Category: adventure

A Long Journey

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On 20th February 2021, I ran the furthest I have ever run and am confident that it will be the furthest I will ever run in one go! Let’s wind back the clock about 12 months or maybe even 24 months. In January 2019, Nigel and I with our friends, Jo and Rob, set off on an adventure to do the Old Ghost Road. Jo and I ran/walked it whilst Nigel and Rob mountain biked it over 4 days. It is an amazing adventure, the scenery is just stunning, the history is fascinating and we were blessed with fantastic weather too. It’s 85km long and the recommended direction for biking is from Lyell to Seddonville simply because you get the steep sections out of the way in the first two days and you go down the spiral staircase instead of having to carry bikes up it! Jo and I walked the first two days faster than the boys could ride because the ‘push’ in pushbiking was more in evidence than the ‘biking’. It’s pretty hard pushing a bike with panniers on uphill, narrow, exposed tracks! Much easier carrying a pack and walking.

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Anyway, we all agreed it had been a fantastic experience but felt that 4 days gave us the chance to take in the views, enjoy the terrain and each other’s company. The huts are great and we had time to chill at the beginning and end of each day and not be under pressure to move faster than we felt was comfortable.

So that was that. Great memories, appetites whetted to do more overnight tramps and Great Walks, especially in that area.

Well, until February 2020 that is! A message comes through from Jo. “I’m thinking of doing the Old Ghost Ultra in 2021”.

I distinctly remember Jo saying after we finished in 2019 that she really didn’t want to do Old Ghost in one day, it was a crazy idea, why would you run it and not be able to enjoy the scenery?! The conversation went like this;

“Really!?” I replied.

She said, “Well, it’s my 60th birthday on 19th Feb, the race is on 20th Feb. I’ll be up an age group. Seems like a good thing to do for my birthday. Do you want to support me?”

“Of course. A trip down south sounds good. I’ll travel with you, be at the start and meet you at the end. Maybe go for an explore while you’re running.”

“Oh no! By support, I meant will you run with me?”

“Whaaat! But I’ve never run that far before. I’ve always said I don’t want to run that far. I’m happy with short distances.”

“But you’ve done 4 Oxfams!”

“Yes, but that was walking.”

“We’ll do it together, you know you can walk that far. You’ve done heaps of running since. A bit of running, a bit of walking. We’ll be sweet.”

My fatal mistake was not immediately saying no! Maybe there was a little bit of something in my head and my heart that nagged at me to give myself a challenge? So I looked at the course, looked at the times people had done it in. I checked the cut off times. They were scary! Considered how quickly we had done 85kms on Oxfams, compared elevation… maybe, just maybe, I could do it. Bugger! She who hesitates his lost… or at least persuaded. Before I knew it I’d signed up to a Squadrun training program and Jo and I were locked in! Training commenced!

Covid19 lockdown happened. Our training was all local, along the river trail in Kirikiriroa on my own. We still hadn’t actually entered the event as it wasn’t open for registration until June. The event is limited to 300 people and it sells out fast! June 1st saw us in separate houses, at our computers, credit cards at the ready, OGR event page on count down, ready to hit that enter button as soon as the event went live, hoping that we both managed to get a place. My fingers were clearly faster as I ended up with race number 45. Jo was 118 but we were both in!

Now it was real! The Covid rahui was over and we hit the trails with a vengeance. I had gradually been increasing my running frequency from maybe 2 – 3 times a week to 4 – 5 times a week. Runs were getting longer and faster. Weekends were filled, running dominated. Wherever Nigel and I went, I was always looking for an opportunity to run. I became pretty adept at squeezing runs in on my travels for work. Fortunately the days were getting longer and so that made it easier to find time.

We decided to enter the Poronui Passage marathon in September. This is billed as the ‘Luxury Marathon’ and it isn’t cheap. Then again, most events aren’t cheap and we figured we might as well pay for an event on trails that we wouldn’t normally be able to run on. It was to be my first ‘official’ marathon; whilst I had run further than that before (Taupo 50 in 2019), I had never actually entered a marathon event. It was a harder day out than we had expected but amazing, big scenery. I struggled with cramp in my quads and calves from about halfway but plodded on. It was all very runnable – not my sort of trail at all! I much prefer some gnarly hills either up or down to allow me to walk! But we finished mid-pack in 5hr52 which was within our target time. The freezing cold knee deep stream a km before the end was bliss on tired muscles, and the beer went down well too! One of the luxuries was a hot shower and then delicious burgers and fries and as much beer or wine as you could manage! (Not much after a day dehydrating in the sun!)

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One well-earned beer! Thanks @jomunn50 for dragging me over the line, thanks for the photos #Photos4sale amazing event #poronuipassage Thanks @squadrun for the training!

Our next big adventure was the Squadrun Old Ghost Camp.We would run half the course on Saturday, the 2nd half on Sunday. Great back to back training. That was another fastest fingers first experience! This time only 12 places so we really did need to be quick. I was so quick, I inadvertently managed to book two places! Fortunately, it was very easy to sell on with some help from Ali. It was a fantastic weekend away in December, just 2 months out from race day. It gave us the opportunity to test the cut off times and gain some confidence that we could actually make them! I had a horrific time on the first day – my calves tightened and then my quads about 15km away from the hut. I couldn’t really run, so limped my way down the Boneyard and along the valley to the Stern Valley hut. We were running with some cool people and we all chivvied each other along, having fun taking photos and waiting for each other at wee stops! The 4 of us arrived at the hut and went to put our legs straight in the river where the fast guys had also stashed the beer supply – what a welcome treat! – before getting changed. I then spent some time with my legs up against the wall after massaging with magnesium oil and then Omrub. I was dreading how they would feel the next day and wondering how on earth I’d be able to run another 42 km! Doubt had really set in.

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It’s amazing how well our bodies recover, though! A hearty feed (thanks to Ali), plenty of fluids, a long sleep and the next day, I was as good as gold. There’s a big climb in the second half to Ghost Lake Hut but after that it’s 24km of downhill. Jo tried out her poles. I had forgotten to bring mine. However, she soon gave up on them in frustration and I ended up using them thinking that they might help my legs. Downhill might be less taxing than up but I was still worried that my cramp might flare up. Using the poles took some of the pressure off, I think or maybe it was just in my head but either way, it worked! I definitely got slower, legs were tired, there was probably more walking than running but we kept up a steady pace and made it down with plenty of time before the cut off (when the shuttle bus was leaving to take us back to Westport!)

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So, that was it. All we needed to do now was keep the training steady and maintain frequency. No need for any really long runs now just a couple of 30km shuffles and in no time we were into tapering!

We had done really well all through training – one of the mantras of trail running is about getting to the start line. You can’t finish if you don’t start! OGR Ultra has a limit of 300 runners. There were nearly as many as that again on the waitlist. Every year almost everyone on the waitlist gets in because so many people sign up and then get injured. We had been sensible, trusted the programme, and we were still injury free (apart from the usual niggles of nearly 60 yr old bodies!).

