Trip Report TA: North Island pt7

Not Much Hiking

No rain falls over night but the water level still rises a bit as more water drains into the valleys. There was a fair bit of debris flowing down and even some large tree trunks. By morning it seems clear of floating hazards so we continue on. Arjuna takes the position of helmsman and we blast off.

Morgan, Clay, Brandon, Michael, me and Arjuna

We manage over a handful of shallow rapids in the morning and then it flattens out. The weather drastically improves and it becomes a sunny cloudless day. We lash three canoes together, throw on some music, crack some beers and let the raft meander solely on the effort of the river current.

Mikki makes friends with another group of paddlers and we are invited to stop early at Tieke Kāinga, a Māori marae. Before arriving we tie up and do a short hike to check out the Bridge to Nowhere. At the marae we participate in a Māori welcoming ceremony called a pōhiri. We are instructed on how to organize ourselves and participate. It's a beautiful ceremony to have the privilege to participate in, I feel deeply moved and don't think I will ever forget their generosity.

Sunset at Tieke Kāinga
Laurel, Mikki and Isabella

After being welcomed on to the land we were able to make ourselves at home and setup for the night. A handful of possums were opportunistically killed as they lurk around the campground, while a group of children have a fun time playing with the carcasses and try to feed them to the eels in the river.

Arjuna takes the reigns a oarsman today and we set off on a still swollen river. We lash together four canoes and lounge on our raft. We hit the hardest rapid of the course strung together and it feels barely like a small bump in the road. We spend some time pretending to be pirates and generally laze away the day.

We pass Pipiriki and thus have the river to ourselves from this point forward. Only TA hikers paddle this far. With no more designated campsite we have to figure out where to end the day. Our first try is a village called Jerusalem. We try to find a way up the river banks to the campsite without any luck. We push to the next village, Matahiwi.

On shore
Mikki, Laurel, Morgan, Clay, Cafe Owner, Isaac, Jessica, me, Irit, Michael and Brandon

There is a large sign on the river bank announcing the accommodation so we pull off and check it out. It turns out that it's up the nearby hill so Mikki and I go to scout it out. There are only a handful of buildings and no one around. Mikki chats up a family hanging out in their backyard and they make a call for us to call down the cafe owner. Some twenty minutes later she arrives with her little boy and makes a few trips with her car to help us bring up our supplies.

Matahiwi cafe
Mikki, Isabella and Laurel

We settle in on the property with our tents and pay our dues. Mikki hosts a group yoga session, Irit feels sorry for me and cooks me a dinner, and Chris is kept company at night by the resident dog.

Dog and Chris
Dog and Chris

Mikki has been solo riding in a kayak this entire time and so she asks to swap with me so she can paddle with Laurel for the day. I'm happy to comply and so spend the day kayak alongside Irit, who has also been in a kayak. We get along pretty well and have great chats. We stop for lunch and she continues to feed me. Her friend who was meant to join her on the canoe section had cancelled but all her food was still left with Irit, so essentially she had seven days of food going to waste that she was willing to share.

River group photo
The River Gang, you should be able to name everyone by now!

The day is fairly hot and sunny, so we take a little swim under some trees. I end up slipping before we head out again and lose my PCT buff and headlamp. Oh well. There is a spot of rain in the afternoon which we hide out from under some foliage and the evening remains overcast. Everyone finally makes it to our last stop on the river, Hipango Park.

Hipango Park
Michael, me, Brandon, Morgan, Chris, Irit, Isabella and Laurel

The local resident drives by and helps us bring our supplies up a steep hill to the campground. He is piss drunk and drags his young boy along with him... We try to setup for the night but he lingers and harasses the girls to come to his house. Mikki asks me to interject so I go over and make an excuse to rescue the girls from his conversation. He gets the hint and leaves us in peace. It is short lived as we hear gunshots and brief bouts of loud music blaring down from his property further up the hill. I try to cowboy camp with Michael under the large shelter there but bugs get the better of me. I setup my tent in the dark just in time as it begins to pour rain just a few minutes after I crawl inside.

The final day I spend canoeing once more with Laurel. We leave early as we approach the coast and have to beat the tides. Paddling steadily, the sun slowly breaches the treeline and warms us up. We try to take our time but sadly it comes to an end as we arrive at the dock and the finale of our canoe adventure. Hauling everything on shore and taking some time to dry things out, everyone sorts out how they will continue forward.

Canoe pack up
Irit, Miki, Felix, Isabella, Laurel, me, Clay, Brandon, Michael and Isaac

Goodbyes are said as the group fragments into smaller tribes. Clay, Brandon, Morgan, Michael and I stick together heading into town to stay with trail angels Rob and George. Absolute super stars, they give us a change of clothes, let us shower, laundry, provide a bunkhouse to sleep in, promise us dinner and breakfast and all at no cost. They order a heap of fish and chips for us to enjoy and Rob(who has Māori heritage) performs a pōhiri inviting us to his home.

