Distance today: 22.9km
Distance total: 1795.3km
Time hiked: 14h 16min
Time total: 524h 05min
Since the hut is above the bush line, it gets bright quite early and allows me to leave by 5:15 under a beautiful purple morning sky.
There are actually two reasons for such an early start: I want to enjoy the sunrise from a bit further up and in order to reach Parawai Lodge tonight, I'd have to take advantage of every minute of daylight.
My leg is stiff and I'm hardly able to bend my knee (I actually need the help of my hands to bend it after getting out of the bed - not a good start into the day at all).
As yesterday, climbing up the pleasant track through tussocks to Mt. Crawford, with 1462 meters one of the highest peaks of the Tararua's, is not too painful for my shin.
About half way to the top, I get treated with an absolutely gorgeous sunrise and amazing views: Looking down at a sea of fog with illuminated peaks all around me. Simply stunning! I stop for a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere.
Half an hour later, I reach Mt Crawford. Again awesome views up here of the Tararua Ranges and the South Island. Furthermore, Taranaki, with its very distinctive conical shape to the northwest (actually the first time I can catch a glimpse of the volcano!) and Ruapehu to the north. Both volcanos sticking out of the clouds approximately 200 kilometers away.
With the warning sun and hardly any wind it's very pleasant up here and the perfect spot for my breakfast - as well as getting mentally ready for the following part, I'm not looking forward to: A 1200 meters descent all the way down to Otaki River. According to the signs it should take me 2.5 hours from the top. Noway I can achieve it within this time as I need to take it slow.
It's steep, grippy, painful, slow. The other hikers pass me one by one. They will reach the Parawai Lodge, which is, once at the bottom, another 10 kilometers away, this afternoon. Me, I'm not so sure yet. I have to see how my shin is coping with the descent.
A bit more than 5 hours after starting the descent at Mt. Crawford, I reach the idyllically located Waitewaewae Hut at the bottom - it's close to 1 and at my current pace, it would probably take me another 7 to 8 hours to Parawai Lodge.
Otaki River is running right by the hut. Perfect to cool down my burning shin. During my rest I decide to continue to Parawai Lodge. If I won't make it, I'll simply camp somewhere in the bush.
The Waitewaewae Track is another up and down, muddy, with lots of roots. Especially a 3.5 kilometers detour around a slip is really annoying. Hardly formed, it's following along a steep slope with many downed trees. Descending and ascending - for me without any reason - making me actually quite angry.
Around six, the temporary track rejoins the original track, which luckily is an old logging road. With a healthy leg I'd fly down the last few kilometers to the hut. My aching shin however is preventing me from doing so. So instead of cruising along it's slow limping. At this point I'm actually quite worried about my shin. It's swollen and there's a small bump. I really hope it's just a sore muscle and nothing more serious.
By 8 I reach the hut (but only after getting lost in a confusing maze of trails. I end up following the GPS through high grass and eventually stumble across a disused track leading to the hut) - me totally happy I made it through the most strenuous parts of the Ranges.
Tomorrow will be the last stretch of the Tararua's along Pukeautua Track. It's another 800 meters climb and descent before getting back to civilization, where I will really have to rest my leg.
Luckily I'm not on a tight schedule at all and got the time to let my shin recover completely before continuing southbound.
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