December 31st 2016
Hunua falls – suspension bridge 
17.9 miles
Total distance: 435.6 miles

It was freezing when we woke up, meaning that neither of us wanted to move out of our sleeping bags. Our 6:30 start turned into a 7:30 start and it looked like we had got away with camping somewhere we weren’t really supposed to. But we were careful and left no trace. Today I felt like I had had enough. Enough of walking. Enough of packing up my tent every morning and putting it up every night. Enough of using public toilets. Enough of feeling so gross. This morning I’m longing for a space that’s permanent and mine. Somewhere I can sit in my pants and watch Netflix and eat ice cream from the tub. Somewhere I can roll out of bed in the middle of the night, go to the loo and just roll back in.

Of course I have that place and I can go back any time I want, but I know when I’m there I will just long to be here again. I suck it up. It’s just a wobble. It’s just because I’m cold and uncomfortable and I don’t want to do all the uphill we have today.

We went straight into the climbing and after spending an hour shivering with ice cold hands, after 5 minutes of uphill I was sweaty and delayering. An old bloke came up behind me and overtook me. ‘How are you doing?’ he asked, ‘How far are you going?’. To Bluff eventually, I replied. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get fitter as you go’ he said. Over 5000 miles and I’m still being overtaken by the old folk! Although his very small day pack was probably hindering him less than my pack which seems to get heavier every day.

The trail was nice to start with, steep but smooth. It stayed this way until we got to a little lookout in a Kauri grove. Then it turned into a tramping trail, so it was muddy, full of slippy tree roots and vines. It made for slow progress but the mud was mostly avoidable. The trail wasn’t too bad in terms of steepness and we got to the top in a reasonable time. The other side of the trail was different and there were loads of stairs and the trail widened on the way down to Wairoa dam. We had a brief respite from the ups and downs as we walked across the dam and then we headed back up into the forest. Our goal was to get to the Repeater campsite shelter for lunch, where we had planned to get to yesterday but there was absolutely no way we would have made it there before dark.

Julia was off up ahead of me and at one point I wasn’t sure of the way to go, I took the long way around and she took the sensible short cut. We found that out by discussing how many Asian people we had passed. I had seen about 15 and she had seen about 50! She was waiting at the shelter when I finally arrived. It’s really hot today but thankfully we are in the trees mostly. The last bit was on a dirt road and it was nice to be able to sit in the shelter in the shade. I would have happily camped inside here. It looked really clean, apart from the animal droppings on the side (possum? Rat? one of those I expect). Shelters can be hit or miss, and it’s always a risk that there will be other people there who will be noisy. There was a game of chess there and Julia had set it up ready for us to play, but there were about 5 pieces missing, which was lucky for me because I can’t play chess!

We got there around 12:15 and we hung out there until about 1:15. Our first big climbs we’re out the way so we took a nice lunch break. We had 10 more miles to go, the first 5 downhill and flat along a dirt road and then was the big ascent and descent to finish off the day. We decided to get the first 5 miles done as quickly as possible. We flew down the dirt roads, crossing paths with lots of people mountain biking. We cruised along, headphones in for only the second time on the trail. Julia was in front and setting a good pace, I was half a beat off a run to keep up with her! But I did keep up and we soon found ourselves crossing a little stream. The shoes came off and it was so nice to cool my feet down in the water and wash the mud off.

All too soon we were at lower mangatawhiri campsite and about to start the next tramping track. We had heard bad things about this track, like it’s very slow going and it’s a ‘death trap’. So we were a little apprehensive about it. We needed to get water and the access to the river was difficult. I went first and my right foot dunked into the river. Luckily I pulled it out so fast that my sock wasn’t at all wet. I couldn’t reach down far enough to the water so I decided to remove a shoe and stand with one leg in the water. There were a whole bunch of spikey plants to contend with and I came away with a couple of scratches. Julia took a different approach, which was to lie on her stomach and lean over to the water. Which worked ok until she had to get up. Very difficult for her. She managed it in the end but came out with significantly more scratches than I did!

When we couldn’t put it off any longer we started the climb. The first half wasn’t too bad, the trail was ok and there were a lot of stairs, which were tiring after you had been climbing up them for half an hour! Then the second half is where the grade changed and it became a tramping track. You had to look on every single direction for fear of tripping / catching yourself of something / hitting your head / getting something in your eye. We were lucky that it had been dry for a while and it was dry today. Progress would have been a lot slower if it had been wet. We climbed over and under trees, avoided mud and tree roots and vines and worked our way through the forest.

With the climb completed we had the downhill to get through. The terrain was the same as it was on the way up. We were tired and hungry by now and close to being on the go for over 12 hours. We got down as quickly as we could while being careful not to fall or break an ankle. Just a nanoseconds lapse in concentration could end in disaster! As we came to the end of the track we had 3 lovely switchbacks which is a rare find in New Zealand! The suspension bridge came into view and we celebrated being out of the forest. At times it felt like we were never going to get out.

It had taken us 3 hours 20 minutes to travel 4.5 miles. It’s tough going. We crossed the bridge and looked for the place listed as ‘good camping’. We didn’t find that and settled for some lumpy ground near the bridge to pitch our tents. It’s New Year’s Eve! It would have been nice to sit out and watch the sun set but we were being eaten alive by midges. I could feel them biting my legs. For such a small insect they pack a powerful bite. I put my tent up as quickly as I could and launched all my stuff and myself inside. I had noticed before that there were some cows in the next field and there didn’t seem to be any barrier between them and us.

I gobbled down some bread, cheese, crisps and chocolate for dinner. We hit a town tomorrow so hope to get a nice New Years meal. I hear some noises and shout to Julia to ask her if the cows are anywhere near because I can’t see from my tent. Oh yeah, the cows have gathered to see what’s going on. I look out and they are all standing in a line at the fence looking at us. Cows are funny. They aren’t coming through the big gap and it will be fine as long as it stays that way!

As the sun goes down on 2016 I feel like I should be reflecting on the year gone by but it’s 22:20 and I’m still writing this while struggling to keep my eyes open, there is zero chance of me seeing midnight. There is no time for reflecting. It’s been a funny old year I’ve worked two jobs, been to four countries and walked over 3000 miles. And I’ve met some awesome people. Come on 2017, what do you have in store?…

I swear the cows are getting closer. I’m just going to ignore it and see if they go away. Lying down feels like the best thing right now. My legs are pulsing from all that downhill.


I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Please donate here, every little bit helps.