Day 65 to 71 – Goodbye North Island
Thursday 20 December – Wednesday 26 December
Waikanae to Picton
Day: 65 – 71
Cumulative km’s: 1,688km / 3,000km
This instalment of the blog brings us to our final week on the North Island! Seriously, how did that happen? The last two and bit months have absolutely flown by in the blink of an eye.
There have been ups and downs throughout our North Island journey at different times for each of us, but we are both incredibly grateful for the experiences that we have had so far and can’t wait to jump into whatever the South Island throws at us. One thing is for certain… it will be a completely different kettle of fish to the North Island. The sheer remoteness of the terrain that the trail passes through on the South Island means that big towns will be few and far between and will often involve getting 50-100km off trail.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, this instalment of the blog is all about our week in and around Wellington.
While this section of trail would typically involve walking from Waikanae at the end of the Tararua ranges through to Island Bay near Wellington over a few days, our week was shaped by a simple suggestion by a kiwi local that we met in passing back when we were hiking towards Tongariro… “you should use the train line between Waikanae and Wellington and just hike with day packs”.
The idea being that we would base ourselves in one spot for the entire week and use the train line to get to and from the start and end point of our walk each day across the week. Coming off the back of a physically tough few days in the Tararuas, we were glad that we had the foresight to lock this plan down a couple of weeks in advance.
As you will read below, this resulted in a non-conventional (but fun, mostly) way of finishing our North Island walk.
Day 65 – Thursday 20 December, 0km
Technically, today was a rest day in the sense that we didn’t plan to do any hiking on the official TA trail, but that didn’t mean that we would get to put our feet up.
Having checked into our Airbnb cottage in sleepy Paekakariki the day before, we planned to take the train down to Wellington (about an hour away) where we would pick up our bounce box from the post office and buy some replacements for our worse for wear hiking boots.
Before we could do any of that though, we couldn’t resist stopping off at a small cafe on the way to Paekakariki train station for some much needed breakfast bagels. As the cafe (along with most of the other shops in Paekakariki) didn’t accept credit, we paid cash, before realising that we had just spent the last remaining cash either of us had on us. We learned shortly after that we would have to pay cash on the train for our tickets to Wellington and it was not possible to pay via card.
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as we would be able to get more cash from an ATM but it turned out that the only ATM in Paekakariki didn’t want to work with our traveller cards. After consulting some locals on our options for catching the train without enough cash for a ticket, we decided our only option was to hope that the ticket collector on the train would allow us to buy a ticket in Wellington – there was a 50-50 chance though that they wouldn’t let us get on the train, in which case we would probably need to walk 10km to the nearest town with a proper ATM to get the cash we needed for the train.
Luck was on our side, as the the ticket collector accepted our sob story and let us pay for the tickets in Wellington once the train had reached its destination. We thought it was odd that you can’t buy tickets from machines on the platforms, but I guess they don’t have the population base along the train line to justify that kind of infrastructure spend. Still, whenever we caught the train during the rest of the week, I always felt a bit sorry for the poor ticket collector who had to keep track of everyone who got onto the 8 carriage train at each stop so they could stamp their ticket.
As soon as we stepped onto the streets of Wellington the wind cut right through us. It was an icy cold wind and I was regretting not bringing warmer clothes with me in to town. We stopped off at the post office to pick up some smaller parcels that Leigh had sent to herself – a new pair of socks and some Xero shoes to replace her Crocs.
We then headed for Bivouac, the pick of the bunch so far in terms on outdoor stores in NZ. On the agenda, a new pair of hiking shoes for both of us and a new rain jacket for Leigh. We felt sorry for the shop assistant that was helping us as we spent the best part of two hours trying on different shoes and then rain jackets. Picking a pair of hiking shoes is always a gamble, particularly as there will be limited opportunities to change our minds once we head to the South Island and are out in the middle of nowhere on the trail.
I couldn’t find any lightweight boots that I liked, so ended up (after much internal debate) deciding to go with an Arc’teryx trail running shoe that felt really good on my feet. Leigh wanted to stick with a lightweight boot and settled on some Keen boots. Leigh was also able to pick up an Arc’teryx rain jacket which will hopefully be more waterproof than her current Rab rain jacket.
