Hiking,  Te Araroa

The Hardest Day of my Life – The Raetea Forest

The Raetea forest… I’m sorry but this post isn’t about the wonderfulness of hiking. If you want to just think tramping is always wonderful and happy and skipping through grassy meadows you should not read this post. Just warning you.

We knew that we had a big day ahead of us. The trail notes said the 18.5 km stretch through the Raetea Forest should take about nine and a half hours. We packed up and left early.

Raetea Forest

The steep dirt 4WD track that we’d started up yesterday slowly got rougher and steeper. Soon it wasn’t for cars anymore. Soon after that, the track didn’t seem to be for people anymore. And a little further on it didn’t seem to be fit for animals anymore.

Raetea Forest

It was soooooo muddy I could barely believe it. The path was just thick, squelchy, slippery, ankle-deep mud. And not just a few puddles. I’m talking almost ALL OF THE TRACK, ALL DAY! So much mud.

At first I tried to keep my shoes clean and dry, using half-submerged, rotting branches as stepping stones. Or trying to swing around the mud off trees. Not very easy with a fully loaded backpack.

In the end, I just ploughed right through. I worked out if you go fast enough you don’t have time to sink, or for your shoes to get stuck.

Raetea Forest

The occasional patches that weren’t mud were tangles of moss-covered tree roots, just waiting to trip you up.

We were making ridiculously slow progress and I hoped it would get easier soon.

It didn’t.

The path got steeper and steeper and steeper and steeper. I had to do a lot of it on my hands and knees, using my arms to help haul myself up.

It got a little less steep further on. But, it was so hard to make any progress through the mud we weren’t making any better time.

Then it got really steep again.

I stood at the bottom of one stretch and really didn’t believe that I would be able to climb up it. I was so tired and it was so ridiculously steep and muddy. But I had to. So I did, very, very slowly. It was more like rock climbing than walking and my thigh muscles hurt so badly. I had to keep stopping to rest my legs and to gather up more of my dwindling willpower.

Finally, I made it to the top. But, before I could breathe a sigh of relief, I saw that just around the corner was another climb just like it. And so it went. I discovered that my legs could handle a lot more than I’d previously thought. I truly appreciate my legs now.

After hours of this we reached a fallen down signpost at a junction. We couldn’t work out which way to go but tried going right. It was the wrong way and we soon came out onto a grassy, sunny spot at the base of a tower. It was the first time we’d seen grass, or the sun for that matter, all day. We all flopped down in various moaning heaps.

After a short break we went back into the dim, foggy, drizzly forest.

We were going so slowly we didn’t know if we would make it out before night fell. At one stage Forrest calculated due to our pace that we’d arrive at the camp sometime around 1 am tomorrow.

Four hours later I didn’t believe we’d ever be out of the Raetea Forest. We’d been going for so long that the situation seemed permanent. I would be spending the rest of my life walking endlessly through this hateful forest in so much pain and so tired.

As we did the steep decent we fell into that hysterically funny stage you get to when you’re almost at the end of your tether. Asha and I had been following a set of boot prints all day. The owner of the boots had quite large feet and a very long stride. When we tried to step where he’d stepped we almost did the splits. We ended up calling him Hans. Whenever we spotted his prints in the mud we’d be like “Look, it’s Hans again. Hello Hans!”

We got more delirious and started a mud classifying system. Soon we were like, “Oh yes, that would be a class 4 sloppiness and a class 2 deepness (falls over) Uhg! And that makes it a class 1 slipperiness.”

Our delirious humour soon ran out and we returned to stumbling along in silence.

A few hours later we came out in a farmer’s paddock. We walked through it a while before coming to a gravel road. This, according to the trail notes, should be the end of the day. But there was nowhere to camp.

I was in heaps of pain and so tired as we limped slowly down the road, looking desperately for somewhere to stay.

After what felt like a millennium but in reality was probably only fifteen minutes I saw a sign that said ‘Camping, 500 m’. I was so happy I could have cried. Actually, I could have cried basically all day, but you can’t do that when the rest of your family’s there. If I had started sobbing everyone else would have joined in and that wouldn’t have helped things.

We managed to get the tents up just before it got dark. It took ages to get the mud off my legs.

Campsite after the Raetea Forest.

I ate a bowl of muesli and a huge chunk of cheese sitting on my bed in my tent. Then, ignoring the dirty dishes, I collapsed and fell asleep.

It had taken us thirteen and a half hours to get through Raetea Forest. One kilometre had taken us an hour and fifteen minutes to walk.

I am currently convinced that the Te Araroa was started by people that hated hikers. A way to make hikers come out and then torture them with the terrain. 

How to sew hiking gaiters
Hiking Gaiters are a must-have for so much mud.

All that said I still haven’t once considered quitting. I have too much pride and could never, ever let myself quit. Imagine just going back home and having to tell all your friends and family that you quit because ‘It got too hard’. Not happening.


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