Much more than a physical struggle this trail is becoming a mind game, challenging our mental fitness beyond our physical capabilities. After walking for such a sustained period of time you are so fit that you will keep walking without problems as long as your head wants you to. The biggest challenge is to keep your head up – no matter what -, to keep ignoring those small pains and to keep walking. Henceforth I will refer to this as the Will to Continue (inspired by reading the SAS Survival Guide when we ran out of water).
Because of the intense character of the last few days and the increasing personal experience the mind game is turning this hike in, this post is entirely written from Eef’s perspective.
If there is a second thing these days have proven it’s that New Zealand is a country of extremes. I got a sunstroke while crossing the farmlands in the Kapamahunga track, while it was freezing cold and wet on the summit of Pirongia a mere 24 hours later.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that – we had checked the weather forecast to make sure that the traverse was done under good circumstances. Of course it changed around and with only worsening weather predicted, the Will said go on and be done with it.
The Tahuanui track leading up is a beautiful walk through native forest. It was slightly drizzling in the morning so I thought we’d be fine. Amazed by our surroundings we made good progress and 4 hours later we stood at the top. It was really a shame that we couldn’t see 10m ahead, I’m sure the view from up there is spectacular.
The wind and rain started picking up. We had a lunch break at the hut and continued on the Hihikiwi track down. It was a mess. Vivid memories of Herekino and Raetea came back as our boots sank deep into the mud. Progress was very slow. The Will to continue sank low when the muddy descent started looking more like an ascent and led us back up to 900m. When we finally got down we were soaked to the bone. I washed myself, my boots and my socks out in the stream and changed into my warm and dry clothes. Only a day before I had cursed myself for carrying all that extra gear and almost sent it away.
The next morning it was a real challenge to convince myself to get out of my dry gear and into the wet items again. Honestly I just wanted to sit in my tent and feel miserable about myself. PJ seemed to be in the same mood, so was Serina. But since there was no point in hanging around in the clouds in the middle of nowhere we continued our journey through Middle Earth.
It was dry most of the the day so my shoes were dry-ish by the time we reached the Mahoe forest track. The Will to Continue slowly came back. The entire day I had the weather prediction stuck in my head: 21,1mm of rain that evening, with lots of wind.
The sky was looking threatening all day and the wind started picking up. Serina and PJ had been talking about setting up camp by a stream in he forest but I felt really concerned about the forecast. I asked them to continue until we got out of the forest, they agreed and we kept going to Mahoe road.
Around 4pm and 2km from our goal it kicked in. The threatening sky closed in on us and the rain started pouring as if the oceans needed to be filled again. We reached the top of the hill where Mahoe road winds through farmland. The wind mercilessly slammed the rain upon us. We desperately looked for a sheltered spot to pitch our tents but there was none. We were lucky to find a woodshed that offered shelter.
We rolled out our mattresses and spent the night in there. That shed was such a saviour. It was a large open space so cold, windy and a bit wet but much better than the inferno we watched outside. In our thermals and sleeping bags it was nice and warm. At that moment we realised it: yes, it does look like it’s grey and bad weather a lot in The Lord of the Rings. Yes, Frodo does look fairly miserable on his journey! We should have known what we were going in for. Serina is planning on having a hefty word with Peter Jackson.
The same struggle emerged the next morning. We found planks to dry our wet gear on but it didn’t help too much. Everything smelled and felt like wet dog. I thought about the pizza that was waiting for us at Waitomo and the Will kicked in again. The weather was still miserable. We couldn’t even see 20m ahead, it was still raining and still windy. Even the sheep looked and bleated miserably.
One stream in the Mahoe forest track becomes dangerous after rain so we had to abandon the trail and follow the back country roads into the village. A farmer picked us up on the way and dropped us off right by the i-site. We booked in to a hostel to get a warm bed for the night and let our gear dry out.
Tomorrow we treat ourselves to a day of glow worms and black water rafting, sort of a short TA vacation. We walked all the way here so we more than earned it.