Day 60 – Palmerston North to Toko Corner

Palmerston North to Toko Corner (Tararua Range)

28kms

Total 1493kms

Jesse and Josh came over to catch up last night and we talked about how we were going to tackle the next six days. We all have a lot of food to carry so our packs are much heavier than we are used to. I am glad I have these two guys to walk with over the ranges.

Walking out of Palmy today I crossed the Fitzherbert Bridge and followed the walkway around to Bledisloe park and Massey University. The Turitea walkway crosses three footbridges and then open fenced farmland overlooking Massey Sports Institute. The next several kms were entering a valley and the foothills of the Tararua range. The trail went down ‘Green Corridors’ planted by the council that ran adjacent to streams. Then there was 7kms of metal road and the views were changing around every corner, from bush to open farm land and slowly ascending into the hills. I stopped at a nice picnic area for lunch. At the end of the road there was the parking lot and hub for the Kahuterawa recreation area. There are heaps of mountain biking tracks here. The trail takes the ‘back track’ which is an old road that was closed in the 60’s and is now surrounded by regenerated native bush. There were plenty of streams crossing the track so easy to refill the water bottle. The track finished and I entered some forestry land and not far along was the new official campsite. A shelter is being constructed and the builder was there when I arrived. I thought it had already been built and was expecting a water tank and toilet. The builder said they were three months behind schedule. There is a good stream that is easy to access and a portaloo for now. I had a wash in the stream. A lady from the UK called Karina was at the campsite already. Jesse turned up about an hour later and then Josh. Josh took a while to get out of Palmy because he needed to buy some gear that was lost to the Whanganui river.

Day 59 – Rest

Total 1465kms

Donna dropped me back at Countdown in Kelvin Grove and I walked 8kms following the Manuatu river pathway to the Fitzgerald bridge which I will cross tomorrow. I walked further down the river to the Palmerston North holiday park where I am staying tonight. After checking early, I walked into the city and spent a few hours in there. Palmy is a really nice city. I resupplied at Countdown for the next 6 days. There wont be any shops until Waikanae. I got a bit more than I probably need but that is ok because it might take longer than I have planned. My pack is going to be heavy though and the temperature is rising each day. Today was a scorcher! I went to the information centre and purchased some hut passes for the ranges then posted some post cards to the kids. I have been doing this along the way. Then I caught the bus back to the holiday park and am getting ready and planning for the next 6 days. The finish line is only 200kms away now, but there is a bloody big hill to get over first.

Day 58 – Bulls to Palmerston North

Bulls to Palmerston North

36kms

Total 1457kms

I did not need my pack today and was able to leave it at Donna’s place. It makes a big difference. I felt very light and had the wind behind me. It was a bit cold in the morning but the heat turned on by 12. I made it to Fielding by 1pm and had a good long break. I was starving and still feeling tired. Fielding is a really nice town and friendly people. I had a footlong subway with drink and then a large chocolate and cream donut from the bakery. My stomach was so full and sore when I started to walk again. Hiliare had popped out of Mt Lees reserve in front of me about an hour or two before I got to Fielding. We walked together and he carried on when I stopped.

There were more very long and straight roads today and at times the traffic was heavy. Just out of Bunnythorpe the trail went onto farmland that ran parallel to the road and there were heaps of stiles to climb over. I finished at the countdown in Kelvin Grove where Donna picked me up. I saw Hiliare there again. He was resupplying and carrying on for another 15kms.

I still have another 8kms to get to the palmy holiday park and will stay there for the night. I will meet up with Jesse and Josh before heading out of town and into the Tararuas. I will need to resupply with enough food for about seven days.

Day 57 – Koitiata to Bulls

Koitiata to Bulls

30kms

Total 1421kms

I did not sleep well last night in my tent. I was waking up to the wind and tossing and turning all night. Feeling tired and drained made the whole day a bit of a struggle. I was taking it 5kms at a time but they each felt like 10. The first 8kms were along the beach which was nice for a change but the westerly wind was still coming in strong and pushing me around. I came off the beach and on to forestry roads which were long and straight but sheltered from the wind. The last 15kms into Bulls were plain old road walking. I was tired and cranky from the relentless wind pushing me around and my feet were aching again. I put some music on for the last 5kms. That took my mind off it and helped me push on. I like Bulls. It is a cool little town. Any town with a supermarket and a McDonalds rates pretty highly though.

Donna picked me up from Bulls and has kindly offered to have me stay at her place for the next two nights as I pass through the area. Donna is the manager for Alzheimers Manuatu. We went out to Donna’s friends house, Jo and Carmel, for dinner. We had fillet steak and salads! They were very nice people. I had a shower, a few beers and even got my washing done. I left with a block of chocolate too. Now I am at Donna’s and have a self contained sleep out which is like five star luxury.