All the morning shopping decisions had us craving some food, so we stopped off at the closest place we could find – a dodgy underground food court. Neither of us got food poisoning though, so we will count that as a win.
With our major shopping done for the day, we picked up a few other bits and pieces in Wellington that we needed before heading back towards the train station, collecting our awkwardly sized (and heavy) bounce box from the post office on route.
Arriving back at our cottage in Paekakariki, we texted the owner Marilyn to set up a time for us to do some laundry. As our hiking clothes and rain jackets were in need of a good wash and the cottage didn’t have its own laundry, Marilyn had graciously offered to let us use the laundry facilities at the nearby holiday park that she operated. Marilyn had even offered to drive down to pick us up to save us walking down to the holiday park, which was really nice of her.
With the washing in progress, we enjoyed some afternoon sun in the holiday park, before being invited by Marilyn into her home. Before we knew it we had been introduced to her family and were enjoying some drinks and dips with them. By the time we finished chatting with everyone some 2 hours later, our washing was well and truly finished. We thanked Marilyn for her amazing hospitality and were dropped back to cottage by Marilyn’s partner, saving us a road walk in the dark.
Tomorrow we would be hiking again, even if it was only with our day packs.
Day 66 – Friday 21 December, 22.5km
Waikanae to Paekakariki
Today we would be walking in the opposite direction to the normal TA trail. Instead of walking from Waikanae to Paekakariki, we would be walking from our cottage in Paekakariki to Waikanae before catching the train back to Paekakariki.
Ahead of us was mostly beach walking, with some riverside and estuary trails later in the day as we got closer to Waikanae.
The overcast conditions made for nice walking – not too hot, but without the rain we had experienced at the tail ended of the Tararuas.
The walk along Paekakariki beach was great, with stunning views of Kapiti Island off the coast. It made me crave a Kapiti branded ice cream. It turned out to not so much be a beach walk to begin with as it was a walk along a partially constructed footpath that ran parallel to the beach. The tide was high, so there wasn’t a whole lot of sand that we could walk on to begin with.
Eventually though, we dropped down on to the beach itself once the shore widened. We came to a small steam crossing shortly after. Not wanting to get my new shoes wet so early in the day, I decided I would use some of the logs in the water to build a bridge of sorts across to the other side. This was great in theory, but as I carried a log across while balancing on a log already in the stream I completely lost my balance and fell into the stream, getting wet pretty much up to my knees with all the splashing around. I felt pretty stupid as I would have only been wet up to my ankles if I’d walked across normally. Leigh was too busy laughing at me to take any photos to capture the moment. With my ego bruised, we continued on up the beach.
The beach walk itself was fairly uneventful, save for a few times we had to dodge waves when the beach got skinny again. We passed a few other hikers that we knew already who were walking in the opposite direction to us, stopping for a quick chat as we passed them.
We reached Paraparaumu Beach around lunchtime and looked for a good lunch spot. There were a few takeaway shops along the beach front and we settled on a place that did $10 burgers on Fridays. It was a decision that I did not regret.
It was more beach walking after lunch before reaching a lovely boardwalk through an estuary.
We finished the day with a paved walk along a river back into Waikanae. It was a nice way to end the day. As has become customary, whenever we pass a set of swings in a playground area along the trail, we make time to put our packs down and get off our feet for a few swings.
Once in Waikanae, we headed to New World supermarket to pick up some things for dinner before jumping on the train back to Paekakariki.
Day 67 – Saturday 22 December, 9.5km
Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay
Our morning was consumed by planning – looking at the next month of trail on the South Island that would be coming up shortly and trying to work out what our options would be for buying food and other items along the way. It ended up being much more challenging than we had expected, with some of the people and places that we needed to call to make arrangements not being available over the Christmas period.
