Day 46 – Hamilton to Whatawhata

Date: 10 November
Distance walked: 11.5km
Trail covered: kms 763.1 to 773.8
Weather: humid but with a nice breeze while I was walking. Storm in the evening while I wasn’t walking.
Interest that the cows showed in me: zip

Set out today after a bit more of a sleep-in than usual. There was a bit of fairly heavy rain in the morning but with only 10km to go, I could definitely relax and take it easy and was able to wait for the rain to stop.

I’m doing the short distance so that I can see my Dad and Whatawhata is really the only place he could pick me up from so that’s as far as I’m going. Plus with feeling a bit exhausted the last couple of days and having done some 50km and 60km days recently, a short day will do me good.

The path just out of Hamilton is a nice relaxing park walk.

Tills Landing

Although, that’s Mt. Pirongia in the background, under a lot of cloud. I’ll be climbing this tomorrow.

Then a bit of road walking. I think this is the first time I’ve seen a footpath that is almost wider than the road itself.

Wallace Road

At the end of this footpath is the Taitua Arboretum. I don’t know exactly what an Arboretum is but there were trees.

Taitua Arboretum

It was a nice walk through the trees.

At 11am I was looking at Pirongia, and the clouds were starting to clear.

11am view of Pirongia

Some very curious cows were down the end of O’Dea Road and they followed me down the fenceline. When I went up to them though, they backed off, but then continued to follow me down the fence.

More curious cows

When you approach the end of O’Dea Road it’s not immediately obvious where to go, until you look around a corner and see tis.

“Tis Way”

It is a few kilometers walk across this farm and it starts out being a boardwalk of sorts.

But then there is a fair bit of very tall grass.

Prepare to get very wet if it has been raining!

It’s a very standard farm walk after this. But I did notice the “kiwi ingenuity” here – two gates joined together with a bit of wire.

Real classy gate

And I thought this stile would be the first place I feel the zap of an electric fence – there are a lot of electrified wires here.

It was only 8km in by this point and I really was starting to notice my pack on my shoulders. I’ve been walking with just a day pack for over a week now and only started again with the pack yesterday so I guess I just have to get used to it again.

My Osprey Levity pack does hurt my shoulders a bit though. I wonder if a heavier pack would have more padding. And tomorrow I will have to take a fair bit more food and water once I head out into the countryside – it is a few days to the next town, either Waitomo or Te Kuiti.

The last bit of the farm was walking through this field of cows.

Find your way through this lot

The first cow noticed me… not sure why it was down hiding under the bridge on the dirty water.

But after that they really paid me no attention at all. They barely moved and some didn’t even look up.

This one looked at me at least

A short walk down Walsh Road and then right onto State Highway 39. Not too long down here thankfully, and there was a shoulder to walk on, except for the usual bridge with no walkway.

Koromatua Stream bridge

You can actually walk on the outside of the barrier right up until this point, but then you have to again wait and then run the gauntlet once no cars are coming.

And then, once you arrive into Whatawhata, you even get the pleasure of walking on two state highways at once!

And you even have to cross the busy road at this point.

Once you cross here, you’re in Whatawhata. There are a few cafes here and a petrol station. This is as far as I went today – my Dad picked me up from here and I stayed with him in Te Awamutu. While I waited for him I had a bit of lunch at the Village Cafe and Eatery. I finally got my salad that I had been craving for the last few days – it was great.

While I was eating I spent a bit of time trying to work out how to pronounce Whatawhata. “Wh” in Maori is usually pronounced “f”, so I figure the pronunciation is “fotter-fotter”. But I’ve been told by more than one person that “wh” in the middle of a word is pronounced “w” as in Mangawhai (Manga-why not Manga-fai) but that would mean that the town is pronounced “fotter-whatter”. I’m sure that’s not right!! It wasn’t so important to learn the correct pronunciation of Maori place names when I was young but there is more focus on getting it right now which I think is good.

I got to my Dad’s place at about 2pm, so I had a bit of spare time. I bought some groceries from Countdown.

Everything I bought today, except the block of cheese which is in the fridge

Apart from these I still have porridge, muesli bars, a few wraps and two back-country cuisine dehydrated meals I bought yesterday from Trek N Travel in Hamilton.

As you can see from the photo I am going to try bringing anti-perspirant. I struggle with my own smell after a week or so and so maybe this will help. It is worth the extra weight I think, especially given that I am getting much hotter and much sweater recently. If it doesn’t do anything I can always discard it. Plus it says “All Blacks” on the packaging. Maybe if I use this deodorant I will turn into a rugby player.

I then spent a bit of time checking on the progress of my goal of getting to Wellington by Christmas. If I use the date 21 December as my goal date then that gives me a few days to relax there and hang out with friends.

There are 41 days until 21 December and 921.7 km to go. That means I need to do 22.5km per day. Definitely doable.

The rain started at 3pm. When it started I thought “I’m glad that I’m not up Pirongia right now”. Eric and Zoe said they were going to wait out the storm before heading up Pirongia. If so then I will see them tomorrow. If not, then they’re getting very wet right now.

View of Pirongia from the car

It rained a lot in the afternoon and evening. Again I’ve been spared a drenching. I’m definitely going to have to provide a sacrifice to the weather gods soon.

Tomorrow will be a 9am start, but not before another coffee at the Village Cafe and Eatery.

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Day 45 – Ngaruawahia to Hamilton

Date: 9 November
Distance walked: 26.8km
Trail covered: kms 737.9 to 763.1
Weather: hot again but at least with some cloud
Games of Mexican Train I won: 1 out of 2

I got up early and went to McDonalds on Queen Street in Auckland City to get some breakfast before the bus. What a depressing place – mess everywhere and people sprawled out everywhere sleeping, both inside and outside the restaurant. And the self service machine let me place my order but then told me that the card machine wasn’t working and I had to go to the counter. Couldn’t you have told me that in the first place, before I spent several minutes placing my order??? I’m a software developer and if my staff designed a system that worked that way they would need to provide me with a very serious explanation.

Walked over to the Intercity bus station and walked the whole length of the platforms looking for the Rotorua bus and it appeared to be none of them. New Plymouth, Tauranga, Wellington, Hobbiton. Nope, not going to any of those places. I had to ask someone, who pointed out that the New Plymouth sign was wrong and it was in fact going to Rotorua. At least he actually cared, because he changed the sign. I figured that the bus with the longest queue would be the Rotorua bus. Surely that many people don’t want to go to New Plymouth.

Then it was quite a few minutes before the driver turned on the air-con, so I spent a few minutes roasting on the top deck. But once we got on the motorway it was a comfortable trip.

At the first stop, I wondered “when did Manukau get such a fancy bus interchange”? Didn’t look like this when I went through last – last time you just got dumped at the entrance to the shopping mall.

Manukau bus interchange

I would be looking out for Eirik today, who I had dinner with at Waipu Cove on a previous rest day (Day 28). He messaged me and said that he was departing Ngaruawahia at 7:30am today. I wouldn’t be departing until 9:30, but he also mentioned he had a lot of blisters so there would be a good chance I’d catch him.

I got off the bus and made my way to the start of the Te Awa river path. There were a lot of cyclists on this path and quite a few stopped and talked to me to ask if I was walking the trail. I learned quickly that this wide river pathway would take me all the way to central Hamilton. Easy day today, it seems!

I’m actually originally from Te Awamutu which is just south of Hamilton and spent five years living in Hamilton… however I’d just never done the river walk before so I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t so into walking or exercise when I was a university student.

The path started out like the one in Auckland, where it was designed by a drunk guy during Friday after work drinks:

Can’t the path go straight?

People talked about storms coming up today, or soon. Certainly no storm now.

Barely a cloud in the sky

And there were a few times where you need to cross over the Waikato River. Here’s the first bridge:

Bridge 1 – the green bridge

Today was the “Bridge 2 Bridge” race. I’m not exactly sure what the details are, but all day there were speedboats pulling behind waterskiers. They were very loud and fast and impressive. It was also quite hard to get a decent picture.

Here’s my 11am picture… it turned 11am just before I left the bridge.

11am selfie

Here is the second bridge. It is a standard road bridge – Horotiu Bridge Road, Horotiu being the small town on the other side of the bridge. This bridge is certainly a lot less glamorous, and cyclists are supposed to dismount – so I think this is officially a “gap” in the cycle path which they’re looking at fixing.

Bridge 2 – Horotiu Bridge Road

From here I got my first glimpse of Mt. Pirongia. All going well I should be up the top of there two days from now.

Mt. Pirongia in the distance

I used this time to look up the elevation of Pirongia. For nearly 24 years I lived in the shadow of this mountain. I always had it in my head that Pirongia Summit was 750m above sea level. I checked, and nope… 930m is the actual number! Crikey! Even higher than Raetea!

Enough about that for now. Here is a friendly horse that wanted some attention – it came bounding over when I walked past with three of its buddies.

Howdy!

I also walked very near the wastewater treatment plant. I didn’t plan to mention that, however when I saw this in the river, I could only assume the worst as to what the brown stuff flowing into the river is.

