“We should do that walk Mum was talking about,” my husband said to me one Saturday morning.
“Hemi Matenga?” I asked.
“Yeah, that one,” he replied.
And that was it. Without any research or in fact no real idea of how to get to it, we set off in the car with my daughter in tow to climb Hemi Matenga. Yes, I said climb. Hemi Matenga is nature reserve in Waikanae and sits within one of the largest remaining areas of Kohekohe forest in New Zealand. I love walking among trees and so thought this would be a beautiful and rewarding walk. And I was right. But I hadn’t realised it was quite so……………….vertical.
There are three different paths you can take to explore Hemi Matenga ranging from the gentle Kohekohe Walk which traverses the reserve rather than scaling it, to the punishing Te Au Track which takes you right to the very top, 514 metres above sea level with the most incredible views of Kapiti Island. We chose the Parata Track which climbs up to a vantage point close to but not actually at the summit. It’s only a 2km trail but it’s the equivalent of about 115 floors (according to my iPhone).
I should have guessed that this was going to be no walk in the park when I realised even the path leading up from the road to the track was steep. As we stepped into the bush, the temperature noticeably dropped and the world around us became lush and green. In the distance we could hear running water and the smell of ozone was intoxicating.
For 20 minutes or so we followed the path upwards through trees and ferns, me stopping every few minutes to take photos of what I thought to be a paradise on earth. My enthusiasm quickly waned as it became very apparent that I was woefully unprepared for this walk. We kept on passing people dressed in full hiking gear who were coming down, briskly swinging their walking poles. I, on the other hand, was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and trainers with a camera slung around my neck. We even passed a runner coming down.
“Did you run up this path?” I asked incredulously.
“Oh, only some of it,” she replied breezily as she whipped past.
And so we climbed. And climbed. My husband who I had never considered to be that fit, sprung up the path like a mountain goat, closely followed by my daughter. I couldn’t keep up. The incline of the path was relentless and I was becoming more and more out of breath. The pinker I turned, the more embarrassed at my lack of fitness I became and took to bending down to ‘tie’ my shoe lace if another hiker passed so that they wouldn’t see what a sweaty mess I was. But I was determined to make it to the vantage point. I shouted to my husband and daughter not to wait for me and then kept on climbing.
I don’t know how many times I stopped. 10? 20? But I kept going knowing that despite it’s protesting, my heart would thank me for this. Eventually I made it to the vantage point where some kind and merciful soul had decided to install a bench. I collapsed on to it and looked out at the hills and farmland below me. It was beautiful.
“Where’s…….Kapiti……Island?” I wheezed to my husband who, infuriatingly wasn’t even out of breath.
“Oh you can see that further up,” he said, absently. “It’s round the other side.”
Further? This wasn’t the top? I was desperate to see Kapiti Island and so I suggested that we take the Te Au Track which traversed further round the reserve before climbing to the summit and the lookout spot. After looking at my beetroot face and sweat patches, my husband kindly suggested that it was probably a better idea to head back down the way we came. I insisted that I was ok and that I was sure I could make it to the second vantage point.
So off we went. Steadily at first on a narrow track with a low fence on one side and the forest on the other. So far so good.
And then the path started to climb upwards. And I mean UPWARDS. At times I had to crawl, using my hands to grasp on to any vegetation within reach that I guessed would hold my weight. After about 10 minutes of this, I gave up. I was exhausted and had no will power left with which to carry me to the top. I yelled up to my husband that I couldn’t make it to which he responded that he’d just pop up to the top and take a picture.
I couldn’t cope with the defeat and the apparent ease at which my husband had found the ascension any longer and screamed (perhaps a little wildly) that I was going down and that I’d see them both at the bottom.
I flew down Hemi Matenga, determined to prove to myself that I could move fast if I wanted to. Occasionally, I could hear my husband and my daughter chatting in the distance as they came down behind me and responded by quickening my pace, jumping over tree roots and sliding sideways down the steep sandy parts in an alarmingly uncoordinated and uncontrolled manner not unlike Frankenstein on roller skates. At the really steep parts, I was forced to practically swing diagonally from one tree trunk to another to avoid slowing down all the while, acutely aware that I was doing something pretty stupid. At this pace, if I tripped it was entirely possible that I wouldn’t be able to stop and would roll barrel-like down the reserve, gathering sticks, leaves and mud before crashing headlong into a gnarly Pukatea tree at the bottom. My stubbornness sharpened my focus and I arrived at the car, barely out of breath, a clear 10 minutes before my husband and daughter finally emerged from the bush.
It was a small victory. But I felt I’d redeemed myself.