An inconsistently rainy and sunny road walk brought us to Taumarunui, our next trail town.
This morning, CareFree and I continued our conversation with Peter and Susanna from last night, and we identified a major difference of Te Araroa compared to the other long-distance trails we’ve hiked. On the TA, we don’t get the same sense of camaraderie and togetherness that we felt on other trails. I think this is because the TA isn’t a consistent trail. The sheer amount of road walks makes it very easy for people to skip huge sections of the trail because it’s “boring” or “hard”. As a result, few people have the same experience. Peter thinks that the four of us (plus almost certainly Shaun, who haven’t heard from in weeks, but we know he’s ahead of us) are the only people on the trail (well, at least, in our bubble of hikers anyway) who actually have a continuous footpath. Whether that’s true or not, a cohesive trail culture depends on mutual shared experience, and I don’t think there’s much shared experience so far between hikers on the North Island, save for all of us very much disliking significant aspects of the trail.
CareFree and I left the campground around 7:30, following a gravel road west, then south, to Taumarunui. The sheep farm we’d camped next to yesterday actually seemed to be a sheep genetics farm, from a sign at its entrance. Clearly, they were successful in breeding a louder sheep.
We also passed a small graveyard adjacent to the road, with flowers at most gravesites.
It wasn’t raining when we left, but it did start while CareFree made a phone call to her parents in Germany (where it was the evening of December 24th, the significant day of Christmas in German culture). Apparently, it was raining so badly in Germany that some of it leaked through the phone to New Zealand!
The morning was largely uneventful. We walked along a gravel road, crossed some train tracks, and walked along a paved road for hours. The rain was usually fairly light, but occasionally picked up. Fortunately, nothing as heavy as we got yesterday.
Later, we passed half a dozen turkeys on the side of the road, and a house with a “lot” (by New Zealand standards) of Christmas decorations, including a “mailbox” for Santa Claus.
We also passed the entrance to a marae (Māori meeting house), with interesting designs on the arch at the entrance.
Around noon, the sun started to poke out from the clouds, and the weather became quite random, alternating between bright sunshine (which made everything very humid when the rain on on the road started to evaporate), clouds, and light rain (sometimes with the sun still out).
We arrived in Taumarunui at 1 pm. Unfortunately, the McDonald’s we were hoping would be open was closed for the holiday, but the gas station next door had a 24/7 convenience store that was open. We were able to get ice cream and sodas to snack on right then, and also sandwiches for dinner tonight.
We stayed at the Alexander Spa Motel. The managers weren’t around today, and left the key for us under the door mat. They also left us a bag of chocolates.
Now that we made it to Taumarunui, we developed a rough plan for the next week and a half. This will take us through Tongariro National Park via the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful trails on the North Island. There, we’ll be near Mounts Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe (“Mount Doom”), and Ruapehu, the three tallest volcanoes on the North Island. After that, we’ll head through the town of National Park, and on to Whakahoro, on the 5th, in time for our canoe trip down the Whanganui River on the 6th. (We’ll have a few days to kill, since it won’t take us that long to hike, and we’re still working out what that will be.) We still have some questions we need answers to from the canoe rental company, which we’ll hopefully get tomorrow, but our tentative plan is to take a canoe for three days on the Whanganui River. We’ll start from Whakahoro to Mangapurua Landing (which is an alternate, but required because Mangapurua is otherwise inaccessible by vehicle). Then the trail itself follows the river the rest of the way to Whanganui. We’ll get off at Pipiriki (where there is road access) and take a cycle path the rest of the way to Whanganui, since CareFree doesn’t want to be on the river longer than necessary, after having a bad experience in 2018 when she also did this trip.