Definitely not refilling my water from here.

Somebody along here went past on an electric scooter and yelled out “you’re almost there!”. I’ve run the Auckland Marathon a few times and that is a favourite thing for people to yell in the first few kilometers, when you’re obviously not almost there. He then disappeared on his scooter quickly before I could think of a comeback. “Yeah, I’m almost at your Mum’s place!!”. That would have been a sweet comeback. I’ll respond with that the next time someone yells that at me.

It’s not completely clear at what point you actually enter Hamilton but I know that when you reach this footbridge you’re definitely in. The suburb on the other side of the bridge is Flagstaff, which has some of Hamilton’s most expensive houses.

Waikato River footbridge – very high for a bridge that is only for pedestrians!

I think the boats I saw earlier were just training. Around here I got told by someone that the actual race starts at 2pm. Probably explains this makeshift little party going on by the side of the river.

Looks like the rain is coming, too

And please tell me this isn’t somebody’s boat ramp. It is *so* steep. I want to be there when a boat is reversed down this thing.

Boat ramp? Surely not!

When you get to Fairfield Bridge then you’re very close to central Hamilton. It is one of the city’s icons, the other three being Hamilton Gardens, Chlamydia and The Outback. Yes, that shows how boring this city is.

Fairfield Bridge

And not long after is this river closure.

Gah

You have to detour onto Victoria St for one block, then rejoin the river path, and then come straight off the path again at Alma St because that’s where the trail goes. That’s if you’re following the trail purely, which I am. The detour was a bit annoying and weird, but I did it.

At this point I took a detour to Trek N Travel on Victoria St, as I knew they had 6 monthly hut passes for sale. This enables the owner to stay in most of the DOC huts around New Zealand, including all the ones on the TA except I think one near the upcoming Tongariro Crossing and also not the one at Puketi Forest back in Northland. I hadn’t bought the pass yet and the Pahautea Hut is at the top of Pirongia so I needed it now. There are no huts before Hamilton so there is no point buying it in Auckland like some people do.

In the shop I felt like a bit of a celebrity, because all the other customers wanted to talk about Te Araroa. One family are apparently Trail Angels who offer their place at the bottom of the Hakarimata Ranges. Wish I had got their name, but thanks to you anyway!

It rained a bit while I was in the shop. Yet again the weather gods have shined upon me, waiting until I’m undercover before unleashing the rain. I feel very honoured and feel like I’m not worthy.

If you go into Trek N Travel, remember to sign the Te Araroa visitors book. I was the first one today. I saw Eric and Zoe passed through yesterday, which was no surprise. Not everyone is in there because it is about 500m off trail.

I also bought a magnet that I saw because I just couldn’t resist. My sister had sent me a message on Whatsapp earlier saying that I was on my way to the City of the Future, which is what Hamilton was called at one point. It is also sometimes called Hamiltron or just The Tron. Hence this magnet needed to be purchased:

Hut pass and magnet

I’d never seen “future” spelt like that before. People who have been to NZ may have heard the word “chur” which means “okay”, “cheers”, etc. Hence the spelling. I’m sad they didn’t say “shitty of the future” which is what my friends and I always used to say.

I wanted to get a salad ever since I left Ngaruawahia, but the trail just didn’t go past any shops today, and now it is nearly 4pm so I’d spoil my dinner. I just have a craving for a healthy salad… I hope these cravings for healthy things keep up! Sadly, no salad for me today though 😭

Walked past the Sky City casino – a much smaller and low-key version of the one at the base of the Sky Tower in Auckland.

Sky City casino, Hamilton

And then a walk through Garden Place. This has memories for me as the place where I got my first job out of high school – at Telecom, which is what Spark used to be called until recently, which was located at the far end of the square. Then after three years I left it to go to the University of Waikato in the outer suburbs of Hamilton.

Garden Place

Then after walking through the middle of the Centre Place shopping mall, it was onto the Western Rail Trail.

I liked this walk. I’m almost certain that this didn’t exist when I lived here. I moved away from Hamilton in 2003 so that’s entirely possible. It runs alongside the railway lines for a few km. I like the design of it a lot.

Rail trail

And another ever so slightly closer view of Pirongia:

And past what I’m fairly sure is the ugliest house I’ve ever seen.

Jeebus!

Wouldn’t you agree?

It just looks so… metallic and hot

Then you come to the State Highway 23 roundabout. You have to cross one road only. I was worried that the traffic would be bad, but this is Hamilton, it was easy. You have to walk from where the photo is taken to the road in the distance.

Spot the least helpful sign ever in the middle of the roundabout….

It was here that a car tooted, and pulled up beside me. It was some of my family, including my cousin Lynda.

Lynda and me

Lynda was one of the many people I know who offered me a room for the night but sadly because I’m only in Hamilton for one night I can’t see everyone. So I’m really got to meet like this and say hi.

I never saw Eirik though. I walked fairly slowly, mainly because I didn’t have a huge amount of energy but also because I was enjoying taking my time for once.

I stayed with my friends Michelle and Jason tonight who live just a bit further down the trail before you leave Hamilton. They used to live in Auckland but moved to Hamilton a while ago now and this was the first time I got to see their house. They made me a wonderful homemade pizza for dinner and we played an excellent game called Mexican Train Dominoes. Thanks guys, I definitely owe you one 😁

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Day 44 – rest day

Date: 8 November
The scary Countdown Reindeer

Today is my final rest day, at least the last planned rest day for now. After today I will have my full pack and I’ll be continuing the trail properly. No more sleeping at home. Well actually, for the next two days I’ll be staying with friends and family, and possibly more after that too. But I won’t have the comforts of home any more.

I went to the Countdown Supermarket and got a few things. While I was there I saw the bizarre Countdown Reindeer. The Countdown Reindeer scares me for so many reasons. First, the fact it looks terrified and like it’s being held against its will. Second, the massive clock around its neck. Third, the terrible, terrible TV adverts it appears in. Fourth, the fact that Christmas isn’t for seven weeks.

I’ve noticed that my running shoes definitely smell like swamp. They’re definitely going to be stored under the house for a while, as they stink. It is actually nice to get back into my hiking boots. I’ve missed them!

I had a look for my CamelBak 3 litre water bladder but couldn’t find it, it must be in storage. So I’ve just added one extra drink bottle and so my water capacity is now 3.8 litres. Probably still not enough but I don’t want to have to carry 5kg of water all day!

I went with my friend Nick to the Genghis Khan Mongolian BBQ for dinner. It’s where the food is all you can eat, and you select your meat and vegetables and they cook it for you. Similar to Gengy’s in Hamilton, but all the Gengy’s restaurants in Auckland seem to have closed down. You can go up as many times as you want. I had one bowl of soup, three plates of food and two plates of dessert. Every bit of it was fantastic.

Cooking the food at the Mongolian Barbecue

Although on the way home someone pointed out to me that I have a flat tyre. Damn, how inconvenient! The Caltex petrol station was right next door luckily, and it was completely flat – the air pressure reader said 1PSI. It stayed inflated long enough to get me home but that means when I return home for Christmas I’m gonna have to deal with getting it fixed. How inconvenient 🤬

Doesn’t matter for now though. I have more important things to stress about, like not falling out of the Whanganui River canoe journey in about a month’s time.

Day 43 – Rangiriri to Ngaruawahia

Date: 7 November
Distance walked: 36.0km
Trail covered: kms 703.2 to 737.9
Weather: hot and spicy all day
KFC satisfaction level: 975,000

This morning I woke up at the Rangiriri Hotel and had breakfast there. I didn’t realised when I booked that they provide breakfast, but they do. It turned out that all it was was Weet-bix, cornflakes, milk, white bread, butter, spreads and Fresh-Up, but better than nothing. Since my bananas exploded in my bag yesterday I was glad to have any breakfast at all.

Left at 7:30am. My time deadline today was to make the Intercity bus which I had booked for 6:30pm. After walking to Ngaruawahia today I am going to get the bus back to my house in Auckland and stay there two more nights. And then after that, I will get my pack and return to the trail properly on Saturday. I just want to spend one or two more nights in my own bed!

Eleven hours should be enough to walk 35km – but the last part of the walk today is the Hakarimata Ranges which are 11km long and described in the trail notes as “steep and arduous but the views are worth it”. So, let’s not waste any time.

I still only had my running shoes though. And they have absolutely no grip on them. This could make walking through the Hakarimatas interesting if they were muddy.

Not a grip in sight

The first part of the walk is across a one-way bridge controlled by traffic lights which goes across the Waikato River. At least there is a footpath of sorts.

The sun was interesting today, it was behind a strange cloud which gave it quite an eerie look.

Interesting sun today

Be careful while you’re taking photos though. There isn’t a lot of room when a truck comes.

Better suck it in!

And then somebody helpfully put this in the middle of the footpath.

I have had good practice at getting around things like this now – after all the footpaths that don’t go anywhere.

Saw the bilingual signs welcoming cars to Rangiriri.

