Category: walks

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 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: Heading South

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I had an early start with a run along the beach. I’d planned to just run out for as far as it went and then back again but aiming for 12km. Not my favourite running terrain but I needed to get out and do something after a couple of days mooching about. After a chat with my running buddy Jo, I decided that the hard packed sand might be good to do one of our sprint runs on the programme. So, I dragged myself reluctantly out of bed at 7am having been prepared the night before and made sure my shoes weren’t hidden in the cupboard under the bed!

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A pristine beach – Tangaroa has done his stuff!

Our question about how often the beach returns to its pristine condition was answered. Not a tyre track in sight – beautiful!

I wasn’t really feeling it but set off and decided I’d just go with the flow; if the speed didn’t happen I’d just stick to my original plan of 12km. But then again the speed work would mean it would all be over more quickly and I could go for a swim sooner! Haha! Such are the mind games when we run! The undulations from the waves were a bit of a surprise and made it a bit difficult getting into a rhythm but I worked out a way of picking my way between and over them and settled into the warm up. Surprisingly, when I was called on to up the speed, all went well. I had to do a ten minute warm up then 4 x 1km reps at 5min 10secs pace with 2 minutes recovery between each then finish with ten minutes cool down. A sensible person would have done two reps then turned round and come back but I sort of still had it in my head that I was going to do 12km so I just kept going! Madness! Very pleased that I hit my target pace and then came back to complete 12km. I had another 2kms to walk to get back to the van but that was good for stretching the legs and cooling down even more before I jumped into the sea for a swim. Bliss. It turns out that Tokerau Beach is 15km long so just as well I didn’t try to go as far as I could before turning around!

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Half way – the speedwork done, now to jog back the way!

Back at the van we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and were on our way by 11am. Our vague plan was to head towards Mangonui, have a tutu there looking at some Pā sites – there was actually a 12km walk on Wildthings that linked them all up but Nigel had also seen that we could drive to them so we decided to do a bit of both!

By the time we arrived at Mangonui it was midday and we were ready for a coffee and a wee snackette of something. We pottered around the art gallery and the shops and then headed out to Rangikāpiti Pā. Rangikapiti means “Gathered together”.

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Looking down to Mangonui

It is a stunning spot with 360 degree views. It’s a while since I’ve done a 360 photo but this was a perfect spot. It also seemed like a good spot for a handstand! Minor hitch was that I was wearing a skirt – but I just did what I used to do as a kid and tuck it into my knickers!

“Local traditions suggest that Moehuri made landfall at Mangonui from the canoe Ruakaramea, along with his son Tukiato. Moehuri was guided to the area by a shark, after which he named the locality (mango meaning shark, nui meaning big or great). As thanks to his guide, Moehuri placed his protection over the shark.” (from DoC brochure)

After spending some time at the top trying to imagine what it would have been like living up there with that vantage point, working out the access points and the natural defensive lines, we headed down a track. It took us through some beautiful shaded bush – more cicada serenaded Manuka – to a point where the terrain got steeper and there were ropes strung from tree to tree. I navigated my way down for a while until it was quite rugged and it was clear that the path, such as it was, was just going to lead down to the rocks at the end of the headland. Definitely a good defence from attack!

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Looking down the coast to Cooper’s Beach and then beyond from where we have travelled.

We climbed back up and to the car to drive rather than walk to Cooper’s Beach and the next wee ramble around the Taumarumaru Reserve. This beautiful walk takes in several Pā and stunning beaches. It was so hot though and we were wilting in the heat! There are three Pā sites in this reserve;

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Taumarumaru Pā looking towards Otanenui Pā

“Taumarumaru consists of Taumarumaru Pa itself, two smaller pa named Te Homumu and Otanenui and nine other associated sites including small, isolated complexes of pits and terraces, midden, gardening soils, and gardening plots delineated by a network of reticulated drains. Together this collection of sites represent a typical prehistoric or protohistoric archaeological landscape of a large, central pa or defended village, smaller headland pa, open or undefended sites or kainga and associated areas of food preparation and or consumption, and gardening plots.”

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Looking across to Te Homumu Pā

The story of who built them and lived there is all tied up with Rangikāpiti Pā. Let’s go back to Moehuri and the shark;

“Some years later when his own son Tukiato killed the shark, he and his
accomplices were banished from Rangikapiti and established their own pa at the western end of Coopers Beach, called Otanenui – ‘The place
of the old man Tamure’ was named after the large old snapper found in abundance nearby. The slopes below the pa were gardened and produced good crops of kumara, hue (gourd), and the first potatoes, pumpkins, marrows and European fruit was grown in the area.” More information can be found in this linked brochure.

We wandered around the reserve, visiting each of the Pā and the small beached between them. It is an inspiring and interesting place and we reflected on how easily it could have been lost to developers as it really is prime real estate. Māori clearly picked it for its position and we’re not sure how it escaped the urban sprawl but somehow out did. What a jewel and a real asset as it stands to the rohe.

