First thing Friday morning we picked up and packed our campervan – home to our team and support crew for the next 4 days. It was a somewhat bumpy and noisy ride down to Taupo, but we got there in good time for registration and the event briefing – where we learned that accidentally ingesting faeces was one of the many hazards with which we might be confronted over the next 48 hours. After a healthy dinner at Pita Pit, we drove out to Kinloch – where we had arranged to stay at the Marina, saving ourselves some time in the morning. We set our alarms for 4:30am and tried our best to sleep – which wasn’t very easy with frazzled nerves and squashed sleeping quarters.
When 4:30am came we weren’t too enthusiastic about leaving our beds, but we soon learned we should have set our alarm at least 30 minutes earlier. Our plan of arriving at the start line at 5 o’clock went out the window. Instead of relaxing for a planned leisurely breakfast, we ate on the run and rushed to the start line where our support crew delivered us some toasted bagels. We couldn’t hear the PA at all, and missed the promised Karakia, but noticed in the nick of time they were starting the countdown. We squeezed into the starting chute amongst the crowds then walked through the streets of Kinloch before reaching the start of the W2K path. Joining the trail of bobbing headlamps we wound our way up the headland, which later descends down into Whakapiro Bay. The sun soon crept up over the horizon, but the promised stunning sunrise never eventuated – although we did get some great views over the lake. The first setback of the day occurred when Karlene was suddenly stung by a mystery bug. Luckily our first aid kit contained antihistamine cream, which we applied at the loo break at the top of the hill. We found out later that several others had also gotten stung. The rest of the leg was uneventful, but we were pretty excited to get a good view of the first checkpoint on our way down the hill. We arrived at Checkpoint 1 in good time, looking forward to our hotcakes and COFFEE!
We left Checkpoint 2 a little later than we anticipated (a sign of things to come) but we were spurred on by the wonderfully colourful Brownie-made “Go Chasing Rainbows” sign we noticed as we exited the checkpoint. By this time the sun was glaring brightly down on us, warming things up quickly – though we were thankful for the lack of humidity that had accompanied us on many of our Auckland training walks. We had a wonderful respite in a shady pine forest before emerging once again into the sun for the biggest climb of the walk. As we made our way up to the trig station we were rewarded with spectacular views of Taupo. It felt wonderful to make it to the highest point! Soon after we passed the 25km mark. A quarter of the way already! The rest of the leg was a gentle downhill through a scoria quarry and a scoria road, into Checkpoint 3 for lunch.
After eating, toileting, soaking feet, changing wool, socks, shoes, etc … we finally made it out of Checkpoint 3 and on our way up the main highway. We saw some teams coming the other way who had already made it past the halfway point. Once again we plunged into the shady forest and past the 33km mark. At about this point Angie had a few issues with her phone, which was plugged into an external battery pack, but had a loose connection – every few seconds it made little “bleep bleep” sounds, making it seem like we had R2D2 along on the walk with us. This sent Karlene on a pleasant Star Wars daydreaming side track, taking her mind off her legs for a kilometre or so. We had now walked further than we had ever walked in one day. Our bodies seemed to be telling us that too and we had the daunting realisation that we had to walk twice as far again and already we had sore knees, hamstrings and blisters. But we had no choice but to keep on walking, and found the thermal area at Craters of the Moon a great diversion. We then followed a big steam pipe into the next checkpoint for afternoon tea. Our support crew entertained us by telling us their big drama of the day. They had thought we were having dinner at this checkpoint, so had gone into Taupo to stock up on supplies before driving out to the checkpoint – then panicked because they thought they were running out of time to make our planned dinner of fish and baked potatoes. They had already started boiling potatoes and crumbing the fish when they re-read their notes and realised that Checkpoint 3 was actually afternoon tea – muffins, cake and coffee. Crisis averted!
As we left this checkpoint we basked in the golden glow of the setting sun. Soon we reached the 42km mark – we’d done a marathon! As the sun got lower we decided a bit of distraction was needed, so got out the iPod and put on our audio book – “Outlander”. This worked wonders for Karlene, who even stayed right behind us on the hills to make sure she could hear. Soon the light went all together and we had to stop to put on high-vis clothes and head torches – the start of a very long night. We passed under the main highway and into the forest trails. We heard the roaring of water and realised we were passing Huka Falls – but by this time it was too dark to see a thing beyond the 25 metre range of our head torches. After winding our way through the hidden “scenic” forest paths for what seemed like a very long time, we finally found the 50km mark – which was greeted with rather mixed feelings. A great milestone, but it was sobering to think we still had just as far to go again! We emerged back on the main highway and had a downhill walk on pavement to get to the next checkpoint – and toilets, at last. It was here it dawned on us that we were among the stragglers, as the first question at the checkpoint check-in was “Are you going to keep going?” … well of course we were, giving up was certainly not an option!
