Repeater Hut and campsite (km686)-Mercer (km721)
The section of the TA in the southern Hunua range is still closed because of a slip and land rights issues, so today was going to be mostly all road walking to get down to Mercer. I’ve been struggling with whether to get a ride through this part or to just walk the country roads. It would depend on the quality of the roads and if an opportune ride was offered. Most TA walkers are skipping the entire section from Auckland down to Hamilton, a couple hundred kms. But not me, I just keep plugging along.
The day was perfectly clear but I already knew it would be because I could see the moon shining through the hut last night. It was cold to start off with, but the cool breeze made for nice conditions on the road later on. I left the hut around 0730. I took the lower Wairoa loop trail down to Moumoukai rd, which led out to Paparimu rd. I turned south and followed this road for about 12km. It was a very quiet, straight road with a decent shoulder and gravel or grass to walk on pretty regularly. It was even lined with millions of dandelions. Cyclists were also using the road, so you know it’s a good route. It was one of the best roads yet and I was happy. The road led through an area called Happy Valley, and I couldn’t argue with that.
I met back up with the TA by 10:30 a.m. The trail through the lower Hunuas that I had to bypass is often referred to as ‘ridiculous’, so I didn’t feel too bad about missing it. I made great time on the road, but later my feet were suffering a bit. There was more road for a ways, then onto the infamous stopbanks. These are called levees in the states. They are raised banks along the major Waikato river and some tributaries. The route follows the stopbanks for much of the next 3 days. The land is still largely owned by farmers, so there are lots of fences/stiles to cross and lots of livestock about.
I did not enjoy this first section too much. The ground was really hard with divits, so it was a killer on my feet. There were also sections of head-high grass to weave through, making it hard to see where I was stepping. Thank god there are no snakes here! It had gotten really hot too.
I still made it to Mercer at around 1430. I was torn between pushing on or staying. I went to McDonald’s to have a late lunch and suck up some wifi. By the time I was done playing around, it was obvious I should just call it a day. There is a pub here, Podge’s Place, that let’s walkers camp for free. They even have free hot showers and laundry. It’s a smart move because the walkers always buy pizza and beers from the pub.
As I walked in, bartender Sandra a.k.a ‘walker stalker’ squealed “it’s a walker!” She loves hosting walkers, and has even been known to chase after them if they try to bypass the place. Good thing I had decided to stay! After being introduced to everyone in the pub, I got settled in, pitching my tent right in the back beergarden. I did the works: shower, laundry, pizza, and beer. While playing on the wifi, I texted Mike to see how he was getting on. He replied right away that he was only 4 kms away! I wouldn’t be by myself tonight.
It was cool catching up with Mike and all his adventures. I was also looking forward to having someone to hike with again. Best of all, he also had my sit pad that I had left at the cottage just before the Okura river, back on day 19. He hiked it back to me, so I owe him one. He had been doing some big miles the past few days, not knowing that we camped within a km of each other the night before in the Hunuas.
Me with Podge and Sandra
Tenting in the beergarden