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November 29th
Mercer(446.7)-Huntly Golf Course(464.7)
Mileage: 18mi/28.9km
Campsite Elevation: 14ft/4m

Elevation chart courtesy of Guthook Hikes Te Araroa App.

Out of nowhere at 2am last night, the town’s air horn alarm went off for a full minute. The fire department was right next door and the air horn blared so loudly for the whole town to hear, and it was quite alarming. We’ve heard these small towns set off an alarm for various emergencies regardless of if it’s a local small fire call or a major natural disaster. The last time the alarms went off, it was the night of the earthquake and the tsunami warning. Not knowing what it was, I attempted to look it up online, but there was no emergency. We all discussed it briefly, yelling out to one another from our tents and went back to bed. 

Well, I still had the blog to write, so I stayed up an hour and a half and then got back to sleep around 4am. By the time the birds came out around 5:15am, I was so tired I slept through it mostly. I woke pretty groggy at 6am and we hiked out just after 7am with Angelynn and Heartbreaker maybe 30mins behind us. 

As we hiked out, we saw that the trail took a circuitous route to avoid the highway. That is appreciated, but in this case, it was quite an arduous route that really wasn’t worth the effort. Our first hour of the day wove us through hillsides of tall wet grass and uneven ground. It was taxing and frustrating with the highway not far from us. We emerged feeling like we had paid our dues for the day. Photos never do it justice. Beautiful, but very taxing hiking. 

While we were in the tall grass, there was apparently a lot of gorse (pokey dry bushes). We found out on Day 17 that Becky has an allergic reaction to gorse. Well, today Becky had her shorts on, and it didn’t take long for the hives to break out again. I felt so bad for her!

Becky’s hives from gorse.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones that had a tough time through that part.

Right after that experience, there was a ton more of the high grass bush walking literally right next to the highway. There was a confusing junction and we thankfully didn’t take the most obviously marked route that actually would have just taken us in a circle back where we came. People tried to note it on the sign, but it was super confusing as we came down one way and then it was apparently another way, so it looked like our sobo route when it was really the nobo route. If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see NORTH etched into the paint of the sign. 

We gave it a chance in the high grass along the highway, and there was no hope of it clearing up, so we gave up and moved over to the highway. We did that instead for an hour or so and wondered if Heartbreaker and Angelynn would do the same. I understand the intention of having a place for walkers to be off the highway, but it was not in condition to be hiked on. There was even a completely marshy area along the river I couldn’t imagine anyone heading into with the road right there. I am curious to know if the bush ever cleared up and if anyone actually follows the markers into the marsh. 

Bushy track right next to the highway.

After that we got on another stop bank that was a bit slow going with uneven ground under tall grass. Here’s Becky in a standoff with a cow. We had to walk around some that were pretty stubborn. We also had to get around all their droppings. The views were nice. 

It did eventually get on a track along the Waikato River and we were on that the whole second half of the morning. It was slow going through more uneven terrain and tall grass. There was even some tight spots that took us between electric fences and large brush. Becky doubted if it was really electric because of how ridiculous it was to put hikers through brush right next to it. She tested it with a blade of grass, and then touched it with her hand. Just as she was saying that it wasn’t electric, she pushed down the wire fence for a full two seconds and got a good shock. Yep, definitely on. Not Becky’s day. 

Thick bush up against the electric fence.

Towards the end of the riverside walk, we came to a field where the owners were making hay from all the grass and it was so amazing to walk through with no resistance! 

We met a young German couple doing the TA as we hit the end of the track. They were having lunch at a tree by the river, but we were stubbornly set on getting out of the grass and to the road before lunch. That unfortunately landed us in an unattractive lunch spot up against a building, but we were just happy to be out of the grass. 

While we ate, the German couple walked by, and then Heartbreaker and Angelynn arrived. They too had done the highway walk this morning instead of the ridiculous grass option. We left lunch just before them, and Becky mentioned that her eyes were swelling shut from the gorse reaction. I’ve had that happen to a friend before and knew it was a reaction some had to it. Becky doesn’t like to take anything usually, but she did accept an antihistamine from Angelynn to help with the reaction. Earlier, a bit before lunch, Becky also took her first paracetamol (like Tylenol) because of her sciatic nerve pain on one leg that had started yesterday. This really isn’t Becky’s lucky day, but she’s such a trooper! We are just a few days from Hamilton where we have an old pack and tent of mine waiting for her that will make a huge difference in the weight she’s carrying. Plus, we will take a zero so her body can rest a bit. My blistered foot just has a small sore still on the bottom (it won’t heal with wet grass and such preventing it from drying out). The two of us were not comfortable on that rutted hard bumpy ground most of the morning.

