The Longest Day
Lake Waikeremoana Hike – Day 3 of 4
Yes, this is the third day, I pretty much wrote this on the evening of the third day in one go, so I thought it would be a good place to start as I don’t have many photos from the walk until Jens gives me a CD with them on.
‘How did it get so cold?’ I thought to myself that morning as blue sky pierced through the room’s uncovered panes of plastic glass. During the night I had almost boiled myself in my own artificial skin of a sleeping bag yet found myself reaching for a shirt as soon as the dawn came.
The door to the other bunk room repeatedly slammed as the kids woke up and did their daily rituals, which seemingly consisted of flitting endlessly between one room and the next.
I kept my head down, ignoring that half awake state you reach after the first disruption of the morning, unable to sleep anyway due to the movements of the other inhabitants.
Suddenly, it was over, the parents/guardians had ushered them out of the hut to the sunshine, an early start on a journey reportedly requiring five hours. We were making good time on our treks, shaving the previous days’ times from six down to four, allowing this extra hour or two of bed-in.
The tenth hour came and with it a stretch and a shiver. Jonas had already nipped out to the lake for a wake-up bath and I endeavoured to follow suit. To say it was cold would be a very accurate statement, but that would go without mentioning the fact that, hell yeah, it did wake you up. Walking out a fresh water lake is a pretty good feeling to wake up to, especially with a long hike ahead.
Breakfast came eventually, a platter of fruit slices and welcome cups of coffee (you have to wake your brain up as well as your body) followed by that most ugly of morning dishes, oatmeal. It’s only saving grace today (and yesterday… and the day before) was the garnishing of raisins to save it from it’s obvious cardboard origins.
The only remaining occupants were the two German girls who had tracked us from day zero. They were drying out socks and preparing for the rainclouds that had suddenly turned the sky grey minutes before out of nowhere. We finished our meal alone, our boots warming by the wood fire and towels from our swim hanging by, contemplating the best moments between the showers in which to start our walk. It didn’t take long to pack our bags, it never really did, especially now that two of our four day supplies had been taken up. And even more so due to the fact our first meal was steak and potatoes (you could have smelt the envy in the hut on the first night, or maybe it was the socks…). I tossed a die that was homemade the afternoon before, from duct tape and journal paper, to decide whether or not to wear the overpants to fight the weather. It was a four, which meant ‘No’, and was half relieved after spending the previous day’s hike with sweat running down my shins.
At last we left, a spittle of rain trying its luck as we greeted some trampers at the camping facilities whilst settling down for lunch. They had arrived from the Panekiri hut still in good spirits, but their laughter seemed a bit too much for Jens’ liking.
‘They’re laughing about us. Well, I can say that we don’t have to wear stupid looking tights to cope with this weather.’ he muttered.
‘Stop being so paranoid, maybe they were actually just being friendly for a change.’ I replied, knowing that Jens’ mood tends to align with the weather.
‘You’re probably right.’
We crossed a field, wet reeds slapping my lower legs making me wonder whether putting my fate in the hands of a homemade die was a wise choice. It seemed to be the night before when betting against Jens’ in the previous night for the last biscuit, but the jury was still out today.
Sure enough, the clouds made their decision and the dribble turning into a more serious mist (the kind of rain Peter Kay would say ‘soaks you through’). The path followed the lakeside quite loyally but the insistent downpour marred any views that could’ve been there. Despite the weather though, we decided to take a detour towards the impressive Korokoro Falls, worth the 45 extra minutes of river crossing and tree clambering. Even the rain let up for a minute allowing some rare photos to be taken of the walk, and allowing me to show off my Burnley shirt for a change at an attempt to maybe get my picture in the fanzine, and laugh at the attempt to spell ‘Waikeremoana’ for the caption. Afterwards though, we still at least two and a half hours of walking remaining, we were barely halfway.
A swingbridge lightened the thoughts a little as we swayed above an inlet to the lake but soon the hypnotic task of putting one foot after the other buried its way into the mind. Under the conditions it can never be considered an easy task either, with greasy roots and hanging branches trying your concentration whenever it was likely to slip. Fair to say my attention was diverted, having no real occupation for my thoughts other than to organise my holiday, a practical impossibility from the middle of nowhere whilst on the move. So I composed epic songs in my head, sounds building up in waves, another pointless endeavour other than to amuse myself with dreams of their grand reproduction on stage. It got to the stage where I was walking in a daze, oblivious to changing terrain, slopes and rivers, stones and shores, reeds and trees all passing by and blending in with no more than a moments notice. We barely met a soul on the track (adding to the trance) until we came across the German girls again, who stood aside morose as our troop marched on towards a distant, invisible goal.
It was possible to tell the point where things started to get heavy; hands retreated into sleeves, heads drooped a little. My hat and proven very effective at keeping the rain out so far, but now the occasional tear rushed down my forehead. It wasn’t cold however, my bare legs would’ve given up the ghost long ago if that had been the case, and the sheer volume of exercise kept us warm anyhow. The clouds had even broken the usual jovial intermittent conversation. No jokes at the expense of out fellow travellers, no ponderings about the possible appearance and presence of dinosaurs, and no absurd marching songs (English AND German), that had long been the staple of our hiking diet. It was dire, that was easy to say, my musical thoughts and moved on to forgoing all my past sins and to start working more for what I loved, including my degree and it would all begin as soon as I got back. A noble thought perhaps, but as I was planning my rehabilitation to a better life we came across a sign ‘Marauiti Hut: 1hr’. It broke me out of the foolish illusion and gave us at least some bearing on our progress so far. It also brought us by the original group we greeted at the start of our journey, it didn’t click until later that they must’ve skipped our detour altogether to rush past us.
We were in no mood to stop any more though. It was no longer a case of how wet we were, that milestone had long been passed. It just became a furious intent to reach the next hut. The gear stepped up and our gait raised from a trot to almost a gallop. Even when the track got muddier, we carried on and 20 minutes short of our target time, we were within sight of the hut.
After the relative luxury of the last bush accommodation, this was a surprise, but there was no disappointment, because it didn’t draw away from the fact that this place would actually keep us warm and dry for the coming night…