December 29th
Burtons Track/Tokomaru River(939.6)-Gladstone Rd/Levin(954.5)
Mileage: 14.9mi/24km

Elevation chart courtesy of Guthook Hikes Te Araroa App.

Oh man, I slept hard last night. It had to be the combo of yesterday’s hiking, the cold wet air overnight, some rain on the tent, and the white noise of the river. I was super groggy when I woke up and felt like a weight for much of the morning. It has to be this weather. It usually doesn’t affect me, but it’s been so gloomy, wet, and cold that it takes it out of me a bit. We started off with a morning crossing of the Tokomaru River, and then followed along the river through fully saturated muddy trail. It was quite dark in the forest and there were also countless small stream crossings. 

We finished up the Burton Track, and got a reprieve of mindless mud-less hiking on a service road for almost an hour before the real fun of the day started in the form of the Makahika Track. This track is part of the Tararua Forest. Tomorrow we begin the daunting Tararua Ranges, and this was quite the warm-up and introduction of what to expect. Our notes said that it was an easy tramping track that is well maintained. Pshh! It is so funny how it’s all about perspective. We could tell efforts had been made to create a flat trail with little brush and drainage, but it was still a path filled with sludgy mud. I didn’t get many photos with how wet it was going up. 

We saw Jacob and Brittany a bit in the morning, but then spread out as the climbing started and we pushed on ahead. Along the way, we ran into Sally (who we’ve overlapped a few times) and another hiker we hadn’t met. Other than that, we didn’t see anyone the rest of the day, and we understand why. I don’t know why anyone would voluntarily do this track unless it greatly dries out later in the summer. 

As you can see on the elevation chart, there was a steady climb that wasn’t too bad. However, if you look closely, you’ll see all the small sharp ups and downs the whole way. That’s what made it more draining both physically and mentally. 

The rain set in not long into the climb, and got worse as we headed up into the cloud. This is the first day on the TA I’ve felt really chilled by the rain to the point that it was uncomfortable to stop hiking. This is summer!? It is unseasonably rainy and cold this year. We had the goal of making it to the top of the climb for lunch, but when we got there it was steady cold rain. We used my tent tied to trees to sit under it for 10mins to rest and eat a bar. We were too wet and cold to sit for a full lunch, and decided to push on. The descent was faster going, but much soggier with plenty of squishy, slick, foot sucking mud. 

There were more of the countless streams towards the bottom, and the rain let up briefly, so we warmed a bit. 

Then the rain came down hard once again. This may have been our rainiest day so far it seems. We were fortunate with extremely lucky timing for today. At the end of the track today, is a remote road that leads to a town many hikers go into to resupply. It is the first one that would require hitching all trail. It’s a 5km walk down that super remote road before even reaching a road that more cars might drive down to hitch. Luckily, I have a friend of a friend in Levin willing to host us! We got to the end of the track at 2:30pm and were done for the day. We will walk those road miles tomorrow when we aren’t so beat. Becky killed it given the exhaustion of cold wet rain while also dealing with her period and a sore throat/cough. She was quite happy to have this day come to an end. 

The rain magically stopped just long enough for us to change into all our dry clothes before Sarn came to pick us up. Sarn did the TA in 2012, and met two friends of mine (that I met on the Appalachian Trail and hosted me when I finished the Long Trail) while doing the John Muir Trail last summer. Again, I love the connectedness of the trail community. THANK YOU Terry for connecting us with Sarn!

Sarn picked us up and whisked us away to his house. Since we had skipped lunch, Becky and I were quite hungry, and within minutes, Sarn and his wife Claire had us at the dining room table piled high with all their holiday leftovers for a feast! It’s so crazy thinking how cold and removed we felt just an hour earlier. 

We got all our chores done and resupplied. Then we had dinner with Sarn and Claire, and their three kids, and their family in town for the holidays. We were sooo full! THANK YOU to Sarn and Claire for hosting us and spoiling us when you already had a full house! 

This timing really couldn’t have worked out better. You see, the coming leg is one of the most daunting sections thus far. The Tararua Range is quite the intimidating range that is extremely slow going and similar to what we did today. The difference is that the Tararuas are so intense with weather and exposure that it has many huts 4-5hrs away from each other, and many still die every year from exposure because they underestimate how slow going and exposed the range is. It is intimidating , and we are super lucky to have clear weather the next two days to start that section. We would like more of a rest, but we have to push on and capitalize on this weather window because just behind it is three days of dumping rain and gale force winds, which the Tararuas are known for. It isn’t unusual for hikers to take zeros in Levin or in the huts to wait out weather, and it looks like we will just barely thread the needle on this one. 

Sarn is a very experienced outdoorsman, and works for Search and Rescue in the Tararuas. He says our window should be just right to make it where we need to before the heavy rain and wind sets in a few days from now. It should take us 4-5 days, and we will be in crummy weather the second half of the leg, but we will have gloriously clear weather for the section that needs it thankfully. That means New Years will be spent in a hut up in the mountains! 

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