Only about an hours drive out from Palmerston North, I hit the track just before 11am on Feb 9, 2017. I was a bundle of nerves, wondering if I had all the gear I needed; did I have too much stuff? How was I going to handle the distance and elevation gain; How was ADNZ Ben going to handle it all? As I shrugged into my pack it felt like I had too much stuff, and I was wondering just how much this experience was going to wreck me. Although I was confident in my outdoors skills, my knowing my body and that ADNZ Ben was indeed trained for this; I hadn’t done the physical training that I would have liked to do so the plan was to take my time and a lot of photo (read rest) breaks on the way up to the hut. I’d deliberately planned a full day of rest at the hut so knew I had a rest day before I had to walk back out so I really wasn’t too stressed, I knew I could veg out for a day before stressing out my body again.
It was good to be out on the track again and to get away from it all, by myself. The only worries for the next few days was to take in the journey and to look after myself the best the conditions allowed. Having a nice warm hut to call home for a day was a definite bonus. The track was quiet, which to be honest was one of the reasons I went mid-week; I wanted the quite solitude.
The Karaka berries were heavy on the ground in the lower forest so it was time to muzzle ADNZ Ben for awhile. We also had to work out the kinks of walking along a narrow trail. The track was well maintained, and although I expected to be climbing all day I felt like I was not making the time I would to have liked and then we came across the following sign…
And I am sure this “zig-zag” added about 1km of walking to the track. I definitely had moments of “why do I do this to myself” and “I wish I had trained more” moments. I had to make sure I deliberately stopped to turn around to take in the view and my surroundings, to try and “enjoy” the slog uphill. Between the beauty of the forest and the breathtaking views out across towards the horizon I am definitely glad I “made the time” to take it in; to actually focus on what was around me and not just making sure my footing was good and missing the views.
One of my biggest fears about “going solo” has been “what happens when I do a turtle impersonation” which ironically happened at the tops of a couple of climbs. With ADNZ Ben’s help we worked out the system of getting back up and going again. As it was coming up to lunchtime I felt like I was never going to get to the bridge which I had designated as my pack down, lunch stop. Just when I felt like I was never going to make it to the bridge I crested a ridge to see the iconic Rangiwahia bridge in the “near” distance.
It seemed to take forever to actually get to the bridge from here and the slight downhill to the bridge was a much needed reprieve and I very much appreciated a rest and something to eat. It was almost demoralizing to know that I was probably only half way there, but also a good feeling to have made it to the bridge.
The last 45 minutes of walking to the hut was pretty grueling as I could see the high point that the hut was behind but it just did not seem to be getting any closer. It was at this time that 2 parties of 2 passed me. One group gave me an odd look as I was adjusting the harness on my pack; I’d lent my pack to someone and just hadn’t found that “sweet spot” for comfort, and I’d been slowly adjusting the harness for most of the trip. I think this last adjustment finally found that sweet spot! Shortly after this group had passed I spied the top of the woodshed of the hut over the ridge, I don’t think I have ever been so relieved to see a woodshed. Popped the muzzle back on ADNZ Ben as I rang Department of Conservation before the trip to see what pest control was in the area and was informed that there is “probably” rat poison at the hut. At about 3.15pm I did a search of the hut and the immediate surrounds of the hut looking for poison and bird sign, when I was satisfied that the area was safe for ADNZ Ben I took off the muzzle and started to settle in. The view was definitely worth the effort of the day.
The parties that had passed me were both at the hut, a couple from Waikane and a couple of tourists. The couple from Waikane was due to stay the night and the tourists decided that with the weather reports that they were going to try and make Turangi that night to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the following day so they headed back out. It was time to check out the woodshed. When I rang the local DoC office to check the pest control I was told that there was plenty of firewood but I may need to take fire starting gear. So I had bundled up enough dry kindling to start 2 fires and hauled it up the hill. My heart sunk as I put my head into the woodshed, there were bags and bags of wood-chips. Yes it was a good thing that there was plenty of wood and dry wood-chips to start fires with, but I could have saved myself some pack weight on the hike up the hill.
A cool breeze came over the tops as we sat down to have dinner and time to relax. The sun slowly sank below the far horizon, lighting up the sky and although the breeze was cold we elected not to start the fire.
