Te Kuiti to Taumaranui
But I’ma make your b*tch ass holla
Cause I’ma put a hole in your head
The size of a half a dolla
(F*ck around and get your cap peeled cause this is)
Die muthaf*cka, die muthaf*cka (kill)
– Still, Geto Boys
There is supposed to be a get for the give.
Most trails on this journey have their challenges: mud, water, rain, stream crossing, slippery footing, wind, road traffic or hard pavement. You accept these because you get something in return: a view, a waterfall, a beach sunset, a pretty pasture, or simply a quiet moment in solitude. You give. You get. This is the contract that keeps you going.
Not so with the last 7 km of the Hauhungaro Route between Hauhungaroa Hut and Mangakahu Road. This track is without a soul. Unlike its cousins in the Pureora Forest which offered beautiful streams, unique micro-climates and the promise of views of Lake Taupo, this stretch gave nothing back. It took everything out of me regardless: in heavy wind and sheets of rain it offered puddles in place of a path, steep descents that went for hours and just when it looked to be easing up, it threw in a stream crossing and another course of mud. Hate is a strong word, and I hated this trail with all my very essence.
This walk into and out of the Pureoa Forest started on December 10th, with a charming march alongside the Mangaokewa River on a mixed bag of pathways including a couple of kilometres of sketchy-footing with cliffs hidden alongside. The river is beautiful and there were many places to stop and have a quiet moment overlooking the stream or a pasture or a native forest on the opposite bank. I ended that day with a walk down some country roads and was lucky enough to come across a pine forest where I had a dry evening despite strong rains that drenched much of the area.
The next morning, December 11th, was roads and rain and pasture – but quiet and efficient. On the way I passed Jean and Juliette who stopped for some lunch and had a brief conversation. Turns out they had arrived in New Zealand straight from Canada, having spent the previous four months hiking throughout British Columbia and visiting. They were the first people I have met who knew where Canmore was. Turns out they have friends there. They are an interesting couple, from Grenoble, who have hiked the Alps, the Great Divide Trail, extensively in the Canadian Rockies, and their own-devised 2,000 km trek through the southern Andes. Julliete says the Canadian Rockies is her favorite place in the world because of the incomparable wilderness. We all ended up at the end of the day at a campground at the base of the Pureroa Forest with an eye to the days ahead in the backcountry.
I headed out early on December 12th into the forest and it was amazing. The Pureroa Forest gains a lot of elevation and has its own microclimates as you travel upward. The weather is cooler and humid as you rise and the vegetation changes in spectacular ways: mosses and ferns that I have not seen anyplace else on this journey. Part way up the trail, this beauty was interrupted by a stretch of walking though forest that was being logged. Stepping out of the moss-covered jungle into a barren vista strewn with mud, machinery and bare logs was surreal. The day ended at The Bog Inn, a 50 year old hut that was dry and warm.
As Juliette and I were finishing a conversation and saying goodnight, out from the forest came Craig. Craig loves hunting; deer (5 kinds in NZ) and wild boar mostly. Craig had run out daylight and aimed for The Bog Inn when he realized he would not be able to walk back to his truck. He put down his gun, shared a bunch of crazy stories about getting lost in the forest before we headed to sleep.
The next day, December 13th, was a calm one, a great short walk through to another, more modern, hut midway through the forest. Many streams, some very steep (but mostly dry) descents and good quality of trails. The Waihaha Hut was modern and dry and warm. I walked the forest without headphones or music or podcasts as had become my habit recently. This was based upon Juliette quizing me why I needed them. It was a good question. I have cheated myself of the sounds of the forest to this point. No more. Saving the tunes for the roads only from this point onward.
I woke early the morning of December 14th with a very modest goal of walking just 12 km to the next hut on the trail. The notes suggested this would be a 10 hour trip. The signage said seven hours. In heavy rain I did it in just over five and a half. This meant I was at my destination at 11:15 am. The weather was severe at the Hauhungaroa Hut with high winds and heavy rain. But I couldn’t see myself hanging around a hut all day, so after a cup of soup I headed out at noon aiming to camp near the forest exit.
That plan went horribly wrong. The trail notes said this was 2.5 hrs. It took me nearly four. The trail, as I have said, was a mean bastard: cruel and unsympathetic. Just when most trails get a touch easier and relaxed towards the end, this trail did the opposite.
And it got to me.
I was defeated emotionally. Seeing no sign of the cruel intensity letting up. No mercy. No compassion. No gets.
As I exited the trail I was shaking. The rain had stopped now, outside the forest. I entered the beginnings of a farm road and marched a few hundred meters when a car pulled beside me.
Windows down, inside that little car were Rita and Trev.
“Do ya want a ride?” asked Rita
“I would love a ride!” I said, continuing “But I promised myself I would walk.”
“Good on ya.” Rita replied as she smiled, looked me in the eyes and gave me a thumbs up with her cigarette in her hand.
That got me. I can’t speak to why. But that smile and genuine consideration was what I needed.
Rita, you won’t know how you charged up my spirit with your smile and kind eyes.
We chatted as we worked our way through the farm gates for another 100 metres. I was most relieved after apologizing to Rita for forgetting the name of the hut and many forest names in NZ as I was still struggling with the pronunciations.
“Ya. They are all Maori names they use, aye?” responded Rita. “I’m Maori and I can’t tell what is what half the time. They all sound tha same.”
Another smile. We waved goodbye.
And that is when I was inspired to walk on. To not let that horrid little trail get the best of me or my day.
I looked at my map. Checked the time. Counted my snacks. It was a doable goal to walk all the way to Taumaranui.
This was my way to win. To get my gets.
I walked an additional 30 km from late afternoon to evening. It was beautiful and calm and I got my gets in cloud formations, sunset, streams, pastures and mountain views. All under a warm evening light. A 53 km day in total.
50 km is epic and exhausting in this terrain. It was 16.5 hours of walking.
50 km is my half a dolla in the head of you, Hauhungaroa Route.
I got my gets despite you.