Saturday, January 31, 2015

Days 55-65: 340K From Whanganui to Wellington

Hello from Windy Welly! Wellington is NZ's capitol and at the very bottom of the North Island, which means we have finished the North Island and have trekked 1686 kilometers, or roughly 1076 miles, during the past 65 days!!!

I hope to do a grand summary of the North Island very soon. But for now, here is my recap of the past 10 days and 340K (or 217 miles).

The breakdown for this past section included:
190K of road walking (122 miles)
110K of forest (70 miles)
25K of river path/other urban paths (16 miles)
16K of beach walking (10 miles)

You'll probably recognize the themes for this section ... And I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record! In any case, here is a summary of our last few days on the North Island.

1) Trail Angels
I don't know how many times I can brag about the generosity of the Kiwis. It continues to surprise and amaze us. And one of our goals in walking the length of NZ was to meet the people. I can happily say we are meeting the people! I'm not sure we would experience this as much if we were driving around. In any case, we experienced A LOT of acts of kindness in this past section. When we showed up at the Koitiata Campground and found out TA hikers get to camp for free. When we finished the North Island in Wellington, a family picnicking offered us a ride to where we were staying. We appreciate every act, no matter how big or small. Sometimes, though, the kindness of the Kiwis is much more involved.

Meet Carole and Tony.

We met Carole and Tony at Waihaha Hut in the Pureora Forest sometime around Day 40 or so. They knew nothing of the trail, but realized it went relatively close to their house in Wellington. Naturally we got to talking about our arrival in Wellington and where to stay and what to do. They were gracious enough to offer their house as a place to stay! We are taking 2 days off at Carole and Tony's house and they began spoiling us the very moment we arrived by showing us our bedroom and own bathroom and a meal ready to eat! More to come on our time with Carole and Tony as their hospitality has blown us away ...

Meet Jo (top left), Mike, Hannah, Connor and Donna. 


A few weeks ago, I was looking ahead at trail notes and noticed a homestay in Bulls. It said private room/bath, laundry and dinner for $50/couple. Considering we typically spend $70 at hostels for a private room, shared bath and NO laundry or dinner, I thought this couldn't be right, but made a mental note to look into it later. Then, while we were in Whanganui at the Breamer House Hostel (which turned out not to be a nice place), we missed the open laundry hours. We desperately needed to do laundry, so resorted to the old fashioned method.

The homestay that included laundry in Bulls was 2 walking days away, so that sealed the deal. I called the number listed in our trail notes and spoke to Jo, who confirmed everything and said she was excited to host us, as we would be their first hikers (they just started advertising). 
We arrived at Jo's house on Wednesday afternoon and realized this was paradise. We had our own room and shower. Jo lives on a farm with her 2 children (Hannah and Connor) and her partner, Mike, and his 2 kids (whom we didn't get to meet). They live off the land and the fruits of their labor with a huge garden, chickens, cow, pigs and lamb. Hannah gave us the grand tour of the farm and what animals get fed what and when. We watched Mike slaughter a lamb for its meat. It is all very inspiring to see the truly sustainable lifestyle they have.

They spoiled us rotten while we were there. For dinner, we had beer, wine, lamb, venison, salad, veggies and pavlova (meringue) for dessert. They also fed us breakfast--eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast. When we said our goodbyes, Jo sent us off in the morning with some chocolate. Later that afternoon, during our long, hot road walk, she pulled up with 2 cold sodas.
Lamb and venison are very popular in NZ. 

Meet Sally and John.
There was a second listing in our trail notes for the Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre, which we would pass a few days after Bulls. It said with advance notice, you could camp there. We planned out our days ahead and found it would be the perfect stopping point for Sunday night, so shot them an email asking about camping and the cost, the reply was: "We have a cottage for you to stay in and join us for a meal. There is no cost; it is our pleasure to host TA walkers."
And this is how we discovered another paradise in the same week. We arrived and immediately Sally handed us a cold beer (lemon beer, which I now love!). Sally's "cottage" was all for us, with a shower, kitchen and laundry (although I didn't take advantage of that - why do laundry twice in the same week?!). Sally cooked us a delicious meal of prawns, roast, potatoes, beetroot, corn on the cob and zucchini. Then rhubarb pie for dessert. She gave us toast, yogurt and tea for breakfast. Then sent us off with plums and cherries for the day. Sally runs an awesome outdoor pursuits center with all kinds of fun things, like a flying fox (zipline), rock wall, high ropes. It was so tempting to stay and play ...

It is sometimes difficult to accept all this generous hospitality. I am the type of person that doesn't like to put people out, but, I had to let that go on this trip. People wouldn't offer if they didn't want to and if we say no to some of these offers, we would surely miss out. More than the food and drink, it is the conversations and friendships formed. It is the integration into NZ culture and history we wanted to have. People want to hear our stories as much as we want to hear theirs. It is a win-win situation. 

2) Road Walking
The finale of the North Island had to throw in its fair share of road walking (roughly 190K). 

Some of it has been pretty ugly. For example, upon leaving Whanganui, we walked 19K on SH3. Our trail notes said, SH3 is an extremely busy road, so take extreme care. It seemed like every farmer was moving sheep that day, so there were big trucks whizzing by every minute. Not our worst road walk, but not the easiest either
Look at that rare, WIDE shoulder! 

