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Rees Dart track, Mt Aspiring National Park  14-18 March 2024


6 of us headed off with trepidation, as we knew this would be a difficult tramp and  the weather forecast was indicating a polar blast on its way. We caught an 8am shuttle with Info &Track from Queenstown to Glenorchy, and on to Muddy Creek carpark, finally setting off walking at 9.45 for a very long day. The first 4 hours were over the Rees Station which was very boggy in parts, and up and down, but glorious views up and down the valley. The track improved when we entered the national park with its beech forest but was still challenging in parts and rain set in for the last hour. The 22km took us 8 hours. (DOC signs said 6-8 hours, and with us mainly in our 60s and 70s we thought we did ok). Shelter rock hut is an older 22 bed hut, with a newer bunkhouse in a separate building and flush toilets!(luxury).
After alot of rain during the night, the sky was clear in the morning. We delayed leaving till 10 as we expected snow and possibly ice on the Rees saddle(1471m). The walk up the valley was on a narrow rough track but glorious views of the valley and imposing snow covered peaks. Rain set in after a couple of hours, then sleet, snow and hail and the difficult decision was made to return to the hut. But it didn't last long. Then came another difficult decision, should we change our minds and go back to plan A or continue back to the hut. In the end, 4 decided to go on and 2 returned to the hut.  It was a long trek to the pass but the views at the top on the Dart side were stunning with snow covered mountain peaks all around us. We didn’t need to walk through snow or ice but it was only just above us. It was another 3 hrs to Dart hut on a narrow rough track over mud, boulders, big steps, steep drop offs, all above the bush line. The 10 km had taken us another 8 hours! Dart hut ,32 beds, is more modern and again had flushing toilets.

Day 3 : 4 Kea appeared just before dawn to entertain us with their antics, playing with rocks on the balcony rail and attempting to shred someone’s underwear. 3 headed to the Cascade saddle, with much lighter packs and Gill had a pleasant, quiet day in and around the hut.

Cascade Saddle. (Trudy,  Raewyn, Christine)

We were on the track at 8.30 with a nice clear day. Headed up the valley alternating between scrubby scrambles, skirting up and down bare rocky slopes and lovely smooth valley floor. 

Christine noticed that the Dart Glacier had receded considerably since she was there 10 years ago.

Lunch was enjoyed at the bottom of the climb to the saddle. From there it was hard to see the way up but the route was poled through tussock, scree and deep guts.

The saddle was reached after two hours of slog.

On the way up there were great views of the glacier and at the top stunning, breathtaking views down into the Matukituki Valley and into the mountains. After10.5 hours of walking over 20km, three tired trampers returned to the Dart Hut very satisfied with their achievement.

 

Day 4: We were again entertained by kea around dawn. The track from here was initially relatively easy through lovely beech forest, then over Cattle Flat with open grassland with lots of gullies and back in to the forest till just before arrival at Daleys Flat hut, an older 20 bed hut with lots of sandflies but again had flush toilets. Another 8 hr day , covering 18km. The river here is fast flowing but we managed a wash/dip in a side creek. We met and chatted to the ranger on route today who took our hut passes. She spends most of her time at Dart hut but covers all 3 huts on the Rees Dart.

Day 5: Up at 5.30am for a 6.30am start. Our shuttle was picking us up at 2.15 and we weren’t sure how long the 16km would take. Sunrise wasn’t till just before 8, so head torches were in order. About 30min down the track we came to a creek which we crossed , taking us on to the wide open sandy river bed. We soon realised we were off track and back tracked till we found the track that led us up in to the bush (and signs that advised us to stay on the track, warning of quicksand). We needn’t have got wet feet at all! The track was quite varied with a few steep areas , narrow parts with drop offs but beautiful views over the lovely braided Dart river that meanders over vast sand flats that formed after a large landslide. Christine remembered being there soon after this landslide occurred, when there was a vast lake. We got to Chinaman’s carpark in a respectable 6.5 hrs, tired and foot sore but very happy to have experienced such an amazing environment, and we still had plenty of time to wait for the shuttle and battle the sandflies. Thank you, Jenny, for organising such a wonderful trip.

Gill,Christine

 

The Rees/Dart side trip.

On the 14th March, Christine, Gill, Raewyn, Trudy, Jenny & me (Jean) made our way up the Rees Valley to Shelter Rock hut, taking 8 hours to get there after a hard slog. Next day the sun shone and off we set for the summit and Dart Hut. Slow going again then suddenly we had beautiful, enormous snowflakes swirling around us. Stunning, but a complete whiteout, and the cold set in. Suddenly we were faced with a critical situation, to struggle on or turn back. Jenny and I returned to Shelter Rock while the others laboured on. Within minutes the sun was shining again!

Jenny and I had to plan carefully as we knew that accommodation would be impossible in Queenstown on a Friday and Saturday night. We decided to stay put, spent 3 nights in Shelter Rock, did the hut fairy thing and had the place sparkling then sat back and enjoyed the passing parade of trampers. Then the Mainlanders showed us how karma works. We were offered a lift from Muddy Creek to Glenorchy so we tramped out on Sunday. Within 5 minutes of trying to hitch-hike in Glenorchy we had a lift into Queenstown – Jenny showed a leg which helped! Then we spent the night in another tramper’s holiday home – she offered it to us when she heard of our predicament. Our blind faith that all would be well certainly proved to be well founded.

The weather was stunning the day we retraced our steps, the birds were out everywhere with dear wee riflemen and fantails cheering us on our way. We enjoyed the beautiful valley even more on the way out, but both of us were sad that we had been unable to complete the tramp. Oh well, there’s always next time. This time we saw the packrafters paddling down the Rees – this seems to be a very popular activity.

Four very tired trampers joined us back at the Holiday Park on Monday and we headed home the next day.

Jean

Routeburn /Caples Trip – 6-10 March 2024

 

 Participants - Raewyn Rush, Jean Caulton, Gill Tate, Dave and Jill Wilding. 

