East Ahuriri Track
After two days on the bike it was time to hike once again. In the morning we packed up our tent and put our backpacks on the bike trailers to return the rental bikes at Ohau Lodge. We rode the 6km, locked the bikes up and shouldered the backpacks. They felt very heavy.
It was raining lightly when we started walking back on the road. The start to the East Ahuriri Track, our next section on the Te Araroa, started about halfway between Lake Ohau Village and the Lodge, so we had to walk the way we had come.
We noticed a DOC sign informing about another track once we had walked for a bit and looked up the maps - the trail connected to the TA so we didn't have to walk all the way on the road after all. Before we came to the intersection with the TA track we met quite a few people. Some hiking, a few running and a lot of people mountain biking. But as soon as we turned onto the track that was part of the TA, we were by ourselves again.
The trail led up to a saddle, first through forest, then through low shrubs and tussock fields. Everytime we take a day off, or in this case biked instead of hiked, the first day back on the trail is really hard. As was this day. Energy drained quickly and it took a bit of time to motivate ourselves to actually enjoy the hike. Partly that was due to the fact that we didn't really have a destination - the plan was to walk most of the Ahuriri Track and then camp somewhere before the river crossing.
When walking up the saddle, we kept debating whether we could just set up camp once we came across the saddle. The tussocks annoyed us and in a lot of places it was hard to see a visible track between the bushes. But going got easier once we were over the saddle and we continued on.
The track now sidled far above the river and the views down toin the valley were nice. By now it had stopped raining, so we did start to enjoy the trail more towards the end of the day. A little picnic for lunch further brightened our mood and we walked on, passing a little hut on the other side of the valley that we had beforehand pinpointed as a emergency shelter location.
The trail then led down into the valley again and we came through some swampy sections and got pricked by bushes with long thorns. Not so enjoyable. The trail wasn't all that well marked down here, so a few times we crossed through boggy areas just to then notice that we had gone the wrong way and had to double back.
Further down the valley we could see some huge trees and bright fresh green meadows, and we decided to walk up to that, and camp around there. From the look of it there had to be water around, and the trees might shelter us from the strong winds that had started to pick up. Unfortunately the area turned out to be fenced in and our trail went around it. It still was the most fascinating thing - all the green, the trees, the little stream running through it all. And all of it in the middle of the beige monotony of tussocks and withered grass. Somehow we didn't take a picture, but it really was quite an interesting sight.
Once we set up camp the winds had gotten stronger and we already dreaded the night. We were out in the open and had tried to find a spot that was at least a little bit sheltered by a hill rising up, but it didn't help much. The gusts were so strong that we cooked in the opened vestibules of our tent to make sure our water would boil at some point. Then we went to bed early. Night's sleep as expected wasn't very good due to the storm shaking and pulling on our tent. But at least we now know that it can take quite a beating.
The first mission for the day was crossing the Ahuriri River. We got up extra early, planning in a bit more time for that. Ahuriri is the biggest river you have to cross on the TA that's not declared a river hazard. To get there we had to cross a wide open field with rabbit holes through. We so saw a bunch of rabbits leaving their holes and running away from us. Then, suddenly, the land just dropped away, and the river lay before us, in a valley cut deep into the landscape. We descended steeply on a marked track and saw the orange marker on the other side of the river that showed where the trail would pick back up.
From the top, the river didn't look so deep. But standing right in front of it, perspectives changed. The bottom wasn't visible in most places so we walked down the river bench, scouting for a better place to cross. At a point where the river branched into two parts and was fairly shallow we decided to give it a try. Crossing the first arm in that location ended up being easy. Not so much the second, it was a lot deeper and stronger. We walked down the sand bank and found a place that looked a bit better than the rest.
We chained up once again, gripping each other tightly and slowly made our way through. The current pulled on us, especially on Tim who stood upstream as he is the stronger one. We moved like in slow motion. Tims foot. Once he had a stand again, my foot. Then his trekking pole, to help stabilize the next step. Then his other foot. And mine. At one point we stopped for a moment, bracing against the force of the water, trying to figure out if the water was getting deeper still, as I was hip deep in the water. I contemplated going back, but Tim still felt confident and surefooted, so we pushed through. Nevertheless we were really glad when we felt that we had gotten through the worst, and after a few more slow steps we climbed up the riverbank.
A disclaimer here: I would not have done the crossing on my own, as I am rather small and the water was fairly deep. We actually talked to a girl that crossed on her own, was pulled off her feet in the river and was really lucky to be able to get out. Even with Tims support, who is much taller and a lot stronger, the crossing was a bit scary to me. If you're small people, on your own or just a pair I would definitely recommend going in a bigger group and scouting for a better place, or taking the detour to the next bridge. Do not take unnecessary risks!
From there it was only a matter of an almost vertical climb back up the valley walls. Have we mentioned before that New Zealanders seem to not like switchbacks in trails? There was a way less steep section of valley wall just a few hundred meters from where we stood, but the path went straight up. So we climbed up there and then looked down at the river again. From up here it once again looked pretty harmless. And we could see, that just a bit further downstream from where we had crossed the second arm the river split again - that point probably made for am easier crossing. Next time we came upon a river like that where we stood far above before we had to cross, we would definitely look closer before climbing down.