Our return to Palmerston North was via a week long road trip back down from Auckland. A few stops along the way included Muriwai's gannet colony, Rotorua's hot pools and spa (a must after a month without showers in a heat wave), and a sunrise hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It wasn't long before we were back in Palmerston North, had refilled our backpacks for the section ahead and were back on the trail.
Now after taking a month off the trail, we had forgotten some of the habits and routines that are involved with the shopping. Buying lightweight, easy to pack things for example had this time been swapped out for some of the nice things that we had been enjoying throughout our fieldwork. Crackers, spread.....jam.....in a glass jar, yeah and what?! You ultralight hikers and your instant mash and tuna for every meal, you know who you are. All in I think the backpack was up to about 23kg again, which was more than when I first started the trail. At least now however I had a few months of backpacking and hard work under my belt to give me a better chance of plodding on with little issue.
The first day took us from Palmerston North and eventually into the Tararua Ranges. The first night would be spent in a shelter that was constructed to provide a place to sleep for those walking this section of the TA. Completed in a style reminiscent of a traditional Maori whare (meaning house or building), Te Whare o Moturimu provides a place for hikers to get some rest after the roughly 30km hike in from either Palmerston North for southbound hikers, or Levin if you're heading northbound. I was glad to ditch the bag, rest up for the night, and preferably eat some of that jam to lighten the load.
The following day we were hitting the muddy trails again, and into the Tararua Ranges. Infamous for their changeable weather, we were about to be spoilt to the point of frustration with blistering heat, clear skies, and ne'er a breath a wind. Idyllic for some yes, but complain I shall. When hiking up to a summit for the best part of an hour after having already passed a sign telling you it's 6 hours to the next hut, only to find another sign on top of that mountain saying it's now 6-7 hours to the same hut, well, you might tell the sun and it's accompanying heat where it can go. A beautiful place yes, but I wasn't seeing anything through rose tinted sunglasses; sweat stung eyes however were putting a slight negative spin on my current situation. Following the ridgeline that was unfurled out in front of us eventually brought us to Nicholls hut, where I managed to take a little moment to enjoy the place, gather some thoughts, eat some food, and prepare for the next morning. I wouldn't be back here for a while so I would be up early to take in the sunrise and see what images could be pulled from the creative recesses of my mind.
I enjoy being in the mountains, despite my best efforts to moan about the effort required on some occasions. They are peaceful and calming, but it is a feeling that is earned through effort. You have to want to be here, and you have to want to feel this way. You don't march off into the mountains in a huff or work yourself up through frustration, only to hike through the landscape with your arse in your hand and head home just as miserable. People come here to allow those frustrations to melt away and to become forgotten, so that they can feel calmed by the place. I think anyone who spends their fair share of time amongst nature in this way would agree, there is something to be said about the feeling of being in a place like this. In hindsight, with the worldwide pandemic forcing many countries into lockdown, I bet a lot of people realised just how calming a short stroll near home could be in the absence of traffic and the "normal" hustle and bustle. It needn't be the case that people have to seek out remote places to indulge themselves among these peaceful surroundings. At any rate, after a few days hiking through these ranges, it was time for us to head back down into civilisation, heading out towards the Kapiti coast and following this down towards Porirua and into Wellington.
Along stretches of trail that took in the less scenic parts such as roadsides, bike paths and the like, routes that didn't offer big views, I enjoyed turning to the more hit and miss approach of using a slow shutter speed as I went along. Producing images with a love-it-or-hate-it sort of quality, but the process I certainly love. It removes the need for too much thought, it allows me to keep up the pace rather than turn a short day into a long one, and I come away with images that I would never have thought to create if it weren't for this on-the-move approach. I've touched on it before, and I have a collection of images that I'd really like to turn into something more. But I'd rather step back and take the time to do it properly, so many of them haven't seen the light of day yet.
A two day walk down the coast, before heading up and over the escarpment, into Porirua and then into Wellington offered opportunity to capture a well known feature of this coastline, that of Kapiti Island. A predator free island and home to some of New Zealands more special endemic species such as kiwi, whiteheads, weka, kakariki, stitchbirds and north island robins to name a few. We managed to visit this island before starting the trail, so it was weird to think back to that day, not really fully comprehending that we'd be walking our way back here eventually.
The approach to Wellington impressed me. For a capitol city, there is an amazing network of footpaths that take you from the heart of the city, to the hills on the outskirts with barely a view of the urban sprawl around you. You wouldn't think you were about to walk into a city with roughly half a million people and more places to eat and drink per capita than New York City. There's the occasional clue, a glimpse of a train track here, some cranes operating overhead there. But it isn't until you round a corner along a forest track that you get a glimpse of the city itself. After that, you wind your way along more footpaths, trails, and down streets, until you find yourself in Wellington's botanical gardens. Having spent some time living here previously when helping out with the Predator Free Wellington work around Miramar's coast, we hopped on the cable car for the short ride down into the city centre before smashing some town food as a reward.
We stayed with some friends in town, fellow TA hikers, shared stories, food and advice for what was still to come on the South Island, before completing the short distance to the North Islands end. Next up would be the South Island.