This was our dinner checkpoint, and dinner had never tasted so delicious. Our great support crew had cooked the fish and baked potatoes to perfection. The night was starting to get cold, so we donned our warm clothes and rainbow lights to start the next leg. Brendan joined us on this one too. We headed around the lake then up and alongside the Taupo Bypass – though in the dark we were rather disoriented and didn’t have much concept of where we were going except towards the next piece of white tape. This leg was pretty much a blur for some of us, though we remember a few short steep hills that were tough. Somehow we kept going and made it to the next checkpoint. The warm Christmas themed shed was very inviting and felt like a cosy sanctuary. Keith showed us the way to our camper and we had some warming pumpkin soup for supper.
We left Brendan behind to get some sleep, and onwards we marched in the dark, trying our best not to think of our aching legs and feet. Negotiating some turnip fields was almost a welcome distraction at this point. This was the longest leg (19km with an aid station at the 13km mark) and our darkest hour. Physically and mentally exhausted and unable to see anything except a small round circle of light in front of us making everything seem 2D, we found ourselves going into zombie mode, our brains switching off and our bodies stumbling as we struggled to keep our balance. We put our audio-book on again and this gave us a lifeline in the dark, something to keep our minds focused. Other teams were few and far between at this stage, though as it happened we came up behind another team just as we got to a saucy part in the book! We hurriedly paused it and waited until we were well away from them to start it again. Maybe they would have been happy for the distraction too! As the night went on we started to pass a few other teams that really looked like sleep walking zombies, and made us feel rather energetic in comparison – we were keeping up a pretty good pace despite our tired bodies. As we got nearer and nearer to the aid station, the last few kilometres seemed to go on forever. The thought of hot soup kept us going (thank goodness we were oblivious to other treats that might have awaited us – see What We Learned), and we noticed the sky becoming a little lighter. Finally the aid station emerged in front of us, an oasis in the desert of the dark. We started to feel alive again after filling our tummies with hot soup and getting off our feet for a while. By the time we were ready to leave, the sun had truly risen, and we were buoyed by the daylight, restored vision, and the prospect of a hot breakfast after only 6 more kms of walking. Passing the double marathon sign was another morale boost.
Our breakfast was ready and waiting for us at Checkpoint 6 – omelettes, mushrooms and bacon. Possibly the best breakfast we’ve had in our life, even if some of us didn’t think we’d be up for it an hour earlier! After eating and tending to the multitude of blisters that had revealed themselves in the night, we literally hobbled our way out of the checkpoint – sore, but feeling good that the end was almost in sight. Only 2 legs (15km) left, and both of them short. This leg proved to be a tough one though, as there seemed to be endless ups and downs. Any other day we would have called them “small” or “gentle” uphills, but today we might as well have been climbing Mt Everest. Those with sore knees suffered on the downs, those with a sore hamstring (and only 1 pole) suffered on the way up. Seeing Huka Falls in the daylight was a definite highlight of this leg – not least because of the fantastically clean toilets (for which we happily forked out 50c each to use). The day was getting hot, and the beautiful view of the river caused tempting hallucinations of jumping off the side of the track into the lovely cool water to float the rest of the way to the finish line. Unfortunately the current was flowing the wrong way! We passed some tourists who wished us “Good Morning”, which we couldn’t quite get our heads around until we realised it was morning for them, but not for us on OTW time (we weren’t adjusting to the end of daylight savings until after the event). Coming into the checkpoint we were greeted by some support crews hamming it up on the Karaoke machine and making up details about who we were, giving us a much needed laugh.
Our last checkpoint! We were planning to make this one a quick one, but the ice creams were too tempting. We also had to change into our costumes – colourful petticoat skirts, feather boas and feathery fascinators. We headed out of the checkpoint feeling rather odd in our fancy costumes, hiking shoes, caps, poles and backpacks. However this was surely the shortest 5km of the whole walk – painkillers, antiinflammatories and the prospect of finishing spurred us on. The boys met us at 98.5km to collect our backpacks and caps before we emerged onto Tongariro St. We felt like royalty as we made the final walk towards the finish line. Cars passing us were tooting, waving and cheering. Brendan and Keith met us at the entrance to the domain in their own rainbow colours, with matching hats, ties and boas and we made the final walk down the finish chute to the cheers and applause of the small crowd gathered there. We crossed the finish line in style, huge smiles on our faces. It felt so great to be finished! And after 42 hours awake we were finally able to get some well deserved sleep.
Even after a massage, a wade in Lake Taupo and a soak in the hot pools, we were pretty sore the next day and jandals were the only things going on our feet. But we could all still walk – most of the bad memories from the previous day were fading and “next time…” already started to creep into conversation. It was such a great experience to see how far we could mentally and physically push ourselves – and to know that by doing it we were doing our small part to make life easier for those in extreme poverty around the world.