When Canoes Become Submarines

It’s been a while

I fail to find time to write down my experiences in these past weeks. It has been a long path taken by foot, bike, and canoe, punctuated by some of the highest and lowest days of the trail so far.

Biking is not my passion

We start with the Timber Trail, which many trampers choose to cycle rather than walk. It’s a nice change of pace, though the two days flying through forests and over suspension bridges confirm something I’ve known since childhood: I am no cyclist.

After one group member sticks with me to show me some tricks, I cruise (and definitely walk a ton) through 85 kilometers to the end of the trail and a much needed off day. We celebrate a late birthday in what feels like a ghost town before setting out on one of the most memorable sections of the North Island.

Lazy days on the river

The Whanganui River section is one I’ve looked forward to since the early days of planning this trek. It is a five-day canoe trip downstream that carves out a space of relaxation for TA hikers. We pack as much food as we can dream of, for once not worried about the weight of our packs. The four of us crawl into our canoes under layers of sunscreen with a feeling of eternal summer as we set off.

It is four (out of five) days of near bliss, with glow worms overhead and curious accommodation (I certainly never expected to sleep in a convent). We spend long hours letting the river carry us lazily while we rest our feet and absorb the greenery on all sides. We take generous breaks from paddling to swim, feed our hiker hunger, and empty the wine bottles sitting at the bottom of our coolers.

Capsized and sunburned

We make it through nearly all of the rapids we were warned about, but an unexpected rapid and a faulty canoe sends us into chaos. One capsized canoe and one sunken one leaves us with lost belongings and a mood turned upside down. By the time we’ve fought high tides and a head wind on the fifth day, some of the group wants to quit while others cry in the McDonald’s parking lot.

Aches and blisters in Mordor

An off day gets us right again, and we make our way back up to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which we had delayed to make sure we completed the river during the nice weather.

Having already done this crossing years ago, I elect to stay behind in order to heal some injuries. I’m sad to miss this significant section, but relieved that my friends have clear skies as they stand before Mount Doom. They return with sore muscles and stories of a crowded trailed, and we catch a bus down south to get back on track.

Worried about the future

I go through a few days of unexplained joint pain that lands me in a doctor’s office. My group waits with me as I worry about the future of my trail experience. I’ve been waking up with new pains each day, fighting dizzy spells and finding it hard to put weight on my ankles and knees.

Once I have the clear to continue and the pain meds to make it possible, I hobble through the next few days before things start to improve. This brings me to the base of the Taraua Mountain Range, which will be our last real challenge of the North Island.

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Comments 1

  • Michal : Jan 26th

    I like your little blog posts. It shows how the track can be done in your own way. Nice and simple read. No dreadful lengthy let-me-tell-you-my-so-interesting-story.


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