The rest of today was supposed to be up on the stop bank for hours next to a road. Knowing it would just be tall grass and more uneven terrain, we all chose the road walk right next to it. Like literally right next to it. Who would choose the bushy grassy option with a clear and cruisey road right next to it!? Plus there was a stile to cross every 100yds when the fenceline came and electric wires to step over from time to time. On the road walk, Becky entertained me with the first book/movie of the Lord of the Rings. She told the story in great detail with voices and everything. Becky really is a true fan. She said she started reading the series when she was just 9 or 10 and that she seriously thinks she’s seen each movie a hundred times. I don’t know how that is even possible! Last year, she even went to Hobbit Con when it came to Germany. The LOTR series was a big reason for why Becky is fascinated with NZ and may want to eventually live here. She says it was probably 50% of her motivation to come here. It was super entertaining to hear this reenactment on the road walk after lunch for over an hour. Now I totally understand why she needs to go to Hobbiton on our zero day. 

We don’t know who wouldn’t choose the road!

Partly through the road walk, we all stopped into the tiny town of Rangiriri. It was only 3pm, but the trail notes ask walkers not to camp for the 10mi/16km between Rangiriri and Huntly. A woman hosts people in Rangiriri for free, so our intial plan was to walk till 5ish and then hitch back to her place to then spend the night and hitch back to where we left off in the morning. Well, Becky and I started walking. Becky was understandably moving a bit slower than usual with all she had going on, and it being the end of the day. I met a local out on a walk along the highway and chatted with him as we walked. He offered to let us camp at his place, which was very kind. It was then that I glanced back to see Becky walking very oddly. I first thought it was her hip, but as she got closer, she seemed more like she was drunk. Apparently, she was having a delayed reaction to the antihistamine she took at lunch. She was totally high and hardly able to walk straight or communicate clearly other than smiling sweetly. It was like she’d just gotten out of the dentist after being put under. Oh no!

We were right next to the local man’s farm/home and he let us in to let Becky sit down. I took a minute to look up some antihistamine reactions and to text Angelynn to ask what exactly she had given Becky as an antihistamine. Long story short, I didn’t feel comfortable with the guy we were with, and I got us out of there and back to the road quickly. Right when we got out there, Angelynn and Heartbreaker were walking by. I was so glad to see them! We all agreed that Becky shouldn’t walk any further and had her sit down. I immediately waived down the first car and we headed 5km down the road to camp at the golf course after hearing there was a groundskeeper that wouldn’t mind. We couldn’t find him, but set up anyway off the course. The facilities were open and we were able to get Becky fed and her tent set up. After eating and a couple hours passing, Becky started to return from her high and was more herself. We all just wanted to take care of her and it was good to see her returning. 

After the last couple nights of terrible sleeping, we are all quite excited about this spot that seems like the best wilderness camp spot we’ve had since we can remember! Plus, it’s quiet! Well, I managed to pitch under a tree of birds that will be up bright and early in the morning, and also next to a loud boiler that seems to kick in every hour or two for a minute or less. We are laughing at the comedy of errors there’s been with finding a quiet place to pitch a tent. Funniest of all is that we are in such a quiet place, and Becky doesn’t snore, but is tonight from that dang pill, , haha!

The groundskeeper arrived and was totally welcoming. Amazing! He even said we could use the showers. Becky went to bed early and will hopefully sleep off the rest of the pill. Angelynn wasn’t sure what it was, but it was a prescribed pill she had from an older allergic reaction that she hadn’t taken, and she didn’t expect it to be so strong.  (Update: we found out a couple days later Angelynn unknowingly gave Becky a prescribed sleeping pill!) Becky was alert enough to joke about it a bit before bed, but still very out of it and drowsy. It will be interesting to see how much of this evening she even remembers. She should be fine in the morning, and we only have two days of mainly road walking to Hamilton passing two towns along the way. Oh man, what a day! 

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