Start: Mavora Lakes Road (2,797km)
Finish: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Distance for the 2 days: 127km
Cumulative distance: 2,924km
Distance to Bluff: 130km
This trail is making me work for my kilometers right to the last, as it has done all the way. It would be a real mistake to let my guard down at this stage and think that the final few hundred kilometers would be a run in.
My run down the Mararoa River Track yesterday morning is a good example. Gem joined me and we set off bright and breezy at 6am, just catching first light and then a sky coming to life with simply amazing shades of red and purple. I’ve learnt already from my time on the trail that riverside trails usually spell trouble, and so this track proved to be a complete nightmare. It was marked by orange topped poles which were difficult to spot due to the height of the undergrowth. The river bank rose and fell regularly and the terrain varied from bog to rutted pasture to thistles to long grass, and my patience wore think very quickly, particularly from the amount of barbed wire fences to be negotiated. It was clear that very few through hikers use the track, instead opting to follow the gravel road running parallel around a kilometer to the side. If I had not been so focused on following the trail to the tee in order to set a completely legitimate record, then I would have been on the road too! The first 18kms took nearly 4 hours – thank goodness for the early start. The remainder of the river track wasn’t quite so bad, and by lunchtime I had made it to Princhester hut, the trailhead for a penultimate ‘hard tramping’ section across the rugged Takitimu Mountains.
James fed me like a king to set me off all charged up, but I left the team feeling a little emotional, probably just from the knowledge of what was up ahead, hard tramping usually meaning super rough terrain, and that was exactly what came. The guide book described new, unformed trails through rolling forests and tussock ridden open ground. The DoC trailhead signage didn’t look too promising either describing the 40km section I was tackling as taking 30 hours, or over 3 days. I was aiming for well under 24hours including and overnight stop from a 2pm start. I made good progress to start with, covering the first 17km to Aparima Hut in 4.5hours. From there a new 13km untracked but well signed forest section followed which the sign said would take 8 hours. I certainly wanted to be into the next hut before midnight so no time to lose.
I set off briskly, hoping to get as much distance under my belt as possible before dark. It was painfully slow going, no chance of anything more than a fast hike, and it required real concentration to pick the orange waymark arrows fixed to the trees, particularly with no ground trail line to follow. However it was a lovely evening to be out moving through the woods under the beam of a head torch, and thankfully it was mild too. I decided to call it a day at the next hut, Lower Wairaki, arriving about 11.30pm. I had been on the go for 17.5hours, covering a huge amount of knarly terrain including a health 30km into the section, so it would be a well deserved, albeit short, rest. I was running the section on a daypack only, so my kit for the overnight stay in the hut was rather limited, but I managed to cobble together a set up of a warm baselayer, my running shorts, Compressport leg and calf guards, some lightweight waterproofs and a foil emergency survival bag. With a bunk and matress in the hut, it was perfectly adequate. I even had some leftover cheese and ham sandwiches from the day to chobble on before bed!
I slept fairly soundly in short bursts, occasionally waking from the moisture build up in the foil bag – not the most breathable sleeping bag! So I switched in and out of it whenever it became uncomfortable, and I just about kept warm enough to stay comfortable. I set the alarm for 5.40am and was on the trail for 6.00am. I had a final 16km section - with a stiff climb to a summit of 1,000m+ - ahead before the meeting point with the guys at Rock Hut. That was my proper breakfast stop, and an approach which always focuses the (my) mind! The heat was building early, and I didn’t really want to stop to refill the my hydration sack (and treat the water) so again all the focus was on getting the to the meeting point as quickly as possible. They had camped there overnight and it was certainly comforting to see them and be ‘out’ of the section, and the reward of a hot (dehydrated) breakfast and cereal made the effort well worthwhile. The rest of today has involved a mixture of tracks and trail types in a much more gentle, rolling, setting, albeit with plenty of knarly Te Araroa sections thrown in. We’re seemingly now out of the alpine terrain and the hills are gradually mellowing down towards the south coast. Today, from the summit on the Takitimu Track, I caught my first glimpse of the south coast ocean. That view certainly helped draw me along over the course of the day…. To the west we have far reaching views to the mountainous Fjord land but I’m quite relieved to be skirting that lot.
So with just 130km to go, I have one final test ahead of me – the Longwood Forest. It’s more ‘hard tramping’ so undoubtedly final test of mental strength, particularly as I will be in the forest for the most part of the day (50km), and Te Araroa has definitely given me forest fever. The twisting trails, the tree roots, the boggy bits, the stream crossings, the spiky plants, the scrapes and scratches from the sharp dead branches – it all adds up to mental torment in the forests. Anyway, that’s tomorrow to look forward to! The good news is that when I pop out the other side, I will be on the south coast, and then it’s a flat-ish coastal traverse to Bluff. Nearly there now….
|Mararoa River Track|
|Mararoa River Track (a nice bit)|
|Tweeting or sorting my SPOT out|
|On the Maramoa River Track with Gem|
|At the top of Twinlaw|
|Breakfast after Takitimu|