Then, after a short run around the lake – one of the speed sessions in the last 3 weeks, Jo complained of her Achilles hurting. Rest was in order. She rested a couple of days then tried again. Still sore. Her brain went into panic mode. We’d trained for this all year, we were almost there! Physio sessions revealed both tendons were inflamed. Nothing could be done except rest. We had done enough training, two weeks rest would be fine – physically but not mentally! So much messing with a head that didn’t need it! Jo is an amazing runner and a true friend. She has supported me all through the year, encouraging me, telling me I can go faster and further. But she is always a head case leading up to an event! (self-confessed!) Having a niggly, painful injury was a disaster.

In the meantime, Jo had been also wondering whether to use poles or not. There had been lots of discussion on the Squadrun FB page. Most people recommended using them for the 2nd half. Nigel had bought me some for Christmas and so I was planning on using mine – I’d practised with them whilst we’d been on holiday up north. Jo needed to practise with hers if she was going to use them. We planned a run up Maungatautari solely to practise. It seemed to go well. We weren’t any slower than usual and were probably a little bit faster. With the Achilles flaring up, the decision was made for her. Poles looked like they were going to be very useful for protecting her ankles.

More stress when Jo went to check our accommodation booking to find that it had seemingly been cancelled by BookaBach!! Manic messaging went on, rabid internet searching to find an alternative and we ended up with what we decided was a better deal. Serendipitously, there was a spare 4 person room at the Rough and Tumble Lodge where the race actually started from. That would mean we didn’t have to get up at silly o’clock to get a bus from Westport! Result. Panic over.

Finally, we were on the plane. This was it! No more to be done just turn up and run! Except that the pesky Achilles raised it’s ugly little heel again! On Thursday evening’s gentle jog on the first part of the trail, Jo struggled. On Friday, Jo’s birthday, we spent time trying to find a physio in Westport. A vain hope! I think Jo’s brain went into overdrive again. Walking was fine – we wandered out to the seal colony and distracted ourselves by watching the baby seals lolloping over the rocks and playing in the waves. Then we headed back into Westport, registered, met up with all the other Squaddies, had dinner and then went to the event briefing. Various people were singled out for thanks for their contributions to the event organisation. The oldest and youngest competitors were identified, those who were running for the 3rd, 4th, 5th ….. times, and those whose birthday it was! Just Jo – Happy Birthday was sung! Back to the Rough and Tumble and pretty much straight to bed after laying out all our gear, food, water, ready to put on when we woke at 5.30am. It was going to be a long day next day!

At breakfast, Jo broached the subject of what we would do if her Achilles were so sore she couldn’t continue. There wasn’t really a choice – the only way off the course is by helicopter for those who are injured, or who don’t make the cut offs. If you are uninjured and make the cut offs, then you stay on the course. But we had to voice it, and have a plan. It might just as easily be me who wouldn’t make it given my history with cramp. I hadn’t allowed that thought to really take hold in my head, though it was always there nagging on my shoulder! We agreed that the other would carry on. Then we ate breakfast in silence both struggling with our thoughts and doubts.

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On the start line, we bumped in to other runners who we knew. Nervously chatted, wished them all luck. Jo disappeared off the the loo and I lost her 5 minutes before the start! She had missed the actual toilets and gone in the bush! We’re both pretty blind without glasses and in the dark with lots of torchlights glaring! Then the countdown started and we were off. There is never a surge at the start – well not unless you’re a front runner! We went with the flow of the crowd at the back, jogging gently up the first 500m to where we went under the entrance to the trail. At this point, it narrows to single track and we pretty much stopped – as 5 lanes merged into one! We then settled into a steady pace, Jo chatting to all and sundry by my side, me just in my zone. I’m not a great talker on the trail – mainly because I don’t have enough puff – but also because on this day I needed to steady my thoughts and focus. I found myself running with someone else in the dark; I could still hear Jo behind me but she wasn’t right behind me. Then I realised that I couldn’t hear her voice anymore. I thought that the footsteps behind me were her but when we reached a swingbridge – one person at a time – and I stopped at the other end for her, it wasn’t her! I waited. She was only a couple of minutes behind, still chatting to a lady who we were going to play leapfrog with for the rest of the day!

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As we ran along the river it got lighter. The sun didn’t really make it out until we got higher, so it was actually quite pleasant running in the cool of the valley. The kms clicked by steadily. We were a little under our target as we had probably underestimated how long the first 2kms were going to take as the field spread out and then the waits at a couple of swingbridges. But we were still on target and we reached the first checkpoint at Specimen Point (17km) with about 25 minutes to spare. What we hadn’t factored in was that the cut off was when we left the aid station not when we arrived, so we needed to be swift. The volunteers were fantastic, they took our bottles off us and filled them while we chomped on the food provided, then helped us put them back in our bags. 10 minutes later we were out of there. 15 minutes leeway and we had 4hrs15 to run the (25km) to get to and then out of the next cut off at Stern Valley at 42km. There was a fair amount of climbing to do but we knew we just needed to plug away at it. Then, a few kms out of Specimen Point Jo mentioned she had some hotspots on her heels. Should we stop and deal to them? No, she reckoned she’d be ok, we’d get to Stern and then sort them. We’d always worried about the first two cut offs because they are pretty tight but we reckoned if we could make them the next ones were more achievable. As we climbed up from Goat Creek to the Hanging Judge we got our poles out. Jo’s hotspots were getting hotter. Should we stop? We decided again to carry on. Down through the Boneyard. The terrain is unforgiving – built for mountain bikers, it is made up of 3-4cm stones that are angular and shift under your feet. We were getting closer to the cut off time but still ok as long as we could get through quickly. We had bags to pick up at Stern Point with food supplies in, we needed more water and Jo really needed to sort out her blisters. Should we go through fast and then stop on the other side to do the blisters or stay in the checkpoint? We decided to stay in as there was somewhere to sit. I fed Jo food while she took her shoes and socks off to reveal huge blisters that had already formed on her heels. The volunteers again were fantastic, kept giving us time checks and helped however they could.

We made it out of there with 3 minutes to spare! Definitely not what we had planned but we were still in the game! Jo’s blisters were still very sore – they hadn’t popped so the pressure was huge. Every step was painful. We had 3 and a half hours to go 12km which included a huge climb to Ghost Lake Hut. It had taken us less time than we had thought on the training camp weekend so we thought we should be ok.