After going over the trail notes, we had a plan for how far we would walk each day for the next month (normally 8-10hrs plus breaks), where we would stay each night (mostly DOC huts), how much food we would need to carry with us for each section and where we would send food boxes ahead of time to allow us to collect along the way rather than needing to get off trail to buy more food. Ultimately, we decided to buy the food we needed for the first 4 days on the South Island, do a 10 day resupply in Havelock, and send two weeks of food ahead to St Arnaud and Boyle Village given the limited grocery options in those remote towns.
The next step would be to buy the food and organise it into boxes, but that was for future Leigh and Adam to worry about.
The sun was shining outside and before setting off on our planned walk today, I wanted to make the most of the sun and have a go at re-waterproofing the tent which had started to leak a little recently in heavy rain.
By the time that was done, it was mid afternoon. Fortunately we only had a relatively short walk today along the escarpment track. By this stage, Leigh was having extreme buyers remorse with her new boots as they were putting pressure on the tops of her feet and were not as comfortable as when she had tried them on in the store. She decided to return the boots and stick with her existing boots for the time being until they well and truly need replacing.
After rewarding ourselves with a pre-hike ice cream from the local corner shop in Paekakariki, we set off on the escarpment track. It was a short road walk to the start of the track, which then climbed up and along the escarpment. This made for great views up and down the coast for basically the entire walk. With all the up and down though, we were glad to be able to do this section without our heavier hiking packs. It made the walk much more enjoyable, even in the hot sun.
The track was steep in many places with sheer drop offs on the edge of the trail, so you had to focus on where you were putting your feet a lot of the time.
Crossing two suspension bridges towards the end of the track, we dropped down into the next town, Pukerua Bay. Following the trail through suburban streets, we were finally spat out at the train station.
Here we decided to head in separate directions – Leigh caught the train to Porirua to do some shopping for her South Island food boxes, while I headed back to Paekakariki to continue working on my food lists before hitting the supermarkets the following day.
Day 68 – Sunday 23 December, 32.5km
Porirua to Wellington CBD
Saving our biggest day of walking for the worst day of weather so far in the week probably wasn’t the smartest move, but we decided to roll with it anyway.
After speaking with a few fellow hikers previously, we made the call to skip the road walking between Pukerua Bay and Porirua, catching the train directly to Porirua before walking all the way into Wellington CBD. We would then do our food shopping on the way home to Paekakariki.
It was a short walk through the main part of Porirua town along the back of an industrial area before we reached the first established trail and hill climb for the day. Running into to the familiar faces of other hikers at the start of the trail, we heard that the weather on top was unpleasant to say the least. A local kiwi who had decided to bypass this part of the trail, jokingly offered to call the emergency services on our behalf so they could treat our frostbitten fingers at the other end of the track.
The track was initially pretty sheltered but climbed quite steeply as we got further along. We definitely got a sweat on making our way up towards the top of the hill. It was a strange feeling though passing joggers using the same track for their weekend morning run.
As soon as we reached the top of the hill the wind picked up, the visibility dropped and the temperature plummeted. We contemplated turning around but decided to stick it out as the weather was supposed to get better as the day progressed. I don’t know why, but I get a weird sense of enjoyment from walking in challenging conditions like this – that is, uncomfortable but not dangerous.
Walking across the tops of hills in heavy cloud, we were having flashbacks to our walk into Waitomo. Only this time, with Leigh’s waterproof jacket having been recently washed, it seemed to be doing a much better job at keeping her dry so she wasn’t as concerned about the risk of hypothermia.
After battling the cloud and wind for a while we arrived at Spicer Forest, where the weather seemed to improve as we wound our way down the track through a beautiful forest, passing a few weekend joggers on the way.
When we reached the end of the forest, we had read that there was a cafe only a few km’s down the road. We were hoping to stop for lunch there but when we arrived, we were informed by some equally disappointed hikers who had arrived about half an hour earlier that the cafe was closed until the new year. We had to settle for eating our wraps in the front car park of the cafe instead. Still, it was nice to get off the road for a while.
With our lunch break over, we hit the road again and headed for Mt Kaukau, which was our second climbing section for the day. Thankfully, it was a gradual uphill track and nothing too taxing. As we got closer to the peak though, you could feel the strength of the wind increase. At times it was hard to walk in a straight line as we were buffeted around in the wind.
