Kaimai Mamaku North/South Route
This trail is not on the Te Araroa Trail, nor is it a “Great Walk”. We are only doing a few small pieces of the Te Araroa in the North Island (the best ones) because the trail spends much to much time on boring and/or dangerous roads for much of the North Island. So we decided instead to find other tracks that could help us make our way north on the Island while hitchhiking a bit as well. Don’t worry – I have a lot of thoughts about the Te Araroa Trail, and I’ll be putting together a long blog post after we’ve left New Zealand.
In the meantime, we found a 6-7 day trek in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest.
We hitchhiked to the southern end of this route without much time to spare before sundown, so on the first day we wound up walking only about 10-20 minutes into the forest before finding a spot to camp. The forest is dense, as usual, and our tent is wedged between massive vines and ferns, but it will do for the night.
After we turned off our headlamps but before we fell asleep, we noticed things glowing around our tent – even through the bottom of the tent floor. I reached outside the door and picked up the glowing thing and turned my headlamp back on to find out it was a rotting stick. The glowing thing was some sort of bioluminescent fungus. So neat!
The trail is typical New Zealand bush trail – probably maintained about a decade ago, overgrown, muddy but well marked.
We came to a trail junction and there was tape blocking the trail in every direction. We look a closer look at the pink ribbon, and found that there was a message on it: “Justin Rankin please stop here. Search and rescue are looking for you.” We couldn’t tell how old these messages were or if the hunt was still on to find Justin.
Not long after, we came across the first hut. We took the short side trail to check it out. I immediately noticed that someone was probably staying there. There were shoes and gaiters outside on the porch, and other random gear, but what really caught my attention were scattered deer parts – a pile of deep legs outside the door, and a deer carcass laying in a heap in a grassy patch next to the hut.
I cautiously opened the door to the hut, but nobody was home. There were three bunks, and two of them were occupied with sleeping bags. There were belongings strewn everywhere along with empty beer cans. These hunters were obviously not expecting anyone else to show up to share the hut.
Not feeling very welcome, we headed back to the track only to find the gut of a deer right in the middle of the trail. I was completely disgusted and tried to run past it as quickly as possible, but I did notice that there was an empty beer can nearby. Normally I would have picked it up and carried it out, but I was too disgusted to stop.
We were feeling pretty nervous, not having met a single person yet, and knowing that there were definitely hunters in the vicinity, so we started to sing loudly.
The trail continued fairly flat through many stream beds through thick bush. We had lunch at a small clearing where there was a dilapidated shelter and a bench along with a sign stating that this area was being considered for a hut, and if you hear helicopters nearby to please head back into the bush.
Sometime after lunch we heard barking and some voices, so we made sure to be very loud before we ran into a couple of hunters who were out for just the day. They warned us that April is the most popular month of the year for hunting, and we’d better be careful. We showed them our bright orange and red clothing, and they told us that in New Zealand the safe color was actually blue since they hunt red deer, and orange could sometimes look like a deer, even neon orange. Well, damn. We told them what we saw in the morning, and that we had been singing loudly hoping not to be mistaken for deer.
It was tiring trying to be loud all the time. We ran out of songs as well as things to talk about. It made me aware of how much time we must usually spend walking in silence. But silence lets you zone off and lets the hiking become more meditative. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like hiking was meditative though; New Zealand trails require quite a bit more concentration.
Close to the end of the day we came across a gigantic tree – we thought maybe it was a Kauri Tree, which are the biggest trees in New Zealand, but mostly live in northland. But, it was impossible to tell since the leaves were too far up to see.
By 5pm we found a clearing to camp in and called it a day. Where we are camped there are a ton of Kererus (New Zealand wood pigeons). They sound like helicopters when they fly and scare the crap out of you whenever you scare one out of a tree. By 6pm it was dark.
I woke up not feeling well. I had a bit of a sore throat and a headache. We headed out, but about an hour into the hike, we reassessed and decided it wasn’t worth pushing on if I was going to get sick. I had a feeling that I was catching whatever John had the week before, which kept us stuck in a hotel room for a week.
We headed back to where we camped the night before, and set the tent up again. I proceeded to sleep for about 3 hours. We spent the rest of the day playing cards and napping.
I woke up still not feeling 100%, but we also reassessed the amount of time we had left as well as the amount of food, and decided that we should probably find a way out of the Kaimai Mamaku ranges early.
We found a wonderful trail down past Wairere Falls, which drops 153m. The trail was beautiful, very well maintained with stairs following amazing rock cliffs covered in dripping moss. This trail was also very popular, as a day walk, and people of all ages were tramping up to see the falls.
We got down to the car park and a gentleman and his two daughters were willing to give us a ride out.
“Where do you want to go?” He asked.
We decided to use zen navigation: “where are you headed?” I asked.
“OK, we’ll go to Hamilton.” We had no plan, and were happy to get to any city.
In Hamilton we found an affordable place to stay at a “Microtel” and spent the night. This Microtel was the most micro of hotels we have ever stayed in. I guess you get what you pay for. The room had a small double bed which took up 90% of the room, and there was a door which could barely open because the bed was in the way. The kicker was that John didn’t even fit in the bed – he was too tall, and he couldn’t hang his feet over the edge, because the bed was completely surrounded by walls. Our tent provides us with more space than this room!
After a good night’s rest, we worked on a plan for what to do next. Martin had sent us a message telling us that he was only a day north of Hamilton on the Te Araroa, so we figured we may as well join him and start hiking the Te Araroa again.