Trip Report TA: North Island pt4

With Friends Like These

My tent is soaked in condensation when I wake up. It ends up being an omen as the rest of the day is crazy hot and humid. I'm led along mostly paved road or cycling paths. I stop for snack in Drury and a local stops to ask if I'm okay or need help/food. I assure them I'm fine.

I continue along roads and take a midday siesta from the sun and allow my gear to dry out. To my great surprise Laurel shows up! I pack up and follow her while she mentions that Mikki is not far behind. We hike a bit then wait for Mikki to arrive. We all catch up and Mikki explains that she is taking a break from trail due to possible shin splints.

Laurel and I set off together, and finally we are on some grassy track amongst sheep. That doesn't last long as we are spit out onto the SH2. There is a decent amount of shoulder to walk except for two bridge crossings were I time to cross when large trucks are not passing by.

We make it through alive and we head off to a locals house that Laurel had arranged ahead of time. We camp on their property for a small fee. As we are chatting and settling in a massive bit of tree breaks off and comes tumbling down on the area which the hosts had said we could pitch out tent. A little unnerved we are assured that no other tree fall would come down over night. I'm a bit uneasy all night long.

I live to see another day and leave with Laurel in the morning. We spend the better part of the day wedged between extremely overgrown track and a sharp drop into the water of the Waikato River. I get ahead of Laurel and hop a fence just to be free of the dense jungle brush. The track ends and there is a water tap which I use to take a shower under while some locals ask me questions about what I'm up to.

The evening is spent walking along levees that are overgrown with tall grass. At some point a dog comes out to greet me. I expect it to turn around as I get further and further away from it's home but it stubbornly follows me. I cross over three or four fence and somehow each time the dog finds a way around to stick by my side.

TA road sign

I eventually reach my goal for the night, a golf course that allows hikers to camp. The dog is still with me and wanders around as I take a shower in the change rooms. When I come out there is a kiwi couple looking around and they ask me if it's my dog running around. I tell them what's up and they invite me to their camper van for dinner. A lovely duo, Janet and Rowan, they feed me and give good conversation. They offer their phone number to me so that I can maybe stay with them when I eventually pass Wellington!

I spend the night sleeping on the floor of the clubhouse. Some people come in to use the shower at midnight but don't seem to notice me sleeping in the corner.

I start early the morning to get on and off the road quickly. The trail leads me into the Hakarimata Range as I climb amongst Kauri trees and up to the top of the ridge line. The track is beautiful and appreciated after the hours of road walking I've been subjected to the last few days. At the apex I catch Draggin, Jeff and Emma who are slackpacking this section from Huntly.

View from Hakarimata

The rest of the day is a battle of mind over matter as I will myself to make it to Hamilton before the evening. After hours of paved cycle path and blasting my own music I arrive. My feet are sore and I end up impulse buying a new pair of shoes. I meet two Americans: Lee and Tam. We all seem to have organized a stay with the same trail angel tonight so we call her(Judith) and get picked up.

Judith is a sweetheart and opens her home to us, letting us camp in her yard for free. Isabella is in town and invites me out for drinks. Judith, the angel that she is drives me into town to the bar. There I reconnect with Isabella and Chris(today is his 30th birthday!). I also meet a German hiker Felix. Ever helpful, Judith comes by eventually to pick up Isabella and I so that we can fall asleep peacefully on her lawn.

Today is a zero day. Judith drives me out to Cambridge so that I can hitch out to Tauranga. Rachel has organized an Airbnb where 10+ hikers are planning to congregate at to celebrate Christmas over the next few days. My first hitch is with a South African couple to Papamoa and then a local picks me up in the rain to cover the last 10km(6mi).

I arrive in the pouring rain and hide under the porch for a few hours as it's before the official check-in time. I use the opportunity to call my mom and get lunch after the rain stops. At check-in time I try to enter the passcode but it doesn't work. I try the handle and realize it's been unlocked the whole time!

I do my laundry and take a shower before all the rest of the riff-raff show up. Everyone trickles in over the evening. After cooking a large family pasta meal we get into some heavy drinking games and dancing.

First night of Christmas
Lucy, Michael, me, Pascal, Andre, Clay, Tim, Morgan, Lucas, Lara, Marie

Today is a zero day. Despite all the drinking I wake up feeling pretty good. We organize a large family breakfast, do some supply runs during the midday then start off the drinking and partying again into the night.

Second night of Christmas
Lucy, Lara, Michael, Morgan, Clay, Lucas, me, Dale, Grit, Kingo, Tim

Today is a zero day. The partying continues.

Last night of Christmas
Kingo, Grit, Pascal, Dale, Morgan, Tim, Brandon, Me, Michael, Lucas, Clay, Lucy, Lara, Rachel

Today is a zero day. Our final day at the Airbnb. It's a concerted effort as everyone tries to clean-up as much as possible to not reveal the fact that probably triple the allowable occupancy rate was present. The clean-up goes well and there are piles of full garbage bags with trash and empties.

As we leave the owners arrive and decide to charge Rachel extra for clean-up even everything was already ready to just be disposed of. They also discover a hole in the way created by our dear friend Dale and want to charge 400NZD...

The boys and I take a bus back to Hamilton and crash with Judith. She has her hands full but still takes us all in. We meet a hiking couple, Nathan and Steph, and a solo hiker, Arjuna. They all happen to be Australian. Morgan and I decide for a big day tomorrow and so instead of pitching our tents we sleep on Judith's couches.

Morgan and I
myself and Morgan

Waking early and on time, Morgan and I blast off. The morning occupies us with road walking. As we are turning off to get onto some trail a car pulls up and out comes Mikki! She joins us as we jump into a muddy bit of track where I sink in up to my crotch!

From there we snake down along gravel roads and then grassy sheep infested hills. I meet a Czech couple, Cowboy and Jay, and a quiet Italian. Morgan and I reach our camp spot for the night and somehow Mikki had gotten in front of us even though she was always trailing behind. Before night falls the other boys arrive as well as Draggin as his crew.

Grassy hills
Morgan navigating a stile
Grassy hills
Cowboy and Jay

The highest climb we have yet to face stands before us today, Pirongia Mountain. I leave early to tackle it while Morgan sleeps in. The climb is engaging and covered in fog. The mud needs to be taken into account but it seems tame compared to Raetea. At the top I have no view down below. The descent on the other hand is nightmare fuel. It is way muddier and my pace begins to crawl with time stretching out in front of me.

TA marker

I'm relived to get to the bottom and can relax my mind from hyper focusing on my footing. The sun comes out and I celebrate my conquering of Pirongia with Lee, Tam, Martin(Cowboy) and Jay. A short walk down the road leads me to a local who runs a property known by hikers as Jo's Funny Farm.

View the way down

As I arrive Jo herself is just about to leave. She gives me the tour and leaves me under the watchful eye of Pip, her energetic pup. I spend the afternoon playing with Pip and waiting for my crew to catch up. I meet a new hiker from France, Thomas.

Once Jo is back she feeds us a feast of pork, sauerkraut, beetroot, turnips, fresh feta, and ice cream. Before night comes we have a massive group: Arjuna, Thomas, Draggin, Emma, Jeff, Lee, Tam, Clay, Brandon, Morgan, Michael, and Mikki.

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