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Standing on Te Homumu Pā looking back towards Otanenui Pā (the hidden headland beyond the one in the photo!)

Finally, we headed down to Cooper’s Beach and I had another swim. We had heard people talk about Cooper’s Beach and we can see why it is a popular spot. The beach is so pretty and the water was deliciously warm and the waves gentle.

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Cooper’s Beach looking towards the coastline. Te Homumu Pā is around te next wee headland.
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Looking at Cooper’s Beach from my vantage point in the water!

By now we were hungry! A quick stop at the supermarket for some supplies for the next day and then back into Mangonui. Mangonui is allegedly the best place in Aotearoa for fish and chips. So, we decided that if there was place to park and if there wasn’t too big a queue and there was something vegetarian for Nigel, we would have tea here. If not, we’d head down to Puketi and prepare dinner in the van. Quite a lot of ‘ifs’ there but time was getting on and it was going to be another hour before we’d get to Puketi so we were willing to give it a go. The Atua must have all lined up because all the ‘ifs’ came together. We had to wait about half an hour but that soon went by with a beer. I have to say that whilst the fish and chips were good, I’m not sure they beat Raglan Wharf for price and value combined with freshness and tastiness. Maybe they are a victim of their success and have got greedy. At Raglan the portions are twice as big, half the price and just as tasty!

Anyway on the road again and off to the coolness of the forest. A bit of a trek on metalled road for the last 12 km or so but we settle into the DoC campsite in Puketi Forest Park for the evening with some different sounds around us – and bitey things for the first tin=me all holiday. The drawbacks of a forest!

Summer 2020 – 2021 Maitai Bay

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Olives

One of the places we noticed as we looked for a campsite yesterday evening was an olive grove and an invitation to taste. I suggested cycling out from the campsite – it was only a few km away but Nigel wasn’t convinced. In the end, we called in on our way out to Maitai Bay. It’s a small family-owned place and unfortunately, as a result of not being able to harvest as many olives as normal due to COVID lockdown, they had pretty much run out of olive oil and had no olives left at all. Anyway, we had a taste of the oil and bought a bottle to take away.

Cicadas

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We headed out along the peninsular to Maitai Bay and walked the Headland Loop. This is a short walk (4km) that goes from the top of the DoC campground, through a field above the beach and then through Manuka forest out to the headland where there are spectacular views of the bay and across the sea.  We walked from where day visitors can park which adds another km or so to the walk. The first thing we noticed was the sheer quantity of honey bees buzzing around the Manuka trees – photos just don’t capture it. Then a weird creeping plant that grew over the Manuka and seemed to be strangling it. We haven’t seen it before so will need to try to identify it. There were also a couple of other plants that we haven’t seen many of before – some work to do on identification.

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Welcome coolness in this shady avenue of Manuka

As we left the paddock and entered the avenues of Manuka trees the noise of the cicadas intensified – I love their sound and for me, it is a real sign of summer and they remind me of the south of France too. I can’t help but start singing a very irreverent French song the chorus of which goes like this:

C’est la chanson des cigales

Pendant que les fourmis travaillent

Les cigales elles se régalent

Les pied en éventails

(Translation:

It’s the cicadas song

Whilst the ants work hard

The cicadas party 

their feet in a fan shape.)

You have to sing it with a Midi accent or it doesn’t really have the same effect!

We carried on through the manuka and then the path rose (not more hills!) quite steeply and we had views all around us. We reached a high point where it looked like there was a choice of path. The right hand branch was the one we wanted and the description didn’t mention another although it looked like a well-worn 4wd track for at least as far as we could see. Alarmingly, there was a rusty old-fashioned iron ‘Man Trap’ animal trap attached to the post the marked the way on. Clearly not in use but could be dangerous for little, inquisitive hands.

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Looking down the left hand branch – looked promising but it didn’t go anywhere!

We started to descend the right-hand track – it dropped away quite steeply to the headland. I think we had imagined that we would end up at the highpoint of the headland but in fact, this track took us all the way down to the rocks by the sea and a view out across the bay.

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It was a bit of a scramble after this point…
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Looking back towards where Nigel waited

Nigel stopped as the path got more rugged and much steeper and watched me scramble down. Clearly these rock pools don’t get washed over very often as the water in them had evaporated leaving salt crystals.

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Salt crystals in rock pools
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Looking towards where the other track might have once descended to.

Once I rejoined Nigel we climbed back to the junction and I went for a brief exploration of the left-hand track. It pretty much only goes as far as you can see and although it has been a path in the past, it is now very overgrown and I gave up when the gorse started to scratch!

We headed back to the van and I had a swim while Nigel prepared lunch. Maitai Bay really is a beautiful beach. Interestingly though, after yesterdays little rant about cars on beaches, there are notices asking people not to drive on the beach to protect the dunes and the space.

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Looking left to Maitai Bay from the highpoint by the pou.