 

Bright eyed, bushy tailed, we headed off from the Routeburn Shelter on an easy walk for lunch at the Routeburn Flats Hut. A beautiful spot. Pity the sandflies thought so too! Next came the ascent for our first night at Routeburn Falls Hut. Not quite so bushy tailed on arrival but we enjoyed the luxury of flush toilets and solar lights.  

Second day, with weather cool, windy, and rain developing we headed for McKenzie Hut which we made before the rain really set in. Unfortunately the clag destroyed any views of the Hollyford Valley and beyond. About one and a half hours into the tramp and very unfortunate for Jean, she fell ill and the decision was made to lift the PLB aerial and summon the rescue helicopter. Jean’s discomfort aside, it was a very interesting scenario really. 3 days later Jean was to rejoin us, when we arrived back to Queenstown, having received treatment there and in Dunedin.  

Third day we left McKenzie Hut in a light frost and unexpected but very welcome bluebird day. So lots of gorgeous views not the least of which the 174 metre high Earland Falls. We only just secured bunks at McKellar Hut as it became overcrowded later. All three hats had wardens and they were quite interesting with their spiels. 

 Fourth day, not really that excited about retrekking an hour and a half to the Caples Track Junction and climbing over the forbidding McKellar Saddle, we headed off and it turned out quite enjoyable. Lovely views from up there straight across to magnificent Mount Christina. The warden who was making his way down to Mid Caples Hut caught up with us here, and we ended up having him with us for lunch at a pretty little stream later on. Very interesting talking to him. From the saddle to Upper Caples or Deerstalkers Lodge was a fairly easy walk and we had the hut to ourselves! Gas and lights too!!, Unfortunately no flush toilet! 

6:30 on day 5, it was boots on the track with headlights as we headed off for our 12:45 shuttle. It was a long but easy walk to where the Caples and Greenstone tracks come out. Back in Queenstown we celebrate along with Jenny V who arrived that day and I can assure you there was not a bag of dehy insight!!  

Jill and I parted company with the group at this point to a bit do a bit of a road trip down through the Catlins to Invercargill leaving the rest to ride the Dunstan Trail and with Christine and Trudy arriving later to do the Rees / Dart but that is a tale for someone else to tell. 

A big thank you to Jenny V for all her organising.  

Dave W.

Mt Holdsworth - Jumbo Circuit   Feb 29-March 2 2024

 

Jenny, Gill, Gill’s sister Janya and friend Ros set off from Holdsworth Lodge in drizzly conditions along a good track through beech forest with lots of kidney ferns, so I guess it’s wet a lot of the time. A short side trip to Rocky Lookout for a bit of a look through the misty murk was interrupted by a large school group. The track climbed steadily to Mountain House shelter, a good spot for lunch. From here the track became steeper with lots of flights of steps, often the bottom step was huge. Powell hut, just above the bushline, is a good 32 bed hut and there were only 7 of us there that night, so just about had a room each.

By morning the rain had cleared and there were marvellous views east over Masterton. The track from here is steep and not well marked to the summit. Gill led Jenny off track for a while but soon found it again. The views from Mt Holdsworth at 1470m were amazing with views to the ocean both to the east and west. We were so lucky to have a stunning day with only a very light breeze. The track over the tops heads north from here and is narrow, rough with a few big rocks to climb and the great views continued. We eventually came to Jumbo peak(1405m) where we headed along another ridge, in an easterly direction till we came to a spot where we could see Jumbo hut below us, nestled just above the bushline. Jumbo hut is a much older 20 bed hut. Its supposed to be serviced but the firewood was all very wet and we found it impossible to get a fire going- just as well it wasn’t too cold and the toilets were filthy with heaps of big blow flies. We were the only ones there. I suspect locals avoid this one.

The next day it was in to the bush(we had to check out the tracks around as there was no sign to point us on our way) and a huge rapid descent of 800m down Rain gauge Spur, over a lot of roots that would be very slippery if conditions were wet to Atiwhakatu hut ,a lovely modern hut by a river. From here it was a pleasant hike following the river back to Holdsworth Lodge. It started raining again about 10min prior to the finish so we were extremely lucky with the weather.

Gill

Wairarapa Tramp   9th to 13th February, 2024

 

Day One - Taupo to Martinborough

 

Jill and Dave Wilding organised this trip to the South coast of the North Island.

Brian and Celia Bockett, Sandy Farquhar, Christine Elmiger, Jean Caulton, Sarah Bloomer, Anna Van Der Kaay and Elsie Skelton made up the group.

We set off from Dave and Jill’s home 10 minutes ahead of schedule which bode well for the trip. 

Our walk for the day was to be the Manawatu Gorge Track which starts just out of Ashhurst.  We had lunch in the carpark at the western end of the gorge track.  The track starts off along the now closed old Manawatu Gorge Road for 500 metres or so before crossing the road and starting to climb a very well form track up through a pretty gully.  The upward trend continued for quite some time till we reached an interesting “tin” sculpture of a Maori Warrior, minus his vital parts, which had been most unkindly severed by some vandal not so very long ago.  He was “fenced off” with yellow tape which wasn’t going to keep anyone from advancing to have their photograph taken beside him.

We followed a path further past him in the hope that we would get a good view back down into the gorge and of the slips that have permanently closed it, but after a few minutes the track came to an end so we had to retrace out steps and get back onto the path proper.  Not much further on the path split and so did the group with Dave, Anna, Brian and Celia taking the Tawa Loop Track which would see them heading back towards the van that they’d then bring around to the eastern, Woodville side of the gorge, where we would meet them.