Coming from Waikene (pronounced Why-ka-nye) into Wellington, we also walked a fair share along SH1. Sometimes we were right on it, sometimes we were up above it. But, it was never too far away. The good thing about this portion was that it was along the Tasman Sea and there was a nice breeze.
Much better to be walking above the highway
On other roads, the only obstacles are farm animals. 
Being near the city meant being among planes, trains and automobiles!
The trail even walked ACROSS a train platform!
Outside of Poruia, there were heaps of people jumping off the SH1 bridge. Apparently there is nothing illegal about it. I got a video of their "jumping chain" on our YouTube channel.

The other parts of the road walking included lots of towns with some interesting sights. In roughly chronological order, here are some faves.

The town of Bulls really embraces its name.
The rubbish bins all said Response-A-Bull!
And they have more of those great NZ mailboxes!

The town of Fielding also appealed to us. First of all, we lunched at Kowhai Park. It had an aviary with some very impressive and colorful birds! There was also the Fielding Sale Yards, where there was a sheep auction going on.

Next up was Bunnythorpe, where I had my total nerd moment. The tiny town of Bunnythorpe--it had a tavern and a dairy where we indulged in an ice cream--was the original home to Glaxo Laboratories, of GlaxoSmithKline! I've spent so much of my career writing about GSK, a major player in the pharmaceutical industry, that it was super cool to see its birthplace way back in 1904! I had no idea they originated in NZ!
You can faintly see the original Glaxo sign on the building.

3) Beach Walking
This section had my favorite bits of beach walking, particularly on Koitiata Beach, which was a black sand beach with heaps of interesting driftwood.

When we got closer to Wellington, the beach walking afforded views of Kapiti Island (a bird sanctuary) and the South Island.
4) The Tararuas (pronounced Tar-a-ooh-ahs)
We went through the Tararua Forest Range, which has a reputation for being challenging due to weather and terrain. 
Once again, I think these warning signs are a little too late for TA hikers.

Thankfully, we had perfect weather, as seen in this video and the pictures. As such, this was a favorite section for us. Still, the Tararuas kicked our butts! After so much road walking on flat roads lately, the ups and downs were quite the workout. We gained 10,400 feet in elevation and lost 11,400 feet during the 40K of forest (or 25 miles). We went through such variety from beech forest to tree fern forest to alpine tussock grassy areas to pine forest.



The tussock grass looks so pretty, but it is not always fun to walk through!
The beech trees were fairytale-like!
Our highest point was 1400 meters, or roughly 6,000 feet, on Mt. Crawford.
As usual, there are obstacles on the trail!
Look what we found in the middle of the wilderness! Our nephew would be very jealous.

The other awesome part about the Tararuas was we got to go hut-to-hut again! We stayed in 2 huts--Te Matawai and Waitewaewae (pronounced Y-T-Y-Y)--and stopped at all the others for at least a break.


5) Swingbridges
A person can really tackle all their fears on this hike: bees, bulls, electric fences, heights, the list goes on and on. For me, this includes swingbridges. In the Tararuas, we crossed 3! I survived, but not without shaky legs. We took video of me crossing, but I'm not sure it captured my fear. Apparently, there are TONS in the South Island. Gulp.
This always makes me a little nervous ... The bridge really can only hold 1 person!?!?
J has NO problem with the bridges. 
I had heart failure just getting onto this one.
Can you hear my heartbeat?
Yep, that's how NZ rolls.

6) Reaching Wellington 
Heading into Wellington, we followed a mix of city paths and roads. Along the way, there were estuaries, swamps, lagoons, pretty beach homes, botanic gardens, old cemeteries, oodles of city parks, great views and lots of other things to keep it interesting. As it was in Auckland, navigating the city was a bit dizzying and exhausting, especially because Wellington is extremely hilly. Plus, the whole city horseshoes around a magnificent harbor, so we found our orientation off a lot. We had lots of people pulling over when we were looking at our maps to ask if we were okay or lost. One of the funniest things was when someone rolled down their window to ask if we were on The Amazing Race!!
And of course the other great thing about road walking towns is food! We practically ate and drank our way all the way into Wellington.

This is one of the last surviving and biggest flax swamps in NZ.
This is James Gear's home. He was the first millionaire in NZ. He made his millions being a butcher!
Here we on top of Mt. Kaukau overlooking Wellington 
Westpac Stadium in Wellington where everything from rugby to concerts play.
Wellington's beehive Parliament Library building, built in 1899!
Loved the succulent plants in the Botanic Gardens of Wellington!
Riding the cable car would be cheating on the trail, but it the iconic thing to do in Wellington. Cable cars operated in the early 1900s.
I think we've done it all now. The trail officially goes through Mount Street Cemetery.
Wellington is VERY hilly, but that means stunning views everywhere

And at the very tip of Wellington in Island Bay, there is a rock commemorating the end of the North Island section of the Te Araroa. We did some big days to get into Wellington, so we were purely exhausted upon finishing. Oh wait, it could also be because we hiked 1686 kilometers (or 1076 miles to get there)!
We are enjoying a bit of downtime here in Wellington and will report on our non-hiking activities soon!