There is also a rahui in place stopping people from fishing and collecting seafood. There are two beautiful pou on the top of the hill – (I wonder if it used to be a pā?) which were erected to mark the start of the rahui. They represent tupuna Kahutianui and Te Parata, and on the other side, the gods of the sea Hinemoana and Tangaroa.

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Kahutianui and Te Parata
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Hinemoa and Tangaroa

Winery

We decided to visit the Karikari winery to sample the local plonk. Officially the wine cellar was closed but they still let us in! It’s an incredible place high up on the hill with an amazing view. We were spun the spile and the wine was pretty good so we ended up getting a couple of bottles – one of their Chardonnay – unusual for us but it was a bit different and one of the reds. Looking forward to enjoying them at some point in the future!

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View from Karikari winery

Tokerau Bay

By the time we got back to the van, it was time for food and then an evening walk on the beach. We wondered about how often the tyre tracks from the cars are washed away and the beach goes back to its natural state. There were still plenty of people driving along to do some evening fishing or maybe just taking a short cut along the beach – who knows? One hapless person had got themselves stick in the soft sand on the access road and was being pulled out by some locals. I wonder how often that happens?

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Evening at Tokerau Beach

Summer 2020 – 2021 Pandora Bay

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Nigel was ready for another day out. Well, he didn’t say he wasn’t and we had talked about going the other way from Tapotupotu Bay to Pandora Bay. The walk according to the DoC times and distances was either 9km or 10km and 5 and a half hours. After yesterday’s outing we were sure that it would be wrong so we decided to set off and see how far we got. I had done two reasonable runs in the last two days so was happy to go with the flow and walk more or less with Nigel. I set my watch to ‘hike’ rather than ‘Trail Run’ so that I wasn’t tempted to run. 

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Mangroves in the river that flows into Tapotupotu Bay

The plan was to get away earlyish so we weren’t walking in the heat but it was 10.15 before we set off! The best laid plans of mice and men! 

Oof! It’s a pretty steep climb out of the bay after a gentle warm up on the boardwalk through the mangroves.  Once we reached the first high point we could see the path in front of us – climbing up and then dropping down, and then up and down! 

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Looking down to Tapotupotu Bay from the top of the first climb
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Nigel trugging up one of the hills

There was little in the way of shade but the views are amazing. After about 3km the path settles into a Manuka lined ridge still undulating but trending steadily downhill. Much pleasanter walking.

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Manuka avenues – provided brief respites from the sun

The junction to Pandora comes at roughly 7km. Nigel had already said he’d make a call there about whether to continue on or head back. The sign said 2km and 1 hour. We’d just done 7km in 2 hours but it had been steep and hot.

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Looking down to the ridge we have just walked along. The track to Pandora goes off to the right a bit lower down. I climbed up to get the view.

We decided to continue along a red sandy track which seemed to hug the contours of a slope until we found a shady spot for lunch.  A few 100m further on there was a small stand of Kanuka trees which provided perfect shade for a picnic. 

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This track hugged the contours of the hill and eventually branched off down to Pandora Bay.

After lunch we carried on. Nigel decided he’d continue as long as the path was relatively flat. We soon came to a junction where the path looked like it was going to descend more steeply. There was also a path continuing on but very much upwards along another headland. It may have gone to a view point but we decided we didn’t need to go there! I continued on down. By our reckoning and Garmin’s navigation, and DoC signs (all considering any of those were accurate) it was another 1500m to Pandora. Nigel headed back. 

The path now descended steadily through forest, cool and leafy, a few wooden bridges crossed dried up stream beds, and it was a bit more uneven underfoot. I soon came out at the junction with the 4WD track that comes from SH1. Almost there! On my left as I went down the track there was a set of stairs which I had to investigate. They led to a rocky mostly dried up stream. There was a pool full of murky water…probably a good wee swimming hole when there is more water and also a dangerous swirly thing in flood! It looked like there would also be a decent waterfall dropping off from there in wetter weather.

Quick exploration over, I headed back to the main track and soon found myself at the Pandora Microcamp. This would be a cool wee place to stay; a grassy area with a shelter, a sink and water which presumably was fed from the stream I saw higher up, and long drop loos. There were also a few trees where you could pitch your tent to get some shelter and a great view of Pandora Bay.

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Pandora Bay

It was another few 100 metres to the beach so I scooted down there to have a swim. It was going to be a decent climb back up so I didn’t really want to do that either commando or with wet knickers. But…the beach was deserted apart from a wee fishing boat right at the other end ….There is something deliciously freeing and a bit naughty about swimming naked on an (almost) deserted beach! I swam out enough to see round the corner of the bay and then let the waves take me back to the shore.

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View from in the water….
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A welcome dip in the ocean

Body temperature suitably down, I sat on a rock for a few minutes to dry off then I got dressed. I almost lost my shoe in my attempt to wash my feet before putting them into my socks when the rock I had put my shoe on was washed over by a wave. Hopping on one foot (already with one sock and shoe on) I scrabbled to grab aforesaid shoe before it was washed away. In the process the other foot ended up fully under water too! Never mind, wet shoes and socks are all part of trail running and at least I still had two shoes!