“Welcome to Rangiriri”

More stopbank walking today. The strange cloud stuck around for quite a while.

11km or so of walking on stopbanks.

The grass was quite long though for a lot of it, and because it was early, my feet got nice and wet.

Refreshing on my feet!

There was a monument at the start which was apparently to the Ngati Naho chief, Te Wheoro, but I didn’t take the time to go up to it and check it out because of time constraints. Seemed weird to have a monument in the middle of a farm paddock.

Now yesterday I’d read about young bulls charging at people, and was always a bit wary of them. About 7km in today was something I wasn’t expecting. There had been no animals or livestock or anything up to this point… but then suddenly I find myself face to face with four bulls. One of them in particular was not happy about me being there. He walked up to me quite quickly on the stopbank and so I went around him, keeping as far away from him as I could. When he came right up to me I banged my poles together and yelled “Yah!”, which worked for the young bulls, but ol’ Bully Joe Armstrong here was having none of it. Even a “GETOUTOFIT!!!” didn’t make him move. When he got a bit closer I shoved my poles right in his face, I think it actually hit him on the nose. He paused for a second and I used that second to pick up the pace and climb over the stile fast.

Later on I read several other people complaining about the same bull. Others noticed the bull before they got in the paddock and did the road walk around instead, but I didn’t see him until I was already 90% of the way through the paddock so I had nowhere else to go. I’m surprised they’re allowed to keep such aggressive bulls in a paddock which has a public right-of-way.

When I was on the other side of the fence, Bully Joe expressed his disappointment further. My pictures just don’t do it justice so here’s a short 9-second video.

A further 5km now down the stopbank. I saw a busted trampoline:

I did not jump on this. Perhaps the bull did.

And a bunch more cows blocking the way. Although this lot moved out of the way fast.

Move it or lose it

And then suddenly into a golf course. And I walked right through the middle of the 16th tee without even realising.

I know what “16 M 346m 4 st8” means – all of it except “st8″…

This was the right way though. I saw only one person playing golf, and I felt a bit self conscious because it was so hot I had my shirt off on the golf course. I bet I wouldn’t have been allowed in the clubhouse dressed like that – although I read the trail notes and apparently the clubhouse welcomes hikers.

I looked at my watch around here somewhere and noticed it tick over from 8 to 9km. I remember this happening yesterday and that can be quite depressing when you know you’ve got a 61km day ahead. But you soldier on. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. When you’ve got a 35km day ahead it is not so daunting.

I remember Rhydian back at the start saying that he didnt like to know how far through the day he was or how long there was to go. I didn’t understand why at the time but I think I’m starting to see it now.

A bit more walking beside the Waikato River followed:

Just for the record, I wouldn’t drink out of this river, even after filtering it. I got Giardia when I went swimming in it in 2001. Never again.

Then a bit more farm walking, including the “stile to nowhere”:

World famous “stile to nowhere”

As I got closer to the power station there were big pipes running alongside that made an interesting noise. I assume it is something to do with the power station, which you can see in the distance.

Big long power-carrying pipes, I assume

And in amongst these pipes were a bunch more bulls. These ones were curious but not as aggressive. Still, when they even thought about coming near me, I got the walking sticks out and shoved them in their faces.

Don’t even think about it, Sonny Jim

Once I’d left that paddock, they all came bounding over for a look. If anyone was planning on walking the path the other way today, I hope they were brave. I’m not sure I would have the guts to climb back over this stile.

Are you feeling lucky?

Okay, into Huntly. I’m kinda glad that’s over but it was nice to have something a bit more interesting happen for a change! Although, am I sure I’m in Huntly?

Paihia

Unless I’ve made some kind of major wrong turn, or my GPS watch is more inaccurate than usual, I’m going to go ahead and say that this sign lies. Plus, I could see the big power station, and I’m pretty sure the Paihia coal power station got closed down (or never existed in the first place).

Huntly coal power station

My friend Luke sometimes works at this power station, and he was actually in the building right as I passed it. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t meet him for lunch, mainly because he wasn’t free till the early afternoon and I needed to be at the bus, and also it’s just too hot to be walking at 1pm. So it’s a shame that the timing was wrong. That often happens on this walk though, you want to meet up with people in passing but unless the timing happens to be perfect, you really need at least half a day to coordinate.

I walked through the town of Huntly on the west side of the river, and one guy in a house came out and asked me where I was going, and then offered me a lift to Hamilton. I declined, because I told him that I enjoy walking and also I was looking forward to KFC in Huntly – both things being entirely true.

If you’re hungry, turn off the trail to the left over this bridge…

Tainui Bridge

And you will see this glorious sight.

KFC!

Ok, so actually as KFCs go this is one of the least appealing approaches there is. But I was still very happy to be there, as I’d only had the small Rangiriri breakfast of cornflakes and toast. It was an early lunch for me, in fact it was precisely 11am. So here’s my 11am picture:

OH YEAH (in a Duffman voice)

I always like to get the bread roll, some chips, some potato and gravy, and some chicken, and make my own little mini-burger. It’s great.

This creation is copyrighted – don’t go selling this marvellous idea

I enjoyed it a lot. There is also a bakery, a petrol station, a Subway, and some kind of takeaway restaurant here. But once I got my KFC I was back on the road.

Going back across the Tainui Bridge to rejoin the trail, here is the view

It was walking down the road for a while now. For some reason the songs I had in my head today were the songs that played within old 1980s Sega Master System games. The first was the music from Wonderboy 3: The Dragon’s Trap that plays when you start off in the town, and the second was the main theme to Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar. They’re simple but very catchy songs. And they’re both really fun games too, big open maps where you can play for hours and hours were you don’t have a specific path to follow (that was relatively rare in the 80’s games). I really ought to see if I can download them to my phone to play when I’m alone (once the blog writing is done of course).

With the road walking at least I could get a better view of the bridge I crossed to get lunch.

Tainui Bridge in the distance

It was real hot by now. Yet another day of blaring sun with no let up from it. And no wind at all. Yes this was a road walk but this time when a truck went past I actually looked forward to it because the truck would blow a lot of cool air onto you which felt amazing – so nice and cool. In fact, I can only describe it as feeling like a mini-orgasm.

Saw a cool bird on the way:

And then saw the Hakarimata Range. I didn’t know what to expect here. As mentioned before the trail notes say that it’s steep and arduous but comments on Guthook said it’s okay, and that there are a lot of stairs. To be honest, since it looks like it’s undercover, I don’t really care, I just want out of the sun. And from here it doesn’t look that high anyway:

Hakarimatas as seen from Parker Road

Well I know how high it is – Guthook tells me. I can’t remember the exact number now, but I think the summit was around 380 metres up.

I discovered there’s an actual car park, so that must mean the walk is at least a bit touristy.

Hakarimata northern carpark

It was 12:30pm by this point. I had six hours to traverse the range and get to the bus. Let’s take a look at the sign.

Hakarimata Walkway information

Okay fine, six and a half hours for 9km. I can shave half an hour off, surely. But just in case, I set off fast. There were a lot of stairs, up at least 300m. Oh great, here comes the sweat. And despite having three litres of water when I set out, because it was so hot I had almost nothing left. Dammit.

There was a good view of Huntly and the Waikato River from halfway up:

View to the north

And a nice information board, so I don’t have to tell you what anything is! Although I can tell you the walk was down the left (west) side of the river.

Just after I saw this view, I saw two young hikers, a guy and a girl. They said hi but then sped quickly off. I heard them talking, and they sounded American, but I didn’t get to ask them anything.

The track actually wasn’t too bad. The stairs stopped once you passed the viewpoint and it became a standard tramping track. But it hadn’t rained in ages, so there was absolutely no mud. I’m glad – it meant my running shoes coped just fine.

You can see that it used to be muddy, but with all the sun it was all dried up

At one point though about halfway through the range there was this interesting clearing:

There was a nice flat spot right there. I can guarantee that people have been using that spot for camping!

I had long since finished my water though, and there was no water until most of the way down at the other end. That’s fine, I’ll cope this time. But after today I really need to rethink my water situation. First, I need to take a facecloth to wipe the never-ending sweat off my face. I can’t keep using my shirt – my shirt ends up gross and feeling like cardboard after just one or two days. And I’m going to have to increase my water capacity. I have a CamelBak (water bladder) at home which I could get tomorrow, but I’m not sure if it would take up too much space in my pack. Maybe I’ll just bring a third water bottle.

Throughout the whole walk I did hear the American voices. I assumed it was the two hikers I saw near the start of the trail. And one km from the summit, I actually caught up to them. They were Eric and Zoe who were hiking the TA. And get this, they started on 13 October – a whole seventeen days after me. I really am starting to feel like I’m walking slowly! It’s okay, I remind myself that I’ve taken a lot of rest days.

It was nice to have some other people to chat to, it made the last km to the summit go really fast. One thing they said that I thought was interesting is that they were one of the people that saw the bull and decided to go around instead of go through the paddock.

Another thing Eric said was that he couldn’t believe I could have such a greasy KFC lunch and then drag myself up this massive hill and still feel okay. Well I was feeling great! I love KFC, I used to work for KFC Ulster St in Hamilton when I was a student.

