Te Araroa

Waikato and the Waste Land

Just a couple of disparate little things today. I’ve been out walking again – only a very lazy half day walk, but another step towards my bucket list goal of one day completing Te Araroa, the walking track that runs the length of New Zealand. I’ll probably be 70 before I finish it, but I don’t really care. I’m only doing it for fun, so racing along isn’t something I worry about.

Anyway, the portion I did today was part of the Waikato section: the Ngaruawahia to Hamilton stretch, which links up to the Hamilton City Traverse I did a few years back. Only about 12km, going alongside the Waikato river, so it wasn’t what you’d call strenuous. There’s a dual purpose cycle/walking trail (Te Awa) being built along the river here that’s part of Te Araroa but it isn’t finished yet, so I walked Te Awa when it was there and along the road bypass when it wasn’t. I’m not a particular fan of road walking – it’s very hard on the feet – but Te Awa itself was looking really impressive. Concrete, which is great for cyclists, not so much for walkers – but still beautifully done, with picnic sections stepped down to the water and scattered with nice solid tables. One day, when the whole thing’s finally done, I might try biking it.

The second is totally unrelated, except for alliteration purposes. A paper of mine, “Witnessing the Waste Land: Sight, Sound and Response in Edith Sitwell’s Three Poems of the Atomic Age” has been published. You can find it in volume 18 of UnderCurrents: the Journal of Critical Environmental Studies. If your library doesn’t have a copy of the print journal, you can find it (and my article) free online here.

It was a bitch of a paper to write. When it was done I was so glad I wouldn’t have to see those damn poems again (“Canticle of the Rose”, “Dirge for the New Sunrise” and “The Shadow of Cain” if you’re feeling particularly masochistic) but lately I’ve begun to think of another paper I could write about them.

Shoot me now.

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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.

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:

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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?

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Northern Walkway 2

AKA Climbing Mt Kaukau (That Which Gifts Us With The Idiot Box).

Back in March, I made my way one sunny afternoon along part of Wellington’s Northern Walkway, before abandoning climbing to the tv transmitter at the top of Mt Kaukau in favour of ice-cream and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Who wouldn’t do the same, I ask you? Today, on the one sunny day we’ve had after what feels like a month of endless bloody rain, I did the rest. Who knows when the opportunity will arise again… it’ll probably start raining again tomorrow.

I started where I left off walking from Porirua to Johnsonville, at the end of Old Coach Road. From there it was an easy walk up along the hilltops to Mt Kaukau. Despite the sun, it was windy and muddy but not hair-raising – which is good as my hair needs no help in that respect. There were a few people out walking their dogs, and one mad couple out running theirs, poor creatures. (Running is even less fun than going uphill, I can never understand why people do it. Are they masochists?) There were stunning views at the top, though – down one side was the city, and down the other a windmill-strewn vista looking out over Cook Strait to the South Island.

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From here, I left the NW to trot along the Skyline Track, wandering along the ridges, as while Wellington’s Te Araroa section goes mostly along the NW, it diverges in places and this is one of them. I was glad to spend some extra time up there as I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Most of that enjoyment, it must be said, was due to the kn0wledge that I was walking in the easy direction and it was all down hill from here, down Bell’s track and through the suburb of Ngaio to the local railway station, where I stopped last time I was on the NW. While it’s true that walking up hill and walking down hill both have their own special horrors, down is better than up any day in my book, and looking up at the tower from halfway down Bell’s track, I was smugly glad that I didn’t have to slog all the way up to it.

Paraparaumu to Paekakariki

And it’s another pictureless blog entry today, because although I did take my camera, and there was no fog, the batteries were dead. Yes, again. How can one little camera use so much power? Those batteries must be the worst ever invented. And there were so many interesting things to take pictures of as well…

Anyway. It was a fine day, for once, in the perpetual rain and wind that is a Wellington winter, so I headed for the beach at Paraparaumu. Along with every man and his dog, or multiples thereof. I think there were actually more dogs than people! Which slowed down my walking time considerably, as I can’t resist stopping to pet a doggie when one crosses my path, all furred and slobbery.

So I dawdled down the beach until I came to Queen Elizabeth Park. And I hope Her Majesty appreciates science, because this was no manicured lawn. The QEP is more a sand dune reserve, with all the grassy, shrubby vegetation that implies, doing its best to prevent erosion. (It might help if they got rid of some of the rabbits.) Anyway, I thought it very interesting, until my attention was distracted by the yellow plane getting in some acrobatic time over the park. Loop the loops and screaming vertically towards the ground – the whole hog. It was very cool to watch – the pilot must have been practising for an air show or something similar. I took a break to watch him before ambling into Paekakariki for an ice-cream and the train home.

It’s supposed to rain again tomorrow, so getting out while I could seemed like a good idea!

Porirua to Johnsonville

Now I must be very slow, because it took me most of yesterday to do what the Te Araroa website claims I should be able to do in only several hours. However, I claim a handicap. We’ll get to that shortly.

Leaving Porirua centre, I walked up towards Colonial Knob, the high point of the surrounding area. There was a well-made path going up through forest, but I was very tired of steps by the time I finally broke past the treeline. Five minutes later, fog rolled in, and lots of it. One minute I saw ragged little plumes blowing across my path, and the next I couldn’t see anything. Alright, that’s a slight exaggeration. I could make out a five metre radius, but that was about it. Then it started raining. Needless to say, I was going very slowly, not wanting to lose the track or, you know, take a header down the hillside. The sensible thing to do would have been to turn around and head straight back down, but that would mean hauling myself back up all those steps next weekend, and I’m just not that bloody keen.

The fog was so bad that when I got to the radar station, I could barely make it out even with my nose pressed against the fence. The view from the Knob is supposed to be spectacular, but of course I couldn’t appreciate it; I didn’t even bother trying the camera.

So I crept along in the rain and the mud, freezing and unaccountably putting off putting on my waterproofs (I’m paying for it today, feeling all chilled and awful). It got easier once I was down in Spicer Forest, and that took me down into the Ohariu Valley Road. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you know how I feel about road walking – but this was only about 6 km or so. Eventually I ended up on the Old Coach Road, now a track through farmland heading over the hills. And then, miracle of miracles, at the top of the old road just a few minutes away from my end-point in Johnsonville, the sun came out. For about five minutes, before it went dark. Instantly the landscape looked more lovely. I made sure to get a good shot of it before finishing the day’s walk and going to stand under a hot shower until I thawed out.

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Waikanae to Paraparaumu

What I really like about the Wellington stretch of Te Araroa is all the on/off points. I don’t have to walk for 30km if I don’t want to – I can just go for a couple of hours, starting at one railway station and ending at another. That’s what I did today.

I started in Waikanae, and walked along the Waikanae River to the coast. It was a really pretty little path, with lots of access points to the local roads. I was pleased to see that heaps of people were out using it – walking, cycling, swimming, with their families and dogs. And the vegetation was particularly interesting: at first there were heaps of wild flowers, in all shades of purple. And yet as I got closer to the coast, the plants began to change – instead of flowers, there were layers upon layers of flax, toi-toi, and my favourite tree, the cabbage tree.

Towards the mouth of the river, I entered into the estuary, keeping very carefully to the boardwalk (as instructed by both Te Araroa and DOC), because apparently there’s quicksand there and I don’t particularly want to be sucked to a nasty death.

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After getting out of the estuary, all limbs intact and none hacked off and left behind to the greedy ground, I wandered down Paraparaumu North beach and into the township, ready to get an ice-cream and head back home after a very enjoyable and desultory walk.