Somehow I got it into my head that climbing to the top of the mountain and watching the sunrise would be a good way to spend New Years welcoming in 2018 and a new year of adventures. What the hell was I thinking?!? But more about that later.....first, lets enjoy the part where I was under the illusion this would be a fun thing to do.
Months ago trawling on AirBNB for new adventure locations I stumbled across one that caught my eye from the stunning view it delivered so I thought this was one I should add to my list to do one day. Thinking about where we could holiday over the break, this one sprung to mind. Putting up with a barrage of fireworks on NYE with a dog who hates them is one of the reasons I thought it would be the perfect holiday spot. Plus it was up a mountain and offered views of Mt Taranaki and Ruapehu. Seemed like the perfect place to contemplate what I should be doing with my life and planning those NY's resolutions you know you'll break in week one. I set about booking our stay for a couple of nights and then planning began on where we could stop on the way.
Finding stops in South Taranaki can prove a bit challenging. I've since had a conversation with the council who have given me a bit more clarification on dog walking areas in the region so we have a few more options that are on-lead. At the time of planning this trip though we relied on the off-lead options on the council website which included Normanby Domain. Being a large grass area, I thought it would be the perfect first stop for a run around and ball toss. We hit the Domain at almost midday which meant I didn't want George out in the heat for too long. We walked the perimeter of the park which has some good shade with the trees that border it and then headed back to the car to carry on our journey. It wasn't until I got back to the car that I saw a Dogs on Lead sign. So although the council site says this is off-lead, the off-lead area is actually just a very small space the size of a postage stamp in the corner of the park according to the bylaw. The entire area we walked was actually on-lead as its classed as sports fields. This is one I wouldn't bother with again, unless you're choosing to do a quick stop for a pee break.
Waitahinga Trails, Wanganui
403 Junction Rd
Spotting the sign for Waitahinga Trails on our trip to Foxton, I bookmarked it on the To Do list and thought this trip was the perfect time to do it. It does involve about a 25min detour from the main road to get to the Trails but its well worth it, and worth a visit just on its own as there are lots of walk options here.
I kinda expected to turn up and find nobody else here, but the small carpark was full but there is a small area on the main road that can fit a few cars without blocking the road. Parking at the entrance then involves a short walk up the gravel road to reach the first walks. If you don't already have a map of the trails its best to stop at the large sign thats just off to the right at the start of one of the trails at the top of the hill to determine which walk you want to do. I'd already determined we would do the Chicken Run as it was the shortest and offered the views id come to see but if you've come purely to do some walks here there are other longer options. Dogs are welcome, as long as they are kept on-lead.
Carrying on down the wide gravel track, down a short hill brings you to the sign for the Chicken Run off to the left. You then head along a shaded bush pathway until you reach the Picnic Dell which is good stopping point for a lunch break. George and I continued on to carry on the walk where signage points you towards the loop track. The track is marked by arrows on the trees that guide you in the right direction, although some can be hard to spot. We headed for the spot that gave us the view of Mt Taranaki as thats what id come to see and that took us about 20mins or so to reach with a few stops for photos etc along the way. At the lookout point, directly in front of you is Mt Taranaki in the distance, a little hard to see on the day we visited as it had cloud covering most of it. To your right you can also see Mt Ruapehu, a little easier to see as its closer to you than Mt Taranaki.
After getting sufficient photos, we could have continued the loop track for a better view of Ruapehu, but as this was just a stopover and I knew we still had to climb to get to our accommodation for the night, I called it quits and we walked back to the car the same way we came. The tracks are well shaded for hot weather, so a good option at any time of the day. The only area you're not shaded is the main gravel track that leads to the carpark. Take note that you also get a good view of Ruapehu as you leave, so there is a small layby just after the walks that gives you a good vantage point on a clear day.
You can find details on the trails here: http://www.visitwhanganui.nz/waitahinga-trails-whanganui/
We were running a bit later than I had planned, so although id marked a couple of extra stopover options, including heading back to our favourite Foxton Beach spot, we carried on to our final destination in the Tararua Ranges. So although the AirBNB had reviews from others saying be prepared for an epic uphill to get to the accommodation, its not until you're driving along the road with the ranges in view that you start to wonder what you've got yourself in for! It was too late to turn back, and id said to myself that all I had to do was get to the top and then I could stop and rest so it had to be done.