From the summit, you got a nice view of Ngaruawahia and the southern end of Hamilton.

There were three others at the summit, which was interesting. It meant I could get someone to take our photo.

Eric, Zoe and me

The way this range works is that you start by climbing a lot of stairs to 80% of the total height, then there is a gradual rise to here, the actual summit. And then, it is stairs all the way down. Nothing but stairs. Not even any breaks in the stairs.

Like this for instance

And this is where I noticed something interesting. This section of the path was very, very popular, despite being tremendously steep. I think I counted about 40 people walking up here. That is literally more than all the people I’ve seen on all the other forest tracks up until now combined. And nearly half of them were running. We said hello to everyone but half the people just looked at us with a face that said “do I look like I have enough breath left to say hi back?”.

There was a group of about 12 teenagers who were all running up the stairs in a group. I talked to their coach and she said that this was nothing for them. They were training for an extreme running event on Great Barrier Island. Wow.

Halfway down the stairs is a stream. It was clear and flowing well, so I stopped here to refill my water bottles. I almost wasn’t going to, I was just going to wait until Ngaruawahia which was only 10 minutes away but it was not even 4:30pm by this point and only 20 minutes or so to the bus from here. So I had a bit of time to kill. Eric and Zoe left me to continue on to the holiday park where they were staying.

The southern entrance to the walkway

My running shoes are dirty now. I think this was mostly due to the swamp yesterday. These were definitely pure white when I bought them.

Stinky shoes

One thing I thought about today was that when I was reading the trail notes, the time taken for each section is often useful but sometimes it says something ambiguous like “1 day”. Now that shouldn’t really be ambiguous, but to me it is. If I was asked how long it takes to drive from somewhere to somewhere else, and the answer was 1 day, I would take that to mean driving every single hour of the day except for sleep and maybe stopping for dinner. So – 15 hours.  However the section from Rangiriri to Huntly is described in the notes as “1 day / 21km” and it took me less than four hours. I wonder why they can’t just express everything in hours?

The last thing to do was to grab a milkshake in town. I passed Eric and Zoe on the way who were chatting to the locals and organising accommodation for the next day. I had my milkshake – it was lime flavour and really good, from a dairy on Great South Road.

After all this I had made such good time today that I still had to wait an hour for the bus and then went home. But it turned up right on time.

One more rest day tomorrow, then back onto the walk properly with my pack. I’m both nervous and excited.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 42 – Drury to Rangiriri

Date: 6 November
Distance walked: 61.3km
Trail covered: kms 642.3 to 703.2
Weather: a weird cloudy haze
Number of bees that hit my face: at least 15

Guy Fawkes fireworks last night didn’t bother me much, although I did wake up in a bit of a daze needing to pee. Looked at the time on the way… 1am. Phew, I still have four more hours of sleep.

Alarm goes at 5am… because the first train to Papakura is at 5:48am from Newmarket which is a 25 minute walk from my house. That’s ok, I actually got about 7 hours sleep and I was looking forward to walking so it was easy to get up. Although by the time I actually got up and messed around and got my pack I had to go straight away and didn’t have time for breakfast. I guess it’s gonna be breakfast at the Mobil gas station in Drury.

I got my small pack and it seemed heavy. I weighed it and it was actually 8.5kg. All the fruit in there and 3 litres of water obviously weighs something.

Packed and ready to go

Ok next challenge. I can’t be bothered walking the 2 or 3km to Newmarket Train Station when I have such a big day ahead. Lime Scooter it is. There was only one around, and it was 5 minutes walk in the wrong direction, but it’ll have to do. At 5.30am there will be nobody on the streets and so I can ride it at top speed.

My first mode of transport today

Got to Newmarket at 5:42am – six minutes to spare. I thought, if only there was a coffee shop open at this ungodly hour, I could grab breakfast quickly. And, once again, Auckland surprised me.

Oh my God something is actually open

Wow, coffee! The barista told me he opens at 5am. Amazing. I got an almond croissant too.

And also a cute hand-written note on the lid…

Great – once at Drury I can start walking straight away. I have a lot of distance to cover today. I have pre-booked with the Rangiriri Hotel because they were the only place I could find which had accommodation in that area for someone without a tent. The only AirBNB in that area had their calendar open but when I tried to book, they declined saying that their mother was using the room. SO BLOCK OUT THE CALENDAR THEN!!!!!

This is the photo I wanted to take last walking day when I walked into Drury but forgot… so here it is from the bus

All public transport ran on time today and so after transferring to the 376 bus at Papakura with two other guys who looked like they were off to work, I started walking at 6:45am. Although it became very clear that I’d tied my shoelaces far too tight and they were cutting off the blood circulation to my left foot. I’d done that on purpose to not disturb a small blister on my heel but I needed to loosen them a bit or my foot would fall off. I had to find the right balance between blister irritation and blood circulation.

I saw a cute sheep. I couldn’t tell if it was frightened, or trying to look cute, or scratching itself.

Cute little sheep on the left

And I passed right beside the Drury Quarry where lots of road building is going on.

Road works outside Drury Quarry

It’s probably a good time to point out that in previous years, the trail never went this way, it went through the Hunua Ranges instead. However, both Kauri Dieback and slips have closed parts of the ranges and so the trail now goes down roads instead. And that means lots of road walking today… and they were rural roads. Each bit of road that I walked along was about 4km long until an intersection or something else happened (which wasn’t much). When I went around a corner and saw a really long stretch of road, all I could think was “ay yay yay”.

One such stretch of road

A lot of the walking at first was parallel to the State Highway 1 motorway.

My road on the left, motorway on the right

I tried to make good time while I could. I had told the Rangiriri Hotel that I would be there between 6pm and 7pm, or was it 7pm and 8pm? I couldn’t remember. Either way I had 61km to walk and getting there by 8pm required 5km/hr if I was to have any lunch at all. And while I was walking along the road, I was averaging 6km/hr. That was good, because it wasn’t road walking all the way and I didn’t really know what type of terrain was coming up today. Some was farm walks, but not all of it.

I didn’t want to use headphones because of the road, and the song I had in my head this morning was Milk and Alcohol by Dr. Feelgood. After a while that got replaced with the theme song to the 1960’s TV show Get Smart. I don’t know where that came from, I never even used to watch that show. I needed to put the headphones on to get some better songs going through my mind, and since the roads now weren’t too busy, that’s what I did.

Although one thing I did notice about these roads is that despite not a lot of cars when I went through, there were a *lot* of dead birds, which wasn’t nice to see. A lot of other dead animals too, but heaps more birds than usual.

When you drive from Hamilton to Auckland you always know when you’re in Auckland because you drive up the section of motorway that goes up the “Bombay Hills”. That meant that at some point I was going to have to walk down some kind of big hill, but obviously not on the motorway. And when I came across this road, “Pinnacle Hill Road”, I figured this was probably it.

Pinnacle Hill Road

It was another long stretch of road.

But I did see this helpful sign:

I couldn’t read what the third one said.

A short way down here I found a good place to have a snack. The border of the Auckland district and the Waikato district. I spend the first 23 years of my life living in the Waikato District so it was a nice feeling crossing the border.

Welcome home!

Here’s another reason it was a good place to stop.

It’s (almost) all downhill from here!

I had one of my favourite snack foods which I hadn’t had for quite a while.

Had to spread the peanut butter with my finger, as I forgot to pack a knife

It was a long and continuous descent down this hill, but the views were nice.

On the way down I started to feel a tummy rumble and then it suddenly dawned on me that the 35km between Drury and Mercer is noticably devoid of any toilets, or any shops at all. So that meant I was going to have to hold on. And from where I was it was still 16km to Mercer. This is going to be a long and uncomfortable 16km.

A random donkey which had nothing to do with the preceding paragraph

At the bottom of Pinnacle Hill Road you come out onto State Highway 2 which starts very near here. I hate driving down this road because it is busy and full of slow trucks and mostly only one lane in each direction. So walking down it is going to be even worse. I definitely stopped the music for this bit.

There was both a road shoulder and a grass shoulder at all times, so it wasn’t too bad…

State Highway 2 road shoulder

Except of course for two bridges which had no shoulder and you had to wait for a gap in the traffic and then run across. Yep what I remembered about this road was true. State Highway 2, where the trucks are large and the roadkill is so flat you can’t even tell what it used to be. There was actually a post on the Te Araroa Facebook group saying that somebody saw two people walking on SH2 today who were walking with the traffic flow as opposed to against it, and they couldn’t be seen easily. I know that wasn’t aimed at me, because I always try and walk against the traffic flow if possible,and I had my walking poles in the “Gandalf” configuration – holding both poles in one hand with one of them sticking up high, so they could be seen for a long distance. Just be careful, I guess.

If you don’t watch yourself, you’ll end up the same as this “90” sign.

My 11am picture is here. When you see this sign…

11am picture – mmmm, Kahlua *Homer Simpson drool sound*

You only have to cross this evil narrow bridge (good luck with that)…

The second and nastiest of the two narrow bridges

And you’re here.