The sun was out and it was hot! Even in the shade through the forest the heat was overwhelming. I meant to grab water from the streams and waterfall on the way but was conscious of keeping moving so didn’t. Jo was getting slower. She was in so much pain. I know when Jo stops talking that things are getting bad. We focussed on putting one foot in front of the other. I tried to keep the pace steady but not too fast but I was constantly doing the maths in my head. I knew Jo would be doing the same. Would we make the next cut off? We reached the Skyline Steps, up and onto the top and across the ridge. The photographer greeted us here – what an amazing spot for a photo! I told him that the last twice I’d been up there, I’d done a handstand. He asked if I wanted to do one today. I said no! I sort of wish I had but it just didn’t seem the right thing to do! We paused for enough time to have a photo taken together. That ridge seemed to go on a lot longer then we remembered from last time! Then we reached the end and could see Ghost Lake Hut across the valley in the distance. It still seemed a long way away! And we had to go down and then up again to get there. By this time Jo was really struggling. She normally romps up the hills leaving me in her wake. I found myself needing to keep up my own pace but then stopping to wait for her. We have always run together but we have different strengths and so we go at our own paces ups and down and on the flats and then wait for each other. The sun was blazing by now. We passed a runner who was pretty much flaked out on the path. We asked if he was ok and needed some help. He said he was fine and then started moving again. (He ended up being helicoptered out attached to a drip – apparently the heat accounted for a lot of people)

As we climbed the last 2-3km to the hut, Jo said she didn’t think she was going to make it. I think up until that point I had been shutting out that possibility from my mind. We were only here for Jo – it was her event, for her birthday and I couldn’t really contemplate her having to drop out. I think I blithely said, “it’s ok you can do it, you’ve coped with worse blisters on Oxfam, you’ve been here before, we can do it together.” But in my heart, I knew that at the speed we were going we wouldn’t make the cut off at Lyell Saddle. She did too.

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51/365 20th February 2021
54/365 23rd February 2021
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The handstand I did the last time I was on Skyline Ridge!

We got to Ghost Lake Hut. The guys on the FB live feed were there chatting to people, sharing messages from friends and family. They tried to talk to us, passed on messages from Rachel, from the Cambridge Crew. We didn’t engage like we had at Specimen Point. We were in a whole new world of pain – emotional and physical. We got Jo up to see the Medic to get her feet looked at. I went to get bottles filled and some food and took it up to her. It didn’t look good. I accidentally touched Jo’s ankle with my foot as I moved close to her, she almost hit the ceiling. The medic was concerned about the blisters but also about the severe tenderness under Jo’s feet and the sensitivity of the Achilles. She wouldn’t pop the blisters. She dressed them and then Jo tried to put her shoes back on. No go. At that point the Medic took the decision out of Jo’s hands. We wept, clinging on to each other. Bloody blisters!!! After all the worry about Achilles, blisters were going to end her day.

I set off from Ghost Lake with 10 minutes to spare. Apparently, Nigel and Rob were watching the live feed willing us to get out before the cut off. As I was getting ready to leave, the guys on the live feed asked me where Jo was. Rachel was wondering. I said she was with the medic. I didn’t want to say on the live feed that she wasn’t carrying on. They asked if they could go up and talk to her but the medic cut them off and told them to stay away. I’m not sure what happened after that.

I left feeling very sorry for myself but more sorry for Jo. As soon as I was out of earshot I let the floodgates open and I belly sobbed. Tears streaming down my face and taking big gulps, I let it all out! Then I turned to anger. The unfairness of it. This was Jo’s event. Everything we had done was because this was her special goal. I wouldn’t have been here, fit enough mentally and physically to do this thing without her. Why was it that I was still on the trail and she was sitting waiting (in far more grief and anger than me) for the ‘helicopter of shame’ as she called it. I shouted at the world, then I opened my eyes. I had rounded the corner and was looking at the trail curve out in front of me. Magnificent mountains and valleys, a cloudless blue sky. What a place! What a privilege to be here. I still had 30km to go, another cut off to make. No point in wasting time on crying or anger. I had also trained hard for an event that had become a goal and now I could either wallow in self-pity or I could get on and do this thing for myself and for Jo. I did some more maths. How fast did I need to go to get to the finish before it was too dark? Our half unspoken goal of 13 and a half hours was well gone, so we’re the spoken goals of 14 and 14 and a half! I’d been out there for 10 and a half hours already. Daylight would be gone, especially in the forest, by 8.30 at the latest. If I could do 30km in 5 hours then I’d be in before 9.30pm. 10min kms. I didn’t even factor in the cut off at Lyell Saddle, I was going for the end at this point. I took a deep breath.

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I tried in those 30kms to appreciate the whenua around me. The trail along the ridge to Heaven’s Door and beyond is stunning, dropping down into goblin forest, the forms of the trees are beautiful. The steady downhill was hard on tired legs and the unrelenting stones that move underfoot were murderous on my ankles. Eventually I made it to Lyell Saddle. I had overtaken a couple of people and some had overtaken me but on the whole it had been a lonely section. Somehow though I had settled into my rhythm; I’d watched the kms tick away at under 10mins so was happy with my progress. At some point in the forest I had decided to put my watch on charge, worried that the battery wouldn’t last the distance. At Lyell I checked to see if it had taken some charge to find that it had plenty of charge but that it had stopped recording my run. Bugger! I unplugged it and set it going again.

At Lyell there were people who Jo and I had leapfrogged in the first part of the event. They asked where she was. All of them said they were sorry to hear that she had been forced to pull out. I refilled my water, had a few lollies. Once again the volunteers were so kind. They held my poles, helped me unscrew my bottles when I didn’t have the strength to do so myself. I was in danger of crying again so I decided I needed to get out of there! I had made up some time and left Lyell with half an hour to spare. 18kms to go.

All downhill from here. I motored on half walking, half running. I warded off the cramps in my quads and calves that threatened by trying to relax my legs as they swung through and concentrating on letting my poles take the weight. I overtook several lone runners, was overtaken by a couple of greyhounds who I then overtook further down the trail. It started to get darker and the km markers counted down. I remembered from our training weekend that some of the markers were missing. I wondered if they still were missing. I got to 5kms to go. I was still doing calculations in my head. It was pretty dark by now but not dark enough to stop, take my pack off, rummage for my torch and lose my rhythm. I let my eyes get accustomed to the dark. It was just like caving!

I caught up with a couple with teddy bears in their packs, who had overtaken me earlier. He was trying not to use his torch but his partner had hers out. I walked and talked with them for a few minutes but the light distracted me so I pushed on. Then I saw a bright light in front of me. It was someone coming up the track. About 3kms to go. It was Ali. We exchanged a few words – not sure if she realised it was me. Not far now. I felt lights behind me and some mountain bikers came past. I still resisted stopping to get a torch out, it was fully dark by now but I only had 2kms to go.

I could hear the noise of the finish line. It spurred me on. I wondered who would be there. I was feeling quite emotional by now. The reality of running/walking 85km – actually finishing this thing that I had been training for for the last 12 months – started to hit home. So did the fact that I was on my own and not with my running buddy. She should have been with me. She was the only reason I even did this bloody thing! She had supported me everytime I had struggled on training runs. I faltered. How could I cross the line without her? Well, I had to, didn’t I otherwise I wasn’t going to get to my bed tonight and boy, did I need my bed! I heard a voice tell me that the bridge was just round the corner. I was nearly there. Yeah, right! People always tell you that and they always exaggerate! It was probably still ages away. But no, there it was, looming out of the darkness. Just as I reached it so did some mountain bikers and they overtook me. Onto the bridge in front of me just as I was about to cross the finish line! Seriously!? Did they not know how far I’d come and that this was my endpoint?

