November 28th
Repeaters Campsite(425.4)-Mercer/Podgers Place(446.7)
Mileage: 21.3mi/34.2km
Campsite Elevation: 15ft/5m

Elevation chart courtesy of Guthook Hikes Te Araroa App.

Everyone got going pretty early in the shelter this morning. One person in particular made a lot of noise in their sleep, more than just snoring, so it seems few got a full night of rest. Just about everyone felt they would have slept better in their own tent, but there was no need for anyone to outwardly said why. You win some, you lose some. Since Becky and I weren’t sleeping, we packed up once the birds were up and chirping. Becky and I were the first ones out nice and early at 6:20am and the others didn’t seem far behind. It was a nice gradual downhill walk on a gravel road for a couple hours before our big forest track of the day. It was one of my favorite mornings so far, peaceful and scenic. As we wound down, we tried to decipher which part of the range we were headed up. 

We knew from the Guthook app that we had a steep uphill climb for a couple miles. Then it looked like we walked a ridge for a couple more with some ups and downs. We had no idea what the quality of the trail was, but we knew that Why Not, who did this last year and had a journal, called it a difficult forest. Oh man, it was ridiculous! It started off quite nice actually. 

I had guessed the climb would be the worst part and the ridge walk would be nice. It was exactly the opposite. Once up on the ridge, the track changed over to a muddy, brushy, vine laden, jungle-like obstacle course. 

I went on ahead and Becky knew I was going to stop to post the blog at the high point since there hadn’t been service to post this morning. I found a spot on the ridge before the descent and Becky arrived after a bit. Her commentary really can add some levity at times and doing these things with another person can also help with just laughing at the ridiculousness of what we’re doing out here. She walked up as I sat in a deep jungle blogging right in the middle of the trail after a particularly slow moving and challenging stretch and exclaimed, “this is a fucking death trap!” It was such a perfect description for that moment, ha! It really was what I call “redonkulous.” Slippery mud with the added bonus of short steep ups and downs with enough brush to catch you up and plenty of vines hanging to trip you or catch yourself on randomly. I managed to stay upright and Becky had two slips. We both were already wearing muddy pants and shoes from yesterday’s forest, so it was nothing new. Maybe it was worse because of the recent rain. After an hour or so of it, the track did improve, and by the time we got to the end of it after a couple hours it was a nice gradual trail that switchbacked down to a suspension bridge where we celebrating being done with lunch and dried our shoes out. 

Our feet have been pretty much damp or soaked for the last three days. Not good for me who developed a blister I cut open two days ago. Heartbreaker had a huge blister in the same spot right on the ball of his foot. My strategy of cutting them open the first day does work for me so they don’t grow, but it hasn’t been able to heal because my foot hasn’t been able to dry out. It’s sore and am reminded of it with a small pain with each step. I’m just glad I’m not in Heartbreaker’s position with a massive version of the same blister. I was happy to finally get a dry foot and shoes for the rest of the day after lunch. Heartbreaker arrived as we were finishing lunch. Here he is kindly carrying my shoes to me that I had placed up the trail in the sun. 

Heartbreaker bringing me my shoes.

The town of Mercer was quite an intimidating distance away this morning with this challenging forest in the morning, so we assumed we wouldn’t make it to town today. If we could make it, we knew that there was a local pub/motel that let hikers sleep on their lawn and allowed hikers to use their shower and washing machine for free. Yep, that’s motivating! We realized at lunch that the distance was totally within reach and the rest of the day was a cruise. As we left lunch, Angelynn and Victoria also arrived having survived the forest. Everyone seemed to be also heading to town and we headed off knowing we’d see them later. 

The next hour or more was a road walk on a somewhat trafficked road. It started off smooth and then became a bit more rocky and wasn’t the most enjoyable for the bottom of my healing foot. Becky and I had fun entertaining ourselves by trying to recall each of the last 24 days leading up to today. Man, a lot has happened in a short amount of time! It really feels like a lifetime we’ve been out here sometimes. 

We enjoyed the cruising on the road walk and then had a couple hours on what was called a stop bank. Basically a hill built up to stop flooding of a river if need be. It was scenic, but the terrain was a bumpy grassy hill of uneven footing. It must be quite a mess when wet because there were divots everywhere from people, tractors, and animals walking through when it’s wet. It was nice and dry and quite hard packed for us. My foot was not loving it. Becky was experiencing some hip pain for the day as well so I’m sure the two of us looked quite funny when we finally finished and hobbled the road walk into town. It was super windy today and tiring. I even got a wind burn. 

On the stop bank.

Mercer is pretty small and compact right off a major highway. We arrived around 4:30pm and dropped our things at the pub/motel. We got a great greeting and they really are so awesome to welcome hikers like this. They have been doing this the last three years and said 138 hikers have come through so far. That’s a lot for the TA considering we are probably in the front half and there are many who will start northbound from Bluff in the South Island in a couple months. It will be quite the traffic jam of hikers on the South Island and I have a feeling yesterday’s packed shelter experience will be nothing compared to what’s to come. 

Next to the motel was a small food court and a Mobil station. We went to McDonald’s for a couple hours and soaked up the wifi. Again, they have smartly blocked anything that allows me to download or live stream a show and that’s a bummer. I was able to Skype my sister. Becky is sticking to her cold turkey approach to soda and it’s impressive. It’s been replaced with a chocolate milkshake addiction, which I can completely understand! I too got a milkshake and now crave them when we reach town. Even when I think I’m not hungry, I just can’t resist it. 

We returned to the motel and Heartbreaker and Angelynn had arrived. There is also a female Japanese hiker here named Yoko. We all lounged in the empty bar and ate while soaking up some free wifi as well. What a great place to give all of this to hikers! Jude and Paul are here as well and hitched most of today. We may overlap tomorrow or the next day, but there are a lot of roads so they may just go on ahead and hitch and we’ll overlap sometime in the future. 

Podger’s Place with Yoko, Becky, me, Heartbreaker, Angelynn.

I’ve now accepted this experience as more of a vacation traveling NZ than a thru-hike. I’m working on just letting it go and letting myself enjoy the food and accommodations so frequent on the North Island. I have always been rather thrifty, so I’m telling myself that this is the one to let go a bit and that it’s what I save for and work hard for, so why not enjoy it. Becky and I have decided to zero (AGAIN!) in a couple days. Our pace is actually quite fast and relentless for out here, and I’m welcoming the idea of another break. Heck, why not. There is a big window of time to do this hike, and it’s nice not to be on a clock like many of the other hikes I’ve done that have weather windows. 

Camp for the night.

The town of Hamilton is a few days away and Becky has been talking all trail about visiting the tourist attraction of Hobbiton (Lord of the Rings stuff). She is a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I thought about it, but it is really expensive and would take much of the day to do. If it was Harry Potter, I’d be all in, but I’ve never really gotten into the LOTR stuff. Someone please tell me if it’s worth doing. I’m on the fence, and could be convinced to do it, but think I’d also just love a day to veg out! We’ve already reserved our place and they claim I should be able to watch my shows that I’ve been unable to stream now that a friend has loaded them onto a file for me. I can’t wait for a day to veg out! Three more days til we hit Hamilton. I’m laying here surrounded by blinking xmas lights like I’m under a neon sign and the sound of cars on the highway are nearby. Such an odd experience out here. 

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