January 21, 2018
START: Trailhead Shelter @ 0445
FINISH: Whanganui Hut @ 1845
DISTANCE: 42 km
CUMULATIVE: 42 km
The last few days have been kind of a blur, a lot of traveling. It's hard to believe that I landed in Auckland on January 17, just four (long) days ago. Despite losing a day due to crossing the International Date Line, I really wasn't jet-lagged. Touched down around 2300 and just spent the first night at the airport. (I'm a total dirtbag like that.) Spent the next day in Auckland securing cell service, procuring a DOC hut pass, and generally exploring. The weather was rainy and grey, so I got a bunk at a downtown hostel. I caught the bus down to Gisborne Friday morning and spent a night there before catching another bus down to Wairoa and ultimately a shuttle up to Big Bush and the start of the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
I spent last night at the trailhead shelter and woke to the buzz of my alarm at 0400. Well, that, and a periodic thud coming from somewhere under the shelter. I turned on my headlamp to find a possum hanging from one of the columns. He looked me over, then moseyed on up the trail before I could fetch my GoPro. I love seeing different kinds of wildlife, so I counted that a strong start to my day. I was packed up and hit the trail by 0445. The day just kept looking up, because I came across two more possums, a mom and her baby, just a few hundred meters up the trail. This time I managed a few snaps in the dim light of my headlamp before trekking on with a giddy heart and a goofy smile. "Oh, the things I've seen," I thought to myself.
The track started off level but quickly became steep as it seemed to go straight up the backside of the bluff. About halfway up the relentless climb, I came to a beautiful, exposed overlook and decided to wait the 45 minutes for sunrise, expecting that the steep cliffs rising above the lake would make a wonderful photo op. In the end, the sun rose further south than I'd anticipated, so I didn't get the golden light I'd desired, but I was grateful for the break nonetheless.
After that, the track ducked back into the trees as I climbed ever higher. I reached the Panekire Hut just before 9a and was a greeted by a woman whose jaw dropped clear to the boardwalk when I told her where I'd started. She said "Well you're amazing, you are" in a thick Aussie accent. Ha! I had just been thinking that I'm not in the shape I'd like, and she greets me with that. Funny how different our perspectives can be; it's all relative.
As I traversed the bluffs, there were a handful of overlooks that showcased the beauty that qualifies this little jaunt as one of New Zealand's famed Great Walks. Looking back, the initial climb up and over the bluffs was my favorite part. It reminded me of tramping on the Appalachian Trail in maybe Tennessee or the Carolinas. After dropping back down, the vegetation became dense with thick moss hanging from the trees, which reminded me of tramping on the Olympic Penninsula in Washington state. Even after the vegetation thinned out, the lush green tunnel was reminiscent of the Columbia River Gorge, yet another gem in the Pacific Northwest region of the States. And finally the heat and smothering humidity coupled with endless short climbs and descents, climbs and descents, climbs and descents as I weaved my way in and out of drainages feeding the lake- all of that felt like the Kalalau on Kauai. I actually found the diversity along these relatively short 42 k's to be quite inspiring and engaging, including the quick side trip up to Korokoro Falls where I enjoyed lunch. It was a gorgeous, lush nook where the falls drop 22 meters over a stone cliff and into a pool below the overlook.
I arrived at the Whanganui Hut about an hour ago and have decided to skip the last 4-ish k's to Hopuruahine Landing. It's an out-and-back from here, and the scenery hasn't changed for hours, so I don't expect it will between here and there. Besides, I'm beat. As soon as I got here, I just collapsed on my bunk with barely a word to the other trampers. Haven't had dinner, and don't plan to cook. Probably just eat a few bars and some oreos. (Dinner of champions!) I'll get a good night's rest and catch the water taxi from here in the morning.
Despite its impressive classification as a Great Walk, the Lake Waikaremoana walk isn't particularly well-traveled. The track is reasonably maintained, though not to the standard described on other Great Walks. There were periods of overgrowth and some muddy sections, but nothing that wasn't easily negotiated. Certainly I saw my fair share of people, but I booked my hut just yesterday without any trouble. (I'd actually expected that I'd have to finish the walk and wild camp somewhere near the road at Hopuruahine Landing, then backtrack for the water taxi tomorrow morning.)
I really enjoyed this tramp, and it was a brutal illustration of just how far out of shape I am (by my standards, anyways). Y'all, it was bad. Tongariro Circuit in just a few short days, and that'll be considerably more challenging (and more beautiful!), though I plan to do that with just a day pack, which will help considerably. New Zealand is amazing so far, and I expect it will only get better as I work my way south. Better get my legs under me.