I followed them across the bridge and then they stood to one side to let me pass as they lifted their bikes up the steps. A couple were just crossing the finish line so I waited until they were over and then I came across. Standing blinded in the lights under the arch, I was a bit lost. Trying to hold back my tears, I smiled maniacally! I felt someone come towards me, put a medal around my neck and give me a hug. It was Jo. We clung to each other and I sobbed.

fighting back the tears!
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Summer Holiday 2020 – 2021: Heading Home

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We made a couple of stops on the way home just to break the drive up a bit. The first was literally just a few miles down the road at Kawakawa to see the new Hundertwasser building. It really is beautiful and is worth a stop if you are up in the area. Te Hononga which means the joining of cultures is ‘a joining place, a meeting place, a coming together. This is symbolic of the joining together of our Kawakawa community and Hundertwasser, Maori and Pakeha, visitors and residents, our past and future, our places (east, west), of man and the environment.’

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We spent some time talking to one of the locals who happily shared her kōrero about the place and how it was a real boon for the community. It’s a living, breathing building that is well-used but is also beautifully designed from the inside out. We didn’t do the tour of the inside as we had already dallied long enough and wanted to get home but maybe next time. Shee also commented how it had opened up a space in the street so that they could now see the whenua beyond and light came in so they felt more connected. It certainly seemed that way on a hot summer day!

We stopped for lunch at Ruakaka. It was probably my last chance for a swim in the sea but by the time we got there, it was bit grey and the wind had got up and I decided not to. I must be getting old or soft! There were plenty of folk in the water though.

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It’s an interesting place – quite a nice beach but the view of the Marsdon Point is a bit of a spoiler!

We had our going home heads on now so pointed south and headed home. It turned into a lovely evening and as we came down past Huntly onto the new road, I suggested to Nigel that we stop at the Scientific Reserve. I’ve driven past a few ties in the way home from work or concerts but never had the time to stop. It intrigues me that there is a Scientific Reserve on the side of the motorway!

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There is a wee walk that takes an hour or so to wander around. Natives and harakeke have been replanted and there is some wetland and a small lake – Te Iringa Lagoon. A short walk takes you to an information board which explains the meaning of the pou (Te Tihi) which stand high above the motorway on the right-hand side as you drive north. Unfortunately, there is no access to them and I have wondered as I have driven north what they represent.

Te Kaahui Hakuturi” eight massive pou standing 20m above the ground look down on travellers at the summit of Taupiri Range. The pou acknowledge the path once travelled by the fabled Patupaiarehe and the creatures of the forest. The pou are carved from treated radiata pine and painted white with black detailing to acknowledge the spiritual connection which the Patupaiarehe have to the land. Each pou looks in a different direction across the landscape, guarding over all that drive through this whenua (land). This site was lowered by a 57m deep cutting and removal of 1.3 million cubic metres of earth.

At Te Iringa Lagoon there are 4 waka standing on their ends;

Four waka-maumahara (canoe cenotaphs) are an impressive sight. The
waka-maumahara acknowledge the four winds, which blow through
the valley and are a reference to the oral histories of Te Iringa. As with
all oral history there are versions of events told by victor and
vanquished alike, so no two are the same. The two mokomoko (lizards)
are symbolic of the two brothers Tapaue and Wharetipeti who held
domain over this site.

10/365 10th January 2021
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It was well worth stopping and having a wander to learn about the place and the pou. Next time when I’m driving north, I’ll stop in Huntley to visit Whakataki. It also looks like there are some Pā to explore close to Gordonton.

Summer 2020 – 2021: Swallows and Amazons

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Kerikeri & Russell

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Sailing out in the bay

Saturday was the Tall Ships Race in Russell. Chris and Ross were back in the harbour and invited us to join them on their boat. The plan was to sail out into the bays and then watch the other boats as they raced by then go to the Yacht Club shindig in the evening. We booked into the Top Ten Holiday Park in Russell so we could roll back to the van after the shindig and then we met Chris and Ross in Russell. We sat for a while on the jetty and watched the gannets diving. They are incredible – just circling around until they spot something then like a bullet straight down into the sea.

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We headed out in the dinghy to the Sula that was anchored in the bay. Since the wind was pretty much non-existent we motored out for a while until the wind seemed to pick up enough to move under sail. It was lovely just sitting out on the wee bit of deck (I’m sure it has a proper name!), eating our lunch and catching up with Chris and Ross. We watched as the Tall Ships (most of them were just yachts but I think there was at least one official ‘Tall Ship”) sailed on out. The course had been shortened due to the lack of wind so we soon saw the front runners coming back again.

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We headed out to Motuarohia (Roberton) Island where we anchored and then went onto the island to explore. There is a short walk with information boards that takes you up to the site of a Pā. The information boards are quite a work of art – images cut into rusted steel and then layered to give a 3D effect, but unfortunately, don’t provide any information about the island before Captain Cook arrived. Interestingly, this website starts by describing how the island had been inhabited for centuries by Māori but follows up by saying that the island was ‘first discovered’ by Captain Cook!

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The view from the top is indeed spectacular and we spent some time up there working out the lie of the land and recognising places like Cape Brett, Moturoa Island, Urupukapuka. These were all places we had visited last year. We knew Tania and Scott were staying on Urupukapuka again and we wondered if on a beautiful day like today they would be out fishing. As we headed back down the hill, I heard a shriek – it was Tania and Scott coming up the hill! What a coincidence. It turns out that we had probably just passed another friend but deep in conversation, we had missed her. Tania saw her at the top and sent me a message but by then we were back on the boat!

09/365 9th January 2021
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Looking over to Moturoa and Cape Brett

Chris and I decided that a swim was in order and we dived off the boat. So good! The sun was definitely over the yardarm and so once back on the boat we cracked open a G & T. Perfect!

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Back in Russell, we had dinner on the boat and then dinghied over to the Yacht Club to party into the night!

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We met up with Chris and Ross the next morning for breakfast before hitting the road back home. It was so good catching up again. Now that we’re all on the same island, we might see more of each other!

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Summer 2020 – 2021: Birthday Surprise

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I still don’t know if Nigel actually guessed what his Birthday surprise was – there were huge posters at every visible hoarding in and around Kerikeri and all over Northland advertising the Bay of Islands Music Festival and he gets all the emails advertising music events so I would be surprised if he didn’t have an inkling. Anyway, he humoured me and pretended that he hadn’t guessed!

The stinger was that we had had beautiful weather for over two weeks and the day when I really wanted it to stay warm and dry, a weather front was forecast and the 8th January was due to be wet and windy! Just typical! But I had been watching the weather and by Thursday evening the front which was originally due on Saturday but was arriving early on Friday seemed to have petered out a bit. It was now going to start raining Thursday evening, carry on all night and be fine by 3pm Friday afternoon. The festival was due to start at 3pm on Friday afternoon! Let’s hope the forecast was right now. I realised that even if the rain stopped the ground would be wet and so we probably needed a waterproof something to sit on and so after a birthday breakfast in Kerikeri, I stopped in Bunnings to get a picnic blanket.

