I was already awake when Noel banged on my door at 4.40am and by 6.15am we were on our way to DoC's depot to meet Bruce. Bruce and Noel would be looking over the track today. By 7.30 I had purchased food for the next four days from the service station at Whatawhata, re-packed to get everything in and was shouldering my pack ready to start walking.
The fog that we had driven through quickly burned off and the day remained calm and clear. The first 10km was on roads that became quieter as I progressed until finally I did not see another car. The Karama walkway began right at the top of the road and was further on than my map indicated by about 1km. That caused me some confusion as I thought I may have already missed it.
The track is across private farm land and the walking was relatively easy and relaxing. There were a number of unusual limestone rock formations. Just past an airfield I stopped under the shade of one of the first trees I had passed to have a bite to eat and to look at the map again.
After a long break there was about 1km more farmland before the track headed through an area of native bush. Soon after entering this area I saw a possum on the ground a few metres from the track. It looked kind of dazed and reacted very slowly to me even when I made some noise to coax it into action. The track opened into farmland again for the last 20 minutes or so.
Near the end of the track I crossed a swing bridge only to find myself in a corn field. I very carefully made my way through it to the road and it seems they have planted over the track. I stopped at a farmhouse to apologise but no one was home.
Then I had 3km to walk on Limeworks Loop Rd. This was not particularly exciting but at the entrance way to the next piece of land was a reserve and I could see a group of people sitting there as I approached across a bridge.
It was a group from Graceland Services - Local Linx out of Te Awamutu and their supervisors/carers. One of the carers was a woman named Carmen Frost who is an Aunty to two of the boys that I coach at rowing and we chatted for a while. I also talked with Larry who wanted to know a bit about what I was up to and a woman (Aroha I think) who was sketching as I arrived and was good enough to show me her sketch book.
As we were talking two Hamilton girls turned up for a swim and so I joined them in a dip at a grand spot just above the bridge complete with a swing. Juanita was a regular to this swimming hole and had bought her friend Emma for the first time.
After taking some photos I set off again at about 2.00pm, following an easy path beside the river up to a campsite. From here the track followed increasingly steep ridges as it climbed to Mt Pirongia which at 958m is easily the tallest North Island climb so far. Early in the ascent I met 4 guys who had also choppered up in the morning and were doing some track maintenance as they descended - one DoC officer, one full time volunteer and two young men recently graduated from tertiary study. We spoke at some length about the track ahead and particularly about a rare native plant called Dactalanthus Taglorii. This is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of trees and they have to put cages over them as the possums eat the flowers. I told them about the possum I had seen earlier and they thought it had probably found some ones patch and gotten stoned!
The climb was very pleasant but got steeper and more slippery as it neared the summit. I was quite tired so was being particularly careful and resting often. Pirongia has a series of high peaks so I spent some time on the ridge before getting to the highest one. There I found an elevated viewing platform which was most welcome as the ridge itself afforded very little view.
I had passed several of the cages but if there was a Dactalanthus Taglorii in there I couldn't tell, maybe I will see one tomorrow.
About 30 minutes after the lookout I found Pahautea Hut which is a lovely 6-8 bed hut with the lean too with another table outside for campers. I didn't realise what they were at first but they have made large barked enclosures to give people somewhere flat to pitch their tents up here. This is my first hut on Te Araroa and was beautifully clean on my arrival.