Half a lake is no fun

Have not had a good time in the Ureweras.

Went to do the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk and it did not go well. The first day was fine – a strenuous walk up to Panekire Bluff, a bit hairy in places, scrambling and trying not to look down (am not particularly wonderful with heights) and the track was not in great condition, but got to Panekire Hut okay. There are supposedly stunning views from there but the weather had closed in and could hardly see a thing. Oh well, it was a nice hut and there were some friendly trampers inside so it was all good. Views had cleared by morning and it was indeed stunning, as this photo looking up to the Panekire Bluff shows.



Coming down from the bluff wasn’t so wonderful. The track was muddy and slick, but I successfully picked my way down most of it before slipping. Which wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t slipped towards the edge of the track – I can still feel the sensation of it giving way beneath me and down I go, arse over tip, tumbling down the steep muddy bank until I smash into a tree and break my arm. I very clearly remember my thought processes during the fall: they went something like shit shit shit shit shit ow!

Have never had a broken bone before but there’s really no mistaking it. I had my new personal locator beacon on me, and briefly considered using it, but there was no bone poking out or anything so it didn’t feel emergency enough. Hauled myself (and pack) one-handed up slippery bank, and that was a job let me tell you. Luckily, ten minutes later, coming in the other direction, wander a pair of Swedish tourists, who happen to be a doctor and a nurse. They kindly strap up my arm and give me some really good painkillers, and off I trot to Waiopaoa Hut, hoping to find a ranger and a quick exit to hospital.

There’s no ranger, no radio, and no mobile coverage at the hut. There is, however, a helpful poster saying that if the hut catches on fire, please call emergency services. On what? Tin cans and string? (There weren’t any of those either.) There was however a ranger hut further around the lake, so I take a chance and make for that. Don’t get there before dark, so camp out overnight under stars. Cold and uncomfortable, arm not so bad as long as I don’t try to use it. Get to the ranger hut early next morning and of course it’s locked up and no-one there. Not impressed. Flag down a couple of boaties and they very kindly scoot me across the lake so I can get a shuttle into town and hospital. Arm is confirmed broken, hand swelled up like a balloon.

Now have a bright green cast. Didn’t finish the tramp. Seriously considering giving tramping up. Two accidents in a row! Will try again later. Maybe.


Worst tramp ever…

A couple of days ago I set off on a three day tramp, going through the Hunua Ranges in the Auckland region; part of Te Araroa. I meant to start in Mangatawhiri and walk to Manukau, but things didn’t turn out that way.

I have had the Worst Tramp Ever. It started when the bus to the starting point was late – and then it dropped me off not quite where I thought it would, so I had an extra 5km to walk to Lyons Road – along a busy state highway, no less. So I got to the Hunua track proper about 5pm instead of 3.30. From there it was only 6km to the campsite, but over steep hills on very rough tracks – 4 hours, say. Starting at 3.30 would have got me there by 7pm, with an hour, hour and a half grace before it gets dark. That grace was gone, but I figured if I didn’t get there in time I could camp by the track and do the extra hour early the next morning.

What I didn’t expect was that an hour and a half in, I’d suddenly get sick. I knew I was moving more slowly than usual, but then there was vomiting, cramps, extreme dizziness (at one stage I thought it was an actual earthquake, the ground seemed to be moving so much beneath me). Also general hotness and sweating. I stopped for a bit, it didn’t get better. So I put up the tent on the side of the track, and then – oh joy – to all my other woes came hallucinations.

First hallucination was the two trees in front of me, which grew arms and heads like the Ents from The Lord of the Rings. They waved their creepy arms above their heads, then put those heads together and whispered, and stared at me, pointing. Exactly as if they were saying “Come and see what we’ve found! Isn’t it strange?”

Hallucination the second came after dark: an animal in the tent, crouching by my ear and growling directly into it. Cue shrieking on my part; the animal disappeared… but it came back, over and over. Needless to say, not a lot of sleep. A lot of screaming, though.

Morning eventually arrived, and I wasn’t entirely with it. (If I were, I’d have turned round and gone back to the nearest farmhouse to ask for assistance.) But no – somehow I thought it was a good idea to carry on. Still nauseated and dizzy.

