TA Day 124, Martin’s Hut to Colac Bay, 24 km

Ian and Wendy are up first, speaking in whispers, their lights aiming down. My head is mere inches from the roof pitch – and Antonie’s head. Last night, I clipped bags to a beam so they wouldn’t clatter to the floor when I turn on my side.

Antoine and I eventually jump down. He cooks on the little table, me on the floor. Gabriela stirs and we talk about the places on the west coast I need to add to Richard’s and my itinerary.

It’s a late start for me, nothing is dry and the air is chill, but everyone reports the next section is muddy for only the first half hour to a 4×4 track. I know it will be a long day, but confident I’ll fly through this final day of the trail in forest – and mud.

Funny how this trail is bookended – epic, deep, squishy, shoe-sucking, never-ending mud, Ratea forest style (that’s day five for those following along) lots of beach and road walking beginning tomorrow (The Te Araroa famously begins on sand for four days; road plays a major role as frustrater) and nutty people who hurt me (kayak man et al left me in tears day 10).

I wonder if I’ve learned anything, if I’ve changed from this walk or is my life just a spinning record, the same stories over and over, just different characters. I’ve been told that is how it works, we tend to meet up with the same dramas until we learn the lesson. Being more boundaried and believing in my value are high on the need-to-learn list for me, I can see that.

Also on repeat – the contents of this forest. Massive ferns, palms and podocarp of rimu, totara and kamahi blot out the light, a throwback to the Northland forests I cut my teeth on last November. I splash through a stream and remember the big day I walked before the Tararuas, walking in a straight path and crossing the same snaking stream nearly fifty times.

I come to an eroded drop of about 2 1/2 feet. Someone has placed a rope here with handles tied in to aid in dropping down and another line with a footstep to get up. It’s only the second piece of aid I’ve seen in four months, the other a piece of rubber slung around a rock at a particularly nasty sidling section in the Richmond Range. Both are hugely helpful, but come as a shock considering the thousands of places I needed aid. Why here? I’ll never know.

The trail provided today – a downclimbing aid, plus considerate people at the hut to get me in the right head space as I finish this thing. The trail provided awful weather yesterday to build my confidence on an exposed ridge. In this moment, though, the trail is providing nothing I want – more mud plus fallen trees across the trail, awkward wash-outs and ancient rickety boards – with a significant fall – crossing streams in deep dips. This area is a water race, carved out for use by gold miners in the 19th century. Sunken earth surrounded by a narrow path is what I walk on, huge ferns crowding the way. I have no idea why the NOBO’s said it wasn’t that bad. Because the mud doesn’t cover me above the knees?

I think I’m just getting impatient. It’s an interesting forest, but this trail goes on for hours. It’s not walking in the sense of striding. It’s more maneuvering with my eyes almost always on my feet. It’s the last day of this, so I definitely picked a good day to be burned out.

It occurs to me that the trail’s ‘challenge’ is meant to make up for its lack of beauty. There’s little to see here locked in a forest for half a day, so leave it unmaintained and a tramper feels it was all worth it somehow. I still struggle with the pile on from the other day when the Kiwis asked for my opinion on the trail. This section needs maintenance. Some of these fallen trees have been here for years. But who does the work and to what standard?

For me, the jury is still out on all that. Until I do my next long thru-hike and see what’s possible will I know if this is the best that can be done. I’d never return nor recommend Longwood Forest, though I see why it was chosen instead of the road to bring the TA hiker to the end of the country at last. The official trail bumbles along in this nonsensical way for another two hours, but some kind farmer offers an early exit on the edge of his land. I am so ready to say goodbye to mud walk I cry out when I see the ocean below.

Of course it starts raining the minute I’m on the road, but I’m walking with long strides and charge right towards the village, a car tooting merrily at me as they pass knowing I’m on the home stretch.

I set up the alicoop in a holiday park filled with old timey campers in Colac Bay, a place famous for a beach called ‘the tree’ where waves break in both directions. I order the special at the packed tavern after rinsing off my shoes and clothes – and backpack – covered in mud. A lovely caravan camper hands me a bottle of bath gel seeing I’m a tramper who has become expert at calling a hot rinse, a wash.

The air is cold, but the sky finally clearing except for an occasional squall mostly over the forest I just finished walking through. As I relax here, well-fed and cleaned up, I begin to see my hike as a fairytale with certain tests the heroine must pass including if she can recognize the wolf in granny’s nightgown – and if she can bear walking for so long on such a varied terrain and such varied track quality.

There’s more to go, about 80 kilometers to the southernmost tip, and I imagine the tests and learning experiences will just keep coming.

Bring ’em on!

Reader Comments

  1. Hi Alison, You’re so close now! I wish we could share a beer, laughter, and hugs; but I can imagine it all, thanks to your great photos and descriptions. Amazing how the mud and forest is at both ends of NZ, where Ta Araroa slips into the sea! Up North we had gumdigging, instead of gold-mining, both lonely & hard. I remember being in that gold area of Longwood where the Chinese built the water races, amazing.
    Don’t ever again question your value, and ability, as a very special person with incredible skills, and lots of love for others.
    Your writings have given so much of yourself, challenged us, and been valuable to all. (Loved kind v. nice!)
    A spinning record or a spiral upwards? You have so much experience to build your life on.

    On my birthday I walked 18 kms of the Trail, here to Urquharts Bay…hot but fun, a cold beer, & swam with the children.
    Tramping friends have planned to do Harpers Pass section down south to honour my 71st year! so I’m getting excited. Will be looking out your photos of that section. Might be colder in April.
    Well I hope you see some wildlife down there and enjoy the long beach.
    We’ll never forget walking the Taiharuru together…
    Can’t wait to see the Bluff Signpost!
    Lots of love,
    Ros

    1. you are my heroine, Ros! will be back on the NI soon and will want that beer. Big hugs, dear friend 🐥👣🎒

  2. I know that you will have a wealth of experiences from your New Zealand trail time. As you replay them in the future you will have much to learn and relearn. I do not think that you ever stop learning from the past. You have been very open in your blogs of the hike. In this you have passed on to your readers some of your most important experiences for us to ponder. Kind and nice … . I think you should just say good. I think we can see that you are a good person. You fit in well with other good people in an easy going manner. The guard must always go up when you fall in with not so good people. Such people are worth your analysis, but are not worth your letting them effect your psyche. I think in life that there are always unresolved issues/things. They should be revisited, but kind of marked off as not resolvable. Being a self proclaimed philosopher of life, I am always attempting to impart something profound … I hope you didn’t mind.

  3. These two above responses are wonderful. What wise friends you have made in your journey. Almost there, DD. Love, MM

  4. That’s the spirit! Could it be time for some rebranding? Blissful Hiker, yes. Badass Hiker, certainly!

  5. Colac Bay, essentially the end. Someone proposed Beethoven’s 9th as a fitting end to the physical part of the trip. The finale of the 7th or the Triumphal March in Aida would also work. However, towards the end, you have become more contemplative and spiritual. You may not have the answers to the questions you have raised, but you have clarified the questions which is an excellent start to the next leg of your journeys. I would propose the Meditation from Thais as a fitting ending or commencement. It is normally performed by violin, but I have a version by flute which is achingly beautiful and spiritual. Thanks for what you have done for us, Ed

  6. I have just caught up to you reading days of your journey. Oh so many emotions. And so many good thoughts your way from friends. I am sorry I could not add my voice. But just to say you are a hero to me – for your sincerity and abilities and courage. You may not feel that, but we rarely realize how much we can mean to others. Bravo to you Alison! Thank you for welcoming us along.

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