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I got Nigel to drive so that I could navigate and off we went to Kainui Road Vineyard. The rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. Armed with rain jackets, sunscreen, water bottles, a few snacks and blankets, we found a spot near the front on a not too slopey bit of the amphitheatre and then went to have a look around at the food stalls and to get some beer.

Unfortunately, Tami Nielsen had had to pull out as she had been hospitalised earlier in the week. That was a disappointment as she was one of the acts I had wanted to hear. Interestingly there was no announcement or any indication at all that she wasn’t going to be playing. I only knew because I follow her on Instagram and she had posted the day before. Hopefully, we’ll get to another of her concerts soon.

Her replacement was a young local musician called Ben Ratima. He was very good and a relaxed way to start the afternoon off. He was a really unassuming fellow; he played one of his songs called Calling all Angels and admitted that he had misspelt it when he wrote it and published to Soundcloud so that it actually reads ‘Calling all Anglez‘. Anyway, it’s worth a listen.

08/365 8th January 2021

Next up was Melodownz. Very much in the same vein as Avondale Bowling Club and they upped the tempo a bit. Clearly more well known and appreciated by the younger folk in the crowd. I love music festivals like this because they are events for young and old alike. Music lovers really tend to have eclectic tastes and appreciate a range of music so although mostly the youngsters were up and dancing there were plenty of oldies in there too.

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One of the headline bands that we had gone for was up next; The Beths. We saw them just after lockdown in Raglan at the YOT Club. It was a very small, cosy gig with just 100 or so people so very different to a music festival with maybe 1000 in the outdoors. We weren’t disappointed. Such fabulous music works anywhere and Liz Stokes is a consummate professional who just makes good connections with the audience.

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Up next was one of New Zealand’s favourite sons – the eponymous Dave Dobbyn. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever knowingly heard any of his songs but I certainly recognised some of the tunes when he sang. We took the opportunity to wander off and get something to eat just before he was due to start as we really weren’t that bothered about hearing him. We came back to find most of the crowd, young and old crowded around the stage, dancing and singing along – we only just managed to rescue our blanket and shift it a little bit up the hill. Toddlers were sitting atop their parents’ shoulders singing the songs and waving their arms – they must force-feed them his CDs in the car! I have to say that I can’t quite see why he has such cult status, but then I wasn’t growing up in the 70s in New Zealand and I understand that for the teenagers then he brought something new and fresh to the music scene that compared to the music coming from the US and the UK. I thought I’d better take at least one photo!

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The headline act was BENEE. All the kids had been running round in sweatshirts 6 sizes too big for them all afternoon and now they rushed to the front to get prime position. I was intrigued to see how she performed live as I had heard that she had been disappointing in a previous live concert. However, those thoughts were quickly banished when she started singing and then when she engaged with the crowd. She was incredibly personable, she spoke directly to people especially the kids and she is a natural performer without being pretentious at all. The crowd loved her and we really enjoyed her performance too. She finished by bringing a group of wee girls who were being squashed at the front up on stage with her. It was clear that three of them were friends but the fourth one was on her own. So, the lovely thing was, when the three joined hands to dance together, BENEE took the other little girl’s hand and danced with her so she wasn’t left out. So special, those kids will remember that for a long time!

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Summer 2020-2021: Puketi Forest

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We had decided that a change of scenery might be good for us. Never let it be said that I had tired of beaches and the sea but my poor skin was bearing the brunt of my penchant for the sea and coast. So, into the forest we went.

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In the Kauri Forest

The ngahere is one of my happy places, the coolness and the trees and the sounds of the birds and insects. “Puketi Forest is an ancient kauri (Agathis australis) forest located in the heart of New Zealand’s Northland. Along with Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland.” We have been here before to see the Kauri Trees on one of Nigel’s birthdays – we bought cakes from a bakery and the four of us sat and ate them under the majesty of these mighty trees.

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Off we go!

This time we were just two and we had bikes – I had insisted we bring them and so we were damn well going to use them! The Pirau Ridge Track is an ‘easy 11 km walking track, with walking and mountain biking opportunities’. Sounded good and it connected with the Pukatea Ridge track that goes through a beautiful regenerating Kauri forest. So ‘we’ thought it would be good to cycle to the junction, stash the bikes in the forest, go for a walk in the forest and then cycle back again. Easy peasy!

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Nigel on a down!

It pays to look at a proper map before believing Doc information. If we had have done so we would have seen that the track crossed lots of contour lines! In itself that’s not bad – we’d done plenty of hill-climbing after all! But hilly metalled road with 2 inch grade gravel is not the best terrain for rolling bike wheels over either up or down! The first km was flatish but then it started to climb and when we got to the top of the first hill, it went down again. What goes up must come down and that’s pretty much what happens for the next 8km! Thankfully the gravel reduced in size somewhat after 4km and was easier to navigate. Being in the forest might have been pleasant enough, we heard some birds and the forest kept most of the sun off us but there are no views and it isn’t really very pretty. But the killer was that every 200m or so there was a possum trap, and pretty much every trap had a possum in it and some of them were positively minging! They were the humane traps that drive a spike through the possum’s brain and kill it instantly as it tries to climb the tree. The smell of death was at times overpowering – and just try not breathing deeply as you’re trying to get up a steep hill!

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Kauri Bark entangled in an epiphyte

So, we we were glad when we got to the junction. We stashed our bikes as planned in the bush and set off on the walking track to find a pleasant place to have lunch. Our plan to go for a sizeable walk was tempered by the thought of retracing our wheels back the way we had come. The forest really is beautiful though. We quickly came to stands of Kauri that went deep on either side of the track. Although it is is another ridge track, at this point, it seems quite wide and there is a boardwalk on some of the path. There were Kauri of varying ages, some quite tall and wide, others still small but plenty of them. We wandered through appreciating the majesty and beauty of the forest especially after such a grind to get there!

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07/365 7th January 2021
A knot!
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The Kauri and the broadness of the ridge peters out after about a km and the path starts to descend. At this point, the path is less well defined and we decided that we should head back and find a spot on the boardwalk to have lunch.

The return journey was less of a challenge than we had expected – maybe we were just inured to the smell and the grind of gravel!? – and we were soon back at the van. Time to head to Kerikeri and the relative civilisation of Chris and Ross’ section which was to be our campsite for the next few nights.

I was tempted to stop and take a photo of one of the many dead possum but couldn’t quite make myself get off the bike and get close enough! But I found this tiny skull in the undergrowth – it wasn’t neatly arranged like this! I found the pieces and put them together. Not sure what it is – too big for a mouse – could be a stoat …?