After a while it became clear the walk should be over. Rang my sister, asked her to fetch me from campground, in hour or two. She agreed. Two hours later, it’s clear that I’m unlikely to reach campground – at this point I think I’ve done 3 km in 5 hours. Staggering. Texted sister relative location and asked her to call park rangers. She does, and then some.

To cut a long story short, a couple of hours later I’m shivering on the track, suddenly freezing, and wrapped in a survival blanket (making sure there’s one in the pack has finally paid off). My brain has cooled a little and suddenly the hallucinations seem like hallucinations – they seemed normal during the event, and even in the morning not so strange. And along come three of the dozen plus people that have been drafted into saving my arse – including park rangers, cops, a forestry worker, a school teacher and (my humiliation is complete) a rescue chopper complete with doctor and medic. “Just be bloody grateful it’s all free,” my sister tells me later. I am, but there’s a donation to Westpac Rescue heading its way regardless and yearly contributions to come.

After being helped out of the bush I’m more compos mentis, but that didn’t stop me being poked and stabbed by chopper paramedic and doctor.

Barely escaped hospital trip. Was sent home to recuperate, with strict instructions to go anyway if I had another turn. Paramedic thought it might have been food poisoning. Mum (who along with my stepdad had left work to come and be frightened out of their wits on my behalf) thought it was a sudden virus. I felt too awful to think much of anything, except for simultaneous sickness and gratitude.

Went home, crawled into bed, and stayed there for days – which is where I am now – eating very small amounts of dry toast. I’ve tramped for 20 odd years, in NZ, the UK, and Germany, and nothing has ever gone wrong like this before.

Worst tramp ever.

Puhinui Stream Track

A decidedly mixed day yesterday. I split it in half like I did the walk through Hamilton city – in the morning  got myself dropped off at Totara Park, and walked down half the Puhinui Stream Track into Manukau for lunch. Was very impressed with Totara Park: beautiful area, well-maintained trails and clear, informative signage. I made really good time and thought I’d be home early, mid-afternoonish.

Come afternoon, that turned to custard.

I got the bus out to the airport, and finished the other half of the previous day’s Auckland Airport Road walk. Noisy, and very windy, but it wasn’t too bad even if a lot of it was along the verge of the main airport road. It was still interesting to see the planes coming in and out, and there were a couple of surprises, like the tiny memorial for the Erebus crew, and a really cool looking mini-fun park with the most awesome rope course. I’d go back and try it, but I’m leaving Auckland today. Also, am terrified of heights, so it’s a bit of a pipe dream really.

Meandered my way to Puhinui reserve, where I promptly fell foul of OJ’s Rule of Ambiguous Tramping. I can safely say that this was some of the most awful signage I’ve seen in my life – it was getting on to Southland levels of bad. I have a degree in botany, but even if I hadn’t the “this is farmland, this is trees” representational map (entirely lacking scale, trails, directions or a “you are here” button) is something I think I could have figured out on my own. I wandered this bloody farm for three hours, often literally knee deep in mud, trying to find my way out. Eventually I found it – right at the beginning of the reserve, and it took ten minutes to escape. The problem was what looked like the likely (unmarked) route was behind a gate saying “No Public Access”, and so, mindful of Te Araroa’s pleas to obey landowner’s lest permission be withdrawn, I thought “that can’t be it”. One little TA sticker sign would have saved me all that!

So I found my way across and continued walking up the Puhinui Stream Track to meet myself in Manukau. By this time I was filthy (had fallen down more than once in the mud of the Reserve), tired, grumpy, and had been chased by a vicious pit-bull that had gotten out of its cage, only to find I had missed the last bus back to sister’s place. So she came and picked me up and we went to get some Indian food, before going home for a bloody well-deserved drink or five.

Mangere Bridge and Foreshore

No pictures again, because I’m chronically incapable of remembering to charge the batteries on my camera, and I left the charger in Wellington. Well done me. I’m in Auckland briefly, house-sitting for my sister and looking after her myriad pets. She’s back now, with only one pet fewer than before, so I thought I’d spend a couple of days on easily accessible Te Araroa stretches. I could have done it earlier, but I would have had to take the sister’s dogs, and they’re just too annoying to walk with – always getting underfoot.