With Rob and George
Clay, Michael, George, Rob, Mikki, Brandon and me

The couple are generous with their worldly possession and their time. We ask Rob plenty of questions about the pōhiri ceremony that we had not the chance to understand a few days prior. Mikki eventually joins us as well as Teresa. Tonight is Morgan's last day on trail, he has to go home back to work, as we continue forward. After dinner we all do an exercise called Rose, Thorn, Bud as we open up and tears were shed. I was in denial that he would be suddenly leaving us and so we chatted into the night to distract us from reality.

In the morning we had our promised delicious breakfast and the real goodbye to Morgan.

The plan now was to forgo the road walking from Whanganui to Palmerston North and instead side trip to Egmont National Park to summit Taranaki. We split into two groups, Clay/Brandon and Michael/myself, to grab our hitches. Our first hitch is with a kiwi couple, Bruce and his wife, who had previous hiked the North Island and was going to hike the South Island starting in February. Our second hitch was squashed into a tiny sedan with a bunch of extremely high teenagers: Ezra, his girlfriend and his friend Brandon.

We made it to Egmont Village at the base of the volcano but there was still a ways to go. Rain was coming in and there was not much traffic. Michael and I began to start the walk down the road hoping to pick up a hitch along the way. The rain comes in hard. Few cars pass and only one stops to give us a hitch 1km(0.6mi) down of our 16km(10mi) road walk.

Hours pass and we eventually arrive at the visitor centre. The journey doesn't end there as we turn onto a swamped trail and make our way to Maketawa Hut for the night. As I reach the hut the weather begins to clear and I have a chance to dry out. I finally get a glimpse of the peak through the clouds as Michael arrives and we settle in to our sixteen bunk hut all to ourselves.

I set off at 0430h with a gut feeling that the weather will hold out for an early summit. I use my phone as a headlamp and make my way up in the darkness. I had previously tried to summit Taranaki in 2020 so I have something to prove. As the early morning sun catches up to me I am making great progress to the top and the entire North Island is under cloud cover except Taranaki and the distant Tongariro range.

Taranaki peak Descent

I'm the first to summit after two hours of hiking! I spend some moments at the peak before the cold pushes me back down. As I descend I pass Michael on his way up and see clouds beginning to roll in. I make it back to the hut in good time as now the mountain is hidden in fog. I wait for Michael to return and we decide to spend the night here again.

Evening Taranaki view

Brandon and Clay finally get their asses over here by the evening and plan to try to summit the following morning. We pass the evening playing a card game called Durak.

The boys head out early for their summit as Michael and I backtrack to hitch to Palmerston North. At the visitor centre parking lot a traffic worker convinces a couple leaving to give us a ride down the mountain, which is much appreciated. From there our second hitch is with a Māori son and mother who take us to Whanganui. The third hitch is with a brother and sister who drop us at Sanson and finally a ride with Janet to take us into Palmerston North.

We walk over to a local's homestead who provide accommodations for a fee. They also provide us with bicycles to get back into town for our resupply and a quick stop into McDonald's. I spend the evening chatting with the hosts and then Michael and I deal with swarms of mosquitoes that have infiltrated our room for the night.

I have big plans for the following section in the Tararua Range so I set out early and leave Michael behind. There is a short weather windows before a large storm settles in so I'm on a schedule. There is a light sprinkle of rain as I exit Palmerston North and I catch up to Isaac for a brief moment.

New shelter

The route winds me up and down gravel roads as the rain intensifies. I can tell that it is just passing showers so I don't put on rain gear and get soaked. Eventually I get onto a muddy trail and the weather clears up.

I pass the midpoint marker today! My brain is unable to comprehend how far I've come and how far I have yet to go. The only solution is just to keep walking! I end the day in an old tin hunting shelter. To my surprise Mikki and Deedee are here! A hiker from Japan, Masako, is also here and I find out that we would have lived near each other during my year in Tokyo.

I leave early once again and enter the Tararuas for real before noon. There is a long extended climb that occupies the day. I catch Jeff and run in to a few new hikers: Izzy, Ronan, Michael, and Caitlin.


Eventually I find Draggin and Emma as we break through the tree line into scorching sun. My legs are screaming upon reaching Waiopehu Hut and we take a break. The peak has yet to be crested still and the day is young. The others hikers slowly trickle in and I set off for the next hut.

I reach the crest but that does not mean the end of the climb. Back down and up for the rest of the evening. I run into Lucas, Lara, Josh, Mari and Andre as well as meeting Irit's famed missing canoe partner. Everyone ends up at Te Matawai Hut for the night. A kiwi shows me pictures of her trip along the alternate I wanted to try to tomorrow and it hardens my resolve.

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