This track is very well maintained with information boards on birds, plants, trees and ferns as well as having distance indicators at frequent intervals.  There were some nice big Rimu and Matai Trees, one very big Rata and the rest was mainly Tawa with a tropical jungle feel about it. Many Supple Jack vines wended their way up through the trees and trying vainly to reach from one side of the track to the other but having had their tips nipped off as a tasty bit of “Bush Asparagus”.   Taurepo’s little striped orange flowers caught our eye and on the Eastern side towards the end of the track Giant Maiden Hair Ferns adorned the banks.

We could hear the “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound of the Manawatu Wind Farm long before the lookout that brought us very close to them.  I was fascinated by the way the blades appeared to “whip” over the top faster than they went the rest of the circuit - an optical illusion of course.

We had climbed high to the very top of the range so had an equally long drop down the other side to the river again with a couple of ridges to progress over as well.  It was a very pleasant three hour, 11 kilometre walk.

The van people had arrived an hour ahead of us so had made progress on reading “The Wilderness” Magazines and “Federated Mountain Club” Magazines that are kept in the van for just such occasions.

We arrived at The Claremont Motel in Martinborough at 6.30. 

 

Day 2 - Cape Palliser

 

Everyone was in the van ready to leave by 8.30a.m., well ahead of the proposed leaving time of 9.00a.m. We over shot the entrance into The Pinnacles Track causing Dave to show off his amazing backing skills.  A DOC sign at the far end of the Pinnacles carpark stated that the track was closed due to a big slip but we could see that many sets of feet hadn’t taken the slightest bit of notice of that statement so our feet joined the well trodden path up alongside the river bed.  We could see where a big slip had come down but it was dry and not oozing water at all.  Some of the group ventured to the top of a wee valley, some of the others came part of the way and some stayed at the bottom to await our return before we all continued up into the main “Pinnacle” area.  Nature is amazing and our imaginations were soon running riot with seeing a Chameleon, The Magi, only there were 5 Wise Men, not just three, an elegant lady in a long  hooped gown standing on a pedestal like the ones that pop up out of a musical jewellery box.  Stalagmites of all kinds.  Wonderful formations.  On the way back down the group split again with some returning back down by the stream and the others climbing to do the Loop Track so that they could get the view down onto some of the formations from the viewing platform at the top.  The track up was a bit “hairy” as a slip had crossed a steep zig zag section of the track twice, so we had two scrambles up and over the rubble, with care being taken with the “three point” linkage position, i.e. three points holding one moving.

From another viewing spot we could look out to the South Island across an amazing blue sea. Close into shore it was aqua coloured, delightful.

Soon we were on our way around to the Cape Palliser Light House. Wikipedia has this to say about it: “The light was built in 1897 and was originally fueled by oil. In 1954 the oil lamp was replaced with an electric one powered by a local diesel generator. This was subsequently replaced by a connection to the mains grid in 1967, although a diesel generator is retained for emergency power. The light was fully automated in 1986 and is now managed from a control room in Wellington.

The base of the lighthouse is reached via a staircase with 258 steps, up a 58-metre-high cliff. This staircase – built in 1912 – replaced a dangerous dirt track.  It is one of three light houses painted in distinctive Red and White stripes.”

Most of us climbed those 258 steps up to an exceedingly windy platform at the base of the light.  When we weren’t in the wind shadow of the light house we almost couldn’t stand up without holding onto the hand rails. 

We went looking for seals down on the foreshore and were rewarded with sighting a dozen or so with one or two raising a flipper in a lazy salute.  One was out in the ocean swimming amongst the beautiful long strands of tawny coloured kelp.

At Ngawi we stopped for ice creams and to browse the “treasures” in the little shop there then we ambled along the road inspecting the many different types of bulldozers lining the road side with their big fishing boats on trailers with enormously long drawbars, the only way to get to sea in this area. Many of the bulldozers looked like they hadn’t moved for a very long time and the salt laden air was turning them into big pillars of rust.  A couple of “Bullys” had been freshly painted one bright blue and the other green. They looked almost pristine.

There was a fishing competition on that weekend.  The sea was too rough for most to launch so I think it probably turned into a boozy weekend instead.

 

Day 3 - Powell Hut Mount Holdsworth

 

Seven of us left for the drive across country, almost to Masterton, before turning towards the Tararuas and the start of the track at a DOC camping ground.  Sarah, Anna and Celia chose not to join us. That proved to be a wise decision as the weather forecast wasn’t great and the rain was tippling down by the time we reached the start of the track.  We stayed in the van for a while in the hope that it would ease up. It did slightly, just enough for us to make a dash from the van up to a lovely big shelter and toilet just up the hill where we could change in relative comfort.

We hovered in the shelter and decided to have morning tea there, all the while hoping for an improvement in the weather but at last, at 9.15a.m., we set off wearing our best raincoats, leggings and pack covers.

The track is well formed with many sets of steps, more than on any other track I have walked.  The bush was beautiful with a full understory and little sign of deer browsing. Our first stop was at a theatre style viewing platform with three tiers of “seats” affording a view of bush clad hills opposite and back down the valley to the car park.  It was gratifying to see how far we had climbed in an hour and a half.  Onwards and upwards to Mountain Shelter where we had a sit down stop.  Brian decided that he had climbed far enough so elected to return to the van.  We sent him off with the spare van keys and a Personal Locator Beacon. 

Onward and upward. Jean spotted a family of Titipounamu (Rifleman), always a joy. The track deteriorated after the Mountain Shelter but was still okay.  Eventually, and many more sets of steps later, we broke out of the cover of the bush into true mountain vegetation where a vicious, cold wind had us clutching our coats tightly around us and keeping our heads pulled deep into their hoods like turtles.  It wasn’t long after hitting this Alpine vegetation that Jill yelled, “I can see the hut!”

Powell hut is an imposing looking building. The living area has a huge picture window looking out onto a big deck and thence to some view unseen by us as the mist was down and pea soup thick.  The hut sleeps 32 people.  It is just under 10km return from the start and takes about 6 hours to complete the out and back route.