Mangatawhiri Track

I read here that walkers on this section average 2.5km/hr. Uh-oh, that’s really going to interfere with getting to Rangiriri by 8pm. For some reason I had it in my head that if I didn’t turn up by the time I said then they would give my room to somebody else, as I hadn’t paid for it yet. Maybe I’ll be sleeping on the pub’s couches once it closes.

First you go under the bridge that you just ran across:

Uninviting bridge

Then it was pretty much this for 2 hours. And I managed to keep up a 5km/hr pace here too, it really wasn’t that hard. Suck on that Mr. Sign From Before.

Stopbank walking for a long time

The only semi-exciting thing I saw along here was these horses.

And my dodgy tummy seemed to have stopped. If the trucks hurtling down SH2 didn’t scare the literal shit out of me, I guess nothing will.

Next was under the expressway, which was kinda weird. But first, even getting to the expressway was difficult. I saw on the map that you also had to cross the railway lines… although that was the easy bit.

Cross here

Now both Guthook and The Trail App have the line going to the right at this intersection. However the more observant of you may have noticed above two orange markers directly below the street sign, pointing into the bush. Yes, that is the correct way to go, and yes, it appears the apps are both wrong.  A little bit of bush bashing and you come across this.

A little bit less subtle

But where is the path now? Is it here?

Immediately after the bridge

Or here?

Immediately after that

I got sick of trying to find the path. It is not well marked. So i just walked along the side of the SH1 expressway. At least there was a barrier to stay behind, so it was a hell of a lot safer than SH2.

Walking down the side of the expressway

For the record, it is legal to walk on expressways in New Zealand, but not motorways. SH1 in Auckland is motorway north of Bombay but at this point it is expressway.

WARNING – the next bit does talk about bodily functions. If you don’t want to read this bit, then skip forward to the next picture. Don’t worry I don’t go into too much detail! 😁

Here I did have to decide how much information to share, and hopefully it is not too much. At this point the dodgy tummy reared its ugly head again and this time there was no holding it back. I wasn’t gonna make it the final 2km to Mercer… so I dashed off the expressway and into the bushes. Luckily I added toilet paper to my pack since the last day I walked.

Now people… maybe this might gross some people out, but consider taking your used toilet paper with you. Put it in a zip lock bag and dispose of it when you can, like I did here and took it to Mercer. Or if not, then at least bury it. I haven’t seen it personally, but the Facebook posts of people finding used toilet paper at campsites makes me really sad.

And while we’re on the topic of bodily functions… there is only one thing brighter and yellower than my bright yellow crocs, and that is my pee. I looked it up, and while it wasn’t exactly clear what causes it, I do know that if you’re severely dehydrated, it comes out a very dark colour, even brown. I learned that from Survivor. That’s definitely the opposite of what’s happening, it is almost flourescent yellow.

Okay now that that subject has had enough said about it, and I’ve done my business, it is time to rejoin the expressway. Half an hour or so of this, and suddenly, Mercer. Only one important thing to do here.

Ten nuggets combo. I really wanted to buy 20, but even after walking 35km I felt I couldn’t justify buying that many nuggets.

Left Mercer…

This is Mercer. Apparently hikers can stay at Podge’s Place (beside the motel there) for real cheap.

And it was onto the Whangamarino River Track. Guthook says it is an easy walk through farm and bush.

Whangamarino Track

How wrong Guthook was. It started off okay (ish)…

But soon it was up and down very steep hills, through swamps, and sometimes you couldn’t find the path at all.

Yes, there is the marker way the hell up there.

It was one of the worst-marked paths I’ve seen so far. I should have read the trail notes which described it as a “basic” path for trampers of reasonable fitness.

Which should path I take – the cutty grass or the gorse? There’s no markers, so just pick one!

I was getting angry quite fast. I was making excruciatingly slow progress. And no sooner did I trip and fall at one point did I then see Mark and Jolanda from two days ago. How embarrassing. They were on the other side of a swamp, and Mark was trying to yell something at me but because of our proximity to SH1 I couldn’t hear him over the roar of the traffic. Given that he was walking in the opposite direction to the trail and that the trail simply sucked, it appeared that they were abandoning it. But where were they going to go? Down the side of the expressway, I assume?

Bruised and battered I eventually emerged from the river track, and looked at the map. Okay, appears I am headed under the expressway again. I did think that this view of the expressway was cool though. It goes right over the train line, and a train was passing.

Going under the expressway again

The headroom here was extremely low. One of the very small number of times where being tall is a disadvantage.

Max Headroom not much

And then, yep, more walking down the side of the expressway. At least it was marked this time, so I knew I was actually supposed to be there.

There’s the old Meremere Power Station in the background

A short walk along the river and you come out at the end of a road called Dragway Road. When I was a kid the road was called Drag Way which I thought was an excellent name but some buzzkill obviously changed it. It still shows on the Guthook topographic map as Drag Way though, so I know I’m not making it up.

The cattle followed me, but weren’t too menacing. I am noticing though that the further south you go, the braver the cows are. Coincidence? I’m not sure.

And now, more walking along a stopbank. I thought this tree was worth taking a picture of. And it had a geocache in it.

Cool tree and a destroyed house in the distance

Here is one thing I didn’t see at first. Can you see it?

I was busy looking down at the ground trying to maintain a fast pace and therefore checking that I didn’t trip. But soon I felt tap tap tap tap of large things flying into my face. I looked up and my face was less than a meter from this thing. Yikes! Thousands of bees or wasps were flying around! But I wasn’t getting stung… odd. Regardless, I got a safe distance away before taking that picture.

I spent time deciding if they were bees or wasps and thought they must be bees because there were beehives just a little further on. But I’ve never seen bees in that formation before. I had to ask my Mum, and she said it’s a swarm of bees. Interesting. Apparently when bees are swarming they are docile because they aren’t protecting a queen bee or any honey, and so don’t sting. Lucky me.

And another thing to defend myself from… some young bulls. I had also read on the Facebook group that there were young bulls in this area charging at people, so I was weary. Luckily waving my poles and yelling “Yah!” kept them mostly away. I felt a bit like Thor.

Young bulls

The stopbank came to an end and moved to a riverside path.

It was mostly easy to follow but I did go the wrong way briefly for about 50m. And there was one point where you go up a hill and then the orange marker points you here:

Impenetrable gorse

There was the tiniest of tiny paths there and I spent a bit of time deciding if I really do need to fight my way through that, and fortunately common sense won and I found the correct marked path a bit to the right.  Long story short, don’t go through that gorse.

There was a lot of climbing fences and stiles, and a lot of walking through these yellow flowers.

No, I don’t know what type of flowers they are

This large field of dead gorse was a lowlight however.

Gorse graveyard

And their signs clearly need replacing!

Merem to Rangiriri

Just after here was a water tap, provided by the Te Kauwhata Water Association. I don’t know why Te Kauwhata needs a water association, but at that point I didnt care. It was super hot and I’d been outside all day and I grabbed 3 litres of the stuff, and drank another litre. Thanks TKWA!

I was so happy to see this!

From here you could travel on either the road or move back to the stopbank. The trail notes list the road as an alternative if you don’t like walking through cattle. Sounds good to me, and also it’s faster. It was 5:30pm by now and there was 9km to Rangiriri. Let’s walk, and walk fast.

Churchill Road East / Plantation Road, with a stile if you don’t want to walk on the road

Although, there is always time for the milestone photo. Let’s take that really fast.

The largest hill in the background is apparently called Rangiriri, and stands at a proud height of 61 metres. And yep, my forehead is burnt.

By this time I was starting to get a bit exhausted. To keep myself sane, I found myself singing out loud to the music playing on my iPod, and I didn’t even care what the people around thought… not that there were any.

Soon I could see where Churchill East Road, the road I had been walking on, came to the expressway. It seemed strange to have a gravel road so close to the expressway, and with its own traffic lights.

And also these signs for the Te Araroa trail – which look as if they’re aimed at cars and not walkers.

Unusual TA signs

Here was my first view of Rangiriri, and there’s the hotel in the middle (behind and to the left of the bowling club). I spent a few seconds working out what a EWY was. When I worked it out, I made sure I didn’t go that way. I’d had enough of walking on the EWY today.

Rangiriri

It was great to see the pub finally. Looks busy from the outside. I had arrived at 7:20pm. Should be alright, I hoped. What am I gonna do if they’ve given my room away? Surely they haven’t. They never tried to call.

Rangiriri Hotel

It took me a while to check in because they were so busy, but despite being so busy, the staff were all still friendly. I did get checked in just fine. And after that, I immediately got a cider and reflected on my walk for the day.

A new record

61.3km in one day. I really don’t see that record being beaten for a while now, if at all. Potentially when I get to Wellington I might make a final push to the North Island finish line without my pack, which might be longer than 61km. Or maybe the same at Bluff. Although finishing at Bluff without my pack would just feel wrong, I think.

