1/9 Into Wellington

Amethyst Lodge to Te Ahumairangi Park

27 k

It’s both a drag and a relief to be leaving the room today. It has been the perfect room to recharge in, and there is plenty I could still do with some down time. However, each day in a row off the trail will exponentially compound the pain of getting back on, and besides, we’re here to walk. The last 1450 k isn’t going to hike itself.

Prana’s alarm goes off before I want it to; another reason I know it’s time to get moving again is the fact that I am falling asleep later and sleeping worse each night. Last night I tossed and turned until after midnight, and even though I’ve been awake for awhile, I don’t feel rested. We start the packing, always intimidating after even one zero, and as soon as I can put our laundry in, I do. I make far too many tiny French press pots of coffee, and start too many downloads on my phone. With my pack complete except for laundry, I finally sit and write out some of the postcards I’ve been carrying. By the time the dryer has finished, I’m practically vibrating with over-caffeination. One last sweep of the room, and its back to the mall, one last time. On the way out we ask one of the staff if she will fill up our dropper bottle with bleach, and when she returns from the back, she hands Prana a pack of water purifying tablets. “You can try these too,” she offers.

We get some dumplings and seaweed salad for late breakfast, and the day’s hiking food from the grocery. We double check active bills are paid, inactive services are still suspended, and that all of our ferry, water taxi, and reservations are indeed booked for the correct days and times. All good. At the Vodaphone store we purchase new travel SIM cards for the South Island. We are set!

We pick up the trail where we left it, and follow along the grass strip flanking a commercial driveway. The day is foggy with low hanging clouds. Weirdly, a Toyota Corolla is parked on the grass at the top of the hill. “Why do you think they parked there? If the car’s a rockin’,” jokes Prana. I’m distracted by something, and once we are past it, Prana gives me the holy shit look. “What?” “Did you see into that car? That car was shamelessly rockin’.” City wildlife sighting. I totally missed it.

The TA is mostly trail even though it’s in the city. We skirt the backside of a soccer field, and slip along a few forested strips.

We pass Mt Elsdon, and begin to climb in earnest. In no time at all we’ve punched through the bottom of the cloud and are hiking in it, swimming in it, moisture beading and rolling down my face. I have a hard time catching my breath all morning- is it the plethoric allotment of coffee? The humidity? Tuberculosis? Doc’s orders- back to the desert! Stairs on stairs on stairs lead to the Colonial Knob summit, which is only apparent by the increase in wind and the ground leveling off, as visibility is down to 50 feet.

We briefly join a set of gravel and paved roads that pass an equestrian center and several very horsey areas before joining a mountain bike trail system, via which we start climbing again. The mist is surreal. I know from the map that if it were clear we would be able to see water on both sides, the ocean and the bay, but with visibility gone, my mind can imagine whatever it wishes. It reminds me of a day in the San Gabriel Mountains, and so I imagine that we are above treeline, in the far backcountry wilderness somewhere. We can’t see what ridges or peaks are coming, and sheep materialize briefly out of the fog. There’s only the spotlight of our limited vision, and the ever increasing wind. The clouds stream by in thick streaks, and my brain insists it must be cold, even though my body assures me it’s not. The wind rips through any low points in the ridge, making it impossible to imagine setting the tent up on the ridge like we plan. We top out on Mt Kaukau, several picnic table and a viewing platform adorning the top, and decide to try our luck for camping down low in the city.

The descent brings us to trees that break the wind, then down out of the cloud. Deposited in the city, we pick up the Northern Walkway, an urban trail of some kind, and it leads us into Trelissick Park. I’m starting to realize this is no simple mindless final 43 k; there’s some bona fide hiking and plenty of elevation through to the end. Double cheers to Mario Peach and Bro!

Trelissick Park is a narrow winding park, encompassing the small but pretty gorge of the stout stream at the bottom. We are happy to camp as soon as we find a suitable spot, and take our time, poking into the back corners and lingering at tiny cascades. None of the patches we find off trail are big enough and flat enough for our tent, and it’s too early to use the ones obvious from the trail. We take a side track down to a fish ladder, and while it’s not a fish ladder as I know one, it’s a pleasant spot.

The water is flowing out of an old tunnel of some kind, and Prana is elated when the tunnel on our side of the creek with the big discouraging metal grate door and display of chains and padlock is not in fact actually locked.

The inside is a dirty tunnel hewn out of rock maybe a hundred feet long, with a glint of sunlight at the far end; was this a part of the fish ladder? How did it work? Did the fish swim up the tunnels somehow?

I don’t know.

We head out the far end of the park, hoping the next green space will have a stealthy spot for our tent. One thing I do have to say about the TA, it has sparked more of an enthusiasm for city hiking; the architecture and gardens can be artful and engaging, the tucked away murals and paintings are a felicity to happen upon, and there are plenty of the small tiny details that are a delight, perfectly placed in their own way.

The Northern Walkway continues up several steep streets, and at the apex is an adorable whimsical mural on the side of the house on the corner, which I can only interpret as walkers on the steep Northern Walkway!

It is now late enough that if we can just find a flat spot we will call it a night. The winding street ascent has lifted us back into the cloud, and we are up on some spine of a park, at the mercy of the wind. The wide open flat spots are too exposed, and we eventually drop down a side trail, hoping it will reveal a sheltered nook. It plunges steeply down, and even though Prana has identified a tiny crook of a platform on the map, its most likely to be covered in impenetrable bush, and I start to despair about the needless effort of climbing back out. Whether he is truly good at hedging his optimism, or just truly good at displaying it for my sake, Prana holds out hope and it pays off: as we round the last contour the forest morphs to pines with a tent-sized clearing, floored with only pine needles and duff. We pitch and crawl in, happy to be in our sky-blue home again. Our lunch of bread and hummus was large and late, so we don’t even need to cook dinner. What a pleasant little refuge. The city sounds are muted enough that they lull us straight to sleep.

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