 We had hoped to continue to the summit of Mount Holdsworth but the weather wasn’t permitting any onwards travel.   We were the only ones at the hut so spread ourselves far and wide.  There was some residual heat from the fire box which we really appreciated. We luxuriated inside for half an hour.  It was cold outside so thermals were dragged out from the bottom of packs along with leggings to cover those shivering knees. Those with warm hats and cloves donned those as well.

It took us three and a half hours to climb up to Powell and just two and a half to return to the carpark so we were pretty much “on the Money” with the recorded times.

We saw Eyebright, Mountain Foxglove, Easter Orchid, Lobellia and Gentian Flowers.  Dianella Nigra Berries. We heard and saw Rifleman, Kaka, Bellbird and Fantail.

By the time we got back to the van Brian had managed to read half of the book he had brought.

Of the ones who didn’t do Powell Hut, Sarah had hoped to go for a ride around the nice flat Martinborough area but found there were no designated cycle tracks and didn’t fancy riding on the road.  She and Anna had visited all the shops in the village with Anna making a few purchases. Celia enjoyed a restful day cozily out of the rain.

 

Day 4 - Patuna Gorge

 

We were all in the van and away by 8.30a.m, driving south a kilometer or two then turning left into Whitecliff Road until we reached Patuna Farm where we were to join a three hour self-guided tour to walk the Patuna Gorge.

This tourist operation is run by a couple.  The wife is a 2nd or 3rd generation farmer on that land who now lease the 1200 acre farm to the neighbours and fleece the tourists instead.  This lady, Michelle, was saying that her parents started showing people through the gorge commercially about 13 years ago but it wasn’t a big money spinner for them.  The parents talked to all their children about one of them taking over the operation but Michelle and her husband were the only ones interested.  They have advertised widely and improved the track and mode of transport so that when we were there in February they’d already had over 5000 people through at $45.00 per person.  Now suddenly her siblings want some of the action so things on the home front are not happy.

On the day we were there they also had a “Stag Do” group going out to do Clay Bird Shooting and they ran three or four trips to the gorge.

As is usual with Adventure Tourism we had to “sign our lives away” and read a safety briefing before paying our money and clambering onto the trailer behind the Ute where two rows of old Movie Theatre seats, facing each other, had been welded, with a grab bar between them down the middle.  There were 18 of us either in the Ute or on the trailer on our 15 minute drive to the back of their farm.  Fortunately, the track was dry for us but we could see where the previous day’s rides had been a different kettle of fish altogether, the boss man admitted to losing control at one point the day before.  The stock we drove through were so used to the passing of vehicles through their paddocks that they barely turned a hair as we rattled passed.  We had a couple of steep stream beds to dip down into with a tight corner at the bottom and a tough pull up and out.

Our walk started through bush on a narrow track that ran high above the gorge.  In a couple of places ropes had been placed to assist in the descents.  We posed in the “Wave” rock formation, a smooth limestone out crop with signs of new stalagmites being birthed from the undercut crest of the “wave”.

After a 15 minute walk we entered the gorge, wading into the cool, clear water where we were greeted by a good sized eel.  This eel was exceedingly tame and certainly liked the smell of Jeans legs, slipping passed her several times.

Our directions told us to walk upstream from our entry into the water to a very pretty emerald green, mossy waterfall.  Beautiful.

The walls of the chasm had been sculptured by the water which had carved out hollows and holes through the soft limestone and also by the constant dripping from the ceiling above, thus creating new stalactites in varying sizes.

It was disappointing to see the damage that introduced pigeons (not our native Kereru but “rat” pigeons) were making with the droppings from their roost sites.  When I asked the owner about them, wondering if they intended to do any sort of control, he said that there were native Falcon, Karearea, living in the area and that they were keeping the numbers down although he admitted that he would love to spread a bit of magic wheat about or sit at dusk with an air rifle.  Others in the company were not keen on that idea though.

After viewing the waterfall we set off back downstream, back passed the friendly eel, which several “patted”. We clambered over big rocks, criss crossing the stream trying to keep to the shallowest water, marveling at the many and various formations.

We made a side detour into The Cathedral via a very muddy track.  Inside the wee “Cathedral” the stalactites looked like the angled framework one sees in the nave of a church.  Just down from The Cathedral some of us managed to squeeze through a very tight section between two rocks but others chose to wade into the deeper water to avoid it.

In one place a pigeon was sitting on eggs, right on the floor of the canyon, she didn’t move or bat an eyelid as we walked beside her just a footfall away.

Four brave, hardy souls, Sarah, Anna (it was her Gold Card Birthday that day), Christine and Jill, chose to stay in the chasm for another 20 minutes before exiting with a full immersion swim of about eight metres before getting to the end.  The rest of us hauled out earlier to retrace our steps on the path we’d walked in on. Back to where we’d left our packs and to where we could sit in the sun to wait for our transport and the conquering heroines to emerge shivering from the depths below.  When they did arrive the girls were super hyped up and just buzzing from their extra adventure.

The morning had gone very quickly and we were amazed that we had needed the full three hours to complete the Patuna Gorge Circuit.

Later we met out at the van about 2.00 for a drive down to Lake Ferry “Onoke” to where it meets the sea in a great gush through a gap in the Spit.  We all commented on the speed the water was flowing. Someone threw a stick into the water which zoomed down the torrent then got tossed and tumbled where the river met the sea in a roiling boisterous tide.

There were a few fishermen surf casting from the shore. Some fishing in the “Lake” and others out on the ocean beach a few hundred feet away.  We didn’t see anyone catch anything.

We lay on the hot stones to bake each side for a few minutes, reveling in the decadence of time to spare, warmth and sunshine, surf and blue sky, and good company.  The weather was such a change from the day before.  Today we could easily see the top of the Tararuas and I wondered which peak it was we had being trying to conquer.