81,664 steps today – another record

And I got some food, which was huge. The food (not including the cider) was only $25, although the garlic bread was not particularly warm.

Garlic bread and cajun chicken with veges

The floors in the hotel, in the upstairs area where the accommodation was, were on quite a big angle, and the room was very hot, although my sunburn might have had something to do with that. Whenever anybody used water, a loud noise would present itself which was annoying. The room was also quite pricey I thought – $90 for a twin room with a shared bathroom. I’m not sure I’d stay again, although it depends on the price of the single rooms which I never found out as they were all booked.

When I went up to my room and unpacked some of my stuff, I realised that the three uneaten bananas in my pack had essentially exploded. I guess 61km worth of rolling around in my pack wasn’t good for them. Note to self: Bananas are not good hiker food to travel with. I’m glad they didn’t destroy my electronics and the other things I had in my pack, or even the pack itself – I had my electronics all in the same bag when I walked Mount Eden to Drury. This time I put the food inside a separate bag. Smart idea.

I looked at the GPS line for this walk and it was largely accurate this time, except for two occasions where it shows me walking out into the river. That definitely didn’t happen! At one point the watch display skipped from 52.8 to 54 kms. It was like I’d gained a kilometer without doing the work!

A fairly early night tonight because I’m so sore, and another relatively big day tomorrow with a time pressure. Although I can’t have too many of these long days, because this blog post turned out to be so long it’s taken me over two hours to write it!

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 41 – rest day

Date: 5 November
Croctober – 31 days of comfort, style & crocs

After my 58km walk yesterday, I had to be careful in the shower. I was sunburnt, red from chafing, I had a new blister on my foot from the running shoes, and a strange rash on both my feet. But yet, no pain that concerned me – hooray. When you have a very light pack, it’s definitely much easier to do a long distance. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that the rash on my feet was because I had a cheaper laundry detergent in the house that my skin didn’t like. It was gone by the end of the day.

I went to have breakfast in Newmarket and I passed the Crocs store. I saw this display in the window – “Croctober – 31 days of comfort, style & crocs”. I can’t believe I missed “croctober”. Now all I have is “movember”.

And I don’t like the phrase “comfort, style & crocs” – the way I read this is that crocs are neither comfortable nor stylish. We all know that isn’t true!

I also couldn’t stop thinking about the tiny ice-cream I got last night from Sal’s. I had to do something about that.

 

That’s not an ice-cream. THIS is an ice-cream.

I went to Bangkok Rolled Icecream on Karangahape Road. And I got a real icecream. Actually, I tried to go there during one of my previous rest days but I got there at lunchtime and didn’t realise that it doesn’t open until 2pm. Afterwards, I wished I got a chocolate icecream instead of the tropical one that I did get, but it was still good.

In the evening, I went and had dinner and drinks with friends. But now I’m gonna make sure I get an early night because I have to get up early to catch the first train in the morning. Although it’s Guy Fawkes and with all the fireworks going off around me, it might be hard to sleep.

20% recap (Cape Reinga to Auckland)

Well, since I managed to complete 20% of the trail yesterday, I thought I’d write up a short recap. The first thing I noticed is that it took me 40 days to complete the first 20%. That means it would take me 200 days for the whole thing at this rate. Yikes. At this rate I’ll be finishing mid-April, after starting on 26 September. That’s a real long time, in fact I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone taking that long. 14 of those 40 days were rest days though. I’m really hoping that my body will be used to it by now, and I’ll be able to do the rest of it with no injuries and less than the 14 rest days I’ve taken so far!

Although after my 58km day yesterday – imagine if every day could be like that. It would take less than two months for the whole trail. That would definitely give me some kind of long-term injury though. I definitely don’t want any long term injuries from this. As a runner I know what it’s like to have an injury that is still around years later. It sucks.

Once I go past Hamilton though I’m going through fewer areas where I know people – that should mean I take less time. It’s also kind of scary because up until now I’ve had family and friends around, and I can break up the walk by spending time with them and also staying at my place in Auckland. I’m not going to have that luxury from now on so I guess I’ll be like most other people on the trail!

I’ve been fairly happy with my gear choices. Closer to the end of the trail I will write up proper reviews of each item that I’ve brought. So far, I haven’t used my gloves – it just hasn’t been cold enough. Or my compass – I haven’t strayed far enough from the trail yet to need it. Or my iPod Nano – I’ve been listening to music on my phone. Or my beacon – let’s hope it stays that way.

I’m still undecided about doing the South Island. Back when I was walking between Waipu Cove and Mangawhai, and my left foot suddenly started hurting completely out of the blue, and I couldn’t walk, that was not good, but it would be really not good if I was in the South Island five days from any town. I know that I was able to walk again an hour or so later, but what if I couldn’t? When I get to Wellington I should have a much better idea of what I want to do.

I guess that’s about as likely as an important piece of gear breaking far from any town. People obviously can get through that.

I’ve been thinking about my favourite day so far. It was definitely Apple Dam to Puketi Forest, because of the sheer variety of stuff and the general “epic-ness” of the day. It’s funny, I’ve been asking a lot of people what their best and worst day is and a lot of people say that that section was their worst day, because of all the rain that they happened to experience when they went through. I haven’t hit any big rain yet – I’ve been undercover or resting every time it’s rained. I don’t think I’ll be so lucky for the next 80%.

In fact I think I’ve been lucky, I remember back in July/August, about the time when I wrote this post, how it rained literally every day for two months, and I thought it would never end. Thank God it did.

I also liked 90 Mile Beach. It was quite soul-destroying at the time, but everything was new and exciting back then. Great memories. I watch the Te Araroa 2019/2020 Facebook group and keep seeing other people mentioning that they’re starting out, and it makes me miss the anticipation and excitement of the first few days. But I still look forward to continuing the walk every time I’m having a rest day.

I updated my cost spreadsheet. I’m spending quite a lot – especially on “convenience food”. It’s just too tempting to spend up at the cafes and shops when I’m in towns. I’m okay with it though. It does look like a lot on paper but by far my biggest cost is the money I’m not earning while I’m walking so compared to that these figures are small.

I like my Leki poles a lot, but I find I have to keep tightening the screws on them – one every few days or so. It’s a bit annoying, but also it makes me worry that I’ll lean on them more than I ought to when going down a hill, and then they won’t be tight and I’ll fall forward when the pole retracts. Maybe I should get into the habit of tightening them every couple of days to make sure that doesn’t happen, or at least before going up or down a big mountain.

Writing this blog has given me something to do in the evenings, and I’m enjoying writing it. Without it, I think I would get quite bored once the sun goes down and everyone retires to their tents. Some nights though when I’ve walked a long way and I’m sore then it’s too much effort to type up a blog entry. I do force myself to spend 5 minutes taking notes each night though so that I don’t forget what happened that day. It takes about an hour or an hour and a half to write up each entry – in part because the WordPress app for Android is so bad. It often fails to upload pictures, and doesn’t automatically retry when they fail. And sometimes you get multiple copies of each picture. The app claims to work offline but pictures can’t be uploaded offline, so it doesn’t work very well if you don’t have an Internet connection. That was a problem during the first two days where there was zero phone coverage, but it hasn’t been too bad since then.

Today I tried to find out why Guthook and The Trail App have started reporting different km markers (which I noticed yesterday when trying to work out where 600km was), and I can’t quite work out why. I think it’s just because the line in each app follows very similar paths but not exactly the same path, and over time the errors accumulate and now after 20% the two apps are about 1km apart. I don’t think that’s a big deal though. You often see people referring to specific km numbers, like “there’s a campsite at km 297.5”, however km297.5 depends on what app you’re using, and also they’re different each year, because when detours are in place, especially at the beginning of the trail, it shifts all the km markers for the entire rest of the trail so they change all the time. That’s frustrating when you’re trying to work out exactly where something is, but I don’t really know what could be done about it.

And while I was at home for 4 rest days, I weighed myself on the first rest day and the scales said I’d lost 4.5kg since day 1. But then four days later I weighed myself again and I had apparently put 1.5kg back on. Obviously it fluctuates a lot with walking and water retention so that doesn’t tell me a lot. I don’t want to lose too much weight. I really ought to start eating more fruit and vegetables where possible, and good food.

I’m nervous but also excited to see what the next 35% brings on the way to Wellington.

Shoes, reunited

Day 40 – Mount Eden to Drury

Date: 4 November
Distance walked: GPS watch said 55.5km but I know that it was at least 58km 
Trail covered: kms 584.7 to 642.3
Weather: not a cloud in the sky
Percentage of the day that there was not a cloud in the sky: At least 90%

Okay, first I’m going to describe what I’ve been thinking about recently. I actually did proper calculations to determine what the likelihood of making it to Wellington by Christmas is. The southern point of the North Island on the TA is km1695.5 and I’m currently at km584.7. So that leaves 1110.8kms and 50 days to do it. So that requires 22.2kms per day. Doable. Or, assuming 5 rest days, 24.7kms per day. Slightly less doable, but not impossible.

