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.
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.
Be careful while you’re taking photos though. There isn’t a lot of room when a truck comes.
And then somebody helpfully put this in the middle of the footpath.
Saw the bilingual signs welcoming cars to Rangiriri.
More stopbank walking today. The strange cloud stuck around for quite a while.
The grass was quite long though for a lot of it, and because it was early, my feet got nice and wet.
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:
And a bunch more cows blocking the way. Although this lot moved out of the way fast.
And then suddenly into a golf course. And I walked right through the middle of the 16th tee without even realising.
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”:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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…
And you will see this glorious sight.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today's walk on the map (blue = Te Araroa, red = today's walk):