Whirinaki FP Circuit. 17-21 February 2020.
Banner Pix: The five of us at Upper Te Hoe
Trampers: Bruce Hodgson (Tramp Organiser), Robyn Smith, Lynette Morgan and Phil Enticott did this five-day tramp and Colin Jones tramped in from the finish end to meet us on the penultimate day. Each has written a story about a day on the trail. Lynette’s GPS device recorded us as walking 103 km.
Day One, written by Phil
Plateau Road car park to Vern’s Camp
Lynette, Robyn and Phil all met at Bruce’s place at around 7.30 on Monday 17 Feb at the start of our Whirinaki Discovery Tour; none of us had completed this circuit before. We stowed our packs in Bruce’s car and off we went, arriving at the Plateau Road car park at around 10.
The parking area leading into the park has a good information board and toilets.
So on with our packs and ahead to Central Whirinaki Hut for lunch. It was fairly damp at the start, with the bush looking very lush and green, but by the time we came to the swing bridge, it was time to get rid of the jackets. The benched track, probably created early in the 20th Century, was a great piece of engineering and made our task pretty straightforward. The caves just up a side track would be a good place to shelter in very bad weather.The huge beech trees and tree ferns are magnificent and must have been there for hundreds of years; we were in awe of them for the next five days. After lunch at the hut, we came across a very impressive waterfall which was roaring away as it fell down the slope towards the Whirinaki River, which we followed all the way down to Vern’s Shelter, where we stayed the night.
The day had been very hot and muggy, so it was a relief the shelter was close to the river and we could have a swim and cool off. During the day, we heard kaka and saw whio.
Day Two, written by Lynette
Vern’s Shelter – Moerangi Hut
We awoke to another glorious day. The two girls had a pretty good sleep in their tents, although with the slight downhill lean, we spent some of the time pulling ourselves back uphill, which was quite exhausting. Meanwhile, the two ‘blokes’ – as they preferred to be called – had an uninterrupted sleep in the shelter.
We were packed and ready to hit the trail by 7.30 – not a particularly early start, but early enough. This was going to be our longest day, nearly 24 km. Not far from Vern’s Shelter, we heard a massive crash in the bush; it was a disturbed deer – quite exciting to realise we were being watched from ‘above’.
Robyn and Phil made the obligatory diversion to have a look at the Whirinaki waterfall, while Bruce and I decided to carry on slowly towards the turn-off to the Moerangi track and wait for them; we had been to the waterfall on earlier club tramps into Whirinaki. The first 45 minutes of the Moerangi track is more like a great walk track, wide and very well maintained. We were walking under an ancient canopy of very large mature beech trees, with punga lining the edge of the track.
Then the real tramping started: a steady climb to the Moerangi Saddle (alt. 955m). We were drenched in sweat, dripping constantly, until reaching the high point where we decided to stop for a 30-minute lunch break.
Julia had previously mentioned to Bruce that there was a good place to stop near the top where we could enjoy good views but, alas, Bruce forgot to relay that message to the rest of the group, so we stopped where we thought was the ‘good’ place and rested, only to find that had we carried on for another 30 metres, we would have found Julia’s ideal lunch spot with BBQ tables and views.We finally arrived at Moerangi Hut at 2pm. The highlight of the hut is the views. It faces out towards the ranges, covered in thick bush.
Again, Robyn and I pitched our tents for the night, and were entertained by the sound of kiwi talking to each other and deer fossicking around. Meanwhile, Bruce spent his night chasing mice that were trying to get into the packs.
Day Three, written by Robyn
Moerangi Hut to Mangakahika Hut
We made another early start and were back on the shared mountain bike track, so it was easy going. We continued to follow the Moerangi Stream through the mainly open beech and punga bush, which has thistles and ragwort nicely dispersed throughout.
We continued on away from the mountain bike tracks but still on a very good track with an easy contour, so we were getting a little too relaxed. This was later curbed when we came across a slip. Everyone just sucked their breath in and got on with it; crossing that was a great relief, as a false move would have meant the pulling out of a PLB.We did see a deer, but mainly because we woke him up by causing so much crashing that his eyes finally opened. The trout were jumping, so we figured rain was on the way. Sure enough, the first shower arrived one minute after arriving at the hut, so we tough girls decided not to get our tents wet. The kaka had decided to leave us alone during the day but they turned up at the hut for a quick show of aerial combat. Traps had been serviced along this day’s walk (unlike previously) and we emptied about six rats; just a pity they weren’t close to the hut because we had to put up with a certain person chasing rats round the bunks that night with a torch.
Day Four, written by Bruce
Mangakahika Hut to Upper Te Hoe Hut via Central Te Hoe Hut
A DoC warning sign in the Mangakahika Hut was a little disconcerting. The Central Te Hoe track, the next leg of our journey, has been reclassified as a Route only. This is DoC code for “we have not been maintaining the track and it is in a state of disrepair, possibly even dangerous or, even worse, impenetrable”. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad. We found uncleared tree-fall in places, and a collapsed bridge, but nothing insurmountable and the obstructions slowed us only a little.
We made our lunch stop destination (Central Te Hoe Hut) in good time and enjoyed a leisurely break in the sun. The walk to Upper Te Hoe Hut was a hard uphill slog in hot and very humid conditions. It reminded me more of the gnarly tracks typical of the Tararua Ranges. The Whirinaki tracks are generally Rolls-Royce in comparison.
As we had planned and hoped, Colin Jones appeared on the track to meet us. He had driven to Pukahunui car park that morning and tramped to join us for the night in Upper Te Hoe. We had a fun evening. Four out of five of us slept in our tents, not because we needed to but because it was such a warm, lovely night.
In August 2019, Julia had left her favourite shorts hanging above the fireplace in Upper Te Hoe Hut. She asked me if I would look to see if they were still there. Well, yes they were, buried under a pile of cardboard fire-starting material in a corner. And used as a mouse nest, with several chewed holes. They have now been washed and they look good. I’m sure we can expect to see Julia sporting her attire in the near future.
Day Five, written by Colin
This was my opportunity to prepare for a multi-day trip by taking in a heavy pack full of gear, as well as providing a shuttle service for the others. It also gave me an opportunity to discover that our dog had bitten the valve on my inflatable mat. And later that night, to find another leak in the mat, as well as a camelbak bladder leaking in my pack.
Having missed one turn-off, I eventually navigated to the start of the track. The route in is straightforward, apart from ferns obscuring the view of where to put your feet. Passing Upper Te Hoe, I carried on up the Central Te Hoe track to meet the others. After about 250 metres climb, I heard a lot of talking; so I knew it must be them because Lynette was in the party. (I was later treated to tales of giant rats and mice in the previous hut, or was it dragons?)
There was no rush the next morning, as there was only half a day’s tramping ahead.
Fortunately, Lynette had not been attacked by the rats overnight, although I did keep my knife handy. We had a good drink and filled up our water bottles, as there is no water on the way out.
There is a 400m climb from the hut, but the track is gentle. The Whirinaki Hut turn-off is about 1¾ hours from the hut and then it’s about the same time on the Pukahunui track. Lynette and I were the last ones to leave, so eventually arrived to meet the others sitting on a helipad, looking like they were waiting for a helicopter. Alas, none arrived so we had to carry on.
The track has a few niggly bits with bush lawyer and thick ferns (this track needs more traffic, or it will be lost in the undergrowth).
I shuttled the crew out to the car at the track’s end, where cold beers and mandarins were enjoyed by everyone.