So while I’m in Auckland, which is my home and mostly road walking… could I bash out a lot of kilometers in a short time, leaving my pack at home? I reckon I can. So first check – how far south does public transport actually extend in Auckland that is still on the trail? Turns out, the answer is Drury, and more specifically, the bus stop outside the Mobil in Drury. That’s 57.5km. That’s now my goal for today. Walk to this point today, and get the bus and train home tonight.

And if I decide that I can actually walk that distance, then I will have a rest day tomorrow, and on Wednesday go back to the point where I left off and walk from Drury to Rangiriri which is roughly the same distance. Then I’ll walk to Ngaruawahia the next day and after that get the bus back to Auckland. Then after that I’ll continue walking properly with my pack. Three days walking without a pack with two rest days, meaning I’ll cover 156km in 5 days.

Anyway now that’s out of the way. I have to leave early if I want to cover that kind of distance – so I was off at 6:30am this morning, and straight up Mount Eden. The sunrise at the top was nice.

Looking at the summit of Mt Eden

I’ve been up this mountain probably about fifty times but I don’t get sick of the views from up here.

Auckland City from the top of Mt Eden

I was already feeling good that I didn’t have my usual pack. All I had was this pack that I was given at university in 2001 by ASB Bank when I signed up to their student account. It’s going bloody well after 18 and a half years. I only had a water bottle, battery pack and charger, a small amount of food, my keys and my wallet.

Kathmandu backpack from 2001

I decided not to walk with my poles initially. The bag was so light and the path was well formed so by using the poles I felt like I was just adding unnecessary work. So they got retracted and put in the pack.

From the far side of Mount Eden you can see One Tree Hill, the next peak to walk on. Though curiously you don’t walk to the summit of this one, just around the base. And yes One Tree Hill used to have a tree on it, until about 20 or 30 years ago. A protester cut it down. Right now I can’t remember why.

One Tree Hill as seen from halfway down Mount Eden

One Tree Hill is the closest place to central Auckland where you can always find sheep, and sometimes you can go right up to them as long as you’re cautious and quiet.

Lonely sheep at One Tree Hill

Then you end up at the Royal Oak Roundabout. One of two major roundabouts in Auckland with five roads coming off it, the other being Panmure Roundabout. These roundabouts terrified me when I was a new driver.

The Royal Oak roundabout from above

This one is much easier to walk around though, there are pedestrian crossings on all five roads.

Royal Oak Roundabout

Then along the Onehunga walkway. You get a clear view of Mangere Mountain from here.

Mangere Mountain

You don’t walk up here or even around here, but it’s a prominent landmark in this area. But first you have to cross the Manukau Harbour to get to it. Thing is… the bridge shown on the Guthook and Trail App is closed, and has been for some time.

Old Mangere Bridge Closed

So instead, you have to walk under the motorway which is a small detour. It’s a much less appealing place to walk, but it does the job and has a nice view (and a low headroom). You can also see the “Old Mangere Bridge” which is the one that’s closed, and apparently getting rebuilt.

Under State Highway 20

Then you walk along Kiwi Esplanade, which is a nice walk but the pathway was designed by a drunk guy on a Friday night after work. Could this pathway really not have gone in a straight line?

Curvy!

I knew the 600km mark was coming up, so I looked out for it. But I noticed something unusual – the Trail App and Guthook disagree on where the marker is. They’ve always been in sync up until now. Here is where the 600km mark is, according to the Trail App – the Manukau Yacht & Motor Boat Club.

600km mark according to the Trail App

But since I’ve always been following Guthook, here was the “actual” 600km mark – 900 metres later at the Ambury Foreshore Walk. I cranked out a sheet of paper that I prepared earlier at home. I planned to ask anybody around to take a photo of me holding it, but there was nobody around. And it was windy… so here’s the picture to mark the occasion.

The “real” 600km mark!!

Ambury Regional Park has very few people around… but a *lot* of sheep (and a few cows).

Lots and lots of sheep, and a smattering of cows

These ones were blocking the pathway.

Move!

They moved quickly enough.

There they go.

Uh oh… more sheepies blocking the path. It’s getting hot now, and the clouds have all gone. I feel bad shooing them away from the shade.

Many sheepies in the way

Sorry sheepies, you’ve got to move.

Now just a note – please don’t use the word “sheeps”. The plural of “sheep” is “sheepies”. Saying “sheeps” really singles you out as a clueless tourist.

I liked walking around the park, but I did get my poles out at this point and started using them again since it turned into farmland. After a while it turned into the Watercare Coastal Walkway, which wasn’t quite as wonderful but still not too bad. It goes right beside the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant.  A bit stinky.

It was along here I went about 400m off course. You can see it in the map below. At one point I followed the “Watercare Coastal Walkway” sign but the TA goes a slightly longer way. I could have kept going along this path, but it would have been considered a “shortcut” because it would cut off some distance. That’s cheating… so I backtracked and continued the proper way.

It was also at this point that my sunglasses broke. These $10 sunnies that I got on Day 5 lasted 35 days. Not very long.

RIP sunglasses – the second pair that I’ve buried

And then, a bit of good ol’ juvenile Kiwi humour.

Birds Rooting

And speaking of juvenile humour, Mangere Mountain from this angle really looks like boobs.

The notable South Auckland landmark known as Mount Boobs. Well it is to me.

And actually, you can see the three main peaks of the walk so far all from right here. Mangere Mountain is closest, One Tree Hill is in the middle and Mount Eden is in the left, so far away now that you almost can’t see it.

3x peaks

Next was through the Otuataua Stonefields Reserve. I’d never been through here and I was looking forward to it. The stone fences reminded me of farms that you see a lot in England – bordered by stone fences instead of the type of fences you see everywhere here.

Stone Fences 1
Stone Fences 2

Like everywhere today, the path was well formed and dry, except for this one small bit. Thank you to whoever put large pieces of wood down. They saved me getting my shoes wet.

The one wet and muddy path all day

And next was the Ihumatao Quarry. This is where I met Mark and Jolanda – they had set off from Ambury a short time ago. It was great to have someone to talk to for a while.

In the news a few months back, Ihumatao was the site of a lot of land protests. I haven’t been watching the news since I started the trail – quite frankly, I’m quite happy not knowing what other things are going on around the country and around the world right now. But I was talking to my Mum yesterday and she said she hadn’t heard anything about the protests in the news recently.

But… we found ourselves blocked by a road block. It was protesters blocking the road. And they have done a real job of it.

Ihumatao Quarry Road blocked

The three of us were refused access to the area. I don’t want to get into the politics of the protest too much but I wonder if they really have the right to deny us entry to a public road. Regardless, we took a detour through an avocado orchard, which was easy and you were allowed to take five avocados each, according to the sign.

If you need to follow the detour, when you first see the blockade above, and you are on the path in the picture, look to the right and you will see the entrance to an avocado orchard which has a small Auckland Council sign. Follow the fenceline on the left of the orchard and it will bring you out on the next road south, and you will rejoin the trail shortly after. Again, you can see it in the map below.

My 11am picture is us trying to figure out if the detour we had just taken was across private or public land. We worked out it was on public land. Jolanda’s finger here is pointing at the point of the blockade.

11am picture – closed road

Not long to the Airport now. I was looking forward to having McDonald’s! Although… when I realised that the McDonald’s is actually inside the airport terminal, and that required a bit of a detour, I just stopped at the first Z petrol station that you come to (called Z Skyway).

When I walked in… I saw this:

Free sunnies!

Free sunglasses… for buying my most favourite cold drink in the world! Yes please! What perfect timing – I had just broken mine two hours before, and I finally got some new ones.

From this angle they look okay.

I put them on and had my lunch.

Me in my trendy new sunglasses

There are few things to point out from this picture. First – thanks to Jolanda for taking it. Second – I’ve been wearing my running shoes today instead of my trail runners or boots. Good choice since the day was almost all on roads. Third – the lenses of my new sunglasses are hideous colours. Fourth – the Z has great coffee and some good pies but nowhere to sit, so I had to sit on a milk crate. Fifth – I’m wearing a different shirt. This shirt really rubbed on my nipples and they were quite raw by the end of the day. I should have anticipated this, as it used to happen all the time when I used to go running, and I used to put waterproof tape over them to stop them rubbing. However, the more I thought about it, that probably doesn’t happen normally because my usual pack straps across my front and so that would stop the shirt moving around and stop the rubbing. Ok fine, I shouldn’t blame the shirt, I should blame the pack.

I left Mark and Jolanda at this point as they were taking it easy but I had a long day ahead so couldn’t dawdle for too long.

And I completely forgot about this McDonald’s just around the corner! I really thought the only McDonald’s was in the airport itself.

McDonald’s on Tom Pearce Drive

I guess that the universe wanted me to get the free sunglasses. If I had gone to this McDonald’s instead of the Z, I might not have noticed the deal. Although, there are four Z petrol stations between the Airport and the next 10km. They really want the business of people driving to the airport.

I passed this mini golf course. This golf course always bring back memories – in 2003 I flew to the USA for a few months and I played mini golf with my family while we were waiting for my flight.

