The “tight five”: Geoff Donkin, Alison Greer, Julia Mackie, Sue Marshall and John Dobbs
DAY ONE: Monday Jan 5 2009 – Waipakihi Hut, 6.25hrs, 12.5kms
With a forecast of fine and settled weather, we set out with high expectations on a trip seemingly planned for ages. Thanks to Murray White and Brian Mackie for safe transport, we began from the Kaimanawa Road end at 9.45am after the obligatory group photos.
Immediately heading upwards along the Umukarikari Range on a good track in beech forest with light cloud overhead, my 22kgs pack began to tell. Don’t complain, I told myself, eat lots and tomorrow the load would be at least 1kg lighter!
The cloud lifted to sunny conditions and it got hotter as we emerged from the beech trees to an open rocky area. Here were hundreds of Maori Onion plants in brilliant yellow flower, frequent white Celmisias and occasional patches of bluish harebells – a veritable flower garden. We were to see more of all these flowers at different stages of our trip. There were superb first views to Mt Ruapehu and Lakes Taupo and Rotoaira.
From then on, it was a poled route across the tops with ‘undulations’ – a rather overused phrase for the rest of the trip. But the clear conditions made navigation easy. Lunch was definitely a room with a view! A little while later, a father and two young sons caught us up on their way also to Waipakihi Hut. This was soon followed by a slip and fall by Sue who went down rather heavily. We were concerned, but luckily nothing was broken and later there was only a little bruising.
By 4pm, we had arrived at the hut, with the father and sons there plus several middle-aged tramping friends. They all occupied one bunkroom leaving the other six-person bunkroom for us, which was nice. A very pleasant bunch of people; with the late sun streaming into the hut deck, we felt pretty good about our first day’s effort and slept well.
DAY TWO: Tuesday Jan 6 – Plan B campsite, 9.5hrs, 11kms approx
It was a typical cloudy Taupo area morning that soon burnt off to sunny conditions again. We were the only ones doing ‘the big trip’ so said cheerio to our hut buddies at around 7.40am.
Continuing eastwards, we climbed up onto Junction Top with numerous rock cairns to highlight the route. Again, the excellent views out to Ruapehu and Lake Taupo had the cameras out. Then it was a well-blazed descent to the upper Rangitikei River, crystal clear and low.
Then our first real test – where to pick up an old ridge track/route on the way up Te More. Well, the old track is there, possibly cut in the Forest Service days, but not maintained and heavily overlaid with windfall and snowfall. As we were now well into the private hunting block area that we had gained permission to traverse, it seemed a likely reason that track maintenance was non-existent. What a pity. We endured a two-hour session of unending uphill bush bash struggle, the big packs getting snagged constantly. This was a pretty draining exercise and when we did finally emerge ‘out of the jungle’ and onto open rocky ridges, it was around 1.30pm and we were starving. It was also very hot and we struggled to find a bit of shade. I was actually ready to chuck my pack, but regained equilibrium after some lunch!
The good weather revealed the tops of the Island Range we were to now head along, turning south and later more eastwards again. It was quite exhilarating to have such awesome views now, and so much easier to travel.
However, it was pretty clear that our intentions for the day were too ambitious and we considered an alternative campsite by late afternoon. Our first close encounter with a helicopter occurred, as one came right towards us on a narrow ridge top, literally right overhead. Within a short while of that, we found a suitable trackside camping spot, reasonably level and with terrific views. However, getting to a water supply involved a scramble down a scree slope, so supplies were a bit rationed that night.
The tents and Murray’s fly were soon set up and we settled in for the night. It was not cold, a bit blowy at times, which resulted in no dew and my best night’s sleep all trip.
DAY THREE – Wednesday Jan 7 – Boyd’s Hut, 12.5hrs, 17kms approx
You read that right, it took me 12.5hrs!
Because we ran out of time to reach our desired campsite yesterday, we were determined to catch up and reach Boyd’s, no matter what.
As usual, we were up and active at 6am sparrowfart and away by 7.30am. Start every day with a climb! This time up towards Te Wetenga, but not actually on this peak. Again, conditions were clear and calm, making for easy navigation of the ridges. (Throughout the trip, Geoff did a sterling job of map and compass work, pointing out features, ridges and generally aiming us mostly in the right direction.)
It was a steepish descent into the Mangamaire River. From the tops, we could see a private hut way down below. Our descent bypassed this hut and in fact we all got a little waylaid on the bottom reaches, getting tangled in taller shrubs. I fell over in this mess several times and Alison could not see over the top for a while. It was lovely to finally get down to the river and cool off, before a zig-zag climb again up the Pawerewera Ridge, where the dinner gong was heard to ring. We found some nice rocks for a well-earned lunch stop.