During the night ADNZ Ben wouldn’t settle and I must admit I also appreciated his extra warmth when I finally allowed him to bunk with me rather than his mat on the ground. When we awoke to a pretty good frost on the ground I figured out that I had indeed gotten cold overnight.
The couple from Waikane were heading down the hill via “Dead Mans Track” pretty early on and ADNZ Ben and I settled in for a day relaxing and resting at the hut. I had tucked a packet of Sweet Chilli Relish chips into my pack for the day and I discovered that the change in altitude had made the bag “swell” and I chomped into those while sitting back reading. I spent the day exploring around the hut, taking photos; including some of the best decorated loos in the Ruahines.
The weather blew in and out, and I enjoyed the time just watching the landscape change throughout the day. The wind was still cold and by mid afternoon I made the decision to light the fire, not because I was “cold” as such, but I was sick of being not warm. In the late afternoon the cloud gathered and settled and I had pretty much given up on seeing much of a sunset. As I was gathering my bits and pieces for dinner I noticed a slight pink light out of the corner of my eye. I dashed outside to take some photos before I tucked into my “Roast Lamb” dehydrated dinner.
I’m glad I lit the fire as the temperature dropped pretty rapidly once the sun had gone down. For doing nothing all day I was pretty beat, and crawled into my sleeping bag pretty “early”. At about 9.30pm the door to the hut swung open and a male voice called out; a party of 2 had made it to the hut and were going to be camping at the clearing near the hut for the night. I had the whole hut to myself. I’d heard the party of 2 setting up camp and was just starting to doze off when I heard a weird whistling sound. I thought I was hearing things, but when ADNZ Ben reacted with a “hey what was that sound” reaction I knew I was hearing a kiwi. I lightly debated going to find the source of the sound but decided against it; between my bad balance, which is even worse in the dark and the fact that I would have a 32 kg dog, it would have been a comedy of errors. So we snuggled down in our bunk and I drifted off to sleep feeling privileged to be listening to NZs iconic bird.
We woke to a cool, but clear morning, with just a hint of a breeze blowing across the tops, I’d woken up on mountain time as I forgot to set an alarm, so I was a bit late in getting going from the hut. The spectacular views out to the mountains and horizon was not helping me do anything quickly. Luckily there is some mobile reception at the hut so I was able to let my pick up driver know I was going to be a little late.
As we left the hut I managed to snap a couple of shots of ADNZ Ben and I at the hut and we head “down” the hill. I’d given my driver a bit of extra time so I could give myself some stops along the way to catch my breath and take in the views. It was easier take in the views on the way down, and it seemed to be slightly easier going, although I swear that my pack felt no lighter than on the way up.
With being a Saturday there was far more traffic on the track, mostly day walkers. I was glad to be headed out as I passed a family group with several small children that were going for the night! Thankfully things timed out that there was a group at the bridge when we were and I was able to get the “bridge shot” (I hate to say it, but I think I need a selfie stick).
As I plodded down the hill I had a few chats with the day walkers as I stepped aside to let them pass. It was during a conversation about “my dogs backpacks” that I realized that I was about to finish a pretty big personal accomplishment. The last solo I did was back when I was doing my Diploma, back in about 2004. I was much younger and a little more stupid back then. I’ve always been in some form of group while travelling around since then to make sure I was safe. I’ve always needed help in righting myself when I fall, and part of ADNZ Ben’s role is to help me up in this situation. We worked out the kinks of getting me righted on this trip and I’d just about finished my first independent trip in many years. So between this trip and the development of communications over the last few years I am much more confident heading out for more independent trips over the next few months.
The stretch from the bridge down to the car park felt much longer than on the way up and it was slightly disheartening when I was passed by a group who I had crossed paths with earlier in the day. I had to remind myself that a) I was carrying a full kit and they seemed to have a “bit of water, lunch and a jacket” type backpacks; and b) I’m a wobbly walker, I’m going to take a bit longer, and that I need to stop measuring my successes by other people’s “normal”. From then on the track almost seemed never ending, and “get-home-itis” had well and truly set in and I was just putting one foot in front of the other. I picked up a little speed as I realized the track had evened out, so I was probably getting close, then I passed the sign, I must admit I got a little bit emotional as I opened the gate to the track at the car-park. I’d done it, proven I could safely get out there independently again. I am quickly building a list of “want to do” trips! This time is definitely one I will remember for a long time.
Thanks to all those who support me behind the scenes!