Treasure Island Adventure Golf

I saw this too.

2003 Mitsubishi Evo 8

This caught my eye because it’s the exact same make, model and year as my car but it’s clearly been heavily modified. I wondered if the scoop was missing the grill on purpose or if it had just fallen out. You could just reach in and touch the pipes.

I also saw this. Don’t speed around the airport!

Can you see the sneaky speed camera in there?

There’s a camera in there which will send you a fine if it detects you’re speeding. They call them “traffic safety cameras”.

I also discovered that State Highway 20B, despite being the road to the airport from the south, has a footpath along a lot of it.

State Highway 20B

And where there was no footpath, at least there was a shoulder. You also get to see the planes coming into land. Here’s an Air New Zealand plane arriving.

A reserve comes after this, and also a bit which I think is somebody’s farm. There’s lots of gorse, but fortunately you don’t have to push through it.

And it’s well marked.

Once you come out of here though, you really do hit the industrial area. People who are hitchhiking bits to save time – I really would suggest hitching the entire section after the airport – potentially until you get to Ngaruawahia (although I don’t know exactly where to yet because I’m only at Drury). The section once you turn onto Wiri Station Road is rather depressing.

These signs need updating. This has not been State Highway 20 for many, many years now.

When I reached Totara Park, I had to take a selfie and send it to my friend Nick, as we always said we were going to do a lot of running in this park together. Although so far, we’ve only done it twice.

Man, those lenses are intense!

And from here, it is down a road called Porchester Road. This is long, and straight, and residential, and boring. Lots of dairies if you need anything. Although I did get a “real fruit ice cream” at the start of the road, and had to explain to the operator there why he keeps seeing people with hiking poles walking past. And I also saw one of my friends, Helaman, from university – he saw me and did a u-turn and we had a chat. I had not seen him for many years and had no idea he had even moved to this area. That was a nice unexpected surprise.

After a long time walking on this road though with not much happening, I was excited to see this:

No I don’t mean the campervan. It’s the bend in the road. If you can’t appreciate it, you haven’t had the pleasure of road walking on a perfectly dead straight piece of road for what felt like over an hour.

It had been so hot all day. I was starting to get quite burnt. I put on sunscreen when I left the airport but I don’t like reapplying it because it just runs down your face with your sweat and ends up getting in your eyes. But the sun was shining intensely all day, so maybe this time I should have. And I ran out of water, and it was surprisingly hard to find. All the Central Auckland playgrounds and parks have water fountains but in South Auckland none of them do. I was really starting to struggle.

In Papakura I still couldn’t find any water so I actually did a small detour and went into the “Massey Park pools” and asked them for water. I think I was being an inconvenience because it was a busy afternoon with parents bringing their kids in but the lady was nice and she went and filled up my water bottle with water. I could have bought it from the shops along the way but if I had to keep buying water I would have spent a ton of money.

Walking through Papakura I met up with Barry from Dunedin. He was walking fast and I had to pick up the pace to catch up to him. We were chatting as I saw signs pointing to Drury.

I took this while on the bus, but I forgot to take a photo of the actual “Welcome to Drury” sign so this will have to do

I was getting close to my destination now – the Mobil at Drury. We had a good chat about all sorts of things… and eventually in the distance I saw a hint of blue…

Mobil Drury in the distance

And not much longer before I was right outside it.

Finally, I’d made it!

The bus stop on the other side of the road is where I would wait for my bus to go back to Mount Eden to go home. I said goodbye to Barry who was staying just a bit further up the road. I also looked at my watch…

Reads 55.47km (and for some reason, 115 metres below sea level)

Now I know that according to Guthook, I had walked 57.6km. And, I had detoured and backtracked over one kilometer today. My watch should be reading at least 58.5 – it’s reading 3km under what it should. I’m quite annoyed about how much it under-reads in the city. Looking at the map below, I can see why – the line cuts most corners and in some places, especially around Greenlane, Royal Oak and the southern end of Porchester Road, it’s wildly inaccurate (in each of those places I followed the trail exactly). I wanted to put it on high accuracy mode today, since I knew I was walking through city streets, but I knew that the battery would not last long enough to track an 11 hour walk. Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter. I know how far I’ve walked!

I had arrived at 5:19pm though. Since I started at 6:30am I thought that wasn’t too bad for a 58km-plus walk. That makes me confident that I can walk from Drury to Rangiriri on Wednesday and arrive in Rangiriri at a reasonable time. There is a bit of farm walking I believe in that section, but I have a few hours leeway up my sleeve and so I’m confident.

I got on the bus, and I had the bus all to myself the entire way from Drury to Papakura Train Station.

Like an uber, but larger

And then I took the train from Papakura to Mount Eden. From the train I could see the State Highway 20 bridge that I walked along earlier in the morning.

View from the train – way in the distance is the bridge I walked across this morning

This meant transiting through the Newmarket Train Station. Back in 2003 I took a train from this station, and back then, there were no display boards, and the trains themselves didn’t have a destination written on the front of the train, or anywhere on the train for that matter. You had to actually go up to the driver in person and ask him where the train was headed. Things have improved there now… but only very slightly.

In the twelve minutes I was at this station, I heard three “your train has been moved to a different platform” announcements. Fortunately none of them were my train – I’m not sure I actually could have walked up the stairs to the other platforms. The 18:24 train towards Swanson (the one I needed) just disappeared from the board, and never showed up. The actual train can’t have just vanished, surely, so I always wonder how this actually happens. And then, the next train was supposed to come at 18:32, however a train going to Britomart just randomly turned up on the platform. And the display board got confused. You can see it above, it says the train is 18 minutes away but actually that’s the train right there in the picture and left less than a minute later.

My train did eventually turn up, a fair bit later than what the boards said. I’ve said it twice in three days now… but you clearly don’t have to be a genius to work at Auckland Transport. Sorry to my friends who actually work at Auckland Transport! I pity anyone that has to travel from this station on a regular basis.

Once home I had Sal’s pizza. I was in the public transport mood so I was going to get the bus to go get it, but I knew they’d never let me carry it home on the bus, so I had to go home first and get my car.

I love Sal’s pizza!

I also got this interesting can of Coke. Nick emailed me a picture of a can of Coke a few days ago which said “Have a Coke with Bogan” and so it was quite a coincidence that I grabbed this can. I’ll let Urban Dictionary define “bogan” if you don’t know what it is. A “Westie” is basically a bogan from West Auckland.

The only westies I know are my Mum and stepdad.

And I got this from Sal’s – which I think must be gram-for-gram the most expensive ice cream in the world. $6.90 for a 120ml tub. It looks big because it’s close up but trust me, it’s tiny.

$6.90? HOW DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT??????

I sat on my couch and ate all this… and then I just couldn’t get off the couch. I was hurting a bit, but honestly not as much I was expecting to. Still, it was a challenge to get off the couch, and I thought there’s no reason to if I don’t have to. When it started getting dark, I was excited to realise I could reach the light switch with my walking poles so I didn’t have to get up off the couch.

This is the best news ever.

I have a feeling that I’m going to be on this couch for the rest of my life. Perhaps I won’t bother going to Wellington after all.

Oh yes, and a new steps record – 74,446.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Days 36-39: Mount Eden rest days

Dates: 31 October – 3 November

It was nice to spend four days at home. I did mundane things like chores, mowed the lawns, and more exciting things like visiting my friends and driving my car around randomly.

The remains of the water after handwashing the silk sleeping bag liner

I got a chance to wash everything on a hot wash. It felt very good. But I did remember one tip that Rhydian gave me back on Day 9 or 10. He said that even after washing his silk sleeping bag liner over and over again, years later the colour still runs. And I’m glad he said that because it made me handwash my silk liner instead of throwing it in with the rest of the wash. And sure enough, the water turned into a deep red wine colour. I’m very glad I don’t now have a laundry full of pink stuff. That has to have been one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received on this trip so far.

The first night was halloween. Driving around the “nicer” part of Mount Eden I saw kids in very elaborate costumes everywhere. Every year I put out a few small Halloween decorations but no kids ever show up. However this time, three kids did! Two young girls in elaborate witch costumes and then five minutes later a young boy in a Captain America costume. He looked very very pleased with himself, it was so cute. I had a bunch of chocolate but I only gave the three kids one piece each. I should have given them more because they were the only three kids that turned up all night.

Duck Island Ice Cream

It was nice to drive my car around again. I found myself driving more slowly than usual because I couldn’t get out of my head the fact that around any corner could be a bunch of hikers walking around the middle of the road.

I chatted with other hikers that are in Auckland. I wish I had some grass at my place so that people could pitch their tents. Next year I might have to get some bunk beds so that people can stay at my place and I can be a Trail Angel.

I saw a lot of my friends and family. And I got a fantastic ice cream from Duck Island on Ponsonby Road.

Tomorrow though it’s time to continue on. I won’t get to Wellington by Christmas if I sit around.

Tried to get a selfie with my Mum’s British Bulldog. This was the best I did. As you can see I shaved on my second rest day