We stayed in Hamilton for a bit longer mainly for organizational reasons. We did not need any rest, we still had some energy since we zeroed in Auckland. We were waiting for a parcel with a few things that we had ordered in advance to poste restante, and we also wanted to go to Hobbiton.
We booked the accommodation online by a well-known website, we got a fairly large room, the landlord seemed not to follow everything that was happening in her house. In the morning we went to the center to check package, because the NZ Post application kept showing me for several days that it is still waiting at the Auckland airport. I can understand the Christmas caused delays, but on the other hand we managed to get from Auckland literally on foot, while the couriers were not able to deliver the package by car… At the post office we were informed that it should be here within two days, and if not, then next week. Well, that’s a pity.
Due to the fact that anyway we had to wait for the parcel, we decided to go to Hobbiton. We tried to book the tickets in advance, but unfortunately nothing was available. Luckily, there were places for the next day, so we booked them immediately. The film set was a few dozen kilometers away from Hamilton. It was in the middle of nowhere, and we were aiming to hitch there. This time we got ourselves prepared and took a cardboard saying where we want to get. It took us a few rides (and a taxi on the last bit) and we arrived just on time. We collected our tickets and lined up for the bus. Most of the people queuing were Chinese, Hindus, Chinese and Chinese. There were also some Chinese in the front, but the rest of them were Chinese. We got in and hit the road. A young guide welcomed us, every now and then throw she was telling some jokes for tourists (probably a hundredth time this week). We watched a video introducing us to the subject: interviews with Peter Jackson, set designers, owners of the farm where Hobbiton is placed, etc.
After a short ride, we got off onto the set. Immediately a forest of selfie-sticks rose up and a queue of people trying to take a picture with literally anything formed quickly. I forgot why I hate tourist attractions… We were moving slowly around the film set listening to the guide telling all the interesting facts about the film and how some of the shots were taken. On one hand I enjoyed where I am, on the other I regretted it – urgh, this whole “tourism industry”… I liked it in general, but I think that the whole thing is definitely overrated and costs too much. The cheapest ticket costed $84 and included a 2-hour walk and one beer in a hobbit tavern. However, there is no shortage of people willing to pay for it and the money is already gone, so all I can do is just be happy that I checked it out. In my opinion, it was rather not worth it.
It didn’t take us long to come back home, only two rides. We were lucky. As soon as the Canadian couple gave us a lift to the highway, an elderly lady stopped. She was going straight to Hamilton and dropped us almost at the gate to our place.
We set off early next morning. We walked to the center, we turned up at the post office and luckily the package with our Christmas presents arrived as well. I got a new raincoat (the old one was terribly leaking), and Michał got a rain cover for his backpack and a spork. We didn’t have much to hike that day, just 28km to Karamu Valley Lodge. A pair of older Brits bought a piece of land there and settled for retirement. We were welcomed with tea, we sat in the gazebo and talked a bit. We also met two other hikers: Emmet from Ireland and Michael from England. When the islanders found out that we are Polish, they began to praise the quality of work of our compatriots abroad.
We often discussed with Michał whether New Zealand is a good place to retire. I asked Paul, the host, how is it to live here. He replied that he could not afford a better place. His British pension and some additional income from renting a lodge or a piece of land for tourists or people on the trail allows them to live at a reasonable level.
In the morning we headed towards Pirongia Mountain. Well, it’s called “a mountain”, but the lady who gave us a lift from Hobbiton called it “a bump” – the real mountains are on the South Island, that’s what she said. Well, 959m might not be enough to call something a mountain, but when you put it in the context of almost nothing around, it looked quite high. Nevertheless, you had to climb it, and you do not need a high mountain to make the climb difficult. Right after the summit there was a hut, where we planned to stay – it was the first one on the trail.
We arrived at the campsite just before the climb, where we took a break to fuel up with some calories. Then some local chap came out of the woods and approached us. He kept talking and talking. Michał fell asleep with his head on the table while the guy said something about a difficult climb, mud up to your knees, that descent is even worse than the climb, etc. Whatever.
The climb initially looked quite good, the amount of mud did not exceed the acceptable standard. It was pleasant, not too steep, not too wet, I even thought that at such pace, we might even be able to easily jump over the top and camp somewhere down on the other side. As soon as I became more self-confident and and was almost running up, this “bump” decided to boost the atmosphere. It got more steep, and to make it even worse the slippery mud lying on the rocks was covered with grass and every step required more and more attention and effort. From time to time, a million flies were suddenly rushing out of the mud.
My easy-peasy climb started to turn into energy-sucking exercise. It did not go very well. I had to stop and add some fuel to the oven – chocolate. This is my only chance. I sat down, calmed down my breath, drank some water, and ate some choc. Now I calmed down and approached the summit with a calmer pace. There was a small watchtower at the top and the visibility was perfect.
We still had to get to the hut. It turned out to be very neat and with a lot of bunks. There were several toilets outside, a washbasin and a place to wash out the mud. Everything was nicely organized. There were quite a few people inside the hut, including a group of elderly. Some people even brought a bottle of wine to the top, which was for us was unacceptable (of course, we always fought for a light backpack).
They clearly were weekend hikers, their cars were probably waiting for them at the bottom of the mountain. I must admit, however, that I was impressed by the fitness of the older part of the group who got up the next morning and with smiles on their faces just carried on. Congratulations, I’m happy that they spend their time this way!
We still had to get to the Hihikiwi Summit from the hut. The path was laid with wooden decks, so the walk was good in general. Then the difficult part started! The guy who scared us with his muddy stories was not joking at all. The mud standard has been exceeded at least ten times! The spaces between the roots that you could jump on were far from any minimum requirements!
The descent was difficult and tiring. Fortunately, there was a stream at the bottom where you could clean up a bit. We reached the road, got rid of the mud from the limbs and we rested on the grass. In the meantime, we were caught up by three people with light packs, a boy and two girls. He did not have any mud on his shoes… They jumped in the car, turned on the music, we talked a bit, and then we carried on.
The forecast for the evening was not really promising, overcast and storm. We had to freedom-camp this night, because there was no organized campsite until Waitomo. We were looking for a place that would be relatively sheltered from the wind and the rain. We managed to pitch the tents and eat before it got wet. The night was windy and rainy, but the storm did not come.
The next day we woke up above the cloud level, the view from the hill was wonderful. We met three Brits on the way, who were sleeping on a small hill, they probably did not take into account the possible storm. We were walking in the forest, it was wet and it was raining from time to time. The Magic of Christmas. In such weather we arrived at the Hamilton Tomo Group Hut, a club of local speleologists exploring the famous glow worm caves in Waitomo. A quick shower and catching a ride to Otorohanga, where we had to resupply for quite a long time. The nearest market on the trail was in Te Kuiti, and it was not easy to hitch there. The next day was Christmas and the shop was supposed to be closed. We needed food for eight days. This was so far the longest period without the possibility of resupply, and this was only due to the fact that it was Christmas. We did the shopping quite quickly and we returned to Waitomo, where we ate the meal of the day at the local bar and then returned to the club. We spent Christmas Eve there, or at least a day that is special in “normal life”. We were accompanied by the English group and a Fin, whose paths will cross with ours more than once on this trail.