Mikahaka Outdoor Center to Waiopehu Hut
We wake up and have a nice civilized upright breakfast at the kitchen table with fresh blueberries in our cereal, then head out to hike the initial road section to the edge of Tararua Forest Park. It’s a quiet, cloudy morning on the road, and the first sign seems a bit ominous.
The Tararuas do seem to have a certain reputation of struggle and potential danger; I am eager for what we will find on this section.
As we are walking up the road, we see Mario, Peach, and Bro appear in the distance, so it shouldn’t be too long for them to catch up. We sign in at the Park entry, and look at the overview map, still curious about another route that Sally had suggested. She had strongly advised it to us last night, claiming the Gables End Route was more direct, had almost no up and downs, was much better maintained, had a higher percentage above treeline, and was certain it would become the official Te Araroa soon. The pitch was convincing, but on this larger map it doesn’t look as though a higher percentage is truly above treeline. That was all I cared about, so I no longer have a stake in the vote, and Prana is keen to go the current TA route. When the other three arrive at the sign, it turns out they all prefer to do the TA as is. So it is!
The first thing we do is miss our last water source before the hut. Most of the high route is directly on ridges and therefore streamless. Luckily we notice before getting too far past it, and all backtrack to top up. Then, we climb into the Tararuas.
It is steep, as expected. And beautiful, more so than expected. It doesn’t take long for Prana to open a lead, but then I hear murmurs in the forest, and the inimitable voice of Shroomer booming joyfully from somewhere above. How is that?! When I catch up, I trade big hugs with Shroomer, who is radiant about his trip through the mountains. “Coyote and Sergio are not too far behind me,” he reports, and describes the cold and tempestuous conditions they had traveled through. “We had Christmas in Wellington and it was just easy to start at the south end and head north,” he explains for how they came to be traveling this day and this direction. Mario and Peach catch up as well, and Shroomer meets Mario’s proffered hand with a bear hug. “We were just talking about all you guys and figured we would run into you!” We make sure that he is planning to stop at the Mikahaka Outdoor Center, then reluctantly excuse ourselves to hike on. If only we had been a day earlier or they had been a day later we would have have ended up camped at the same hut! If only!
Within ten minutes we see Coyote and Sergio, and stop to hug and excitedly chat again, cramming as much information and storytelling into the fleeting minutes that we can. They are giddy, elated to be through the mountain range; I can feel the high of accomplishment and euphoria that comes from sighting the end of a long sustained struggle radiating off of them. They speak with many superlatives of the crossing they have almost completed. Coyote voices my thoughts of camping together, having a full evening to trade stories. I wish, I wish! Maybe on the South Island.
Eventually we turn away and upward. This forest is the most beautiful so far.
We climb and climb, and climb into a thick cloud. The mist lends an ethereal quality to the world, like we have somehow sidestepped into a different dimension. The forest changes to a smaller stunted tree that is carpeted in thick mats of moss.
The cloud thickens. It isn’t really cold, but between pouring sweat, the mist condensing, and the humidity being too high to evaporate anything, I am soon drenched, and standing still for any length of time in the breeze brings on a chill. The moss covered trees change to large shrub, which fade to long grasses, and we are above tree line. There hasn’t been a great place to take a break, and I am really looking forward to the hut for lunch.
The climb steepens even more, and finally, I see it materialize out of the mists ahead. I kick off my mud covered shoes on a large welcoming porch, and with relief shut the door on the mist and the constant breeze. Bro and Prana are here, Mario and Peach somewhere behind. No longer overheating like a redlined engine, I feel damp and clammy. We have tuna wraps with lettuce for our late lunch, and a big cheerful bowl of hot chocolate mocha. After an hour’s break, we waffle: to go on, or wait? We are mentally steeled, physically restored, and time is ticking away, but the more time that goes by without the other 2 showing up, the less likely they will be to finish at the next hut. “I’m 50/50,” votes Bro. We rationalize that we will make our decision and they will make theirs and all that will be will be, pack everything and gear up. Just as we are getting ready to step out, they step in though the door. “We are definitely staying here,” they declare. I have mixed feelings as Bro, Prana, and I let ourselves onto the porch. I want to hike our hike, and I love hiking the plan; I don’t like stopping short of a goal, even if there is a decent reason to do so. But the weather is gloomy and I like this Hut. It’s also New Year’s Eve, and part of our trail family in there- why would we spend it apart if we didn’t have to? The three of us look at each other. “We could just stay,” I suggest. “I’m 52/48 for staying,” votes Bro. “Let’s stay. New Years Eve crosswords!” agrees Prana, and we go right back in through that door to big hugs from Mario.
After changing into all the dry clothes and hanging everything else up in dim hopes of it drying, we do a round of super sevens and all scatter to read, nap or write. It’s a peaceful and quiet afternoon, and dinner tastes good and hot. There is a stack of magazines, many with incomplete crosswords, and we have a wonderful low key evening until bedtime at hiker’s midnight. There are several moments with the mist and rain outside and the warmth and laughter inside that I am purely, almost painfully happy we are here, in this magic place, with these wonderful people.