Thursday, September 18, 2014

Running Waikaremoana

I was meaning on getting over to Te Urewera to run around the famed Lake Waikaremoana last winter but with the logistical hassle of the car shuttle my focus always shifted to other trails closer by which were simpler to access. With Thor visiting and stormy weather forecast for the central plateau, I figured it was high time to finally check it out.

A 6:30am departure from Natty P saw us get to Murupara before 9am where our hopes of buying some electrolyte mix from the supermarket (quite ridiculous in hindsight) morphed into settling for a few packets of tropicana RARO. We hit the road again and with only 100km left to drive figured that we would be running by around 11am, however the winding, gravel road soon slowed us down and we kept recalculating our start time. By the time we stashed a few bags with clothes and some food at a lodge at the end and drove back to the northern start, it was past 1pm and it was obvious that we'd be finishing in the dark.

Lake Waikaremoana track, stolen from here
Undeterred we set out from the Hopuruahine end hoping to make up some time on the early section of the track which sounded relatively flat and simple. The trails was indeed pretty flat but this was balanced out by how muddy it was from some heavy rainfall a few days earlier. Before long our shoes and legs were caked in a thick layer of mud.

It started out muddy...

But got drier as we got deeper into the forest.

After the initial flat kms trail was gently undulating and for the most part gentle enough to run.

All the streams and rivers have cool suspension bridges, which are much harder to run on than they look.
The miles rolled by with sweet singletrack, constantly undulating through dense podocarp forest. Every so often the track would be near enough to the lake edge to offer up some terrific views over the lake, but for the most part it felt like we were running in the middle of some ancient forest in the middle of nowhere.

Did I mention it was muddy?
After 5 hours on the move we reached the Panekire hut at dusk, and with only 8.5 km of downhill left were pretty much on pace to be finished in a little over 6 hours. However with the darkness came the rain and mist, and our descent down the technical and rooty trail slowed to walking pace. Even with decent headlamps we struggled to see more than a few metres through the dense fog and sideways rain, we forgot all about our hopes of coming in under a certain time and focussed instead on not falling and twisting an ankle on the rugged trail.

We got a few glimpses of the lake from the Panekire bluff just before the sun set and the rain settled in.

Wet and cold, but stoked after 50km of stellar trails
In the end we ended up reaching the end of the trail exactly 7:00 after setting out. Soaked to the bone and a little cold we were then rewarded with a bonus 4 km to get back to the self contained unit we'd rented for the night, at 8:50pm we finally got our shoes off and warmed up with some hot soup and cold beer.

The Panekire bluff seen from the road, on the drive home the next day.
It is an amazing trail and one which ought to get run a lot more often. For next time there are a few things I'd change:
  1. By travelling in the opposite direction you'd get the major climb done on fresh legs, and would have a much more runnable descent.
  2. Start earlier in the day.
  3. Do it at least a few days since the most recent rain, to ensure a little less mud.

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