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This way!

Re-energised and nice and cool, I set back off up the hill wondering when I would catch Nigel up. The return journey was simply a backwards version of the first 10km so little to report really except that it was now mid afternoon and stifling hot. The terrain provided little respite from the sun so in the patches where the path goes through the manuka trees it was hard not to dawdle and make the most of the shade.

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View out to Sand Dunes from the ridge

I ran out of water about 6km from home but still had a few 100ml of electrolyte which I rationed!  I bumped into the young couple from yesterday who once again expressed their admiration at my speed! They had parked their car at Spirit’s Bay, got the shuttle to Te Paki then tramped with full packs and tents over three days stopping in Tapotupotu and Pandora before finishing back at Spirit’s Bay. I reckon their effort was greater than mine! I caught Nigel up only a km from the van. He was just crossing the bridge over the river. 

Annoyingly,  I was going to end up on just under 20km so I had to ‘tidy up’ – past the van to the end of the beach and back again! 

When I got back to the van Nigel had made a cold drink for me – delicious! I persuaded him to walk down to the sea to plant his legs in the water,  I planned to swim but when we got there we were told that there had been a couple of sharks spotted quite close into the beach so everyone had got out of the water. We stood knee-deep and let the waves wash over us whilst scanning the sea for shark fins for half an hour at which point I decided to submerge myself in the shallows anyway!

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A good day out which ended up with more running and effort expended than I had expected. It’s interesting how the trails have been graded by DoC as neither yesterday’s trail nor today’s really seemed to fig the ‘Advanced Tramping Track’ label they have. I completed the 10km to Pandora in well under 3 hours, Nigel would have taken just over 3 hours, yet it is signposted as taking 5 and a half hours!  Go figure!

After a G & T, dinner and wine we ventured out to watch the sun cast its pink glow on the beach and the waves. Later on we sat on just looked at the night sky. So many stars and a such a bright Milky Way – I wish we could see it more often but in Kirikiriroa there is just too much light pollution. 

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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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December Adventure

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The plan; 4 adventurers, 5 days, 2 Great Walks

We hatched a plan sometime back in the winter when we were craving sunshine and adventure. Not that we don’t always have adventures but this one was special. We wanted to do the Heaphy Track but thought that once we had paid to get down there we might as well also fit in the Abel Tasman and get our plane flight money’s worth! The way the hut availability went meant that we needed to do Abel Tasman first and then Heaphy. The way that the flights worked out meant that we needed to travel down on a Saturday morning and come back the following Friday. A bit of a squeeze but we thought we could do it. We are fit and used to walking/running long distances.

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Sunday morning saw us waiting for the HeaphyBus to take us to Marahau and the start of the Abel Tasman. It was a beautiful day, we were ready to rumble. We had decided to get a good 10km under our belts before stopping for ‘Hobbit’s Breakfast’. This was going to be a long day as our destination was the Awaroa Hut 35km away.

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View from Abel Tasman Track, Marahau

Apple Tree Bay proved to be a beautiful spot to break for food. A cheeky seagull seemed to think that he needed some too! We found some shade and whilst the sea beckoned, I resisted as I didn’t want to get sandy and salty so early on in our walk! The weather was due to turn to rain by the evening so a swim was definitely planned for later in the day! Unfortunately, Amie already had a blister on her wee pinkie. This was unexpected as she is used to walking in her boots and doesn’t usually get blisters. She dressed it and we carried on.

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On we went, tummies and hearts full. What a beautiful place to be! Stunning views at every bend, birdsong, sweet smells of blossoms and great companions. Between Anchorage and Bark Bay we took a wee side trip up to Cleopatra’s Pool. Another inviting swimming spot in freshwater but pretty chilly. We wished we had more time to linger but we decided it was better to get a few more kms done before stopping for lunch.

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We crossed the Falls River by way of the 47m long swingbridge and carried on through lush forest. We were entertained on the way by quail and weka as well as fantails, tūī and other birds.

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Onwards to Torrent Bay where we aimed to have lunch. It was teeming with flies when we went down to the boat ramp to get water from the toilets and look for a lunch spot. So we carried on and came around to another bit of beach that was much more pleasant. We put the stove on to make coffee to go with lunch. Couscous and salami for me with nuts and raisins for dessert. Our friendly seagull seemed to have followed us!

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From Torrent Bay to Bark Bay the track climbs up and over headlands, leaving the coast for a while. We could see down into the turquoise blue of the ocean, along the coastline and out to sea. It was so inviting as we sweated it out up those hills. Soon, I promised myself, just a little bit further until we are within striking distance of the hut. I didn’t want to slow everyone down by taking a break to swim. Cheeky weka popped up all over and kept us company.