Camp Mother chivvied us to get moving as there were other places she wanted to show us.  The Lake Ferry Pub for afternoon tea was on the list but it was shut, unfortunately.  Next up were the Wairarapa Wetlands.  Madam Google put us crook with her directions and we ended up at the very end of a No Exit Road without spotting the parking area we were looking for.  As we returned down the road we saw signage and assumed that if we drove through the gate off the road and followed the track we’d quickly find the car park where we would leave the van then walk the 4km circuit.  Well, we drove, and we drove, and we drove.  Eventually we found a viewer “hide” where we got out for a look to see what water fowl were about.  There were Black Swans, a Mallard Duck or six and some Teal.  Nothing spectacular in the bird department but we did enjoy seeing a whole swamp full of big brown bear Bull Rush heads, they used to be so common but now they are a rarity with so much of our wetlands having been drained over the years.

We drove on.  There had been absolutely no place to even contemplate turning around.  The track we were driving on was narrower than our van length. It was the top of a levee with drop off into the swamp on both sides.  We could see the road up ahead and were heaving a collective sigh of relief but we came to a gate with a padlock lock on it!  Dave, Brian and I were quick to give it the once over and were relieved to see that the hinges were both facing the same direction, there was no chain on that end so we bounded out and in short order had the gate off its hinges and open for Dave to drive safely through and out onto the car park where we should have been in the first place!   A lucky escape, it would have been a nightmare if Dave had to back all the way we had driven.  So it was “Home James and don’t spare the horses”.

We had time to freshen up with a shower, put our glad rags on and drive down to the Martinborough Pub for dinner.

It was a nice way to celebrate Anna’s Birthday and the end of a very enjoyable trip.

 

Day 5 - Mount Bruce – Pukaha Wild Life Centre - Taupo

 

Our first stop was in Greytown but we were too early and the shops were still shut.  We had a quick walk down the Main Street there doing a bit of window shopping then headed north on our way to Pukaha Wild Life Centre or Mount Bruce as we have always known it.

We purchased sundry and various delicious morning tea goodies from the café there and ate outside at one of the tables before paying our $20.50 Senior’s entrance fee to go around the Sanctuary.

The group wandered around the Aviaries which I thought was rather like going to the Zoo.  The inside of the Kiwi House was pitch black and we giggled as we bumped into one another and stood on each other’s toes.  We didn’t see any Kiwi so didn’t stay long.   Our original plan was to have lunch there but we weren’t ready for lunch so waited until we got to Fielding where we stopped again for a lie in the shade, too hot in the sun, and a rest for Dave before continuing to Taupo where we arrived safely at 5.30p.m.

An excellent trip.  Thank you Jill for the wonderful organisation and to Dave for all the driving.

Elsie

Tongariro Northern Circuit     7th to 9th December 2023

 

Day One: The Chateau to Waihohonu Hut 15.4kms

Jenny Verschaffelt had organised this trip for herself, Gill Tate, Jean Caulton and Raewyn Rush but come the day both Jenny and Gill were out of tramping action so Graham Robertson and Elsie Skelton were lucky to be seconded into the foursome.

The Tongariro National Park forecast for the four day, three night excursion was excellent except for the last day when rain was expected in the afternoon.

It was drizzling at The Chateau when we arrived so we donned raincoats before hoisting our packs and setting off on the very familiar track towards the Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes.  It was also quite windy on the ridges so we’d have needed our coats even without the drizzle.  We had expected to have morning tea on the rocks above the falls but moved further up the track so as to be sheltered from the wind but also to be away from the pile of timber that we think must be going to be used to improve the steps down to the falls.  Good to see DOC keeping the maintenance up.

The track was busy with day trippers as well as others like us, carrying full packs.  I had never walked through to Waihohonu from Tama before so was very surprised to see how quickly the track quality deteriorated once passed the “tourist route” into Tama Lakes.  The drizzle abated and we had ever changing views of Ruapehu as we marched along.

We stopped for an early lunch in a sheltered gully. The sun broke through not long after and raincoats and warm jackets were stowed into our packs.  We observed a lone seagull swooping low down over the vegetation and wondered if he’d lost his way to the Seagull Colony at Saddle Cone.  Pipits (Pihoihoi) were numerous chirping and tail flitting from rock perches along the way.   Eye Bright, blue Harebells, and several varieties of tiny mountain Hebe were in flower adding a spot of cheer along the way.  We had a pack down rest stop beside the Waihohonu Stream. It was crystal clear and sparkling in the sunshine.

We diverted off track to look at the historic Waihohonu Hut. It looked very posh in its new coat of paint. It was built in 1904 so will be 120 years old this coming year.  Oh so basic it was built by the “Tourist and Health Resorts Department for park visitors and tourists travelling by coach from Waiouru to Tokaanu.”  Me thinks today’s tourists would spurn it even in the darkest, coldest depths of winter such is the improvement of all things accommodation in todays’ world.

The New Waihohonu was a welcome sight with its 28 beds with comfy mattresses, four pairs of gas cooking rings, three big kitchen sinks, double glazed windows and insulation in the walls.  A free standing fire box would have made for a cosy night in the winter and the two drying racks above were well placed to make use of all the rising heat.  We quickly laid claim to a bunk each then set about re-hydrating with copious cups of tea.

There was plenty of daylight left. Ngauruhoe had lost its cloak of cloud revealing its perfect volcanic cone form. A “map of Africa” shaped patch of snow still clung to its southern slope. So photogenic.  Also photogenic were the many types of Mountain Daisies out in the bright sunshine and the green hooded orchids down beside the stream.

The hut was almost full with varying accents being heard.  The tourists are back!

Day Two Waihohonu to Otutere – 8km

Someone’s alarm went at 4.00a.m. The birds started singing not long afterwards.  I kept my eyes shut dozing till another alarm rang at 6.00 a.m. I was aghast to find almost everyone in our room had already decamped with all their gear out into the lounge! Raewyn, Jean and Graham amongst them.  They were all well on their way with breakfast by the time I got myself organised.

