Saturday, November 10, 2007
That Will Rip Your Undies
With Stephen Crabbe
The next lag of our journey began after some great rest and relaxation at Jordan Walkers flat in Whangerai. We were treated to 3 square meals and some great company. Props go out to Jordan, Shelley and Wendy thanks! Box of Birds!
We drove Midnight Special from Whangerai to Auckland where we stayed another night at the fat camel hostel, groovy place. As we drove to Te Urewera National Park I couldn’t help but think about how much has happened since we arrived in New Zealand. Every day and night is so different, the people, the scenery. Hostel rooms are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. It could be empty; it could smell like Rodney’s jeans after he wore them for three weeks with no underwear. There may be someone sleeping, or a foreign exchange student learning English. One thing remains constant regardless of who your bunk mates are for the evening, everyone wants to have a good time. The conversation always starts out the same way. “Where are you from?” That opening question brings me to another rant altogether; nationalities can be quite deceiving…New Zealand being the global soup that it is can be a phenomenal place for people watching. Just when you have someone pegged as a Russian they end up being from Brazil. The hoards of German girls, aside from being quite fit are hard to nail down until they talk. And locals, Aussies, and Brits all have that same beaky demeanor making them impossible to distinguish. There is one exception though, Swedish guys. Usually riddled with pimples and of course blond hair they stick out like a sore thumb.
You look out on the dance floor “Look at the Swedish guy go”
Walking down a crowded city sidewalk “Look! It’s a couple Swedish backpackers”
“Hey Swedish guy! Can you pass the marmite?”
Anyways, enough about that let me set the scene in Te Urewera National Park. One of the last large parcels of land owned by the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand it was squeezed from their control in the 70’s and turned into a national park. It is located in the central North Island sitting around a half of a kilometer above sea level. According to Maori legend the forest is inhabited by “little people” whom move nomadically with the abnormally thick fog that swirls and meanders around Lake Waikaremoana. A good word to describe the lake is mystical. The water is very deep and dark but as it gets shallow toward the banks it takes on a jade green hue which is very beautiful to look at. Since the altitude is high the area typically gets high volumes of rain, snow, wind and generally pear shaped weather. A week before we began our hike it got dumped with eight inches of snow. Towering trees and aggressive rock faces add to the overall majestic nature of Lake Waikaremoana. Our drive into the park was quite eventful. Not knowing what to expect we entered the north side of the national park at a round dusk. The road quickly transitioned into an unsealed winding passage with livestock everywhere! Sheep, cows and horses were plentiful, lying on the road, running about. After sixty minutes of driving deeper into the heart of possibly the most remote place we have ever been we started to see shanties that looked like something out of the Blair Witch Project, it was creepy. You could almost hear dueling banjos twanging in the darkness. Finally after two hours of driving we spotted a small sign that indicated that there was a campground fifty kilometers away! Three hours after we entered the boundaries of the park and several dozen possum spottings we finally came to a campground. It was late, around eleven we pulled midnight special in and pitched our new tent! This one was mosquito proof. A cold night filled with battling for inches and listening to Pat saw logs wasn’t the most ideal sleeping situation but it did the trick.
The next morning we were woken up at sunrise by two very territorial male paradise geese locking horns for an impressive sounding battle as a female squawked in the background. I wanted to kill these fuckers, they never shut up making what could have been an amazing camp site irritating. We took a sun soaked day to organize our packs, buy our great walk pass, check out some waterfalls, and cook one last semi nutritious meal. We arranged our shuttle to the entrance of the walk for the next morning at eight AM.
A brisk morning with scattered clouds and sun greeted us as we got dropped off at Onepoto, the starting point of our tramp. My cheerful demeanor soured quickly as we ascended 532 meters over four kilometers. I kept looking up to see Pat’s bulging calf muscles scampering up the trail, hazed by lack of oxygen I kept thinking I was following a half breed mixed between Morgie McElman and Mike England. Two and a half hours after our inception onto the trail we reached the highest altitude of this hike at 1181m. We had climbed the spine of Panekiri bluff and the view was our reward. Looking down at the colossal lake we could see all the facets of the water outcropping into areas like spider legs. There was dramatic rock faces scattered around breaking up the thick, lush forest. We stopped at a hut where we filled our water bottles with collected rain water. We also met Simon and Stephan there, two German trampers which we are still traveling with two weeks later. The rest of the day we descended closer to the water, crossing several impressive suspension bridges. We stopped hiking at around 4pm at a Waiopaoa hut on the lake edge and set up our tent in a lovely secluded area with a fire pit. Luckily we got to see some of the thick fog that gives the lake its mystical reputation. It was so dense and packed in individual pockets that it looked like smoke. If you had Pink Floyd “Echoes” on your ipod and a hit of bathtub acid you would be in for a mind melting evening. Soon after we set up a few other trampers entered the site and we had a relaxing evening filled with light conversation and warmth from a wood stove in the hut. At around nine we retired to our tent after an hour of non-consequential rain to pack it in. Sleeping was easy after a day of rigorous exercise in the wops of New Zealand. We laughed ourselves to sleep listening to the comical owls scream “More Pork” Pat kept saying “I don’t have any fucking pork!” We didn’t have any pork so they screamed for it into the wee hours of the morning. And we would laugh, the other campers must think we are abnormally gassy, crazy Canadians…wait, we are.
The next morning was a late one starting; I don’t think we got onto the trail until after ten. We strapped on our packs and hit the trail with a vengeance. Our strides were powerful as we carefully stepped the trail in our usual formation of Pat setting the pace and myself doing everything I can to keep up. We were crushing estimated trail times by hours with conversations that made hours seem like minutes. Something about tramping makes you have the most lucid thoughts. We were both remembering things about our childhood that we hadn’t though of in years. There was an optional hike off the trail into Korokoro fall which was signed at one hour thirty return. We set our packs down and minus 20 kilos we scorched the trail to the waterfall and back in an impressive 45 minutes. By mid afternoon were we both moving like snails. We had bad blisters which was making any change in elevation excruciating. A little confused as to where we were on the trail we pushed on to Marauitu hut and set up shop lake side, close to a fenced off Kiwi reserve. Pat started a small fire and had a great moment on a makeshift bench which he noted “this is the life!” As darkness fell upon us the birds were sounding calls that were very different and amusing. We also got to hear a female kiwi calling after dark which sounds like a terrified woman screaming. The Kiwi is a nocturnal bird so the call is probably the closest contact we will encounter but we are passionate about seeing one.
Yet another late morning as we hit the trail after ten in an attempt to make our water taxi at 1:30pm. Surprisingly after an hour of slow and steady tramping we came to a sign that had the water taxi only 45 minutes away. With this great news we stripped down and enjoyed an hour in the sun relishing the accomplishment of another multi-day hike. Pat tried some fishing, I finished yet another book and we walked to our taxi spot were a sweet boat was waiting for us. The boat ride was great because we got to scope out where we had hiked from the perspective of the water. Looking up Panekiri Bluff which was a towering monstrosity of rock, we got to see why it seemed like a never-ending ascend on the first day. Pat and I sat back and smiled the whole way across the lake.
Thanks for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it. Pat and I are having the time of our lives!