Baby pecking weka #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day1 #weckingpekas

We descended into Bark Bay and along the beach. Hot and awkward on our feet and Amie was really starting to feel it. Her feet were sore. The weather was starting to close in, the wind came up and the sky darkened. The threatened rain seemed to be on its way earlier than expected. Selfishly, I decided that swim time was going to have to be Tonga Quarry or never! As our pace grew slower, I said to Jo that I’d run on ahead and have my swim while the others came on behind. Jo came with me and then Paula and Amie carried on over to Awaroa as I got changed. It was a wee bit chilly as the wind was quite strong by now but once in the water it was lovely. I splashed about for a bit and then went to the freshwater stream to rinse off and get dressed. The beach at Tonga Quarry has shifted a bit since that fateful Christmas Day when Aonghas was helicoptered out after scalding himself. The stream was very low and may well have not been enough to cool his burns now as we did then.

Beach walking #memoriesofoxfam #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day1
Onetahuti Beach

Paula and Amie had about a 20 minute headstart on us so Jo and I set off at a good pace to try to get to Awaroa Lodge not too long after them. We were still looking forward to beer and pizza! Up and over from Tonga Quarry to Onetahuti Beach was not as far as I remember but that trudge along the beach seemed to go on forever! Somehow the relentless climb up from the beach and over to Awaroa had been erased completely from my memory but maybe that’s because I’ve only ever been down it!

Last stretch before beer at Awaroa #onetahuti #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day1
Jo on the bridge at Onetahuti Beach

Finally, we made it but sadly too late for pizza! We went into the luxurious Awaroa Lodge to look at the menu but decided the food was a bit rich for us after a day’s walking. We found a space outside in what ended up being the last of the sun for the day. Beer and bread and dips with chips went down well though!

Definitely earned this beer! #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day1

It was hard getting moving again but it had to be done. Only 3km to go but it was slow going and we’d forgotten that we would have to cross the stream. We spent some time trying to find the narrowest part to avoid getting our feet wet but by now the rain had set in and it really made little difference! Those last few kms were done with heads down, one foot in front of the other at snail pace!

And the weather closed in as forecast. A dreich last 2km to Awaroa Hut #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day1
Last stretch…Awaroa Hut is ahead of us somewhere!

It was good to see the hut and walk through the doors! We were the last to arrive and had to find 4 beds in amongst the bodies already collapsed on the bunks; we slotted in where we could, Paula joined the collapsed ones and the three of us set to tending blisters then making tea!

Day 2

Ready for #day2 #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #abitdamp
Ready to cross the estuary

Up and out early as we have to be at Wainui by 1.30pm for the shuttle. The tide times fell nicely for us as it was at its lowest at 6.45. We opted to wade across in jandals which was ok apart from the muddy sections when jandals stuck and the pull between my toes added to the grittiness was a tad painful! I remember last time I crossed the estuary I wore my walking sandals which was much better!

350/365 16th December 2019

We took the time to clean and dry our feet carefully and thoroughly on the other side before continuing. We made steady progress and were soon at Goats Bay. We had already shed our rain jackets as there wasn’t enough rain and it was quite warm. Now the sun was trying to sneak through the clouds. We were aiming to get to Anapai Bay before stopping for second breakfast which was about 10km. Amie trooped on at a reasonable click despite her sore feet and on the whole our spirits were high. We were, however, starting to wonder whether we were going to be able to do the Heaphy given the state of Amie’s feet and the impending weather conditions. Totaranui was our first gauge of the progress we were making – well under the 2h20 suggested by DoC and on target for shuttle pick up.

Light over the ocean #totaranui #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2
Totarunui – light on the water
Onwards to Anapai #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2
Coastal meadows between Totaranui and Anapai Bay

The section from Tõtaranui to Anapai provides a change of scenery and flora and the grey started to lighten. The lower level bush is softer but also more dense and despite the sun trying to break through, it was quite chilly.

Lunch stop at Anapai #day2 #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure
Second breakfast at Anapai Bay
Looking down to Anapai Bay on our way to Mutton Cove #upandover #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2
Anapai Bay from track on the way to Mutton Cove

The track over to Mutton Cove and then onwards to Whariwharangi where we had scheduled our last stop rose up again and we had beautiful views down to the places we had left and glimpses of places we were yet to arrive at!

The sun has been trying hard to beat the rain... #whariwharangibay #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2 #lastleg #justupandoverthehilltogo
Lunch stop at Whariwharangi

Whariwharangi is a beautiful beach with huge pines behind it. The hut here is an old homestead with an interesting chimney. We stopped briefly for a snack but decided that we’d rather just push on. One more hill – the biggest on the trail – and then it was all down hill to Wainui. Just 5.7km to go! We had built this climb up to be more than it was! In the end it didn’t seem so bad and we found ourselves looking down at Wainui before we knew it!

Are we nearly there? #justdownthehillandroundthecornerandalongabit #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2
Are we there yet?
Our destination! #theendisinsight #wainui #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2
Nearly!

The problem with being able to see your destination is that it seems a long time coming. And so it was! But eventually we saw the waharoa marking the start and the end of the walk. We made it but not without sacrifice; Amie’s feet were a mess and there was a severe weather warning out for the next two days so later that evening we reluctantly made the decision to review our plan to walk the Heaphy Track. Plan B was put into operation!