Then there was some tricky work trying to find the correct ridge and entry point back into beech forest to descend into the Mangamingi Stream. This was not going well and so another bush bash session was ensured (thankfully not as long as the previous one) and eventually we plunged/fell down to meet the stream, rather scratched and a bit bloodied. There were no clear markers, cairns, or bits of plastic at all.
At least now it was pretty smooth going among tussock grasses on the banks or in the stream, heading downstream to the confluence with the Ngaruroro River. Lovely though it was, it just went on forever and I was getting pretty stuffed.
While Geoff and Julia shot away to find the shortcut to Boyd’s, the rest of us carried on as normal. Unfortunately, I made some memory errors and we went too far, having to retrace our steps and not reaching Boyd’s until 8pm, around 20 minutes later than Geoff and Julia. What a relief to finally be there!
The place seemed like Paddington Station, with a family group, hunters’ partners awaiting their guys much later on. The place was littered with gear and supplies, as these folks were here for quite a few days. At least they tidied up and there were bunks for us all and the kitchen was vacated just for us.
Several hours later, the hunters arrived (thankfully not making too much of a racket) and they slept in the kitchen. It was a beautiful clear night, and a few snores were heard…
DAY FOUR – Thursday Jan 8 – Harkness Hut, 6hrs 10 mins, 11.5kms
A lovely soft mist greeted us at 7.30 as we set off, but this soon lifted. By the time we picked up the steady ridgeline track up to Tussock, it was clear, so we had great views down the valley. It was nice to be following well-maintained tracks again!
Soon we entered beech forest again and then the descent into Tussock, a tidy well-kept six-bunk hut, in time for brunch. Then we followed a poled and tracked criss-cross of the Harkness valley and river into more tussocky areas in very hot conditions. Here we came across a solo Aucklander doing much the same route as us but in reverse, looking slightly unfit and carrying a rifle. He had read about the trip in a tramping book and decided to give it a go. After a chat, we left him to it. As an aside, I noted in the hut books an alarmingly high number of solo trampers doing multi-day trips. I felt much safer being in our group of five.
With endless stream crossings to cool down a bit, we made good time to Harkness, arriving at 1.40pm. All hoped we would have the hut to ourselves (which we did), as we settled into this beautiful place for a decent clean-up in the river and time to relax for once.
We had an excellent night with the door open and Julia electing to sleep out on the deck. We heard a loud Sika deer in the night along with several moreporks and even a kiwi calling. All agreed this was a spot we would like to return to.
DAY FIVE – Friday Jan 9 – Tira Lodge (Kelvinator!), 6.25 hrs, 15kms
As usual, the day began with a climb, straight up through nice beech forest to Te Puke trig, emerging from the sheltering trees to a cool breeze and superb views back to Ruapehu. The few clouds were disappearing fast as we viewed the Kawekas, now not-too-distant. It was great to be on the open tops in fine conditions and we made good progress over the undulations, and beech interspersed with open areas. We noted many more birds singing than on other days – plenty of long-tailed and shining cuckoos, tui and even a kaka. Then it was an open poled route before the turnoff to Mangaturutu Hut and then due south to Tira Lodge. The last section was a pretty long slog up to this hut. The 12-bunker was in tidy order and again we got our wish for no company tonight.
After a hot and sunny afternoon, it cooled down quickly by early evening.
DAY SIX – Saturday Jan 10 – To Makahu car park, 6.5hrs, 13kms approx
There was now a break in the weather, with dark clouds in the distance. It was good to be ending the trip today. The usual climb up through beech trees with some really old markers among the plastic triangles, but little birdlife. Breaking onto the tops towards Ballard Hut turnoff, it was cool with clouds out to the west. There was also mist rising up the flanks of Whetu, our next major point. From here, it was a solid grunty slog along to North Kaweka with the alpine flowers looking lovely, gentians and little eye-brights. At times the upward rising misty bits obscured the next pole marker until the last moment, but we wound our way along safely. Thankfully, there was no need to reach the actual summit of Kaweka North as the track then ambles across to the Kaweka J. It was along this easier section that we took our lunch break.
Then down, down the J, into a few drizzly bits and Trials Spur back to Makahu Saddle Hut. My knees were pretty sore by now and I was the last to arrive, around 2pm. Mooching about were four overweight Dutch tourist types and one videoing us – which was not really appreciated.
Around 10 minutes later, as we were getting a brew going, who should turn up but Murray White; he thought we should still be descending the J. It was good to see him and he was quickly followed by Brian Mackie and Gary Marshall, our official taxi service. Great to see them and chat before evening ourselves out among the three vehicles for a safe return home.
I was delighted to have completed this trip unscathed and so was everyone else. The weather had been kind, enabling terrific views and easy navigation along the tops. The bush bashing was a trial, but we worked as a team and supported each other. I don’t believe this exact trip will even be possible in a few years time, because of the lack of track cutting or maintenance across the private block.
It was a great team effort, thanks to everyone. And thanks again to Murray, Brian and Garry for transport connections.