Bush: (n.) forest
This week Nelson took an alternative energy workshop at Eco Innovation, a hostel/engineering workshop on the edge of the Mt. Taranaki national park. Michael and Linda Lawley have created a beautiful home there, that through hydro, solar, and wind power, is totally energy independent. And it’s not some hippy-dippy cottage either. They run a dishwasher, five refrigerators, and host groups of up to 30 people at a time. While Nelson was busy with the 17 other guys on the course (not one woman!), I explored some of the local parks with Sandra, whose husband James was also on the course. Nelson and I also took some time to enjoy the floating hottub before we left for a 3-day hike up the volcano.
Our heads weren’t quite in the right place when we were packing for this trip, and we were a bit underprepared. We had no cooking gear or stoves, a 20 year-old map, and had brought both of our laptops with us. But, Michael and Linda said that the trail was pretty easy to follow, so we decided to go for it, our small-packs stuffed to the gills. Our hike began in a cow paddock. To cows, people=food, and they followed us, closely, for the first kilometer of our hike. Once we navigated over the cow fences, which would’ve been a lot trickier with full-sized packs, we headed into the forest. It’s clear why they call it the “bush” here. The growth on the lower elevations of the park was thick and wet.
We wandered under huge trees that must have been hundreds of years old and past a pile of round stones that were labled “Maori Ovens”. Then the trail took a sharp turn to the left and started heading down a steep gorge towards a water fall with the longest name I think I’ve ever seen. Hmmm… this doesn’t seem quite right. We didn’t think we would head down-hill so far. Hmmm… a giant waterfall. Here are our faces when we found the waterfall. Wait a minute, our trail wasn’t supposed to cross a river here. I didn’t take a picture of our faces when we realized we had made a wrong turn and had to head back up the steep ravine. Oh well, scenic detours are fun too.
The trail we were meant to follow was a much smaller trail, marked not with blazes, but with a sign that read “Danger! Trail not maintained from this point”. Hmmm… Onward! Other signs along the way warned us that “POISON!” had been spread in the area to kill possums and “DANGER!” stoat traps. What exactly is a stoat anyway? (Ummm. Yikes!) Hmmm… Onward!
After a few hours of following a severely rutted trail through bush that was so thick that you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet, we came to the top of a ridge that looked down into a high-eleveation wet-land called the Ahukawakawa swamp. Were were standing on top of the Pouakai Range, a mountain range formed by a 250,000 year-old volcano, a predecessor of Mt. Taranaki. Our resting place for the night, Holly Hut, was nestled on the far side of the crater next to a river. If you look carefully in this picture you can see the cabin on the right side.
Day two was wet and foggy. We created a make-shift rain cover out of an abandoned 10 kilo rice bag that we found at the shelter in hopes of keeping our computers and camera dry. We followed the Holly Hut trail as it climbed up Mt. Taranaki clinging to the edge of the mountain as it wound through steep gorges. I’m sure there were amazing views to be seen during this leg of the trip, but all we saw was white. Occasionally we found ourselves at the bottom of a cliff or waterfall, or overlooking a steep ravine, but we never saw these things until we got right up to them.
At about the midpoint of our trip we came to yet another warning sign and about the sketchiest piece of trail I may have ever been on. Since it was wet (and a bit slippery), I don’t have any pictures of us crossing the Boomerang Slip, so I borrowed these from a google image search. I can’t imagine that anyone would actually want to loiter here. The entire way across I was waiting for a giant boulder to come crashing down on top of us or for the rocks to slide out from below. I calculated over and over again how long it would take for Nelson to run and get help if I fell down the slip, and then thought about how he is a much faster runner than I am and we would definitely be screwed if he was the one who fell.
Although we had planned on hiking all the way through to Stratford Rd., when the trail junction came up for the much closer North Egmont Visitors Center, we gladly took that option. By 1pm we were drying out our rain-soaked bodies and drinking hot chocolate by the fire. Our non-CAR-ma keeps shining down, and the smiling goddess who offered us the hot chocolate also offered us a ride into town. Emboldened by this stroke of good luck, the high prices of bus fares, and the recommendation of the hostel keeper, we decided to try our longest hitch yet. Sure enough the next day we easily caught a ride back to Wanganui.