where the river meets the sea.

dbBrad on the Whanganui river doing the Te Araroa, freestyle!
The section I did isn't the section of the Whanganui River suggested by the 'Te Araroa Trail literature, but it is, according to locals, a better section and worked out well given the convoluted nature of the trail linking Pureora, Tongariro, Whanganui and Palmerson North.

Flore and Ludo giving me directions!
Restricted from doing this canoe leg solo, Flore and Ludo invited me to join them for the 3 day journey. Of coarse, when they invited me to join them, they didn't know they were going to have to carry my barrels, cook my meals and launch my canoe because of my injuries!! They were very gracious, patient and are great fun to hang out with. Smiles, always smiles.

We thought we were all alone for a break along the Whananui river near the bridge to no where but, guess not!!
The first night we stayed at the John Coull Hut and got eaten by sand-flies. The second night we stayed at the Tieke Keinga Hut and though we thought the sand-flies were bad the night before, we were awakened to a whole new reality. Our socks were black with bugs which apparently had biters long enough to go through most clothing. Tenacious little buggers.
Flore learns quickly how to enjoy a canoe trip!
The trip was nice and relaxing but at the end I realized I wouldn't be able to join Ludo and Flore for the walk to Wanganui so I returned with the canoes to Ohakune where I sat on a couch and tried to heal my injuries for 3 days. (Days 63-65)
dbBrad on the Whanganui river, Te Araroa freestyle.
Day 66-70, injured more than I thought, I moved south to a town called Palmerston North along the Te Araroa trail where I could find a doctor. We were able to determine that nothing was torn and structurally my knee was stable, that the bruises would heal and that the second degree burns on my arm were healing okay. But I still was moving very slowly and was increadibly stiff so for the most part I hung out at the hostel and at UCOL, a school which interests me very much with their green building program.

Flore and Ludo--I told them not to follow me!!
Te Araroa free style is what I'm doing now. Always going south, always close to the Te Araroa Trail, but not afraid to make changes! Hike your own hike!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mt. Ruapehu up and over, dbBrad Te Araroa freestyle!

A very exciting 24 hours!

As I contemplate the weather, the terrain, the different legs of the Te Araroa and my ego, I'm slowly changing my rules of the Te Araroa. While I really want to hike the entire two islands, I'm just not keen on walking for 3 days on the road and then spending only 6 hours in a park like Tongariro. So I'm doing what I call
Te Araroa Freestyle!

Tongariro and Ngauruhoe courtesy of NZ tramping
So below is a quick version of my deviation from the Te Araroa trail and even from Tongariro Park 'around the mountain' track as I do a solo up and over of Mr. Ruapehu.

At the top of the ski resort above Whakapapa I get the only view of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe that I'll see on this trip. Never did see the top of the mountain-guess I'll have to watch 'Lord of the Rings' again since it was filmed there!
For 3 days I sat up at about 15oo meters waiting for the weather to break. It had to. I was determined to get a view of something after weeks in the midst of mist!
Somewhere in Pirongia park is this rock. Intense fog and rain defined my tour of the park but I borrowed this image from New Zealand Tramper.
Having just spent 3 soaking wet days in Pureora which followed a wet and anti climactic tour of Pirongia where no view was ever to be had, I was banking on a change in weather. It just had to get better!

Tongariro mountain from below. Looking at the steam from Ketetaki side.
The weather changed, from bad to worse. Gale force winds, sleet, white out conditions and lots of rain. On the second night I decided on a hut. Bored, I traveled 10k to another hut for the third night. The weather still didn't break.
dbBrad and snow on the Te Araroa trail freestyle version.
So I did the Tongariro crossing in 120kmp winds and 10meter visibility. Didn't see a darn thing. I had a hiking partner for the day and he did the kiddy crawl (hands and legs) for about 200 meters across the top in an effort not be blown off the mountain.

dbBrad up in Tongariro Park and can't see a darn thing.
Soaking wet, cold and tired after 3 days of mother nature's wrath, I headed down to the ski lodge in Whakapapa and got a room, a hot shower and a warm bed and a home cooked meal. I ate pork roast...and then threw up at 2 oclock in the morning. Joy! I did get a free breakfast out of it!

Mr Ruapehu summit and Crater Lake.
The next morning I awoke to crystal clear skies but by the time I got my camera and a cup of coffee the clouds had rolled in. I lingered in the warm halls that morning and about 11am I was in the lobby, backpack on, looking at a poster of the mountains when in walked Helen.

Hut in January at top of Ruapehu.
Helen was headed up the road, had mountain knowledge and being a guide, was current on the weather conditions. It looked like clearing was in the cards so I decided I'd head to Ohakune via the top of the mountain and down the other side.

Ruapehu hut, frozen with high winds and mist. Jan 2011, Te Araroa freestyle.
At 3pm I started hiking up the Whakapapa side of Mt. Ruapehu and arrived on top about 6:30. My luck had finally changed!!

Ruapehu summit as seen from the hut.
The clouds broke during the hike exposing views of the other mountains and the valley below. Stunning, beautiful and magical.

Ruapehu summit in January as seen from the hut.
I decided to camp out on top of the mountain and over the course of the evening the clouds filled in leaving me the only one in New Zealand with my head above the clouds. I could see several hundred kilometers in every direction and nothing but clouds, not even the other near by mountains.

Ruapehu hut above the clouds.
And that's where I slept. Right on top of the mountain. In the middle of the night the stars were amazing. The sky was clear of clouds and the temperatures were cool, very cool and the air was crystal clear.

Ruapehu sunset as seen from the hut
As it turns out, the freezing level was a bit lower than expected. The snow that was soft and a bit slushy the evening prior was hard as a rock in the morning. I ended up postponing my decent for an hour and a half and had a cup of tea while the sun softened up the snow.

Beck helicopters does all the precision air lifting for low impact construction sites like the one at the ski resort above Ohakune. Thankfully Steve the owner was on site and volunteered his son in law, the pilot, to drop me off down the mountain.

But after that is was a fast decent. glissading and rock hopping down and around the mountain towards Ohakune, or at least towards the ski resort above. Perhaps I was going a bit too fast and not paying attention to the mountain around me because all of a sudden the snow just dropped off in front of me.

dbBrad 7 days after a fall on Ruapehu. Bumped but (no pun intended) okay!

I tried to arrest my slide and broke my pole. I tried again and broke it again. Unable to get a purchase on the hard snow I slid down the mountain at 25-30kph and slammed into the rocks at the bottom. I got up slowly and found myself very sore, bleeding in a few areas and unable to move my left leg. Somehow I managed to work my way another k around the mountain to where Beck Helicopters were pouring concrete for a new ski lift and Steve Beck, owner of the company and helicopter, gave me a ride down the mountain.

Special thanks to Helen the guide and Steve the Helicopter owner and all the amazing Kiwis I've met who have helped to make this trip special.