We made it! Two days, lots of fun, lots of blisters, and so many farting quails and weking pekas #abeltasmannationalpark #decemberadventure #day2
We made it!

Day 10: Islands and Orca

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We were so incredibly lucky today! A friend from work picked us up at 9.00am from Rawhiti beach where we had stayed the night after our adventure yesterday. The Kaingahoa Camping ground is a great place to stay. It is clean and well-maintained. Margaret, who runs it is a bit brusque but once you get her talking, she doesn’t stop. Full of information about the history of the rohe. I emailed to book a place but it was never responded to, so I would recommend phoning. Fortunately, there was plenty of space on the day we wanted to stay! From reading the information on this website, it seems that the main building which is not accessible to campers, was the old Te Rawhiti schoolhouse but was used in the 1960s during renovations of te Rawhiti Marae as a replacement wharekai. The campsite revenue goes to the maintenance of the marae.

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Sun going down at Rawhiti

So, back to today! Tania and Scott picked us up and took us for a wee tiki tour around the islands. We stopped in at Otehi Bay on Urupukapuka Island for coffee and then we walked over the hill to Urupukapuka Bay campsite where they were staying with a bunch of friends.

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Walking over from Otehi Bay to Urupukapuka Bay

The plan was to find a sheltered bay where the kids could swim, while the boys went fishing. They plumped for Moturua Island and we cruised off over there in a selection of boats. Once on the island, we had a picnic, then the men went fishing and we stayed and went for a walk around the island before jumping in the sea for a swim. At Mangahawea Bay there is an archaeological dig going on. Evidence suggests that this place was inhabited more than 700 years ago.

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The archaeological dig at Mangahawea Bay

It was a lovely day out, meeting friends and generally just relaxing. The walk around Moturua takes about an hour at a leisurely pace in jandals! It is quite hilly though! The sea was delicious and it was nice to be able to swim with other people rather than on my own! The boys struggled with the wind on their fishing trip and Nigel was the only one who caught a legal fish so that’s what I had for my tea.

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Snapper for tea!

But the big excitement of the day was seeing orca. We first spotted a mother and her calf, and then a large male on our way over from Rawhiti.

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A mother orca and her calf

The male swam right under the boat and then surfaced on the other side. they cruised on along the way, two close together and the other just off to the side. Then when we were sitting on the beach in Urupukapuka Bay, they came into the bay itself. We spotted some splashing off to our left and then saw them swimming on out and around the headland through a gap in the rocks. Tania said that there had been stingrays and plenty of piper fish in that area the day before and so they had possibly come in to feed.

When we went out to Moturua we saw them again. Scott cut the engines and we bobbed about for a good 10 minutes just watching. They swam quite close but seemed to be happily cruising. They carried on out to sea and picked up a few more on the way. At one point we counted 7 fins in the water. Such a special and humbling experience to be in the presence of these beautiful creatures.

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Orca spouting

Days 8 & 9: Cape Brett Track

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Day 7 was a transition day. We drove out of Horeke past the site of the bushfire where the smell of burning is still strong and firefighters are still up there damping down and checking hotspots we presume on the blackened hillside. If this is the aftermath on a very small bit of land we can only imagine in horror and disbelief what Australia will face when (if) the fires over there are ever brought under control.

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Then it was on to Waitangi, book into the campsite, get provisions for the next few days and pack. We called in at the i-Site in Paihia to get our track passes and book into the Cape Brett Hut.  We had tried to do it online from our phones but internet access had been intermittent and the website had been troublesome as a result so it made more sense to do it in person. The guy in the i-Site also struggled and it took a few goes to get through to be able to book the track permit. It turns out on a closer inspection of the documentation we were given and after an email we received this morning, that we are actually booked in for this weekend not last weekend so there clearly are issues with the system!

The first part of the Cape Brett track from Rawhiti to the Deepwater Cove junction is on privately owned land and a fee is levied ($40 per person) to help pay for maintenance of the track. From then on it is on Department of Conservation land. DoC administer the booking process for the track through their booking system. It appears though that not everyone bothers to pay the fee (maybe they don’t also pay for the hut?) There are also complexities to the system in that you can walk from Whakamumu which is a DoC track and join the Cape Brett track where it is still on private land. You could also start from Deepwater Cove, walk to the hut and then walk all the way back out to Rawhiti crossing the private land. You can also be dropped off by water taxi at Cape Brett and walk back to Rawhiti. In theory all these options require you to buy a track permit, in practice, how many do? Margaret who runs the campsite at Kaingahoa Marae and whose iwi own the land the Cape Brett track is on was telling us that there is talk of taking back management of the permit system in the next few years. The track will officially start at the marae, there will be information boards about the history of the land and what the fee is used for and walkers will check in there and pay before they go.

