We began our 4th full week on the trail with a short road walk out of Te Kuiti, stopping briefly for some hot coffee and to charge the ever important (though increasingly unreliable) phone. The trail cut away to follow the banks of the Mangaokewa stream south, and once we cleared town were treated to some beautiful trail through a steep valley with lush forest on one side, and rocky pastures on the other. The mysterious atmosphere was heightened by the constant drizzle, which unfortunately persisted for the entire day, making the pitched traverses and climbs all the more slippery and treacherous. After a particularly challenging ascent, we ran into a French man and Czech woman taking a short break from the rain in their tent (the same brand as ours), on a very unlikely hillside. Pushing on past the forest, we broke in to logging land, where the giant trunks of trees are laid bare with their colorful undergrowth forming a vibrant screen worthy of a wallpaper. We continued on towards a 26 km road walk, but decided to accept the kindness of Essey, a woman who works one of the local farms, followed by some Maori ranch hands, and lastly a visiting Aussie couple (who almost got crushed by a speeding semi truck as they stopped to pick us up) to hitch past the worst of the road. We ended at the Pureora campsite just as the sun was finally breaking through the clouds, and were treated to several rainbows with our damp dinner, just happy to be past the roads for now and looking forward to a slightly better weather forecast.
We woke hopeful at our camp site behind the Hut Headquarters at the Pureora base. The weather forecast had predicted that our spell of bad weather would break… At least it wasn’t raining, but it was still punishingly cold. Luckily, the first part of the trail took us up a new bike trail called the Timber Trail. This enabled us to log in some quick kilometres and get us to the base of our climb. It was a serious struggle to warm up though and no matter how quickly we walked, our fingers were freezing and we kept having to alternate holding our trekking poles and placing them up under our arms and putting our hands in our pockets. Finally, we began to climb and warm up slightly. Unfortunately, due to our high altitude, the mountain commanded a clouded storm system that ceased to break, even upon our summit. Lacking in views and still chilled at over 1100 km, we acknowledged our feat and made quick work of making our way down to the ridge to another lower summit. The forest here was lovely and the trees were covered in moss, giving it the feeling of an enchanted woods. Small bits of sun began to break from mostly overcast skies and we revelled in these brief moments of warmth. Our descent led us to the Bog Hut, which was built in the 1960’s and had a rustic, homey feel. We attempted to make a quick fire to get some hot water, but the kindling was too wet and our failed attempted left us frustrated and a bit colder than before. So we plunged on and as the day progressed so did our temperatures and spirits. The trail was winding and lovely without being too technically challenging. We set our sights on the Waihaha Hut, which we figured an easy feat, seeing as it was only 10 km from our summit. Unfortunately, due to multiple blow downs (fallen trees) and muddy patches, our walk was delayed and we misjudged the time it would take. Nevertheless, we found ourselves in a beautiful valley next to a river with some campsites that couldn’t be passed up. So we pitched the tent and, after some effort, got a fire going from the wet kindling long enough to boil water for a hot meal. A much needed amenity after such a long, cold day.
Once again chilled this morning, but early signs of sunshine lifted our spirits. We broke camp and hit the trail with lots of steep climbs and descents in rapid succession. Shortly, we arrived at the hut we had been shooting for the day prior. As I used the toilet, I heard Jeff enter the hut and there were kazoo sounds and women shouting. I had no idea what was going on and swiftly left the restroom to find out what the commotion was, seeing as it was only 7:15 in the morning. Turns out, we had showed up just in time for a BIRTHDAY PARTY! Two sisters, Lauren and Yvonne (lovely Kiwi women) had stayed in the camp the night before and Yvonne had just surprised Lauren with a cupcake, banners and blow horns, and Jeff and I had showed up for the event! They invited us to hot tea and conversation, which turned out to be the perfect start to our day. Lauren was a dairy farmer and Yvonne is currently “Livinthedream” out of her RV and traveling around the country. Just some more kiwi magic in the middle of nowhere. Our day was more rigorous than the day prior, but just as stunning, with great woods to tramp through and more and more sun as the day progressed. The trail was well marked, but with quite a few muddy areas and more blow downs than the day before. We made good time though and, with disgustingly muddy boots, we finished the forest section and came out to section of road. We had to ford a small stream, but neither of us cared about wet boots because we could finally clean them off and dry them in the SUN! Back in T-shirts for the first time in nearly a week, we headed off for another long road walk that led us searching for a place to tent amongst many farms. We spotted a small graveyard that had a stile (a small set of stairs in place to get over barbed wire fences), so we hopped the fence and found a small hidden patch of grass behind some thorn bushes. The sun shone through sunset and we had a warm dinner with beautiful views of pasture land before retiring for the night