Day 56 – Whanganui to Koitiata

Whanganui to Koitiata

32kms

Total 1391kms

Today started off ok with some nice easy road walking out of Whanganui on SH3. A young french guy called Hiliare caught up to me just out of Whanganui. I have met him before when I was on the Timber Trail. He walks until he feels like stopping and asks to camp on peoples lawns. Has worked well for him so far. We talked for a while then separated when I stopped for a short break. I stopped again for lunch in a small town called Turikina. There was nothing there except an antique and collectables shop/cafe. There was an impressive amount of old plates and tea cups in there and all sorts of junk. I had a quick lunch then carried on. Just out of Turikina I turned off to Koitiata. The closer I got to the coast the stronger the wind got. I was battling the wind most of the day. It was a strong and gusterly westerly and it would catch my pack and push me around. The wind persisted all day and afternoon and then overnight it dropped a bit. I camped at the Koitiata campsite right next to the beach. The beach was really interesting and rugged with so much driftwood washed up along the shore. Not just little stuff either. I don’t know where it all comes from.

Day 55 – Rest

I was contacted by both the Whanganui Chronicle and the River City Press to write a story about me in their papers so I caught up with both of them today. The Chronicle interviewed me at the hostel and took some photos and then I popped into the other office which is just around the corner. They had already done an article and gave me a copy. They will do a follow up in this weeks’ edition. I had a coffee in town, got a haircut and then popped into Alzheimers Whanganui office and met Sharon and Marlene. When I left there I saw a thai massage sign so went in for a deep tissue for 30 minutes. Then a small resupply at Countdown. I dont need much because I will be passing through Bulls and then Palmerston North in the next couple of days. Time to kick back and maybe pick a DVD to watch at the hostel and make the most of relaxing before three long days road walking. I will be heading for Koitiata motor camp tomorrow which is south west of Whanganui at a beach.

Day 54 – Matahiwi to Whanganui

Matahiwi to Whanganui

52kms

Total 1359kms

So I’ve actually done 7kms more than the total above. I didn’t follow the official trail on the river section. The first two days on the river can be done by walking the bush track or canoe. The canoe trip can also be continued all the way to Whanganui. I got off at Pipiriki after three days and cycled the rest of the way. These are all options as part of Te Araroa but the distances vary slightly. I am happy with the options I have taken. The total distance above is where I am up to now in Whanganui on the official trail line.

I waited until 9am to have a coffee at the cafe in Matahiwi before setting off on the bike. The quake was measured as a 4.5 magnitude 5kms north of Whanganui. The lady at the cafe said they get them all the time here and usually get most around March and April. I had noticed that most of the joinery and doors around the place were crooked and not closing properly.

I was in Whanganui just before 2pm. It was another very nice ride running parallel to the river most of the way until 17kms out where the road climbed to a great viewpoint. I met a nice French couple there who were fascinated by my story and showed them my whole journey on their map of the north island. There was cellphone reception too so I could message home for the first time since Whakahoro where I had some wifi. From there it was a fun and fast ride down to SH4 which I followed for the final 14kms into Whanganui. By the time I got to SH4 my bum was so sore from the bike seat I could hardly sit or put any pressure on it! I had to get off and push once I got to the bridge in town and walk the rest of the way to my accommodation.

I am staying at the 42b College House which is right in town just off Victoria street. It is the perfect location for me to have a rest day and work out the next leg.

Abby is back at kindy and is updating the class on where I am at since they have been on school holidays.

Day 53 – Bridge To Nowhere Camp to Matahiwi

Bridge To Nowhere Camp to Matahiwi (Whanganui River)

43kms

The rapids went ‘next level’ today. There were less of them but they were bigger. I got tipped out and floated about 100 meters on my back holding on to the kayak beside me but I had to let go when it got side on in front of me and I was getting dragged under it. Dad and Scott got through ok behind me. There were already a group who had gone ashore just past the rapid and some of them paddled out to fetch my kayak. Luckily they did, otherwise I would have had to have waited for a jet boat to find it and bring it up. There were about six of them today that came up the river. So I was left floating on my back with my feet in front of me, as we were instructed to do in that situation, so I could push off any obstacles I might run into like rocks or logs. There was nothing anyone could do to help me at that point until I had floated out of the rapid. I was able to stand up when I got closer to the shore but the water was still running fast at about knee deep so I very carefully and slowly walked about 15 meters to shore. It was all rocks and loose stones underfoot and one of my sandles had come undone. The only thing I lost was my hat. My phone stayed dry inside a snap lock bag in my shirt pocket which was held tightly against my chest by my lifejacket. No water got into the barrel I had which was lucky because it was fully submerged for quite a while.

Further downstream I was feeling a bit apprehensive going into some of the bigger rapids. There was one where the river became very narrow and there was a large rock that split the water into a fork. There was a canoe wrapped around it just under the surface. I opted to avoid this altogether because I wasn’t confident I had enough control to avoid the rock. To the left it was very shallow so I took my kayak over that and bumped and scrapped my way over the stones. Dad and Scott followed suit. Then there was another large rapid that is known as the 50/50. Again the river narrowed from about 20 meters across to less than five. I knew I could not get through it without tipping. It was the biggest rapid of the trip by far. I told dad and Scott that I was going to walk down the shoreline and tow my kayak. Dad and Scott were confident enough to have a go in the canoe which so far had proven to be more stable. I got out of my kayak as they entered the rapid and I watched them go into it. They started tipping to the right and then in an instant they flipped and were bobbing in and out of the waves holding onto the canoe. I had to get back in quickly to try and help them and caught up with them not far out of it as they were trying to swim to shore. I helped by nudging the canoe with the tip of my kayak. They managed to keep hold of it. Dad said his legs were tangled in the rope for a while which made it difficult to swim. A couple just ahead of us noticed what happened and paddled back upstream to help. Everyone was fine and no gear was lost and the barrells kept the water out again. So there was lots more action and excitement today!

