Te Araroa – A Skittle’s Journey Through NZ
Day on Trail: 6
Weather Forecast: Not great
We’d spent the previous evening sitting around the backpackers, discussing Ninety Mile Bitch when the conversation turned to the next section.
Apparently, for the hikers who’d come off the PCT or AT, the amount of planning that went into the TA whilst on trail was surreal. It wasn’t simply a matter of getting up and walking until you were tired. There were specific sites we had to reach, roadblocks and closures that rearranged our plans and apparently a thunderstorm on the way.
The first problem to conquer?
Do we hike in a possible thunderstorm?
Having left Australia in the middle of eight months of unprecedented rain, I was fairly certain that the rain we were getting in NZ was the other side of Australia’s weather. With that mind, it was likely that this wasn’t going to be the only storm we would encounter.
Spoiler: I was right.
Stacey and I decided that if we started not walking on rainy days, we’d never finish the trail. Having guided tours in the weather-spontaneous state of Victoria, both of us felt confident in our ability to not have a massive breakdown if our shoes got wet.
So, problem one solved.
We were hiking.
The Raetea Forest was closed.
Some hikers were considering hiking across the landslide that had called for the closure. These were enthusiastic purists who were clearly more sure-footed and confident than I was.
Others were considering hitch-hiking around to Mangamuka and avoiding the detour altogether.
Stacey and I settled on option 3: hike the alternative route and pray that we could get a hitch out of Broadwood. According to the new update on the Te Araroa Trail website, the alternative route around the Raetea Forest called for a walk into the small town of Broadwood and then a highly recommended hitch-hike to Mangamuka to avoid almost 20km of very narrow, windy road-walking on a road with no shoulder.
Seemed easy enough.
We set out on day 6, saying goodbye to half of our new friends who were being cautious about the forecasted thunderstorm.
The walk itself was mostly road and Stacey and I fell into an easy rhythm. We were still sore from the beach and we stopped several times to retape our blistered feet. Not to mention the fact that we couldn’t walk more than five kilometers without elevating our aching feet.
Eventually, two of our new friends, Joe (Or Bjorn or Jason or Papa Smurf or the Man of Many Trail Names) and Renske (Dory), caught up with us.
Not that we knew it at the time, but this meeting would be the official start of our trail family.
The four of us continued on our way through Takahue and up to the ridge that diverted away from the Raetea Forest and down into Broadwood.
Now, all I remember from this section is that my feet were SO tired and painful that the second I saw the park that the community of Broadwood had designated as temporary camping, I collapsed. I didn’t even make it to where everyone was setting up camps. I literally stopped on the edges and sobbed.
That night, the four of us gathered with two fellow hikers that had braved the weather forecast (weather that remained sunny and fabulous all day) and chatted about the inevitable hitch-hike to Mangamuka tomorrow to start the trek through Puketi Forest.
The hitch itself was definitely one of the longer ones.
Broadwood is a quiet town. One that isn’t normally on the TA and therefore, isn’t used to having a bunch of hiker trash walking through town. Also, it was a Sunday.
Just as everyone else had given up and Stacey and I were considering the long and dangerous road-walk, a lovely farmer stopped for the two of us.
As we got a ride, we saw Joe and Renske get picked up and eventually, the other two hikers did as well. The rest of the day was easy enough. Hiking from Mangamuka to the beginning of Puketi Forest was simple, with a wide open track that led into the newly built campsite.
There, we hit our first bubble.
Bubbles are basically pockets of hikers that exist when things get a bit congested. With the weather forecast and the options for hitch-hiking around the forest closure, we ended up with a pretty large bubble that night, but it was fun to see people we knew and laugh about the impending terror that was Puketi Forest.
We’d been warned that Raetea Forest was knee-deep mud that took at least thirteen hours to get through. Since we’d avoided that because of the landslide, we figured we had it easy.
You guys should all know something. In the first two weeks of the TA, I wanted to quit three times.
Day 3 (see my Ninety Mile Beach post for that one), Day 8 and Day 13.
We’re about to start Day 8.
Stacey and I awoke at 6am to find most of the camp empty. The remaining hikers were almost ready to start hiking. We’d been starting at 8am every day, so we set out as normal, eating our breakfast and packing up slowly.
We might have been a bit naive.
Okay, we were A LOT naive.
The first couple of hours were spent crossing a snaking river and walking through a couple kms of water. It was fun and refreshing and something new for us to get excited about. Then we hit the forest trail.
It took us two hours to hike 4km.
The trail itself was barely wide enough for one foot and regularly slipped away into the river below. As we bumped into other hikers, we saw mud splatters and fresh cuts from stumbles and falls, which should have been a relief. At least we weren’t the only ones falling, right?
But then we reached a gap in the trail and we had to do this weird kind of jump step.
Stacey did it with a surprising amount of grace.
I fell immediately. Landing on my hip and grazing the side of my thigh, I lay there for a moment, contemplating my existence and the fact that there was a very comfortable bed waiting for me back in Melbourne.
I cried again.
Eventually, the hikers we knew were behind us overtook us and we were alone in this winding, muddy forest.
6km to go.
I was going to quit.
4km to go.
Who the hell put all of those steps there?
3km to go.
Well, at least the steps were better than all of that mud.
2km to go.
We hit the 4WD road and I genuinely collapsed to my knees and kissed the ground. Sure, we still had 9km of walking to go, but we were done with that God-awful forest. Limping into camp, we were cheered on by our friends, which was both encouraging and mildly humiliating. Really, it was just another reminder that Stacey and I had severely underestimated our abilities to do this hike.
This campsite had cold showers.
I figured the yelping from the cold disguised more of my crying.
That evening, there were mixed reviews on the Puketi Forest hike. Some people were adamant that this was the best thing so far and this—this muddy, dangerous awfulness—was the reason that had signed up for the TA to begin with. Others, like myself and Stacey, were wondering if the entire trail was going to be like this…
The next day was mostly road-walking into Kerikeri and Stacey and I contemplated whether we should have our first zero day. Originally—and rather naively—we had said that we would have no zero days and would at least try walking 5km every day, if only to make some progress.
Funny how fast that thought goes out the window when you have the promise of pizza and a hot shower.
We arrived at the backpackers in Kerikeri along with a growing group of friends. Turns out, most of them didn’t need that much convincing to enjoy a zero day too. Flash forward to an epic pizza night with a dozen or so dirty hikers.
The thing about the TA is that every time I decided I was going home—that I was too weak, too tired, too unprepared—I’d have a moment like this.
A moment sitting around a table in a random town.
A moment stuffing my face with glorious amounts of pizza.
A moment sharing good times and tough times with new friends.
A moment realising that I could have a bad day on the trail and it didn’t mean the whole thing was going to be bad.
Kerikeri proved to be a mindset shift.
I could do this. Probably.
I might not be able to do it alone.