Continuing from last week's journal, here is the final one to end the North Island...

On Thursday 18 January we were in Palmerston North preparing for several days tramping through the Tararua Ranges. These ranges are vast. They run 80km from near Palmerston North down to the upper reaches of the Hutt Valley. They are rugged, spectacular, and beautiful. They are also uncompromising, unforgiving and potentially dangerous. The weather is notorious for deteriorating rapidly. We were in the ranges for nine days from Friday 19 to Saturday 27.

We walked from Palmerston North city until late afternoon, arriving at the Arapuke Forest Park. Over the next five days, we travelled south, both lower in the bush as well as along the tops, to Nicols Hut. Often there was morning fog which limited visibility but usually cleared late morning. Nicols Hut is small, only six bunks, but is high on the range and has commanding views. The next day was one of the toughest, but best day’s tramping of the trail so far. I travelled along the top of Main Range, very steep in places, to the summit of Mount Crawford, altitude 1,462m (4,795ft). Blue skies, no wind, very hot. I was above the cloud, 360 degrees of spectacular views. I thought to myself, right now there is nowhere else I’d rather be. I sent a text picture to Jane saying ‘I think I want to live here’. Within 30 seconds I got a reply ‘No, please come home”. From there, the descent of over 1,000m down to Waitewaewae Hut was extremely steep and testing. The hut is more like a lodge, in a beautiful setting on the banks of a river. I had been tramping for seven straight days, and was badly in need of a rest day, and this place was an idyllic spot to stay for a day. Troy had decided to press on, so he went off to the next hut.

On 27th I set off for the Otaki Forks, the meeting of two rivers. The track was typical, varying from easy walking to bush bashing. The road comes in here to a family picnic area. I arrived about 3pm. I decided to exit the Tararuas at this point and head for Okati, I got a lift to the main road, then headed for the beach where I stayed the night. The next day I made my way to Paekakariki and stayed at the Holiday Park.

On Monday morning 29th, I met up with my longtime friend Brian, and we walked the Paekakariki Escarpment, high on the hill above State Highway 1 and the coast. This is no place for anyone with vertigo! At the very highest point on the track I came across Troy and others I had walked with over the last week or two. It was good to catch up. Fantastic views across to Kapiti Island, up the coast, and down to the South Island barely visible through the haze. We dropped down to Pukerua Bay and on to Plimmerton where Brian had parked his car. That night I stayed at his place in Lower Hutt. We went to his Rotary Club meeting, and I enjoyed the first decent dinner I had had in a while! When you’re on the trail you tend to survive on noodles, pasta, chocolate and muesli bars. I was asked to speak for five minutes about my TA travels, which I was happy to do.

Next morning Brian dropped me off in Porirua City. I hoped to get to Wellington city. I climbed to the top of Colonial Knob, 468m (1,535ft) into a gale force wind, which had me struggling to stand up in places. I found some shelter and consulted my ‘map app’. The trail goes over Mt Kaukau, I wasn’t looking forward to being up there in this wind. I had also underestimated the time it would take to get to Wellington. So I took the option to cut through Spicer Forest to Johnsonville and catch a train to Wellington CBD and booked into a backpackers in Taranaki Street. Incidentally, close by is an Egmont Street, and an Inglewood Place, so we are well represented in the capital city!

I had booked a flight to New Plymouth for Thursday night, hoping to walk the last leg from the city to Island Bay on Wednesday, where the TA Trail officially ends. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to do that. Then on Thursday, a weather bomb struck, eliminating any chance at any last-minute attempt.

So, I have done 99.9% of the North Island Te Araroa trail. I plan to return to Wellington on 24th February to complete the last 12km and have a celebratory lunch. Hopefully Brian and some of his friends can join me for the walk. I plan to start walking the South Island leg later this year.

I have been asked several times what my favourite highlight of the trek was. That’s difficult. I tend to think of the Te Araroa was one whole event rather than a collection of smaller events. The canoe trip down the Whanganui River was pretty special. I did a jet boat trip down the river last year, but spending five days in a canoe adds a whole new dimension. The nine days in the Tararua Range was a fantastic experience. The sheer expanse and beauty of the mountains makes you feel something inside. But I think the thing that I have enjoyed more than anything else is the people. Meeting trekkers from all over the world has been wonderful. Everyone has a story to tell. And the people you meet on the street, on the beach, on the road, in a shop. When you have a big pack on your back, they come up to you and ask where you’re going. “I’m walking the length of New Zealand”. That sure starts a conversation!