We were breakfasted and packs tied down by 7.15a.m. but we didn’t hoist them onto our backs.  We walked unencumbered around to the Ohinepango Springs. It was a glorious morning. The mountains were clear in the morning light and the birds in the trees behind the springs were in full voice.  It was a joy to be out.

We left Waihohonu around 9.00 a.m. to begin the long gradual climb up onto the ridge that we have walked a couple of times hoping to reach the top of Mount Tama but each time have been beaten by the weather.  The beech forest sections of the track are a delight.  Jean with her keen eye and ear soon spotted Rifleman (Titipounamu) a whole family of them flitting between the trees. We saw a youngster being fed breakfast.  Wow! That was a high point right there!

The track rose and fell over several ridges with the last one bringing us up into an amazing area of ancient lava flow where the lava had solidified into grotesque and interesting shapes.  Big patches of pumice and sand had us wondering at the diversity of material that a volcano can throw out.

We reached Oturere Hut at 12.00.  This hut is a 26 bed hut and is due for replacement.

I am sure that when the new one is built it will look up to the Tongariro Red Crater from a picture window as the Waihohonu Hut looks up to Mount Ngauruhoe. Currently one has to be outside to enjoy this stunning view.

We lunched out in the sunshine.  We chatted to the various travelers as they came, some to stay, some to pass on their way down.  We seemed to be the only ones going anticlockwise.  We took the steep path down to the stream for a wash.  A couple of bright splashes of yellow Ranunculus or Mountain Buttercup had me scrambling down to the waterfall’s very lip, to photograph them.  There were also Mountain Foxgloves flowering.

There was momentary panic in the hut as the gas appeared to have run out so folks got the fire going only to realise that there was a 30 minute cut out switch on the gas supply which only needed a flick of the switch to get the gas flowing again.  Tricks of the trade!

The afternoon crept by with conversations ranging over many topics with many nationalities one of the enjoyable parts of hut life.

And so to bed in the daylight at 8.00p.m.

 

Day Three Otutere to Mangatepopo to Whakapapa – 22kms

People started moving at 5.00a.m.  I checked the time at 5.15a.m. Graham had enough of lying down by 5.30 so got up and got packing. Jean was next to move then, somewhat reluctantly, Raewyn and I followed.  We were breakfasted packed up and out the door at 6.35a.m.  There was nothing to be seen of Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, they were lost in the mist.  Tongariro was clear. The morning light sharpened all the features and layers of the wall of rock at the head of the valley which we would soon be climbing.  This was all new country for me so I was constantly speculating as to where the track went.  The trail followed a jagged lava flow ridge meandering around fantastic rock formations.  My imagination ran rampant: –Queen Victoria in bonnet, bustle and voluminous skirt ignored us as we passed. A sharp nosed old man appeared to be holding court with an unseen opponent. A big dog with pricked up ears sat facing up the valley perhaps awaiting a masters’ return. A pixie faced ground squirrel sat poised and ready to run. I could go on…..

Meanwhile we were “pegging along” clicking past those marker pegs at a steady rate towards the rock wall that we each, silently, wondered how we would climb with our heavy packs.   The mist had lifted off the other mountains and from the Kaimanawas as well, so 360 degree views, – fabulous.

We stopped for a drink and an energy boost at the foot of the first spur reveling in where we had come from and cautious of the way forward.  We agreed that each should climb at their own speed waiting for the others at the top of each steep section. This worked well. No-one felt pressured.  The trail zig zagged back and forth across the spine of the ridge which was roughly one and a half metres wide.  So three to four steps upward and across, then turn and repeat. It reminded me of my youth, following my Dad in a similar fashion up the hills on the farm.

Twenty minutes later the first steep section was done and dusted, then a bit of light relief before a more vertical section up loose rock that brought us up past the thermal vents below Emerald Lake. The vents were furiously pumping steam into the air and the Sulphur smell was quite strong.   We breached the lip of the “wall” at the mouth of the stream that over flows from the Emerald Lake.  Several men carrying little gear passed us at the run.  One told us that they were running the whole circuit (46kms) on the day. We were in awe of how sure footed they were running down the steep, narrow, uneven surface.

We dwelt a while next to the Emerald Lake revelling in our achievement thus far and enjoying the scene. It was only 8.30 a.m. We raised our eyes to the highest point on the Tongariro Crossing and realised that the day trekkers were already starting their “glissière descent down the scree slope. It was time for us to climb before it became dangerous, as the day trekkers could dislodge rocks down onto us, so with heads down and determination writ large on our faces we set off, each of us choosing our own times to stop to look out at the view. We were surprised and delighted at how quickly we reached the top.  The view was magical.  The Red Crater superb.  Jean spotted the Oturere Hut away in the distance with a snail trail wending its way down the valley towards it. How many times had we been up there and not noticed it? The huge boulders we had walked through looked like mere pebbles from this height.  The Chateau is also visible from the top.  The day trippers were coming in waves now as excited as we were to be at the top and those that we met on the tricky piece on the South Crater wall were as grim faced as we had been on our climb from the other side.

We had intended to have morning tea at the top but the wind was cold so we didn’t linger.  Instead we started down the wall above the South Crater where Graham found a “throne” to sit on, out of the wind, and we mere minions sat around his feet.  

The conveyor belt of people continued to pour across the crater like they had been  deposited on it from an escalator coming up from the staircase. We were concerned about the lack of clothing some of them were wearing and we warned them of how cold it was at the top.  We were a bit of a bother to them as we were the only ones going the “wrong” way.  We soon realised why they were wearing so little as down in the valley out of the wind it was sweltering so we were soon removing excess clothing pretty quickly too.

We reached Mangatepopo hut before 12.00.  We were booked to stay there the night.  We were travelling well. The weather for Sunday was not going to be great so we made the decision to have a good lunch and rest then press on the extra 3 hours to The Chateau.

