One of the key targets of Ellie's trip was to complete a multi-day hike. It's been a while since I've managed one of these, what with Jane's injury taking a hold, so I was pretty excited too.
Given that Ellie hasn't done one of these without a guide before, I would have to be the guide. With that in mind, we elected to do a hike that I've been on before - the Pouakai Circuit at Mount Taranaki.
Taranaki is the most beautiful mountain on the North Island and the benefit of the circuit is that you get to lap the Pouakai range whilst looking up at their majestic ringleader just below the cloud line. We decided on travelling in reverse (not walking backwards, that would be incredibly hard). This meant I needed to remember to route in reverse, having not been to these lands for nine months or so.
The benefit of the backwards route is that a great view should be achieved for the second half of the first day and the entirety of the second - something we had missed on our first attempt. This was a good plan.
Now, I had been hyping up this mountain a little, in order to keep Ellie's energy levels up after her sickness. I raved about the views and the incredibly humbling feeling one receives when gazing up at the magnificent peak of Mount Taranaki. We set off in the early hours, as is required to get to the hut on time. We therefore had no idea what the weather was like up there.
Looking back on this experience, I'm incredibly appreciative of Ellie's attitude throughout but I certainly felt a little apologetic in the moment. We broke out of the woods via some seemingly endless steps to reach the top of Henry's Peak. This section of the track sits at 1224 metres and (usually) provides a crisp, clear view of the main peak and the rest of the range. What we actually saw was fog up ahead. We also saw fog to the left and (perhaps unsurprisingly) to the right also. Basically witnessing this beautiful mountain range was like trying to watch a band that have got a bit trigger happy with the smoke machines. We. Saw. Nothing.
We made it to the Pouakai hut - the first overnight shelter when travelling the route this way round. There is another smaller shelter known as the Kaiaui Shelter en route but this is essentially a bus stop but without the promise of transport (so like all bus stops in the South West of England then). At the hut, we had lunch which consisted of sandwiches and delicious chocolate, played Uno and subsequently put the Uno deck in a bag to take with us to our evening stop. I'm unsure if this is theft or just moving something? Let's just say that we re-homed the Uno. Deal? Good.
The next stretch of the journey was a bit of a challenge as it started raining sideways. Given that we were practically in a cloud, it was difficult to tell if or when this downpour may end. Being in this situation is a nice reminder of why you're trying to travel to a shelter for the night and one consequence of the weather was that we completed our day of travel much earlier than we thought we would. There was some discussion over whether or not we should try to complete the whole route in a day, but given Ellie's goal of a multi-day hike, we decided against it.
We got the Holly Hut (the largest hut on the route), tucked into some soup and cracked out the Uno. It was still light at this stage so we set up our beds for the night and even managed to get deep into a crossword before the light began to fade. I was pretty much falling asleep from the second we sat down and was feeling very comfortable in the decision to rest rather than keep on trekking.
As night drew in, we attempted to light a fire. This a great way to get rid of receipts, notes and any feeling that you might actually be able to survive in the wilderness for any length of time. There were a few hopeful moments (we even had a fire for five minutes) but given how soaked all the kindling was, we struggled to get things going again. Just as the darkness went from charcoal to pitch, our saviours showed up. This bit honestly feels like a dream at this point but basically this fairly hardened hippy couple showed up - he set up a camp-stove, made them tea and pasta, and she used this crazy hammer/axe combo to break the dry logs into kindling. Within fifteen minutes they were all set with food and fire and we were just sitting there astonished (and slightly embarrassed, but warm).
We went to bed early, knowing we'd have a big day ahead. In the morning I smashed my head on the top bunk in traditional fashion, and we set off down to the waterfall. When Jane and I had visited last year, people were swimming in the streams to cool down. This was absolutely not required this time around. It was freezing. We had a look and headed back to the hut for breakfast. The return journey was exciting for a number of reasons - the main one being that we got to go down the "razorback" which wasn't open previously. This is a notoriously risky path across the base of the peak of Taranaki. Last time we couldn't go there because of a landslide. There was some evidence of this but it mostly went well. The main issue at this stage was that we still hadn't seen the main mountain at all!
We were so close and had put in so much effort but with only an hour or so to go, we still had no greeting from our spiky friend in the sky. The photos from the tarn, taken the previous day, were still on our minds. This is supposed to be an opportunity to get a reflected picture of the snow-capped mountain top in the the lake. In reality it was a chance to capture fog reflected in a foggy, muddy pond.
One final nervy moment occurred when Ellie took the lead and decided to scurry up a gravel track - destined for the very pinnacle. This was not the plan and I eventually chimed in to let her know. Some people have a sense of direction and Ellie is certainly not one of those people. Honestly every time we went anywhere it was like someone span her around blindfolded.
We made it back OK - and totally shattered. Jane had kindly picked us up beer, cider and vegan pizza. This was delicious, needed and far beyond the call of duty. I certainly slept well that night!
Note: You'll get 2 blog entries for the price of 1 on these days as Jane also did stuff during the time we were hiking...