Start: Te Matawai Hut (1,484km)
Finish: Parawai Lodge (1,515km)
Distance for the day: 31km
Cumulative distance: 1,515km
I ‘ran’ for just over 13 hours today, and covered the rather measly distance of 31km. The reason? I was crossing the pretty epic and wild Tararua Range. Everyone you talk to about this section of Te Araroa has a tail or two to tell with the common theme being poor weather, mud and some generally very challenging terrain. I wasn't disappointed.
The best analogy I can come up with doing a big route up in the Scottish Cairngorms (the elevation was similar here), taking in a load of Munros, but the mountainsides would be clad with thick, dense bush, with plenty of mud and marsh under foot.
So I'm pleased to say I completed the main ‘crossing’ in just over 24hours, setting off from the van after an early dinner last night at 6.30pm, and finishing tonight about 7.30pm. My first stop was at Te Matawai Hut around 15km in, located on a ridge at about 1,000m above sea level. It was a slow start – a slow 24 hours generally – battling the mud, tree roots and relentless climbing/ descending. I listened to a couple of podcasts to pass the time, but they ran out before I was done, then it was just the howling and whistling wind to occupy my mind. The forecast was for rain overnight, but thankfully it held off until after my arrival at the hut at around midnight. It was special making the climb by night under head torch, but not for the feint hearted. I passed a number of memorials to people killed in the mountains which made it hit home just how unpredictable and challenging this range really is.
Perhaps not surprisingly the hut was empty when I arrived and I was glad not to be disturbing, or spooking, anybody! I arrived, got a brew on, had some cake and then hit the sack. Soon after getting my head down, the heavens opened, and it was a wild and noisy night in the tin-roofed hut. I soon got used to the racket outside, and the tiredness kicked in, making for a pretty good night’s sleep in the end.
It was great to have a chunk of the range done and dusted at the start of the new day, but the late night walk-in by head torch meant I was pretty tired from the off. The going for the rest of the day was tough and slow, and certainly not helped by the high winds and cool temperatures. In the morning the cloud and mist constantly swirled around the mountain tops creating a wonderful atmosphere with constantly changing views (thankfully the bush line stopped at 1,000-1,200m). I decided to take a sensible pace, not forcing it too hard and thereby risking anything. It was definitely not the sort of place to be turning an ankle. I made a couple of hot food stops at the huts en route, trying desperately to fuel my body for all the hard work I was asking it to do. I've found that the dehydrated meals for two are just about enough for me, and taste pretty good, although they behave strangely once inside….! Each section seemed to take forever to complete as there was always something unexpected to negotiate but patience was definitely the key for the day which I managed to maintain until the last – bordering ridiculous – section of trail. It took me 3 hours to cover 11km – arrrrgggghhhhh!
The guys seemed relieved to see me at the end, and I was even more relieved to see them. There was a huge amount of focus required to keep going today, and the solitude / lack of substantial nutrition, was definitely taking it’s toll at the end. I needed people, a hot dinner and a bed, which was all there when I arrived back at the van.
It’s now 113km to Wellington which I hope to cover in the next day and half to allow the Cook Straight paddle to go ahead Saturday afternoon. No rest for the wicked….