I dragged myself back to the parking lot with shoes caked in mud and two-layer pants smelling not so pleasantly. My then-roomate Katy didn’t look any less pathetic as she carried her wet and stinky shoes throughout the seven-hour trail.
“So….do you girls bring extra clothes and shoes to change before getting in my brand-new car?”, our carpooling driver Jenny asked, emphasizing on the adjective. “Sorry”, I murmured. “We have another pair of shoes but no more pants. But we can wrap ourselves with the ponchos …”.
If only I could dig a hole and crawl into it.
Katy and I signed up for the Twin Peaks track (Waitakere ranges, North Islands) on meetup.com one week earlier. The trip was organized by Auckland Hike and Ski, an established group of some thousand outdoor enthusiasts who had done a variety of hikes from cruising through the bush to multi-day skiing in Tongariro. We were supposed to contact Sue – the group’s leader before RSVPing to make sure the trip would be physically feasible for us. But she never returned my calls and texts so we registered online and, in the meantime, studied the hiking route to know what to expect. Nothing particular stood out other than this:
“Tramping tracks may have structures in permanent wet areas but waterways will not generally be bridged.”
There were two tramping routes but we would take the longer grade, which covers the highest point of Waitakere ranges, Karamatura loop and Tom Thumb apart from the popular Twin peak track and Huia Ridge. The night before departure, each of us put out two pairs of boots next to our packed gear. Having been familiar with NZ’s unpredictable weather by now, we also brought ponchos and rain jackets just in case. But there was one important detail I had overlooked: the muddy terrain. How on earth could I not think of it before? It was the rainforest we were about to venture into.
The one-hour car ride brought us to Huia on a beautiful Sunday morning. Our group had nearly twenty people all together, but we would be divided in two at some point. Sue, our leader, turned out to be an old lady in her late 60s with short grey hair and surprisingly fit body. Other companions, most of whom were kiwis, seemed nice and easy to talk to, though it wasn’t something like the endless hug and cheek kiss session of the Italians.
“Your shoes will turn black by the end of today”, one of them joked when we were getting ready for the track.
The guy was right. My Quechua boots turned black not long after we started. We crossed a small stream and hiked along a narrow and steep dirt road that left deep footprints as we walked. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the soil was firm enough to step onto, especially when we had to catch up with experienced trampers.
This was how the lower half of my body looked when we stopped half way for lunch:
Katy did pretty well although it was her first tramping experience, and most of the time she walked far ahead of me. However, without proper trekking gear, it became a bit troublesome for her as we approached some partially submerged areas. Her shoes weren’t terribly coated in mud like mine, but they soon got wet and stained. There was nothing spectacular to see during the trail which sort of bored her too. But the mud turned out to be the most exciting part of the whole walk. Sticky mud particles built up quickly on the soles of my boots like moist chocolate pies, and after a while they themselves became flat and slippery. We slipped, fell and laughed about it.
Eventually jungle trekking can be a little challenging but as long as you prepare yourself, it would be fun.Just make sure you’ve got water-proof hiking boots, long gaiters and another set of clothes when planning an adventure into kiwi forests, and be mindful that most of the trails would be this muddy in the rainy season. By the way, we weren’t left out in the jungle that day. Sue and another two kind-hearted trekkers weren’t so fussy about the dirt in their old cars, so they offered us a ride. When everyone else had left, they brought us to this nice hill with ocean breeze and panorama views of the city, before sending us home safe and sound. The trip, to me, was worthwhile after all.