I started at Onehunga Bay Lagoon, where I finished the Coast to Coast last I was walking in Auckland, and wandered round over the little old Mangere Bridge. Only pedestrians and cyclists are permitted here now, and the local fishermen take advantage of a good spot – I think several of them had a few fishing rods each!

On down to Ambury Regional Park, where I deviated from the trail a bit. TA here goes through some paddocks filled with farm animals, but because it’s spring and the paddocks are filled with calves and lambs, the fences were decked out with big signs saying, essentially, “It’s Family Time – please do not disturb the animals”. So I didn’t, and kept to the park pathways instead.

Getting on to what TA calls the Mangere Foreshore Track, but which also seems to go by the name Watercare Coastal Walkway, I made my way along the coast past the lagoon and the treatment plant and down past Oruarangi Creek to the Otuatua Stonefields, and it was here everything turned to custard. I am not an experienced track-maker, in fact I’ve never made so much as a metre of walking track in my life. Yet neophyte as I am, there seem to be two simple rules that are oft ignored. Rule One: if the track suddenly stops in the middle of nowhere, you need a sign. Rule Two: if there is a fork in the track, you need a sign. This isn’t rocket science. Ignore these rules at your peril, unless you wish to stumble across a third: OJ’s Rule of Ambiguous Tramping, which states that on any unmarked fork, the tramper will invariably take the wrong one.

And so I did. I got hopelessly, horribly lost in a great overgrown section, and eventually followed my nose uphill into farmland, to try and get my bearings. Found a farmhouse, with a lovely, helpful couple (and Woody, the world’s most disobedient dog, who happily followed me for nigh on a kilometre while its owners tried to get it to return home) who sent me the right way. I’d way overshot, and gone too far… but what do you expect with unmarked tracks and OJ’s Rule of Ambiguous Tramping?

Eventually I made my way down Ihumatao Road, and turned off to the airport shopping centre. Technically this last bit was half of the next section, the Auckland Airport Road Walk, which is about as exciting as it sounds. I’ll do the other half tomorrow, weather permitting.

City to Sea

First off, the date of this entry is incorrect. I did the City to Sea (Wellington) section of Te Araroa either three or four Thursdays ago – have forgotten which – and haven’t got around to updating before now. I did take the camera, and even a couple of photos, but the walk left me so unenthusiastic that I really can’t be bothered to post them

Suffice to say, I was not impressed.

Now it’s true that I’m not a fan of going up and down hills simply because the developers of any particular walk have a sadistic streak. So part of my bitterness at this hideous experience may have been down to this (I seriously cannot figure out how a walk starting in Kelburn and ending at sea level manages to go uphill so bloody often) but that’s not the real problem here.

It’s fairly obvious that the City to Sea walk is a late addition to Te Araroa. It’s only appeared on the website in the last few months, although that can be explained away because the trail entire is not yet complete. But at the beginning of the walk, at the top of the cable car, there is a plaque that marks the southern terminus of TA in the North Island. I know – I photographed it when I did that section of the walk last year.

Yes, it’s a little irritating to have extra bits tacked on here and there, partly because it reduces the already tiny likelihood of my ever completing this walk. But – and here is my main issue – I could live with that if these late additions actually did add something to the TA experience. City to Sea does not. A really quite dull walk through the back hills of Wellington city, it might be perfectly adequate on its own, directed at enthusiastic local hikers. As an addition to a major trail, it is dreadful.

TA prides itself on including all sorts of landscapes – mountains, farms, river walks, bush walks etc. Presumably this is so it caters to all types of walkers. Here in the capital city of New Zealand, the best they could offer to anyone with the tinest grain of sense, is a city walk similar to those going through Auckland and Hamilton. The Auckland Coast to Coast is a particularly fine example – the walker travels through the city centre, up to the museum at the Domain (a fine lunch stop, with opportunities to see the latest exhibits) before passing by such famous landmarks as One Tree Hill and Mount Eden. In contrast, City to Sea does its level best to stay far, far away from the most interesting and attractive parts of Wellington city.

