Easter tramp into Whirinaki Forest Park
April 6-9, 2012
Friday – River Road to Moerangi Hut
Hoping to escape the prior week of claggy, drizzly conditions, we headed off to the northern end of one of everyone’s favourite tramping places. The big washout a few kms in along the Waipunga Road has been repaired and the access is now quite good. At the Minginui River Road end, there were many vehicles, so we knew we would be coming across plenty of hunters, in for the roar. We left Ted and Paul behind at this point, intending to see them again on Monday at the Pukahunui Road end, which would enable us to complete the through trip.
The drizzle (or threat of it) stayed with us but not enough to warrant coats on. Track conditions were excellent. The route starts out on the Central Whirinaki track, crossing the Te Whaiti-Nui-A-Toi Canyon , where we all enjoyed peering down into the Whirinaki River gorge (flows just a little higher than average) and a bit later on, a pair of adult whio on a log in the river. A bit of a surprise, a guy on a motorbike coming towards us – perhaps a trapper? Birdlife was mainly kaka sightings and calls, lovely as we seldom see them in the Bay. The track climbs, and then sidles around Moerangi Peak. Just after crossing a bridge about five mins from the hut junction, there was a mass of bright purple native blueberries (Dianella nigra), such a vivid contrast to the glorious dense greenery of the bush and oh-so-huggable giant podocarps and beeches!
After only three and a half easy-going hours, we arrived at Moerangi Hut and shared with three pleasant hunters, leaving just two bunks to go. That seemed like a nice number, so later in the afternoon when a helicopter landed right outside and the pilot came over to see if he could take more hunters off, we did our best to shoo them away – and were successful! Actually, as we were to discover throughout our tramp, most hunters were being dropped off at other than their preferred choice or hut or campsite and most appeared to be in for five days.
Saturday – To Mangakahika Hut
Same, same weather, maybe less drizzle. A superb easy benched track heading east towards Rogers (Te Wairoa Hut) is now high above the Moerangi Stream, whereas when Alison and I came through this way six years ago, the route was in and out of the river. Some big trees had fallen in places. Suddenly, a visual delight – masses of sublime Raupeka orchids (Earina autumnalis) in bloom, with masses of tiny white fragrant flowers. Despite being relatively common and not threatened, this was the only spot we saw them.
Rogers Hut, built in 1952, is a real gem – characterful, inside lined with slab beech (exterior is flat iron) and with a lovely stained glass window too. We enjoyed having a brew and snack on the deck for elevenses.
Heading in a southerly direction now, we were basically in a stream valley. The stream was higher than normal and a little discoloured. We enjoyed three encounters with pairs of whio along this section, their plaintive calls quite loud. Other birdlife today mainly consisted of inquisitive tomtits, always delightful.
A place called “Colin’s Campsite” was a tad run down, but occupied by three groups of hunters. The track is a rough sidle by Te Wairoa Stream, before it climbs to a low saddle, and drops down again. A while later, we met an elderly couple in gumboots! They turned out to be retired farmers from the Matamata area and had been choppered into Mangakahika Hut for five nights and had actually been aboard the chopper that we had shooed away from Moerangi Hut! The hut was only a little way further but after crossing the bridge, we found the connecting track had been washed away and it took us a while to figure out where the hut was. Shortly after, the gumbooted ones arrived. They turned out to be the only others at the hut and were very fine company. We got the fire going and had a pleasant afternoon and evening.
Sunday – To Upper Te Hoe Hut
Same, same weather. Bit more drizzle. The track now tended to have more tree-fall, washouts and reroutes, and more muddy sections, crossing the Bullring, a clearing where hunters had set up camp. We heard more stags roaring too. By 11am, we had arrived at Central Te Hoe Hut where a group of hunters were packed and ready to be choppered out, but the low clag made it seem doubtful they would leave today. We enjoyed a brew and snack before tackling a big hill and rocky cliff face with a wire rope for support, all the while getting views to the river below. Lots of lovely fungi varieties, great wads of mosses hanging from the trees which were now in swirling mist.
We found a terrific spot on a little knoll for late lunch before continuing on ever upwards, eventually arriving at Upper Te Hoe Hut by 3.30pm – a 7hrs 20mins day. The hut was occupied by an older father hunter, his two hunting sons and a relative from New York State plus a lovely Labrador dog called Hunter! The place was untidy – and with considerable alcohol supplies, a slightly rowdy time was inevitable.
They weren’t too bad, but three of us decided it was better to put the tents up on the grass beside the hut while Jenny braved the night inside. A good night eventuated, in very calm conditions.
Monday – To Pukahunui road end and home
The morning dawned spectacularly bright and clear! Hooray! Tents sodden with dew and the bush the same way, but that didn’t matter. We waited until the hunters had set out for the day before packing up, so were not away until 8.30am. Track often overgrown and slippery, leading to some interesting tumbles and slides. We met a young hunting couple and their mate who had established a fly camp a bit beyond the track junction. This made a great spot to stop and enjoy the now hot sunshine bathing the saddle, with extensive views in several directions at once.
It was just after midday when we were within sight of the road end and saw Ted and Paul on a rise, aiming their cameras in our direction. It was nice to see them again and to have Alison’s car driven around for us.
Overall it had been an excellent tramp and quite comforting not to have been shot at, considering the high numbers of hunters in the forest park at this time!
On the way home, we just had to stop in at the Tarawera Tavern for a coffee and pie, which we enjoyed in blazing sunshine. The place has new owners and was really humming with people.
Trampers: Julia Mackie, Alison Greer, Jenny Burns and reporter John Dobbs