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Summer 2020 – 2021 Plan B

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Paua

Hogmanay morning dawned bright and sunny and when I woke at 6am, I thought I’d go for a run and then a swim. All galvanised to go, I then realised that my running shoes were under the seat under Nigel and he was still asleep! I had to be content with just the swim. I met Tania as I headed down to the beach and she came with me. What a lovely way to start the day! 

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The rest of the day was spent travelling north through almost parched countryside so early in the summer. Drought looks like it will hit Northland heard this year unless there is some rain soon. We burled around in Mangamuka to take a photo of the radio station. “Tautoko Radio was established to give voice to our concerns for the ongoing wellbeing of our people, communities and environments, where the promotion and use of Te Reo Maori and Tikanga Maori is essential and expressive of an inclusive Universal Maori World View.”

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Years ago we had travelled over the steep and windy Mangamuka Gorge road and been appalled by the rubbish that had been tipped at the top and the lack of a view. We had vague recollections of a group of teenagers about to set off on their longboards down the road too – thrill-seekers! We weren’t sure if we were mixing memories of different places up, though, but when we reached the summit, it all looked very familiar. Pleasing that there seemed to be less rubbish but still no view!

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Our plan such as it was was to get to the Cape and stay at either Tapotapotu Bay or Spirits Bay to see the New Year in at the far north. We knew that it was likely that there may not be space – they are both DoC ‘first come, first served’ sites and sure enough, just past Pukenui, there was a sign that said both sites were full. Plan B. The sign indicated that Rarawa campsite still had vacancies so we headed down the metalled road to find that there was a no vacancy sign on the entrance. U-turn and consult the NZMCA directory! A campsite was marked at Paua so we decided to call to see if there was space. There was and so we headed down the road. 

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The campsite at Paua is on iwi land and run by the local iwi. It is right by the white sands in the Parekareka harbour. It is a shallow harbour, its coast lined with Pohutakawa Trees and Mangroves starting to form as you get further up the estuary. The tide was out when we arrived and people were out gathering shellfish from the flats.  We skirted around trying but failing to keep our feet dry! 

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6.30 and it was time for a Hogmanay aperitif! There was enough of a breeze to keep the midges away but not to be too cold. Nigel had bought a bottle of Champagne, partly for seeing in the New Year and partly for toasting the new van. We refrained from using the bottle to ‘launch’ her as that would have been a waste! It went down very nicely as a pre-dinner drink!

366/366 31st December 2020

The campsite was busy and everyone was friendly but pretty much kept themselves to themselves. We played cards, chatted and watched the sun go down on 2020. Pretty much everyone’s ‘annus horribilis’ but we felt very fortunate to be in Aotearoa and travelling freely as we read the news from elsewhere in the world. It was a full moon and we sat out on the wee hill above our camper van and watched the moon and the stars as midnight came and we saw in 2021. 

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Summer 2020-2021 Pātaua North

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Heading north again but with a new campervan. Our old one died of rust from the inside out which was a shame as her engine had plenty of life in it yet.

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On the road #campervanlife

In a rash moment back in September, I saw an advert for the Bay of Island Music Festival in Kerikeri which just happened to be on Nigel’s birthday and I bought tickets without really thinking about the logistics. It meant that we pretty much had to head back north for our summer holiday. At the time I didn’t know for sure that the old van was terminal and also didn’t factor in that every tourist place in Aotearoa would be full because every Kiwi would be travelling to see their own backyard! Then the van died and there was a certain imperative to replace it with another one or go back to the tent.

After spending a few weeks looking on Trademe and visiting car yards, we took the plunge and decided to buy a newer, empty van and have it kitted out exactly how we wanted it! Exciting! We picked it up on Christmas Eve morning, spent a few days packing it up and sorting it out. We went for a wee test drive to Whaingaroa on Boxing Day and a stressful following day at the Boxing Day sales to get some essentials to help keep everything well-organised in the cupboards and then we were off. 

So, little in the way of a plan – head north was pretty much it! I am sure Nigel has guessed what his birthday surprise is by now, although he is tactfully keeping quiet and playing the game!

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The ‘stick game’!

I had arranged with my friend Tania to be able to park at their house in Pātaua North for a couple of nights. It’s a beautiful spot just 40 minutes east of Whangarei. We arrived late afternoon just in time for early evening drinks. There are a crowd of other people who we quickly got to know. Nigel was invited to play a game which involves chucking sticks around to knock other sticks over – it’s a good spectator sport and the competitor comes out in all of them! Delicious freshly caught fish and steak on the barbecue for tea – (Halloumi for Nigel) and the boys were despatched on their bikes to collect chips from the shop on the south side of the estuary. 

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Evening at Pātaua North

We went for an evening stroll along the road to the lookout where it is much calmer – no wind on the sheltered side! It was a beautiful full moonlit night. 

Morning dawned and we decided to walk across the bridge and to the other side of the wee maunga to where there is a sheltered bay. We walked all the way to the quiet end of the bay to sit under the rocks where there is some shade and I jumped into the ocean for a swim. Delicious! 

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Pātaua Maunga

I had hoped to be able to climb the maunga but it has been put under a rāhui. According to the story, and confirmed by the wahine that came with her whanau to sit at the same end of the beach to us, Pātaua Pā was inhabited by the local iwi until Captain Cook came. The iwi greeted the visiting ship with their traditional haka which was misinterpreted by Cook who thought it was an aggressive gesture and he ordered his crew to attack. Which they did using the ships cannon and muskets. This brought down some of the cliff and most of the Māori who died on the beach below. Local iwi apparently don’t eat on the beach because their ancestors died there.  Our storyteller (I have to admit to eavesdropping on her story to her whanau, she wasn’t actually talking to us) suggested that half the maunga was destroyed by the attack and it is true that it looks like there is only half a maunga. On the northern side the slope is terraced and whilst steep, has a more gradual profile. On the south side, there is a cliff and pretty much a sheer drop. I am not sure though that that is the result of Captain Cook’s bombardment – the current formation of the cliff came about much longer ago and by more natural means!  However, her version certainly had an impact on her listeners! 

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The ocean was just sublime!

For a long time the path to the top has been walked by locals and visitors but in recent years, iwi have quite rightly become upset at people entering the caves on the maunga which would have been used as burial chambers and may still contain bones of their ancestors. So recently, in consultation with DoC and until more information can be provided to support visitors’ understanding of the history of the area and the significance of the site, the path has been closed. We have to be content with looking at the maunga and imagining the vantage point iwi would have had up there and how until the British came with their superior fire power it would have been pretty much an impregnable stronghold. 

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Just chilling!

Hungry tums and growing heat spurred us to walk back to get some lunch and find some shade for the afternoon. It was a lazy rest of the day reading and dozing. Perfect holiday activities! Later in the afternoon, Tania and I went to the ‘drop off’ where we dropped into the deep channel of water created as the tide goes out and we just floated round to the bay we had visited last night. It was still windy at the house but here was sheltered and I spent too long on the beach chatting and ended up with sunburned shoulders! But it was lovely to chat and just sit in the warmth of the sun. 

