We had high hopes of getting an early start today and giving ourselves a real chance at summiting Pirongia. Unfortunately we got up we found we were actually locked in the back area of the pub with no exit. Luckily just as we finished packing everything up they opened a back door and we walked through to find a bustling cafe. Of course we stopped for coffee and a bacon and egg slab for me (effectively a pastry with bacon and egg in the middle) and a veggie sandwich for Heather which she’s repeatedly claimed she was very chuffed with. Heading out from the cafe (still earlier than our usual time) we walked along the highway for a short bit and then crossed onto farmland to follow the Waipa river. The farmland ultimately led us to a cornfield bordering a brambles, nettles, prickly bushes, and anything else that wanted a go at our legs so we took a short cut back and finished out on the road. The official track came out about 500m later so we really didn’t miss anything. We turned onto some old road and started climbing next to a forest with some great views of the country. It looked like it was going to rain on us pretty much all day but hardly a drop or two fell so we just got excellent sun coverage. The road turned into one of the best farm tracks we’ve encountered (as in not torn up by cattle) and we chased sheep for a few kms with some stunning Lord of the Rings style scenery. We descended through some nice forest and round a limeworks towards a road that led to the start of the Pirongia climb. We also passed through a field of 100+ cows (no bulls that we saw) all behaving very weirdly around us and signing an orchestra of cow noises. We made it out of that field with no more love for cows than we already had. Given that we arrived around 2pm at the base of the climb and the estimated time was 4-5 hours to complete we decided to go for it. The climb was about 700m spread over 8.5km and we’d been planning on expecting pretty tough, steep and muddy terrain. We ended up getting through the first 6.5km in two hours and having gained a good amount of elevation. The only real challenge had been getting across some downed trees. Of course in typical TA fashion as soon as we thought we’d beaten the notes and signs the trail started to get tough and we had 1.5km of rocky climbs and scrambles over decently muddy path. We were also well into cloud by this point and although it was raining it was cold if you stopped for any amount of time. Just before we hit the summit we got some nice boardwalk and stairs and there was even an elevated platform with wet and cold stairs to climb to get up to the top.The views from the top obviously would be stunning but I’m not sure they’ve ever been viewed, this cloud seems to sit on the mountain almost permanently. A little beyond the top we came to Pahautea Hut, our first DOC (Department of Conservation) hut. It’s a really sweet little place consisting of two huts (new and old) which could probably fit 15 people in a pinch. There were several tent sites, toilets and tons of water available. We’d had no idea what to expect and were just trusting that there’d be water up here so it was great to find everything in place and better than expected. We’re sharing the hut with three other overnight hikers but have one of the rooms to ourselves and plenty of space. It felt good to have a 35km day again and cover some real distance back into the wilderness. Ankle seems relatively fine after the climb and Heather is getting some serious stretching in.