Today was the final day of our TA journey, right from top to bottom!! Belinda’s sister Julia, and husband Pete, had said they would come and pick us up and would be there from around 1600 in case we got in early (we expected to be closer to 1700 at Otaki Forks / Boielle Flat carpark/swingbridge). So we planned to get away early and arose at 0500. I then checked the Suunto which gaily informed me sunrise was at 0618 :-) Should check these things the night before!! Anyway, we had a leisurely breakfast with a couple of cups of tea and were ready to go by 0630 - while it was misty/cloudy, there was plenty of light to see by. TA notes said we had 18km and between 8 and 11 hours ahead of us! Suunto disagree with the distance, and we clocked up 20km finally. We arrived across the final swingbridge about 1615 after just under 8h30 of walking (9h40 in total as we kept our breaks short today so we wouldn’t be too late!!). The GPS tracking for the day is here.
As noted, it was pretty misty and the tussock and scrub was wet, so rain skirts and jackets were the go for the start of the day. The jackets weren’t on long (it wasn’t cold or windy) but the rainskirts stayed for a bit longer. It was about 2.6km to Mt Crawford and another 1 km to Junction Knob - this is along some very exposed narrow ridges with sizeable drop-offs on either side. Hence the warning to trampers that they may need to be prepared to wait at Nichols Hut if weather conditions aren’t favourable (it can get REALLY windy up here!!). Luckily we only had a gentle breeze at worst and, at times, no wind at all. At 1462m, Mt Crawford is 300m higher than Nichols Hut so there was a fair bit of “up” and somewhat less “down”! Our views were hindered by the misty cloud but it was an amazing feeling climbing along these ridges in limited visibility nonetheless. We also got some great photos of our shadows in a circular rainbow projected onto cloud to the west, as the sun was behind us (see below). The climb to Crawford took us 1h20 and wasn’t too arduous - the bit that was concerning us most was the fact that the finish line was 1300m lower than Mt Crawford, i.e. lots of descending for the knees to cope with!!
Video of us walking in early morning cloud is below.
Then it was on down to Junction Knob where we were surprised by a runner coming up behind us out of the mist, who only stopped long enough to tell us he was headed for Kaitoke near Upper Hutt, along the Main Range route south - I have no idea where he stayed last night! We turned west here and started down toward Shoulder Knob. The cloud was clearing a little as we headed down and went further west, so we saw some sun and some more views as time went by. At the 5km mark we got to Shoulder Knob (still at 1300m asl) where we stopped for 25 minutes for a break and to catch up on some phone things (cellphone reception has been pretty good on this trip, although none at Nichols Hut) and let the family know progress.
A video below to show us about 30 minutes before Shoulder Knob.
Below is a video from Shoulder Knob - note how the clouds come and go between the previous video and this one.
From here we headed down into the bushline and a fairly steep descent down towards our first meeting with the Otaki River - 1000m down over 3.7km to the swingbridge across the river at the bottom. Luckily it was fairly dry underfoot so, although challenging terrain, we also realised that it could have been diabolical if it was wet and slippery - shades of the descent from Travers Saddle to Sabine River East Branch in the Nelson Lakes! We still took our time to try and minimise impact on the knees and reached the swingbridge 1h50 after leaving Shoulder Knob. B followed me across the bridge and, in the middle, noticed a rather large eel swimming happily underneath - which she managed to get a shot of. We then followed around above the true right of the river for 1.6km to Waitewaewae Hut (the Suunto had us at 9.5km for the day here against the TA suggested 8km - felt more than 8!!).
We stopped here for less than 15 minutes to check the place out and to fill up our water before heading on. We planned to take the “dry weather” route as the river was low. This involves dropping down into the river about 100m after the hut and crossing to the true left, then following along the rocks on that side for about 400m, around a U-bend in the river, before crossing again back to the true left at the point where a nice orange triangle directed us up Arapito Stream. While it was only 600m up Arapito Stream before rejoining the main (wet weather) track, the orange markers and the track disappeared a couple of times, which made us take our time to figure out where exactly the track went - so not sure how much time it saved!
From here we headed up onto the Plateau which we thought, from the TA GPS track that we have (using Viewranger app and Topo50 maps) on our phones, might be most of the climbing done for the day, with a benign downhill run. How wrong we were!!! The GPS file didn’t seem to have been updated to include the “new” (actually a few years old now) so-called Sidle Track that was put in to bypass a large slip on the old track. In short, this part of the track was bloody horrible (a nice version of the word I might otherwise use!).
At the 13km mark (on my Suunto GPS track - follow the link at the top of the blog post) the Waitewaewae Track used to head down a valley (Saddle Creek) to the Waitatapia Stream. Now you head down around about 3km of gnarly roots, rocks and the occasional fallen tree on a sidle to rejoin the old track before a second slip (which you then climb up around to avoid). This bit was made worse for B by the fact that she had hurt her leg which was causing stabbing pains into her left knee on both ups and downs. Horrible doesn’t really do it justice. The funniest part of this was that, probably because we were feeling grumpy and sorry for ourselves, we didn’t take any useful photos of this bit of the track - so you’ll have to take our word for it!! If you want another view of this bit of track, read the eloquent Anthony Behrens who, with his partner Fiona, (otherwise known as Whin and Whiona!) walked this section northbound as part of an alternative TA journey in March last year. Follow this link to his blog for that day, entitled “Stairway to Hell”!!
Eventually we ended up back on the old trail which was part of the old logging tram track that used to run up the valley. This was absolute bliss by comparison and eased B’s leg pain a little :-) It was relatively flat, with only minor up/downs for the next 2 km, running above the Waitatapia Stream, until we dropped down to the penultimate swingbridge - this one across the Otaki River again. This is less than 1.5km from the Boielle Flat carpark at Otaki Forks so there were a number of people swimming in the river here. It has been a very hot summer in the district and I imagine the water is warmer than usual - it certainly felt pleasant to walk in!!
A short sharp climb up from the swingbridge on a well-formed track saw us on a plateau with only just over a km to go - we almost got lost here because of a plethora of tracks and even had to rely on the GPS to tell us which grassy path to take!! We finally dropped down to the Waiotauru River onto the Arcus Loop Track and headed for our last swingbridge of the TA - across to the carpark and picnic area. We got a rather large surprise when we saw a congratulatory banner hung on the eastern end of the bridge as we approached. We stopped for a photo under it and crossed the bridge to find another banner and a finishing tape strung across the bridge :-) Julia had excelled herself and had a small reception of family and friends to welcome us - a very nice surprise for us, especially as the surprise included bubbly, beer and a barbeque!! It was a lovely thought that capped off what has been a mammoth journey for us over 2 years and 4 months. So that was it DONE - I’m sure both Belinda and I will have some more thoughts to add “post the event”, when we have had some more time to reflect on what it all means. But, that’s the end of the walking part of the TA blog!! Bye to all, and a big thanks to those who have followed progress and provided moral and physical support:-)
Belinda and Anthony (aka Tony) Hadfield made a decision, in their late 50's, to do something a "bit different" and walk New Zealand's 3000km Te Araroa Trail over summer 2015/16 - although updates will now tell you that this plan will take longer now!!. As the old saying goes - "don't leave home 'til you've seen the country"!!