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Grey heron watching

We went for evening drinks with the friends who we met yesterday and then ate again with Tania and Scott and Kezia and Greg. We tried to make a contribution but didn’t really have much to offer. I know that were we the hosts we wouldn’t expect anything from our guests but it still feels weird not be able to contribute. Fortunately, we had stopped in Waipu on the way to get some beer from McLeods Brewery (that was a failed mission!) But I had bought a couple of hand painted pot stands/wall art in a wee art shop and so was able to leave one of them for Tania as a thank you gift when we left. 

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Early morning swim before we left

Super Sunday Adventure

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Pukekōhatu via Pylon Track

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It was a stunning blue sky Spring day and the need to get up high and look down on the world was strong in me! So, I persuaded my running buddy Jo to go on an adventure. Gnarly, technical, non-runnable tracks are not really her jam but I took the gamble that there was enough runnable down on the return route to keep her happy!!  It was a new route for us and it turned out to be the perfect day for it so I thought I’d share it.

Note: The Pylon Track is not marked on the Information Board in the car park nor is it on NZ Topo map. It is described on the DoC site. It was built to replace the Kauri Loop Tracks which have been closed to protect the Kauri.

From the Wairongomai car park take the Low Level Loop Track. About 200 metres in there is a signpost directing you down to the right to the Pylon Track. Very quickly you arrive at the river. It is easy enough to boulder hop and keep your dry feet on a good day but after heavy rain, it may be impassable as it’s quite wide.

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River Crossing
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Boulder Hopping

The path continues up through the forest on the other side. You climb steadily and at times steeply through varied vegetation. Tall Rata trees are a feature of the forest and we were chatting to a DoC worker who goes up to monitor them. He was also part of the team that constructed the Pylon Track in 2015. The path is reasonably obvious and well-marked but keep an eye out for the orange markers as it isn’t a well-walked path and fallen leaves had formed a thick blanket. There were also a few fallen trees that provided interesting diversions and obstacles!

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Climbing steadily

All part of the adventure. As you climb there are a few ‘vegetation windows’ that give you views of the Waikato Plain and Te Aroha. The path follows a ridgeline and the last 200m of climbing is quite steep. According to our friendly DoC guy it was one of the steepest pack pony routes. There are still a few remains of the steel power pylons which were used for the power line linking the Horahora hydro-electric power station with the Waihi gold mine and Victoria Battery in the Karangahake Gorge. 

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View of Te Aroha
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Looking out at the Waikato
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Remnants of the pylons

At about 4km in (and roughly 600m ascent), you reach the bushline and emerge into the open to an amazing view of the Waikato in front, the Kaimais stretching out to your left and Te Aroha to your right.  The climb is definitely worth it!  It was such a clear day that we could see the snowy peaks of Ruapehu and Ngarauhoe in the distance. It is quite exposed so probably not a great trail to do on a cold, windy day. We quickly cooled down in the breeze – the sun was warm but the air temperature with additional wind chill factor was bitter.

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256/366 12 o Mahuru 2020
Spot a snowy Ruapehu in the distance!
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Looking to the left at the Kaimai Range
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Looking right to Te Aroha

Continue to climb for a few more metres over more scrambly terrain to a rocky outcrop. This is apparently known as Pylon Peak. On the map there is a summit called Pahiko marked off to the right as you climb. There is an old sign and a path leading off to the right which is not marked on the map which I suspect takes you to the Pahiko summit but this description suggests there are no views from it. We carried on to the left heading towards Te Aroha. This is the Old North-South Route and it is pretty slow going to the junction. You do need to keep an eye on the markers but the path is mostly obvious just not very well-used so quite overgrown. 

You are following the contours now on the ridge so apart from a few undulations it is pretty flat. There were a few muddy patches to negotiate which could be challenging after heavy or prolonged rain. At this point I started to lose a little bit of confidence in my map reading skills and route planning – surely we should have got to the junction by now? We stooped to check the map – I had the NZTopo paper map and also brought it up on my phone so I could zoom in. I reckoned we had a little bit further to go but not far so we continued on. After about 5 minutes we rounded a corner and I spotted the green DoC sign up ahead. Phew!

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Somewhere in there is a Jo!

It was roughly 2kms to that T-Junction and then we headed left towards Te Aroha mountain.  The track is now much more runnable; there have been a couple of landslips which have been cleared which provide a clear view down to the valley. Pukekōhatu was my goal summit at 799m is to the right off the track as you run but sadly there didn’t seem to be a path leading to it and after spending longer than expected in the gnarly stuff we were keen to get running. 

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We were running along the ridge still and there were some cool views between the trees. It didn’t take long to get down to Wairongomai Saddle junction running along more formed trails. For a longer walk you could turn right and climb the track Te Aroha but then you either come back the way you came or head down to Te Aroha domain and then another 7km or so along the road back to the carpark.

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Waterfall
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Tunnel

We went left to go down the tracks back to Wairongomai Road. This is the main Wairongomai Valley and you will start to see signs of the old rail tracks that are part of the network that fed the goldmines in the 1800s.  A phone torch is sufficient to light the way through a short tunnel and then you can pick whichever route you like to get back to the car park.

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We went down the side of the May Queen Incline, past the top of Butler’s Incline onto the High Level Pack Track and then on the Cadman Track and straight down to the car park. If you haven’t been this way before there are plenty of remnants of the goldmines and the tramways built to carry the gold to explore and wonder at. 

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Waikato Pasture and Kaimai Range

It took us around 3 and a half hours to the do the 15km circuit but we didn’t really stop except for photos and a bit of route finding as described above and we did run the 8kms from Pukekohatu summit down to the car park. The sign at the start of the Pylon track suggests 4 and a half hours to get to the North South Track junction and our friendly DoC guy was pretty surprised that we did the whole circuit in less than 4 hours. He reckons most people would take the 4 hours to get to the top and take a full day to do the full circuit. Having said that we’re pretty swift for a couple of ‘old nannies’!

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“Nanny Goats”

Day 12: Waipū

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Caves and Beer

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Waipū Cave

The last stop on our roadtrip. Why? That’s easy… beer! McLeods Brewery to be precise! We have driven past here on many occasions on our way to hockey tournaments with Gus, we even stopped briefly once to have a look around. And the refrain “Waipū? Because you have to…?” is one that is chorused whenever the name of the town its mentioned! (Long story involving a van load of young male teenage hockey players!)

Since we have been avid followers of the NZ craft beer scene though, we have looked for opportunities to cost Waipū as it is the home of McLeod’s Brewery. Last time we came through it was winter and it was closed. Since then we had met Geoff in Kirikiriroa at Craft Hamilton and he had said to contact him next time we were in the rohe and make sure we called in. The pizza barn is very popular… I guess it was the height of the summer season but we had to wait to be seated even just for a drink! We ended up eating there too. Good pub grub but not a huge variety for vegetarians. Could do better on that score but the beer makes up for it! Disappointingly, when we went back the next day to get our carry out bottles filled we found that although they now have an “off” licence, they still don’t have the right gear to dispense so we went away empty-handed!