Reaching the peak, we were rewarded with great views of Wellington, even though the wind threatened to blow us off the mountain. We had made pretty good time to this point, so I decided to head directly for the CBD, aiming to reach the outdoor stores before they closed in order to pick up some things for my South Island resupply boxes while Leigh continued along the official trail which headed through the Botanic Gardens before reaching the CBD. On my way down to the CBD, I hit a point in the trail where the winds were stronger than anything I can remember experiencing before. You had to really fight to stand in the one spot against the strength of the wind. By New Zealand standards, I’m sure they weren’t even that strong but it was a good reminder for the South Island of the sorts of conditions we may face in the mountains.
Reconvening in the CBD, we headed back to Porirua on the train to finish our South Island resupply shopping before the supermarkets closed at around 10pm. On the way to Porirua, we were witness to a stunning sunset from the train as it wound its way along the coastline towards Paekakariki.
We were glad the walk from the supermarkets to the train station was short, as carrying three weeks of food in backpack is about as fun as it sounds.
Arriving back in Paekakariki, we discovered that the winds we had experienced on the tops of the hills had also made their way down to the coast as our things left on the back deck had been blown all over the yard and part of the back fence had been blown over by the strong winds. We were glad to be inside the cottage rather than our tent that night!
Day 69 – Monday 24 December, 12km
Wellington CBD to Island Bay
With the upcoming public holidays and our ferry to the South Island booked for Boxing Day evening, we needed to make sure our food parcels and bounce box were sent in the mail today.
Given we had too many things to carry at once to the post office, we headed into nearby Waikanae first with our South Island food parcels. We would then head to Wellington CBD in the afternoon, mailing our bounce box to Christchurch and continuing our walk from Wellington CBD to Island Bay in the afternoon. This would bring us to the official end of the North Island trail.
Arriving at Waikanae post office, we dumped our food into separate boxes to be sent to St Arnaud and Boyle Village. The whole process was relatively pain free, except for my paranoia about my box busting open in transit which meant that I had to wrap an excessive amount of tape around the outside to seal it up, much to Leigh’s annoyance.
We hadn’t had the opportunity to weigh our food yet, but it ended up being approximately 1kg per day, which is what most people suggest is a good amount of food for the type of hiking we are doing.
With our food parcels sorted, we headed for the supermarket to pick up some things to eat on Christmas Day. By the look of the shelves, you would have sworn we were in a disaster movie scenario – shelves had been pretty much picked clean in some places which was funny to see. We did notice one thing though that should be replicated in Australia… supermarket employees placating the waiting shoppers in queue with free Christmas cake on big plates. We may have helped ourselves to a few pieces.
After heading back to Paekakariki for lunch, we may our way into Wellington with our bounce box of excess gear to send to Christchurch. The main post office in Wellington was closed unexpectedly. Bugger. A quick check of Google suggested an alternate address down the road. Once I reached this spot though, it turned out to be a PO Box lobby only and no one was there. A sign on the door though suggested that some convenience stores in Wellington may be able to provide postal services. As time was running out and the thought of carrying this stupid box around for the next few days started looking likely, I finally found a corner shop that said they could send it. Not being an official post office, they weren’t familiar with the Poste Restante system that we have been using to date, so fingers crossed it will be there when we finally reach Christchurch later in January!
Meanwhile, Leigh headed back to Bivouac to return her new boots.
It was mid afternoon by the time we started walking. For city walking, it was surprisingly nice. Following the harbour foreshore for a few kms, we reached the Wellington Town Belt and headed up hill to follow the belt towards our destination of Island Bay.
It was really nice to be able to follow a green corridor while being so close to the city still. Being up on the hills also meant that we were able to get some good views of different parts of the city along the way.
As we got closer, it was looking touch and go as to whether we would reach Island Bay before sunset. A quick scan of the bus and train timetable also suggested that it might take us 2-3hrs to get back to Paekakariki which wasn’t ideal.
Before reaching Island Bay, we stopped to chat briefly with another TA hiker, who we met back at Waitewaewae Hut in the Tararuas when we rolled into the hut at 10pm while everyone was already asleep. Luckily she didn’t appear to hold a grudge, which was nice.
