No Mercy getting to Mercer

Day 30

Today was brutal. I have declared this the hardest day on trail so far. I was warned it would be a hard day, so I was a little prepared. Unfortunately the hardest bits were at the end and snuck up on me. Since I knew it was going to be challenging, I got up super early, waking up and packing up camp before sunrise and setting off at first light.

My watch told me it would be a 32 kms day and mostly flat. It ended up being closer to 39 kms. The difference was due to an error on my part on exactly where the planned end point was. The trail app I use had some very misleading directions (this is the excuse I am sticking to). I had placed my waypoint for the hotel in the wrong place, something I only noticed after 8 hours on the trail. But more on that later.

I really thought the first 9 kms to Rangiriri would be easy and take me less than 2 hours. I was walking along a stop bank, which of course is flat. But the walking was a little slower due to the uneven surface and the occasional cattle to be avoided. Still, on a pretty good pace at this point. The next 8 kms were along a quiet gravel road and I made very good time. I was feeling pretty good at this point, and found a nice place to stop for lunch on the bank of the Waikato river. Maybe this day would not be so bad after all! I had only 15 kms to go, or so I thought.

After lunch I thought my next push should be 5 kms or 2 hours, whichever comes first. The morning was easy walking and the afternoon was the complete opposite. The trail along the Waikato basically did not exist. I was making my own way through overgrown scrub, grasses and reeds. When it got too bad, I would hop a fence and walk along farmland, but even this had a challenges with fences to cross and cows to avoid. After 6 kms of this brutal going, I stopped and relaxed for a bit and took a much needed swim in the mighty Waikato river. According to my navigation watch, I had only 9 kms to go. It would however be another 5.5 hours before I was finally at my destination.

Since I had 9 kms to go, I planned to walk until I got to the “4 kms to go” point. This took another 2 hours and the trail continued to be difficult and overgrown. I was in good spirits, the scenery was beautiful and I made slow yet steady progress, so all was good. I was close to a shop at Meremere and close to the end, and thought I would be able to make it in a final push and bypass the shop. I rang Caroline for a quick chat. It was at this point I realized my mistake with where the actual end-point was. I had miscalculated by 6 kms, so instead of 4 kms to go, I had another 10 kms to go. Armed with this news, I made the decision to head into Meremere and find the shop for some drinks and food. It would mean leaving the trail and making a 1 km detour, but it was still a good idea. So, I cut across country to the road and then back-tracked to Meremere. This turned out to be a very wise decision. I got an ice-cream, a can of L&P and a chocolate milkshake. Just what I needed to finish the last 10 kms. Meremere is a bit of a rough town, so I was happy to be walking on.

I continued along a moderately difficult trail to make it to Whangamarino Historic walkway. And now I had only 3 kms to go and typically the walkways are well maintained. These last 3 kms were very tough indeed. The trail markers were hard to follow and it was very overgrown in parts. I had trouble staying on trail, even will all of my navigational aids. Fortunately I could see and hear the busy road below, so I knew I could not really get lost. There were moments I had to walk through head high bush and grasses where there was no obvious path. My boots would sink into the marshy lands, getting both wet and muddy. I got cut by razor sharp grasses and even slipped on one steep section. Only my pride was injured. Earlier Caroline and told me that Mercer had a McDonalds, and this thought helped me push on. It was only 3 kms but took me 1.5 hours to complete. I was glad to cross the bridge and walk into Mercer. The local fancy hotel gave me an ice-cold glass of water and bottle to ease my thirst.

Up early. Could be a long day today.
The most impressive Te Araroa Trail sign I have seen so far.
Walked alongside and through lots of farmland. The cows were all very freindly.
The path ahead. Yeah Right. Just one example of where the path was non-existent.
Meremere is a tough neighborhood. The local supermarket has a chain fence around it.
The Mighty Waikato River. I spent the day walking along this impressive river. Here it looks very calm.
My camp for the night, behind the local pub/hotel.