We still had plenty of daylight left and decided to take a wander up to the Manawa Groves on the way up to Haruru Falls. We totally misremembered how far it was an ended up walking 10km in jandals – probably not the best preparation for a big walk tomorrow!!

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Haruru Falls
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pneumatophores with oysters growing on them

We were up and ready to rumble by 5.45am to drive round to Opua and get the 6.30am ferry. It’s a 40 minute drive over to Rawhiti where we parked up at Julie’s parking spot next to the Kaingahoa Marae camping ground for $10 for secure parking for the two days. We found out later that the land was not Julie’s but she manages it for the whanau who owned the land. One of the lads, Zane, who was up at the hut with us is part of the whanau but has only recently rediscovered his roots in Rawhiti after being brought up in Hawkes Bay. 

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Sunrise at Paihia
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Raring to go! The start of the track.

What can we say about the Cape Brett track? All superlatives! Stunning views, incredible experience, 2,300m of ascent over 32kms (except that it is nearer 35kms!) Demanding, strenuous, rewarding, relentless ups and downs! 

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Where there’s a trig …..

The first 2km is just up – easy trail but it ascends from sea level to 345m over 2km so it is steep! There is a shelter at the summit of Pukehuia and an information board that tells that Pukehuia literally means hill of the huia bird but that this is representative of the gathering of chiefs from the 7 waka of the Great Migration fleet. Pukehuia is one of the 7 peaks along the peninsula and each peak represents one of the waka. Rakaumangamanga is the first at Cape Brett itself and is the branching of the canoes. From Pukehuia there is a beautiful view down to Rawhiti Bay and beyond. 

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following the ridgeline

The track continues on down steadily for a while through forest and whilst it is still early the heat of the sun is starting to break through and it is nice to be in the cool shade of the trees. There are steep sections of down followed by steep sections of up and also some steadily rising flattish sections along the ridge where there are views out to the ocean and the crinkly coastline that juts in and out. Blue, blue water turns to white as it crashes against the rocks. The birds are starting to sing – Tūī, Bellbirds, Miromiro, Pīwakawaka and others I can’t identify. And then amongst the birdsong, there… the shrill but heart-warming sound of the cicadas. 

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View from the ridgeline
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looking out along the headland

We reach the ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ – a pest control fence at about 4.5km in – a description we read suggested that this was a third of the way to the lighthouse. It is not true. Not even mathematically if the track really was 16km (which it isn’t!) and very definitely not in terms of time and effort. We have been going about an hour and three quarters by now and decide that we will aim to get to 8km before we stop for ‘second breakfast’. The going has been fairly straightforward, plenty of climbs but not unduly hard underfoot. An hour later we find a sunny spot at the top of a hill where there is a space off the track in the shade of the Kanuka trees to sit down and have our picnic. We haven’t quite got to 8km but it looks like 8km will be at the bottom of a hill in the thick of the forest so this is a good bet.

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taniwha at the pest proof fence

A couple come past us going the opposite direction; they left Cape Brett hut at 7am and tell us that the second half of the walk is much more rugged and demanding. A single walker goes past us as we eat – we spend the next few hours playing leapfrog with him as we each walk and take breaks at different points. He hasn’t booked into the hut and when it appears to get busy later on he sets off back to walk the return trip in the same day. 

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Glimpse of the ridge through the Kānuka Trees

We are getting used to the ups and downs now – what goes up must come down and vice versa. At least there is variation and the downs provide a sort of respite from the effort of climbing up! But the views, sometimes just glimpses through vegetation windows, sometimes full-blown, take your breath away. Vistas of amazingness make it all worthwhile. 

The Deepwater Cove junction comes upon us sooner than we thought. We have been going for about 4 hours and we are more than three-quarters of the way according to the km markers.  We head down the 700m that will take us to the cove where we have lunch and I have a swim. I have been looking forward to getting in the water but there is a chill breeze, and whilst it is a pleasant spot, as our companion noted, Deepwater Cove isn’t an overwhelmingly attractive cove. There are many more that are much more picturesque and inviting. Nevertheless, I am here and I will swim! Once I ventured in, tiptoeing over the pebbly beach strewn with clear, almost invisible jellyfish, it was quite refreshing and I spent 5 minutes or so swimming across the bay and back again. 

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Deepwater Cove

Back up the hill and we have only 4km to go according to the markers. But the sign says 5km and 2 and a half hours. Hmm! Surely it can’t take us that long to do 5km?! 

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Crossing the peninsula

It is indeed much more challenging than the first section of trail. The ups are more up and the downs are more down. The ground underfoot is very rugged, rooty and loose and going down takes as long if not longer than going up. But the views are getting even better than before. As the trees thin out, and as we cross the peninsula and climb the ridge, steep drops to the side of us down impressive cliffs, we have panoramic views of the ocean and we can look back along the peninsula from whence we have come.

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Another hill looms!

