The shadow mountains
The Tararua ranges: the anticipated and the dreaded, our first real taste of ‘South Island’ like mountains.
Our first two days was an easier forest walk towards the mountains.
Passing a gloomy logging area, we realised we were at our halfway point, 1503.5Km to be accurate. It was raining and cold and it didn’t feel that spectacular really. I was incredibly excited for Wellington and being finished with North Island, I forgot to get excited about our halfway point. When I thought about it however I felt a strange sensation of disbelief. I just couldn’t believe that every time I walked I was on the shorter side to the finish.
We were going to hitch to Levin after getting out of the forest before climbing the mountain range as we would be needing 4-6 days’ worth of food. Technically, we would do it in four days but as the weather can change very quickly we had to be prepared to get stuck. I have always been good with overstocking food, so much so that there has been times where I have fed other hikers.
Luckily for us, the ranges are covered in DOC huts. They are spread out so that you never have more than a 2 hour walk to a hut so that when the weather gets really bad
you can reach a safe spot.
On our way towards a more populated road to hitch from we came across John who was working in his paddock. He invited us in for a beer, no way would we decline th
at. He then went ahead and offered us a place to stay at their lodge. He and his lovely wife Sally were running an outdoor pursuit centre so they had a nice big lodge on their property that they let TA walkers stay in sometimes. He was happy to take us to Levin to do our shopping. To top it off Sally invited us in for dinner as well - ridiculously delicious. I think it was our first proper dinner in a long time, best send-off we could have wished for. We were so grateful for their kindness and hospitality.
I was a bit nervous about the days ahead and I was right to be. On our first day we had to climb from 150m to 980m within 3.5Km - a very steep and sweaty climb. Luckily for us, the day was fairly clear so when we got above the treeline we had stunning views of Levin and the mountains we were about to climb. The clouds moved so incredibly fast we were quickly left in a thick white mist again. It didn’t matter though as we had to go back down below the tree line and then up again to our hut. It was disheartening climbing down for ages only to climbed right back up. I was left huffing and puffing before finally reaching the hut. There were four others there already doing different tracks. We had a nice relaxing evening, chatting and swapping stories.
Getting up in a hut is always harder as it is warm specious and cosy and the outside seemed so windy and far away. We had a big day ahead though, so there was no sleeping in. We had to climb our first big summit. At 1400m it was the biggest mountain for us yet and although we already were on 900m it was a steep dangerous climb along the ridge line. The wind had died down and we were wrapped in thick white mist that kept moving past us at incredible speeds. Apparently getting a view up on the summits is a very rare so we didn’t have our hopes up.
At the top we decided to have a quick snack. It was cold so we didn’t want to sit for long. Suddenly, the white mist parted, just like curtains being pulled up before a show and we had a breath-taking view over the mountains. It wasn’t a panoramic view but we could clearly see where we had to go and it was really was spectacular.
It was a long day with a lot of steep, short up and downs along the ridge line. We spent most of the day on steep cliffy edges along the mountain top and as the day was now nice and sunny and we could see where we had to go so we were in really good spirits.
We had lunch at a very small hut just under the treeline and were debating staying there. The weather was still good but we had a difficult stretch ahead and were abit worried it could get late. But once we had some food in us we decided to push on. I’m glad we did but ‘boy’, was it hard. The weather quickly changed to grey, cold and cloudy and the trail was climbing up steeply through the bush. Once we had climbed up it went down again. Sometimes I get very frustrated about that and have fuming speeches at the creators of the trail in my head but there isn’t anything you can do and to be honest we were just following the ridge of the mountain. Some of the downhill was pretty doggy with steep rocky climbs and I was so happy the wind wasn’t too strong because I felt like I would easily be flying off like a balloon. We managed to get to the hut in a better time than mentioned in our notes. It shouldn’t really be a competition but sometimes I get very happy when we beat the indicated time. Sometimes the times are so off though, like once we walked past a sign that gave us some really optimistic times but a few hours later coming up to another sign it said something completely else, so yeah they don’t always make much sense.
Getting to our hut that night was so exiting. We were cold and it had become pretty gloomy in the greyness and whistling winds. The fire was made (even with the small amounts of wet wood we could find) and the food was cooking and we even had a wash in the cold water outside. I seriously love the huts in New Zealand, it is the best thing ever and the warm joyous feelings I feel in my heart by the sight of the hut on the end of the day is worth anything.
The next day the winds had settled and we felt safe climbing to our highest peak, Mt Crawford at 1460m. It was really cloudy and the wind was picking up the higher we went though. It never felt dangerous but it was defiantly thrilling. At least we couldn’t see how far the drop down was because we were literally balancing on the top of the mountain following its spine up and down different knobs.
Not hoping to be lucky with views that day, we just hurried along hoping to make it early to the first hut so we could have lunch there. After we had climbed up and then down for a while the curtains suddenly fell and we had a view over the mountain ranges and even the ocean. The mist was going fast up and down looking like someone was pouring out a bag of flour. We stopped for a while to take photos and film (a long time) before starting our descent.
It was exciting going down knowing we were finished with the Tararua Ranges, although in the sun it was a lot more pleasant up there. The climb down was insane. We thought that we would reach the first hut in good time as we did well in the first half but with the long film break and the insanely steep and slow down climb we reached it just after 2:30 pm and after lunch it was too late to keep going another 6 hours to our intended destination. The hut was incredibly nice and had a beautiful flowing river next to it and it wasn’t really any debate about it. We were the only ones there and we enjoyed an earlier finish, giving us time to wash our clothes and have a refreshing swim. We made a fire and boiled our tea water over the fire place that night.
It was a sunny morning that saw us up and we got our gear together and left our very cosy hut. It had been a good decision to stay there the night before. The track ahead was long and rough and after our long clambering down the previous night our legs and knees where sore and tired, the walk would have been tough and I could imagine all the tantrums I could have had. This day however we were in good spirits well rested and moving fast.
We made it to our lunch spot in good time and had a long lazy break. The idea was to push past the last hut and into the forest and camp up there somewhere and hit Waikanae the next day. On our way further though we met our first TA walker coming the opposite way and he convinced us to stay in the hut as we could make it all the way in to Waikanae in one day. It was nicer to stay in the hut anyway and this way we could ask each other what the next island would be like.
We did make it to Waikanae the next day. Not without a little help though. We had previously met a lovely couple from there that had offered us to stay with them when we got there so we gave them a call as soon as we got reception and made a plan to call once we got on to the highway. It was about 11km of small road walking before that and we hoped to hitch a ride. To our surprise Stewart, who we were supposed to contact later, came and picked us up. He told us they were having a BBQ we were over the moon.
Trisha and Stewart are incredibly lovely and kind people and their hospitality was amazing. We showered, washed our clothes and had a delicious meal chatting and enjoying ourselves. Turns out one of their sons Andy used to be a regular costumer at Food Room where I worked a few years ago, I saw him in a family photo and thought ‘I know that guy’ small world ha.
The next day we thanked them and headed for our two day walk in to Wellington. I can’t believe we are going to be there in just two days…….