Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tongariro Traverse

On Friday we did our first Great Walk, The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  The crossing follows the volcanic mountains in the area, some of which are still active.  It’s a beautiful area, like no other place I’ve been.   We got to the start of the track late in the evening after getting lost and saw this sign:

We had planned to stay at the shelter which no longer exists due to an eruption that happened 18 months before.  As a local later told us, when the volcano erupted (without warning) a boulder from it landed to top of the shelter, went through the roof, two bunks and landed 3 meters into the ground! Wow, I'm kind of glad we didn't stay there! We camped a few km back that night, waited out a storm and started the crossing the next day.  We had beautiful weather, although there was a wind left over from the previous nights storm that was unbelievably strong. At one point, when we were crossing over a ridge near the highest point (over 1800 meters) I actually got blown over! It had to be blowing at least 60mph.  We moved as quickly as we could through the area, because we truly couldn't stop.  The wind was too strong and it was so cold.  The whole traverse was beautiful, we passed near several lakes and through two craters which looked like we were on another planet.

Emerald Lakes and the Central Crater to left

                                                                  The Central Crater

                                Looking back to Mt. Ngauruhoe and the Alpine Crossing to left

Before the traverse we had some very difficult days.   We counted that in over two weeks we had only two days where it didn’t rain.  One day, we woke up to rain and started our hike into the Mahoe Forest. We had no idea what we were in for.  Soon the ‘trail’ disappeared and we were walking through completely overgrown ferns and bushes that were over six feet tall and took over the whole trail.  It was like walking through a car wash.  The ground was slippery and muddy and soon we were wading through almost a foot of water.  The trail continued for far too long like this.  It was so overgrown, I swear no one had been back there in years except the thru hikers, and even still it didn’t look travelled.  

                   The 'trail'hrough Mahoe Forest. If you look close you may be able to see Brazil Nut
A few hours later after the first set of rain had stopped, so did the trail markings.  Our maps and trail notes didn’t match up anymore, I think the trail was being re-routed so it was extremely confusing and frustrating.  We found our way back to the road/trail only to find the next day even more frustrating.  The map and trail notes once again didn’t match up and as we were trying to find the trail, a local farmer came by on an ATV.  He asked if we were hiking the trail and I said yes, but we were a little lost.  He laughed and gave us a ride several hundred meters to where we were supposed to be.  As soon as we got back to the trail we both wish we hadn’t.  Within minutes, the trail was completely covered in gorse that continued for a couple kilometeres.  There was no way around, it was so painful I was cursing the whole time and nearly in tears.  Gorse is an awful plant covered in small sharp thorns that sting and go right through clothing.  Needless to say, we both we're relieved to get out of it and opted for a road walk for the last few km into town because the trail was so bad.
  After leaving Hamilton we hiked through both the Pirongia and Pureora forests which were beautiful and a welcomed change from road walking.   We also came upon the first huts on the trail.  New Zealand has an incredible hut system,  with over 900 back country huts on the North and South Islands.  We bought a pass when we were in Auckland which gives us access to the huts and they’ve been wonderful.  It’s so nice to have shelter from the rain, or come in from the cold and take a break.  It’s been surprisingly cold already, we’re both thinking we may need some more clothing for the South Island!

                                                        The beautiful Pureora forest  

                                                  Trail near the base of Mt Pureora
In two days we’ll be heading to the Whanganui river for 5 days of canoeing.  The official trail is the  river initially, and then there’s an option to bike, road walk or continue by canoe down the river all the way to Wanganui where the river meets the Tasman Sea, so we’ve chosen to canoe the whole way, about 170km! It should be a nice change of pace for a few days and a good rest for our legs.
Sorry for the lack of pictures, this computer seems to longer to able to upload them.  We’ve had bad luck with computers so far (hence the lack of blog posts). Internet is very expensive and incredibly slow, especially since we’re in a lot of smaller towns.
 Happy trails and for now, happy paddling!
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hamilton, 800k

  It's been a while since we posted, but all is well on the trail! We arrived in Hamilton yesterday, which marks kilometer 800! It's been a busy last week- we passed through Auckland, there's been a fair amount of rain and lots of road walking.
   Since we left Waipu, we've been hiking on and off with another couple, Bekki and Hui. Brazil Nut knows Hui from the PCT in 2010, and it's been so much fun hiking with them.
   Last week we had a few great surprises while we were hiking.  We had a water crossing one evening, and the trail notes said we could only cross one hour either side of low tide.  We planned to camp before and cross in the morning.  It was late in the afternoon and as we got close to the crossing, we saw a cottage next to the trail and Bekki sitting and talking with someone.  She motioned for us to come over and told us the people at the cottage would give us a boat ride across, so we didn't have to wait until the next day to walk at low tide.  They made tea for us and we chatted for a little while before we left.  The tide was high but going out fast so we needed to go quickly.  Before he dropped us off, he told us a big storm was coming, and to be sure we found a place up high to camp that night.  We were so happy to get the ride across, it was a very wide crossing and even at low tide, we'd heard stories that it was still very deep.
   We camped that night with Bekki, and found a place that was up high and a little protected from the wind and we experienced the most severe down pour I've ever been in.  How we stayed as dry as we did I don't know, but I didn't sleep much because the rain hitting our tent was so loud all night.
  The following morning we had the best surprise.  We were less than a kilometre into our day and Diane and Graham (who we met our first night on the trail- they were doing the first 100k) walked around the corner to greet us! What a surprise!! They had tried to contact us, but as we're not carrying a computer or smart phone we didn't know.  They live in the area and had seen our SPOT check in and knew where we were and hiked up the trail to meet up with us!  We chatted over the next several kilometres and told them about the trail.  They're planning to hike it in the near future so it was really fun to catch up with them.  We're hoping to see them again in May before we fly out of Auckland.  But it made our day to see them and chat with them, it was such a nice surprise!

Brazil Nut and Diane near 90 mile beach, 3 days into the trail- swapping packs

   The next couple days we spent walking through Auckland. The unique thing about this trail is that it brings trampers through all parts of New Zealand, and the cities are no exception.  We walked through North Auckland, an area full of Europeans, which was full of lovely neighborhoods with very fancy homes.  We alternated between beach and road walking, before we came to the ferry, to take us the 3km across Auckland harbor.  It was interesting to pass through central and South Auckland, all with very different neighborhoods.  Central Auckland has a huge Asian population, and in part of South Auckland we walked through 'the ghetto'.  The ghetto here though, is not like any ghetto one is used to coming from U.S, and was quite nice in comparison.  A few steps later we emerged in Auckland's Botanical Gardens, where the trail passes through as well.  After several more kilometres on road, we were happy to be back to the bush that evening and away from the city.
   We had been told that there was a lot of road walking on the North Island, and it's no joke.  We've had lots of road the last few days and have more coming up this week.  The road walks are nice as we can put in good miles and its relatively easy walking, but after several hours our feet really start to hurt.  We've had good company though since we left and have been hiking with Bekki and Hui.  Besides meeting a few hikers briefly in town, they're the only people we've spent time hiking with.  We've loved the company and really enjoy hiking with them.  They've just left Hamilton this morning, so I hope they won't get too far ahead!
  Happy trails,
Jetpack and Brazil Nut

View from Mangawhai Heads walkway

Mangawhai Heads walkway

Brazil Nut, Te Ari beach

North of Auckland, walking along volcanic rocks

Taking a break to watch kite surfers in Takapuna


Hiking along a stopbamk

My feet after a day of hiking in wet shoes :(

A day off to recover from hiking in wet shoes