It is some years since I walked that track so I had expected it to be somewhat improved but I was to be disappointed. Nothing appears to have been done. Our tired legs had to work hard to reach the big step ups and downs but we made it back by 3.20p.m. A mammoth 22 kms for the day with a full pack.  The cold drinks from the coffee cart sure tasted good!

Thanks to Jenny for her organisation. Thanks to the others for their patience and good company. Thanks to the weather – just perfect.

Elsie

Pahi Coastal Track – Hike and Bike

 

Wednesday 11th to 14th October 2023

 

The tramping club were lucky as Raewyn and friends had tried to do this trip during the previous season but it had been cancelled due to bad weather so when it came to re-booking they decided to offer it as a club trip.

“Pahi Coastal Walk is an incredible three-day, two-night walking experience with unsurpassed coastal views over the whole trip.” Thus saith the blurb on their web-site and I think all of us who made the trip would agree with that. It is also fully catered and the accommodation could not be faulted except perhaps by the ones who had a cold shower on the second night because the first bathers didn’t realise the Shearers Quarters were on electric hot water, and not gas, as the Pahi Retreat had been and were a bit hoggy with the water!

The group were: Raewyn Rush (organiser), Jenny Verschaffelt, Gill Tate, Christine Elmiger, Jean Caulton, Doug Papps, Carroll Robertson, Dave and Jill Wilding, Celia and Bryan Bockett and Elsie Skelton. All but Raewyn gathered at the Wilding residence, to load an excessive amount of gear into and onto the van (bikes), considering we didn’t need to bring meals. Raewyn joined us at Coromandel.

We drove north to Manawaru where we stopped for lunch at a very nice café whose premises is the old NZ Dairy Company Building.  The food was excellent and the service efficient.

The water in the Hauraki Gulf was rather muddy looking close to shore but that didn’t deter a big flock of White Fronted Terns and Gannets diving into it in a frenzy to work over a school of fish.  Many Terns and Shags kept company on a certain outcrop of rocks and were still in residence at the same spot on our return.

We spent the first night at the Top10 Holiday Park in Coromandel where Raewyn had booked out a very nicely renovated old villa whose ceilings reach heavenwards, my guess being by about 15 feet.  The singles took up residence there and “marrieds” shared a Motel Unit.  We dined at the Top Pub just across the road, huge meals at reasonable prices. An early to bedder locked the rest of the crew out – oops!

On Thursday morning we packed the van again, reattached the bike carrier and bikes and set off for Colville with Raewyn and Jenny coming behind in Raewyn’s car. We had no sooner turned out onto the highway north than a frantic tooting and yelling from Raewyn and Jenny had us pulling into the curb side pronto.  The bike carrier hadn’t been secured properly and had tilted backwards, a scary moment for Bryan and Celia.  Fortunately, the bikes were securely fastened to the carrier so didn’t fall to the road so no damage was done. The carrier was clicked firmly into place and we were off again.  The road to Colville has certainly taken a battering with big slumps dropping away from the road, and the scars where slips have come from above and swooshed over and down into the sea below giving pause for thought.  An engineer’s nightmare!                      

We were early for our shuttle pick-up in Colville so put some shekels into the local economy by enjoying coffee and cakes at the café.

We found the Hike and Bike place after a false start and those who intended to bike on the last day signed their lives away on the paper work then we were off up the coast to Jackson’s Bay being entertained all the way by a very interesting commentary from the shuttle driver.

We and our day packs were duly delivered to Zander and Cath Ward’s home where a tasty morning tea and briefing awaited us.  Those formalities over, we up packed and set off out their front gate at 11.45a.m. for a 10 km walk over their farm, working our way from sea level gently up and up on farm tracks till we crossed the Colville Road and after a steep pinch, plonked ourselves down on the ridge at 1.00p.m for a lunch break. We were overlooking the Hauraki Gulf to the west and to the north, through the haze, we could see the outline of Little Barrier Island.

Onwards and upwards through the only bush of our two day walk.  The bush is open to the farm stock so the understory is non-existent but it was pretty with Clematis, Taurepo and Puriri all in flower.  On up towards the Vodaphone Cell Tower which had seemed so high above us from the house, but here we were now, right beside it.  It was exceedingly windy on the ridgeline, with the gusts causing us to stagger like drunks at times, as the wind tried to topple us back down the hill.  Another small patch of bush held a surprise, a Giant Puriri tree, it dwarfed all others around it and we wondered about its age.  Another stand of trees had us scratching our heads as to what they were, quite upright with thick leaves. Jean’s Naturalist program told us it was Beilschmiedia taraire, now get your tongue around that one!

A little further on, the track forked, and those who didn’t wish to continue up on the blustery ridge could start their downward trend towards Pahi Retreat from there, with the others continuing to battle the wind to reach the Lookout at 550 metres above sea level. To the south Mount Moehau brooded over us but in all three other directions we were “the conquerors of all we surveyed!”  Fabulous!! Not so fabulous for Carroll who came out of the wee patch of bush below the summit, sporting a gory decoration to her nose and leg having been leg tripped by some flax.

Now it was time to go down, and down, and down some more!  How those thigh muscles complained!  We weren’t frisking like the heifers we passed in the top paddock, or moving swiftly around stock tracks like the Big Billy’s, Nannies and Kids, or skidding down the ridges like the cows and calves or staying still like the ewes and lambs. We had to keep on plodding, as delicious snacks, dinner, and showers awaited us down close to sea level again.  We reached Pahi Retreat at around 5.00 p.m. and a joint effort soon had the pre-prepared meal cooking, the snacks being devoured and finally the clean up afterwards before a well-earned soft, comfy bed.