It would have been so easy to do this right – to walk from the cable car down past the Beehive, along Wellington’s stunning waterfront to Te Papa museum, up Mount Victoria (looking for the Lord of the Rings filming site on the way – who hasn’t wanted to be a Nazgul at some stage?) and through Newtown and the zoo to Island Bay. (Brooklyn windmill could even have been included if Not-Enough-Hill Syndrome caused the TA committee to break out in hives.) This would be an absolute highlight for non-Wellington walkers, but no. TA has decided that it doesn’t cover enough scrubby hillsides in its national wander, and that city walks are alarmingly over-represented.

Of course they haven’t really decided this. It’s very clear what has happened. The top of the cable car was always intended to be the natural terminus, and then some bright spark said “Lo! Fellow walkers, have you seen what pointless extension and wasted opportunity we can slap on here?” And everyone went along because why not, really? City to Sea was already there, the work had been done, and so what if it was a carbuncle on the Wellington section of this carefully planned national trail. It was extra ground, and that’s all that mattered.

In honour of this stunningly idiotic decision, I spent the hours of this walk bored out of my skull, composing alternate, more appropriate names for it. In deference to tender ears, these are the family friendly ones.

City to Sea: see the community sports-fields of Wellington

City to Sea: see where you could have been walking instead

City to Sea: nothing to see up here

City to Sea: you could have been washing your hair

City to Sea: we haven’t made you climb every hill (we left the interesting ones out)

And my personal favourite:

City to Sea: don’t you wish you were in Auckland?

Gentle readers, I have never wished that before.

Rainbow Reach

The last day of Kepler Track, and I’m heading for Rainbow Reach, just a couple of hours away, in order to catch the shuttle bus back into Te Anau (where the hot showers are, and I can’t wait).

It’s more beech forest on the way out to Rainbow Reach – not that I’m complaining, mind you – and also some wetlands, with a boardwalk over 5 metres of moss, which was pretty cool. It was an interesting change of pace scenery-wise. Just over an hour later, I came to Rainbow Reach, and the big swing bridge there. I love those things – like suspension bridges, but when you jump on them (and I always do) they swing and bounce. They make some people quite nervous, but I’ve liked them ever since I was a kid – just what you’re used to, I guess.

A quick ride into town later, and I was done with Kepler. I enjoyed it, but parts were bloody hard work. I don’t remember Milford Track being this tough, though maybe I’m more unfit now than I was then. Either way, it was a little bit of a shock to look up at Mount Luxmore from Lake Te Anau (it’s that triangle peeking up from behind the hills) and realise that it looks a lot shorter from down here… it didn’t feel short climbing up it!


Moturau and Manapouri

After a very long day yesterday (although I was surprised and pleased to find that there were two girls even slower than I was, hooray!) I had a nice long sleep-in at Iris Burn Hut this morning. Then, plastering my blisters, I set off on what would be a day of comparative ease – six hours of bushwalking through to Manapouri Lake and Moturau Hut.

For once, my legs agreed with DOC’s estimate. Going along the flat, through lovely beech forest, I’m fairly speedy; it’s only on the big hill stretches (and both up and down have their own special little tortures) that I go all tortoise-like.

I didn’t take many good photos today, though. The weather forecast had come in at 8.30am, and it was continuous showers that would turn to full-bore rain early-to-mid afternoon. So I threw on my pack (feeling lighter as the days go by, all the food being eaten as I go and I’m just not that hungry anymore anyway) and try and make Moturau before the storm hits.

Which I do, by about ten minutes. Good timing, eh? At least the rain put paid to the sandflies, bloodthirsty little buggers.

Moturau is on the edge of Lake Manapouri, which is apparently quite nice to swim in, though I was too lazy and comfortable inside to go and get all wet.


Climbing Mount Luxmore

The second day doing Kepler Track, and this was the day I was most looking forward to – the alpine ridge section between Mount Luxmore and Iris Burn Huts. Luckily it was a very nice day, as the track can be hell in high winds and rain (people having to crawl along ridgelines with sheer drops either side).

But first, it was more uphill, as I wound along the hillside getting closer to the top of Mount Luxmore. More hills – you can imagine how pleased I was. Still, at least it was in the open so I could see where I was going, unlike yesterday’s forest hike. The track lay clear ahead, and the views down towards one of the arms of Te Anau lake were stunning.



