Ngaruawahia (km781)-Whatawhata (km816.5)
It was a good night at the Arrow Lodge, after just a bit of noise from Friday night revellers died down. Days of the week have little relevance to a thru-hiker but we have begun to focus on where we will land for New Year’s eve. I did some hiker math in the morning to determine we could make Mt Pirongia summit and the nearby hut by Sunday night. But we needed to do another big day, plus resupply in Hamilton.
The walk to Hamilton followed the Te Awa River Ride the whole way. This a paved multi-use path that is just splendid. The local communities have spent a lot on improvements of this route, including a brand new pedestrian bridge across the river. It was the nicest ped bridge I have ever walked across. The path continued along the river. Some areas reminded me of the Suwanee River, with high and steep banks. It was a beautiful Saturday morning so lots of people were out walking and riding bikes. We even saw a few horse riders and petted a friendly horse across a fence. Just about every day I get to pet some sort of farm animal alongside the track. But never sheep…they are always very skittish for some reason. On the river, we saw several kayakers and one boat/waterskiier. By the end of the 21 kms of river walk, my feet were starting to hurt from the cement. It’s a great surface for bikes and short-distance walkers, but tough on a thru-hiker.
We went into downtown Hamilton (largest inland city, pop. 156 thousand) to have lunch. Actually, the trail passes right through the main shopping center. I had pad thai, sushi, and a hokey pokey milkshake…it’s a kiwi flavour that’s basically vanilla and caramel.
We went into an independent outdoor gear store so Mike could buy a hut pass. The salesperson tried to sell us trekking pole tip protectors, claiming that they are so your metal tips don’t tear up the trail. I had a good laugh at that since so many of the trails are in such bad shape to begin with…trekking pole damage is way down on the list, if it’s even a thing. Actually, I thought the rubber ends are for protecting metal tips when using poles on cement or pavement, as we so often do. But even still, I had no need for them. Thru-hikers are a hard sell, once they’ve nailed down their gear list. How far I’ve gone so far.
As we walked out of town, I stopped to get some groceries and as usual, bought way too much. I even got a few party favors for New Years Eve…single serving plastic bottles of wine. I almost never carry liquids other than water.
We hoofed it the last 10km to Whatawhata (funny, I know), which is really just a crossroads with a gas station and a few restaurants. The Backyard Bar and Eatery let us pitch our tents for free in the beergarden. We reciprocated by buying steak burgers for dinner. Mike’s mom and aunt drove up to visit him while we had dinner. It was nice getting to chill in the backyard and even the noise from the pub crowd didn’t bother me. I went to sleep well before it ended, never waking until the morning. I could pretty much sleep anywhere these days. And I really have slept in some interesting locations on this journey.