The walk along Island Bay was really beautiful. After some debate as to the location of the TA plaque, we eventually located it in the corner of a random park opposite the beach. I’m sure people looked at us weirdly as we spent a good 10-15 minutes hanging out there and taking photos.
We were also stoked to find our first real trail magic – someone had left a box of treats behind the plaque for hikers to share. Leigh couldn’t believe her luck as we scored a free block of Whittakers chocolate.
As we headed for the bus stop to make our way back to Paekakariki, I noticed Leigh rummaging through her bag. The next minute she had tipped all of her belongings out on to the footpath and was frantically going through everything. As I turned around to see what was was going on, it became clear what she was looking for – her purse with her passport, credit cards and ferry tickets was missing. As we tried to figure out where she could have left it, it became clear that we were searching for a needle in a haystack… it could have fallen out of her pack anywhere between Wellington CBD when she last used it and Island Bay. I headed back over the the TA plaque to do a scan of the area to make sure it hadn’t fallen out on the ground over there. When it became clear that it was nowhere to be seen I headed back over the Leigh and saw her sheepishly heading in my direction. She had found her purse – it was tucked away in one of her drybags rather than in the top pocket of her pack where she normally would keep it.
With that crisis averted, we headed back to Paekakariki on the long bus and train ride.
Day 70 – Tuesday 25 December, 0km
Christmas Day / Proper rest day
Today was the first day of our trip where we had nowhere to be and nothing to do. In addition to today being Christmas Day, it was also raining all day, which made it even sweeter that we could stay inside all day.
We spent the morning making calls home to family for Christmas before spending the remainder of the day chilling out, watching Christmas movies and doing our best to eat as much food as possible.
Note to our future-selves… we need to plan more days like this on the South Island.
Day 71 – Wednesday 26 December, 0km
We headed up to the holiday park to do a final load of washing before checking out of the cottage.
While waiting for our laundry to finish, Marilyn invited us into her home again, offering us sandwiches and hot drinks. We were really lucky to find the cottage as it was only advertised a day or so before we started looking for somewhere to stay over Christmas. We couldn’t have hoped to find a better host than Marilyn – her hospitality has been amazing!
After saying our goodbyes, we headed back to the cottage to do a final clean up before dumping my old hiking boots in the bin and making our way to Wellington.
Today was the first day that trains were replaced by buses, so after some initial confusion as to where the bus stop was in Paekakariki, we made it in time to catch the bus into Wellington.
Once in Wellington, we rode the cable car uphill and walked back down through the Botanic Gardens, stopping off at Picnic Cafe for quick bite to eat and drink before continuing downhill towards Wellington CBD through some historical cemetery grounds.
With our ferry check in time approaching, we swung by Te Papa museum briefly via the waterfront. It was a really interesting place but we only had 45 minutes to explore unfortunately so only had time to look at one of the exhibits there.
Catching a shuttle from the train station to the Interislander ferry terminal, the check in process was stunningly quick and simple, taking all of about 5 minutes from start to finish to board the ferry.
The ferry was bigger than I had originally anticipated – it actually felt more like a budget cruise ship with its multiple levels and many cafes and bars. We ended up sitting in these really comfy seats. We missed out on window seats, but being a night ferry it didn’t really matter as we wouldn’t be seeing much out the window anyway.
It wasn’t until the end of the trip that we realised we were actually sitting in an upgraded area but the door which indicated this and the cost of the ticket upgrade had been left open the entire trip, so I don’t think anyone seated in the area knew.
Considering you can see the South Island from the bottom of the North Island, the ferry takes what seems to be an eternity to reach Picton. At times it felt like you’d be able to swim faster than the ferry was moving.
By the time we reached Picton it was about 10:30pm and we still had to walk to the backpackers we were staying at that night. Luckily, some of the people from our dorm room were still up and moving around when we arrived so we felt less guilty about the late arrival time.
It would be a relatively early start the next day, as we were due to check in for our transfer to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track by 9am. We went to bed hoping to get a better night’s sleep than the last time we stayed in a mixed dorm back in Hamilton.