Getting to the accommodation first involves getting to the owners house which is up a very dodgy gravel drive, recommended you have a 4 wheel drive to reach. I managed it in the CX-5 but only with gritted teeth so I suggest you get the owner to collect you at the main gate which she is happy to do. Once you've been handed the key, you're instructed to head back down the driveway slightly and set off to the cabin on a separate track. I parked up, prepped myself for what was about to come and threw my heavy pack on my back and off we went.
Oh dear lord, what have I got myself into. A short walk along a grassy path soon gives you a view to what you're actually going to be walking up for the next 3kms. You don't see photos of me on the blog for a reason, im a round blob with arms and legs so trust me when I say I am not a seasoned tramper and this was going to be a challenge. People reviewing the accommodation had said it took them about 45mins to get to the top, well bugger me I just managed it in a hour and a half. I stopped multiple times to catch my breath, guzzle back water and pull some very annoying seed pods out of George's velcro coat. But ya know what, we still made it in the end and there was no reason to rush so just take it at your own pace. You're not racing anyone so even if you are unfit, you can do it, just know your limits and take breaks.
As you reach the accommodation you're greeted with a stunning view right out to the ocean and across the neighbouring towns and countryside. It truly is the best reward for the hard work. Unfortunately the accomodation is no longer bookable.
After a quick rest and a few swear words in celebration of finally reaching our destination, George and I set about preparing for our evening. He was loving the freedom of this place, hooning around in the bush and exploring all the smells while I unpacked the essentials and got his dinner ready. Resting up in the lazyboy just before it started to get dark I saw something out of the corner of my eye running up the flue of the fire.......geezus thats a rat and a big one. He shot along the rafters and then out a hole in the wall of the cabin. I sat stunned for a bit trying to work out what I should do. I am not a fan of rats! After plugging up the hole with the only thing I could find that might deter it - a teatowel - I set about trying to forget the rat, lighting the candles and preparing for bed.
Turns out, I really don't like rats. Throughout the night I could hear the little buggers chewing away at the walls, I would get up and bang on the walls with the broomstick, only for them to come back a short time later and repeat it all over again. George was none the wiser, blissfully snoring his head off after a busy day. I on the other hand was wide awake, bloodshot eyes without a chance in hell of being able to get to sleep and watching for any movement with that tea towel. At about 4am I decided enough was enough, sleep deprived I sent George outside on a mission to disturb the rats. Armed with his Lighthound harness (see here for more details), I set his harness flashing and off he went into the bush and under the cabin to try and flush them out. Sadly all we achieved was George having a play in the dark outside, but he enjoyed himself even if he didn't manage to find any rats.
A few hours later as daylight had finally broken, and we sat amongst the cloud in the bush, just me, George and those bloody rats. I took a moment to check the weather report for the next day (New Years Day) and contemplated my next move. It would involve another 30-40min walk uphill (or more if it was at my speed) to get to the top of Mt Thompson tomorrow morning to see the sunrise. Chances are, the weather wasn't going to be great based on reports, or we'd be sitting in cloud if it was and I had another sleepness night ahead of me with those darn rats. So not being a seasoned tramper and used to the rodent life encroaching on my holidays, I decided to call it quits and head home to our comfy bed and enjoy a night of rat free sleep. It took about 45mins to get back down the hill, as its quite steep its requires some careful stepping. Seasoned trampers im sure could manage it quicker. So while our adventure ended a bit early and we didn't get to see the sunrise for New Years, I did manage to conquer a personal mountain. One ill probably never do again, but at least ive done it! If you have an adventurous spirit, like a challenge and can cope with a bit of wildlife then this is definitely one I would recommend.
Arriving back at the car, it was still early and coffee was much needed. I stopped at a nearby town and grabbed coffee and breakfast and we set off home. I had bookmarked a few other places to stop at on the way home, but for once George didn't stir once. He slept the entire way home (lucky for him!), so instead of stopping I did the full journey back home leaving those locations for another day and another adventure.
Normanby Domain - Normanby
Waitahinga Trails - Wanganui
Tararua Ranges - Otaki