The Church to the Pahautea Hut
We all awake, un-smited. The world is bedazzled in sparkling dew and rain droplets this morning.
A bit of rosy pine forest leads us to a solid morning of farm track crossing. The long grass soaked our legs and shoes as we swished through it. When we got to the first stile and gate the stile was falling apart, so Bro opened the gate. “Ah!” He jerked his hand back. “It’s electric!” “The gate?” I ask, confused. “Yeah, the gate. It shocked me.” “No way.” I peer at the fence and gate apparatus, and there is no connection between the wiring and the gate. Prana tries next. “Yep, electric.” What the? Bro holds the gate open for me. “Aeh. Aeh. Still shocking. Try it!” I don’t think he’s lying; I don’t need to touch it to believe it. But for solidarity, I reach out and touch it. “Agch!” The only thing we can conclude is that the fenceposts are so soaked that it is conducting through the waterlogged wood.
We pass through a half dozen more gates, and muse if the farmer actually has cams set up to watch the reactions of hikers coming through. Out on the main road again, we cover some quick paved K’s before entering a cornfield.
Our treat for this morning’s business-as-usual is a spectacular farm field cupped in a rocky cirque of hills. There are strange boulders, some with holes through them, that make up a playground for the baby sheeps.
We have a break here, some snacks and water, and find good cell reception. We check in with the front country, and receive word that Parker won’t be coming to meet us.
In fact, he won’t be continuing his hike at all. We are really bummed to hear this. Many thoughts bubble up, but we table them as best we can, knowing that time will have to resolve many of the answers anyway.
A steep climb up and over the rim of the bowl releases us onto a forest track. It is soothing, a balm for the soul, an invitation to contemplate.
20 K into our 31 k day, we come upon a perfect spot for lunch, the breezy umbra of a gargantuan juniper-esque tree beside a gleefully chuckling creek. We dig into a heavy hummus and bread lunch that is more than worth its weight. We take a long break, drinking in the pleasantness like a tonic. Finally we rouse ourselves for the last 10 k to the top of Pirongia Mountain. The entry sign outlines a set of trails, and announces a cave that’s only 10 minutes off trail. I wish I had know about them ahead of time, but I do the math- I bet it would only add 40 minutes if I went to check them out. We get to the turn off, and there is a sign that says the caves are 20 minutes off trail. Blast! That would push it to over an hour. Maybe on the way back to Auckland, I tell myself, even knowing how unlikely that is.
This forest track is beautiful. It’s not nearly as steep as the map makes it appear, or as muddy as some of the stories have implied. As I climb, I look at all the textures of mosses and ferns I am passing. The shapes are beautiful, intricate filigreed laces all woven together, some of the mosses like entire tiny forests.
As the afternoon wears on, I find myself stopping for little breaks more frequently, looking at my watch more frequently, looking for Prana more frequently. Where the hell is he?! Aha!! Wait, I recognize this thought. I stop at the next inviting tree, sit down, and pull out a snack. Ah!!!!! I stare up into the canopy, mind empty of angst, watching the leaves ripple in the breeze. Ellie joins me. “This is my favorite forest so far,” she says.
Almost immediately after the break, the forest sets about proving her wrong. The steepness increases drastically, and the roots entwine into their familiar stair step incarnation.
After a long slow struggle up over a long slow hour and a half, I reach the top of the peak. I know I need to walk on the ridge, but the curious thing is, two distinct peaks away there is a lookout tower. I look closer at the map- it’s not a ridge, or rather, not a flat one. And the lookout tower is where I’m headed. At least there is a little break from the relentless up, which is just what I need. I careen down the slope and ride that momentum as far as I can up the middle peak- from there, boardwalks and stairs appear, leading to the true summit of Pirongia.
The boys are there, and Ellie is not far behind me. There’s a chilly wind blowing strong, and we look out over the range surrounding us as we all start to shiver.
A hop, skip, and a slide are all that’s left to the Hut. There’s a helipad that allows views all around, and as we cross the helipad and enter the camping area, Prana jumps out from the trees pig-snorting, assuming I am walking in front and actually scaring the bejesus out of Ellie instead. We all double over laughing, Prana’s mirth slightly tinged with guilt. The Hut itself is new and quite beautiful, with a gorgeous deck and porch. It is situated at the far end of a row of raised tent pads which are artfully tucked among the trees, and a covered table and benches for cooking. We pitch our tents in a row, and get to work on well-earned dinner, all tired and satisfied with the efforts of the day.