The last 2km are excruciatingly slow. The wind has picked up and we are literally putting one foot in front of the other. From Deepwater Cove onwards I have stayed with Nigel – before that I trotted on ahead and waited for him or went back to meet him. He is tired and his legs are sore but he battles on! What a trooper – I certainly test him with my adventures and he always responds.

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Looking back from where we have come

As we cross the headland and can see out towards the end, it is very clear that there will be more than the 1km to go that the 15km marker might suggest. Sure enough, as we climb the last hill (Rākaumangamanga) and reach the top there is a 16km marker with small writing underneath that says ‘approx 1.2km to the hut’. Seriously! 

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We can now see the lighthouse and the hut down below it. The path snakes its way down, zigzagging along the contours. 

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Nigel on the path looking down to the Cape Brett Lighthouse
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The Cape Brett Hut below us

Finally, we enter the hut seven and a half hours after we set off.  It’s good to sit down! 

That would be it for today – there is little point talking about all the usual happenings in a mountain hut; jostling for the ‘best bed’ – wondering who we might disturb with Nigel’s snoring or who might disturb us; discovering that there is just a dribble of water from the outside tap and none from any of the inside taps; working out how to switch the gas on; boiling water for drinking the next day; Nigel falling asleep almost immediately; chatting to new arrivals as they stagger into the hut in various stages of pain, exhaustion and relief!

But what is worth describing is the amazing light we witnessed during the evening. Surprisingly, we had very good mobile phone reception at the hut and had seen and read posts from people in Auckland about the orange sky. There was even a news report that Aucklanders had inundated the police with 111 calls, thinking that some catastrophe had occurred! Well, there was a catastrophe; the bushfires in Australia and the orange sky was a result of the smoke filtering and blocking sunlight.

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the old concrete jetty
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Yellow sky above the old stone jetty

At Cape Brett, the sky went a strange shade of gloomy yellow to start with, the sun was a pale pink colour and it seemed quite dark. There are no lights at the hut and we needed torches to cook our tea inside. I had ventured down the stairs to the jetty to explore – the history of the lighthouse is interesting and there is an old railway track that was used to winch supplies into the small community that lived here. It is now mostly home to the seagulls who nest just below the hut – it’s a bit smelly and very noisy! It was rather unnerving as the birds shrieked and swooped around, some clearly protecting nests and I was a little nervous of being attacked!

We could see across the sky – to the west the sky was quite yellow, but to the east it was clear. You can see in the photo below a line in the sky where it starts to lighten.

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The change in colour of the sky – east and west

Then the sky started to darken even more and turn orange and spread more across the sky. The two photos below are looking up towards the lighthouse which is more to the east. They were taken a few minutes apart and you can see how the light has changed.

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Looking up the hill from the hut to the Cape Brett Lighthouse
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Looking up the hill from the hut to the Cape Brett Lighthouse – just a few minutes later

It started to get cold and feel like night was setting in but it was only 6.30pm! We retreated inside and watched through the windows as the light changed. The part of the kitchen facing east was much brighter! This photo is taken from the window facing west.

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View to the west out of the hut window

Part 2: The Return Journey

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Smiling at the start!

We slept well and late – didn’t rise until 7.30am. Legs a little creaky but it didn’t take long to crank them into gear and start the climb up from the hut to the summit of Rakaumangamanga. Slow and steady was the order of the day. We did feel a little daunted about the climbs ahead after the first day but also felt a bit proud that here were we, two ‘old’ people up and walking out when the majority of the youngsters at the hut had opted to pay $50 a head to get the water taxi out!

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Walking into murkiness
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Up the hill, ‘slow and steady wins the race’
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Handstand on the summit

It was much windier and cloudier than yesterday and I was a tad nervous about the strength of the wind at the point where we cross the peninsula – a hefty gust could lift you off your feet and down off the cliff. However, the wind seemed not too bad at that point and as we walked back the cloud lifted and we walked into sunshine.

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walking by the cliffs as we cross over

One of the young men had tried to convince himself when deciding on the water taxi that there was little point walking out as he had seen all the views on the way in. A different day brings different weather and different views! The light across the ocean with dark clouds was beautiful.

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Looking out to sea at the 9km to go mark
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The sun through the trees was still quite eerie

We were making a good pace and decided to stop for something to eat at the top of the cliff at around the 9km to go mark. The rugged stuff was under our belts and whilst there was still plenty of climbing to do, it was gentler and we knew that the last 3km was all downhill! It was hot though, the wind seemed to have dropped at least in the shelter of the bush and the humidity was high! Plenty of water stops!

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A ‘down’ on the way back
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One of the ‘ups’ on the way back – possibly the last big one!

As the sun came out, so did the birds and the cicadas and we were surrounded by the noise of the bush. It was lovely. Miromiro flitted about – difficult to get a photo but you can just about see this one!

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We saw lots of Miromiro – Tomtit flitting about along the path.

The top of Pukehuia – all the climbing is now done and all we have to do is negotiate the dry, sand, gravelly downhill on tired legs!

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View of Urupukapuka and other islands from Pukehuia
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The last big up is done!
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Made it!

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