Eventually I reached the point where you get to turn off the track and take a quick side trip up to Mount Luxmore’s top. I scrambled to the top, and was quite impressed with myself – I’m really not very good with heights, and there was a strong wind near the summit that didn’t help matters. I stayed long enough to take a photo and then got down as quickly as I could.



From here, it was mostly sidling along hillsides for a couple of hours, trying to walk daintily in clumping great boots through an avalanche zone. There were a couple of avalanche shelters along the way, where I stopped to have some chocolate and laugh at the keas (trying desperately to steal another tramper’s socks).



Once I hit the ridgeline, it was a fairly easy walk, with fantastic views, until I hit the zig-zag from hell – a steep, endless, rocky downhill track that turned my knees and ankles to jelly. I was very, very glad to get my sunburnt self to Iris Burn Hut.

Though it could have been worse. Robbie, the Hut Ranger, had some stories to tell about the alpine section that were a little hair-raising. Not too long ago he’d been helping a school group over it in absolutely awful weather – one poor girl was so terrified she was huddled in a foetal position on the track and refusing to move. At least those of us sharing the hut had had good weather – Robbie had heard from Jeff over the radio, and the people walking a day behind us were not so lucky – it was so wet and windy at Luxmore that the entire hut was shaking.

I’m so very glad I missed that.

Tackling the Kepler

Off today to do the Kepler Track. This is the second of the Great Walks I’ve tried – I walked Milford Track several years back, and coincidentally they both start in the small Fiordland town of Te Anau.

After picking up my hut tickets from DOC (the Department of Conservation, who run the huts, and who sensibly insist that you book for the Great Walks) I headed off with my pack, which was stuffed with dehydrated meals and as light as I could make it (not nearly light enough).

It’s a 45 minute walk round Lake Te Anau to the Control Gates, where the Kepler starts. The Gates are part of a hydroelectric power scheme and help regulate the water heading down to Lake Manapouri.

The Kepler starts off easy enough – a one and a half hour walk along the lake, through lowland beech and podocarp forests, along to Brod Bay. I really enjoyed this, as beech forests (I’m talking Nothofagus, the southern beech, here, rather than the Fagus genus found in the northern hemisphere) are my very favourite type of forest. This was mostly red and mountain beech, with a few ferns and lots of moss.



And lots of sandflies, but they can’t keep up with you enough to bite as long as you’re moving, so I left Brod Bay fairly quickly and came to what I was to later hear described as the Luxmore Grunt.

Three hours uphill, or so DOC describes it. That bloody slog took me five. Alright, so I’m not very fit, and alright, so elderly people were passing me every other minute (I swear they’re not just getting hip replacements; there’s some serious bionics going on in there somewhere). A long hard hike up to the bushline – light rain, but at least it kept me from getting too hot. Ten minutes prior to stumbling out of the forest and into the light, I came across Ranger Jeff from Luxmore Hut, out doing track maintenance with his shovel. He told me that it was only a few minutes further up to the bushline, and luckily for him he was telling the truth or I would have gone back and visited hell on him and the next seven generations of his family. Bloody hills.

After breaking out into tussockland, it was another (and comparatively easy) 45 minutes until my first night’s stop at Luxmore Hut. And was I ever pleased to see it.


Centennial Highway

I actually walked this part of Kapiti Coast two or three weekends ago, but I forgot to update this blog, and I can’t remember the actual date so it’s going under today’s instead. What I do remember: it was sunny. I got burnt. It might be time to get a higher factor sunscreen in order to protect my lily-white self.

Anyway, it was quite a short walk – just a couple of hours along the coast, filling in the hole between two sections I’ve already done. Most of it was along State Highway 1, which as usual does not thrill me, but the view on the other side more than made up for it. Of all the highway sections I’ve seen in NZ, this is one of my favourites. The steep cliff on one side, and on the other the blue, blue Tasman Sea, with Kapiti Island in the distance… it’s just lovely. I basically walked along the coast up to Paekak as seen here:



The prettiest part of the walk was near the beginning, down at the beach at Pukerua Bay. I’m going to drag my flatmate M. out on a picnic there sometime this summer if it kills me. She’s tough to persuade – doesn’t like the beach, thinks the sand squeaks like cornflour when she walks on it. Suck it up, I say. And wouldn’t you, for this?