 

Oh dear, the sound of rain pitter pattering on the roof during the night and early morning was ominous.  Those who had cell phone access checked and rechecked the hour by hour weather report – showers clearing by lunchtime, all fingers crossed. After a hearty breakfast we donned wet weather gear and were on our way by 8.45a.m. along a farm track with a very steady trajectory upwards.  An hour and a bit brought us to a set of cattle yards where we sat sheltering on the catwalk, on the leeward side of the yards, out of the wind.  The tops were obscured intermittently during the morning, and skiffs of rain came scurrying through on the still gusty wind. A few metres above the cattle yards was a parting of the ways again, with the choice to go high or take a less elevated route for the rest of the day.  The wind was

blowing, the rain was stinging our faces and many were in a quandary as to which path to take with a 50x50 split, then suddenly the sun came out and the upward bound numbers swelled with just three choosing the alternate route. What a difference a little sunshine can make!

This farm has two cell towers and we were working our way steadily towards the second one but cut left just below the tower to follow the farm tracks towards the east where the track levelled out on a high plateau where stock, camped in groups, kept a wary eye on us.  Three climbed to the highest point on the farm, while the rest followed the track.   A stile took us onto the Pahi Cycle Way –wow!! What a Cycle Way!! You’d have to be nuts to ride that! I see the info says “Advanced” – surely not for the faint hearted.  It took us ages just to pick our way down on foot as the exposed papa and clay was slippery from the night’s rain. 

The sun came out. The sea turned from silver to magenta and the atmosphere cleared so we could see down the coast to Cuvier Island, and later as far as the Mercury Islands – fabulous. We stopped at an old fencer’s cottage to read the story of a young lads’ first job.  We sat outside the hut to eat our lunches before continuing our downward trek to Fletcher’s Bay to the Stony Bay Track which we followed down to the Fletcher’s Bay camp ground.  We opted to walk the road until we reached the Muriwai cliff path instead of climbing again up the cycle path through the farm. We learned later, the others had taken the “up” track.

We all just loved the Muriwai Cliff track and it was one of the highlights for Christine and Elsie.  We were high above the sea, above the diving Gannets. The early group had seen them flying in V formation. We watched tiny yachts sailing across the channel between Great Barrier and the Coromandel and later a trio of motor boats stormed out of the Hauraki Gulf headed for the Barrier for the weekend, or so we imagined.

Today’s walk finished with a flight or two of steps, both up and down and then a lovely stroll along the Port Jackson Beach where Dotterels in breeding colours strutted about, Oyster Catchers called, a pair of Caspian Terns stood at the waters’ edge ready for flight and sadly, a dead Blue Penguin lay at rest on the high tide line. 

We reached the Shearers Quarters at 4.00. Celia and Bryan had been in for a swim so, not to be out done, several of the newly arrived group also went in for a “Tea Bag” swim as well.  We were soon relaxing with nibbles and drinks before consuming a delicious meal of kebabs, salads and, Doug’s trip highlight, “Mile High Berry Pie”.

As we sat around the table that night we reflected on the highlights of the trip thus far.

For Jenny it was being out tramping in open farmland and being with members from the club again.

Celia and Carroll both commented on the privilege of being able to have two wonderful days walking over private farmland with magnificent views and magnificent stock. Also being able to see views from both sides of the ridge line, east and west.

For those who had been to Great Barrier Island recently seeing the view in reverse was a treat i.e. Great Barrier to Coromandel and now Coromandel to Great Barrier.

Gill found the wind a challenge, bracing herself against it and winning.

Jill loved having a great tramp with a hot shower and comfortable bed to end the day. She enjoyed walking amongst the farm stock too, ewes and lambs, cows and calves, and nannies and kids.

Bryan had a serious moment being “eye balled” by a cow. 

Jean was impressed with the variety of bird life both land and sea birds: Kaka, Grey Warbler, Kereru, Turkey and those sea birds already mentioned.

Dave was happy that the big walks were over and found the cuisine to his liking.

He also found a kindred spirit in the Shearer’s Quarter’s friendly grey cat.

Raewyn made mention of the education our most senior couple had given we young ones as to the delights of a “bushy”.  And so to bed.

 

On the last day eight of the twelve chose to cycle from Jackson Bay down the Coast Road back to Colville.  The other four would do an hour walk close to the Shearer’s Quarters and then be transported down to Colville by shuttle.  Five of us had hired our bikes so we had a little trial run before setting off.  I found mine rather up right and felt I should have a basket on the front filled with flowers like Mary Poppins.  After the initial climb up from Jackson Bay to the ridgeline it was a superb ride.  The atmosphere was the clearest we’d had with Waiheke Island and the Whangaporoa Peninsula being very clear. At our first stop we looked back up to the heights we had climbed the past two days and felt elated that we’d conquered them.  We kept a sharp lookout for any sign of Whales, Orca and Dolphins but were unlucky today.  We stopped at Fantail Bay to check out the camping ground.  We stopped at Lindsay Garmson’s workshop where he has a collection of teapots and coffee mugs made by many different potters.  Jenny’s happy place. Not long after, vehicles could be heard sneaking up on us. Christine decided to cross the road to a wide shoulder on the other side of the road.  As she did so, a Ute came towards her from the opposite direction, causing her momentary panic as she escaped from its path.  The bike pedals ripped up her legs leaving a couple of bruised graze marks. The scare leaving her with a pounding heart!

We stopped at the Paritu Granite Wharf from where loads of granite were taken across to Auckland and other places for the building of early New Zealand grand edifices.

A huge,1000 year old Pohutukawa tree had our cameras clicking as did the huge Charolaise Bull snoozing beneath.  We sloshed our way through a ford and a couple of very muddy puddles then cruised onto the sealed road at the junction with the road to Waikawau and raced on quickly back to the café at Colville for refreshments before taking our steeds back to Hike and Bike. The others arrived sometime later and we set off South to Taupo all well pleased with our efforts over the past few days.

A wonderful tramp, with great club members, in mostly good weather, with amazing scenery, first rate food and accommodation.  Our thanks to Raewyn for all her organisation and to Dave for all his driving.

                              Elsie

                                            

                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

                 

 

                                                

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