There were three more rapids after that before we landed at Pipiriki. The hire company was there to load all our canoes and barrells. They also had the mountain bike for me and my backpack so I had to transfer all my gear back into it. I said goodbye to dad and Scott. It was really great sharing that experience with them and it was a really enjoyable three days down that section of the river.

I walked my bike and backpack and small backpack up to the top of the hill to the campsite. I wanted to keep going and knock some kms off to make tomorrow an easier ride to Whanganui which is roughly 80kms away. I had thought about continuing to Matahiwi where I knew there was a cafe and art gallery with accommodation. It was already 2pm and I thought it would take me 3 or 4 hours at least to get there because my map showed metal road for the whole 22kms with a third of it being uphill. The guy running the campsite was really helpful. His name was Junior. He knew all about the Matahiwi cafe and the owner so phoned them for me to organise it. $40 for a cabin. He then phoned the post lady to arrange for her to pick my backpack up and take it to Whanganui for me ($15). I had planned to organise all this myself but he just got on the phone and sorted it all in 5 minutes. Junior gave me a can of L&P after I told him I was raising money for Alzheimers Northland. I got an overnight pack ready and hit the road asap. I was peddling by 2.30pm. The road was sealed the whole way which was a relief and I made it to Matahiwi in under two hours. It was hard on the long uphill stretches but great fun coasting downhill and the views down the river were amazing. The cabin is nice and the place is like a mini holiday park with a good hot shower and kitchen etc. And of coarse the cafe for a coffee in the morning before I leave.

As I was writing there was a short earthquake that lasted for about 10 seconds. I have never felt one before and this one was a good shake. I was lying on the bed and the cabin suddenly started shaking. It took me a while to register what was happening and by the time I got up and out the door it stopped. There is an older couple in the cabin next to me and they had come outside not knowing what it was and a bit confused. About an hour later they knocked on the side of my cabin. They said that they were quite unnerved about it and so we chatted for a while outside. They were thinking about driving back to Whanganui. I reassured them that we are safe enough here and to come out onto the lawn if it happens again. I’ve had enough excitement for one day I think.

Day 52 – John Coull Hut to Bridge To Nowhere Campsite

John Coull Hut to Bridge To Nowhere Campsite (Whanganui River)

31kms

We got away at 8.30am and the first rapids around the corner were the biggest yet. The waves spilled over the bow and I got very wet. So did dad and Scott. It was much the same as yesterday except for some jet boats speeding up the river past us. We had to move to the side and let them pass then sit with our bow into the wake so we didn’t tip. Also we tied up at a landing which had a track to the Bridge to Nowhere. Literally a bridge that goes nowhere in the middle of nowhere. There is an interesting story behind it but you can Google it if you want. After the walk, which took about an hour and a half, we only had another 6kms downstream to the campsite where we had booked a cabin. It had eight bunk beds but we had it to ourselves. There were three other huts. Also hot showers and a bar at the lodge which is a short walk up the hill. There is no road access so you can only get to it from the river. We went up and had a few beers.

Jesse and Josh got into some trouble on the river today. They entered a rapid down the wrong side and got their canoe wedged side on to a log. With the strong current it sucks the canoe under. It nearly broke the canoe in half and left a large dent in the side. That actually happened recently to someone else and the canoe wrapped around a rock and split in half. They lost some gear but were just happy that they got out if it ok.

The last day on the river tomorrow has two of the biggest rapids and obstacles. We have been told if we stick to the left on all of them we will be fine.

Day 51 – Whakahoro to John Coull Hut

Whakahoro to John Coull Hut (Whanganui River)

37kms

Dad and Scott arrived at around 10am. There was a group of about 20 of us getting on the river at the same time from two separate hire companies. After a safety briefing and some tips and instructions we were paddling by 11ish. I had a kayak and dad and Scott were in a canoe. We launched at the Retaruke river and it was not long until we came out onto the Whanganui river. Today is the longest day of the three. There were lots of rapids but they were all easy to get through but choppy enough to get very wet. There was a period of rain and wind which was not very pleasant but only lasted for about 30 minutes.

The 26 bunk hut was comfortable. It was fully booked and the camp site was also packed. The large group stayed further down at a campsite. We had our dinners and some chocolate and were in bed by 9pm. Everyone else must have been tired too because most were already in bed.

It is really nice on the river and very peaceful. At the moment the water level is much lower than usual so it gets very shallow in places and more exposed logs and rocks to avoid. Early on I even beached myself a few times before learning how to recognise depths and currents ahead of me. There are times when the current will pull you and spit you out in all directions and steering is almost impossible.

There are lots of people here who have paddled the river many times. There is even a group that have been doing it annually for 43 years.