The Waitakere Ranges are a premier regional park at a handy distance to home. The Hillary trail winds through the park in and out of the bush and coastlines of the Manukau Harbour.
Designed as a 2/3/4 days trek, the track has been run by many in the short time since it was created. There is even a website that lists the finishers, records and so on.
In my previous attempt I cut short at just over 25km. There were races coming up and in my assessment I found that I would be doing more harm than good by finishing. There was no unsavoury quit, just a sense of unfinished business.
Being over 70km in length, the logistics are vital to get a good run. I was lucky enough to be in company of a bunch of crazy people who organized Midnight Madness IV (MMIV) with the August full moon. The name says it all, it was a night run, and it was a crazy one. This time I finished, and the tale of that run from Muriwai to Arataki follows:
1. The cake
I had missed MMIII last year, and thought it was a cool idea. It is usually done on the winter solstice, which gives much more night to keep running fresh. This year the date was moved to August, and my birth day to be more specific. I made sure I took cake to with me and after checking my list of NASA proportions, I left to meet the rest of the crew. It was a shocker of a week weather-wise and a number of candidates had to postpone. Seven of us started. After sharing a bit of the cake we left in a drizzle that would die within minutes. It was 6 past midnight.
2. The cliffs
The first part of the northward run goes alon one of the most beautiful parts of the trail, the track hugs a series of cliffs and bluffs and the Tasman sea lashes its energy on the bays below. The view during the day are spectacular. On a full moon night they're even better. I was kitted with a single layer of merino and a waterproof jacket which kept me in perfect temperature for the very cautions start. We formed a group of 3 that would go 50k together. every now and then we would look back and see the headtorches spread over in the distance, among the dark cliffs.
3. The cows
The first 15km took just over 2 hours, a bit slower than expected, but making it from A to B without falls was worth the effort. Two nice guys (Jo and Mark) took the responsibility of caring for us, and they waited in a car at several points to help us refuel, clean some blood and give us good vibes. Quick bite and drink and we were off. The next section goes inland round a lake, up a massive hill and into farmland before descending to the beach again. Running through a field of spooked cows who looked at us was quite an experience. We got to stop #2 in just under 4 hours, which was nice. There was a bit of a problem halfway through, with one of the guys falling and cramping, but nothing too serious.
4. The dunes
The next section took us through a very charged waterfalls (streams responding to the rainy week just passed), another sight to remember. Then we went inland and back onto a beach. Below 6 hours and within my secret target of under 12 hours. Lack of sleep was not showing yet, but I knew the mind is pretty good at playing tricks. I downed a Mountain Dew and a scone to keep the happy mood. We carried on to the best part of the run, it is flat, the sun was starting to light and we were running among a dune field with our torches off. The air was fresh and I was as happy as I've ever been while on a run. I regretted not having brought the camera with me.
5. The hills
Stop #4 was an eventful one, we lost one guy that took a wrong turn. I went back a couple of k's and shouted to check he was OK. As I heard no answer I mentally played different scenarios for 15 minutes untill I saw he coming from the wrong part of the track. I waited for him to have a quick snack and we carried on 10 minutes in arrears. The12 hour mission was out of the picture, but the mood was happy nonetheless. From the beach we go up a bluff and carry on on a hill crest upping and downing among the rocks and the gorse. Then we carry on climbing to the highest point of the trail. On a good day is a tough climb, on a day with no sleep and 50km on the legs is a character building run.
Maybe that's the whole reason why one does this things. Head donw and carry on... until the next stop.
If anything, I underestimated the nutrition for this part of the run, I took note for future runs.
By the end of this part it was well into the morning, I stopped for a change of socks, a new tee shirt and I ditched the waterproof jacket that was probably not helping at this stage. I also tasted a great ANZAC slice by one of the fellow starters who was now crewing with Jo. 10:32 hours and 60 km done. It was all downhill from here... NOT
There's 2 200m hills to be negotiated, and the legs ain't running uphill anymore. As I was thinking how much I missed my wife and a good eggs on toasts breakfast, I found a stick discarded by a fellow tramper at the start of a track. I adopted it for good measure, and decided it was only a matter of getting there.
And there I got. It was just before 12:30pm and I've done it.