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While we were there we decided to explore Waipū Cave. It is just a few miles out of Waipū, along a gravel road that climbs up inland. We weren’t expecting how busy it was! It was great to see so many families there, kids barefoot and intrepid as they waded through the steam or picked a path over the stepping stones. Tourists of all nationalities venturing in with phone torches to light their way. Pockets of people switching off their lights and sitting quietly in awe at the glow worms.

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glow worms

Being intrepid, (and knowing caves!) we carried on through the stream as the roof lowered when everyone else stopped. We waded through the water which at its deepest reached our mid-thighs and soon lost the shrieks and chatter of families and found peace and quiet. After climbing over some breakdown boulders we arrived at a pool. There was a small passage leading on but it seemed a bit squalid and we really weren’t equipped to push on further! There had already been a few avens that were full of glow worms.

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glow worms
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We carried on exploring, climbed up to a higher level passage above the boulders and circled back round through rift passage to the main . chamber. We met a guy who had brought a group in and was playing hide and seek with them. He said he came in regularly with groups.

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On our way back out we noticed that to the right as you enter the cave there is another passage. Wide and lower than the passage to the left and full of water but with reasonable airspace. We thought we could see light coming in somewhere and had a quick explore to see if there was an aven that connected but couldn’t see anything, We went back to the van and saw a couple of groups coming back to the carpark who had clearly been swimming. Intriguing.

We headed off up the hill on a walk – just a wee walk but there was a good climb and great views from the top. We went past a heap of limestone outcrops which we explored on the way back down.

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Once we got down we headed across past the main cave entrance and round to where we had seen people coming from. There was another entrance (or exit!) – looking back neither Nigel or I can work out if there was any flow and if there was, which way it was going! We could hear the voices of tourists at the other end and I decided that it was too tempting not to swim through. Since it was only a few metres to the car and dry clothes, I took my shoes and socks off and headed in. I waded the first few metres until I reached waist deep and then swam. Slowly, steadily into the sem-darkness. The ceiling was just a half metre above me at the lowest point but there was mud and flood debris so it clearly sumps in wet weather. For a few metres, there is peace and quiet. I float on my back looking up at the ceiling just contemplating and remembering times when I sat at the bottoms of cave pitches deep underground. That absolute sense of being. Connected with the whenua. At one with but also ephemerally disconnected to nature. Then I turned over and swam on out to the noise of tourists happily exploring this natural playground. Part of me wanted to stay there and relish the oneness, I also love that so many people are experiencing a space that for so long was my life. It makes me want to get back and explore underground again. Maybe.

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Day 11: A bit of Northland history

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R and R

It was probably time for a bit of R and R. We’ve done a few kms over the last week or so! 78.43km to be exact and 4,068m of elevation. Pretty impressive! So the next two days were pretty cruisy and since it was Nigel’s birthday, I thought I should cut him some slack!

We started by catching up with our old friends Chris and Ross who are currently living on their boat in Opua. They have bought some land in Kerikeri and have spent the last 6 months clearing it and exposing what is beneath the overgrown mass of weeds. They plan to build a house on it in the next couple of years. It was lovely to see them, catch up on all their news and see where they are living. Isn’t it funny how you can not see someone for years but pick up where you left off as if no time has passed at all?

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Kerikeri basin

They dropped us back of at our van at around 3pm and we decided to catch the ferry over to Korokororāreka (Russell) and walk up Flagstaff Hill. The flagstaff at the top is the one that was cut down 4 times either by or on the instruction of Hone Heke in protest against British sovereignty. It was a beautiful afternoon and we sat for a while at the top- another 100m of climbing! We were sat for a while just enjoying the views and the peace and quiet.

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Looking down at Korokororāreka from Flagstaff Hill

It did seem like an opportune place for a handstand….

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Then we walked up to the trig point and the information boards. I have read about the history of Korokororāreka before but actually being there makes it so much easier to understand and give meaning to the stories. Like any stories, it takes time and many readings and listenings for all the details to embed themselves and to triangulate the different perspectives. So, I will need to read more to gain a deeper understanding of the history.

But a trigpoint calls for a handstand….

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We wandered back down the hill into Korokororāreka and found a bar that served some decent beer and sated our thirst before getting the ferry back over to Paihia. A dinner worthy of a birthday was in order. We tried the Indian and Thai place that Ross had recommended but unfortunately it was absolutely chocker and incredibly noisy. We ended up going to Zane Grey’s – a pleasant meal that we ate sitting next to a large aquarium with fish swimming round in circles which was a little disconcerting! We have had better meals that were less expensive but we did discover a very nice wine that we have since found in our local wine shop for a third of the price!

Kawakawa

We had a lazy start to the day but were in no hurry. Our destination was Waipu and we had planned in stopping in Kawakawa to meet a friend for coffee. Unfortunately, she messaged to say that a kaumatua had passed and she would no longer be able to meet me. We decided to stop in Kawakawa anyway and have a wander and whilst there I remembered that Ruapekapeka wasn’t far away. I like Kawakawa, it has a real charm, not least of which is the railway that runs down the middle of the main street.

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Train on its way down the main street

It is also home to the Hundertwasser toilets which are fascinating but as a local said to me, ‘unnerving when you actually want to use them, and they’re full of tourists taking photos’! I did limit myself to a photo of the inside of the toilet cubicle whilst I was using the toilet. Although, I have been guilty of more than that in the past!

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Glass tile in the Hundertwasser toilet

We spent some time in the library/art gallery which had some beautiful pieces all well outside our price range! The children’s mural was delightful and I bought a bright summer dress in a recycle shop for $20 that I have since “upcycled”.

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We were tempted to go into the museum purely out of interest after seeing the advertising but decided that for a $10 entrance fee we weren’t that tempted!

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Ruapekapeka

Words cannot do this special wahi justice. You can listen to this RadioNZ or watch this documentary to hear the story. I plan to watch again now that I have visited the wahi and have a picture in my head so I might visualise more easily what happened. Māori dug an intricate maze of tunnels and trenches in which they sheltered as an army of British and other Māori iwi bombarded them for ten days. Then when it was clear they could withstand no more without losing men they withdrew into the forest behind. You can still see the remnants of the tunnels and look out at where the British had their base. On a hot, still summer’s day it is hard to imagine the violence, noise, fear and tension that must have reigned in this wāhi a century and a half ago. It was the last battle in the north.

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Depressions marking trenches or tunnels
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Pou at the far end of the pā where Māori would have escaped into the forest
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Old pou with new one in the background. The ground in between is riddled with afm intricate maze of tunnels and trenches.

We spent a good hour wandering around, getting a feel for the place, trying to understand the layout and how the battle must have played out. It’s incredible how nature reclaims places, reinstates peace and order, honours the lives of those who died and how somehow there is calm and serenity where once there was bloodshed and mayhem.

We walked back to the van retracing or steps over the British advance position on which you can still see indentations that marked battle positions. Then we headed southward to Waipū.

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