Tuesday March 9th 2021: In cool & overcast conditions 10 friends -Jenny Verschaffelt ,Gill Tate, Gerda & Tiemen Corporal, Ngaire & Gerald Kissick, Brian Hicks ,Gai & Phil Menzies & Kay Feather were off to walk the Paparoa Great Walk from the southern end starting from the Smoke-ho carpark on the Croesus Track ,which has remnants of the areas gold mining history. In the first hour the track climbs through podocarp & beech forest ,crossing a wire suspension bridge over the Smoke-ho creek .Morning tea with the local weka was at the first of two historical hotel sites. The track zig-zagged up the ridge between Blackball Creek & Roaring Meg catchment for the next hour until we reached the turnoff to Blackball
Creek ..the hut warden had passed us and told us the Garden Gully was worth a look and the stamping battery was very much worth a look .We dropped our packs and took the hour return trip to Garden Gully to see more relics of the gold mining days -a miners hut dating back to 1930 still stands ..we wandered further up the track to view the old quartz crushing battery to find the suspension bridge draped in 'Under Repair' tape - 10 “engineers” looked it up & down and couldn’t really find too much wrong with it …Brian was very keen to give it a go and wander over it but the 'Gold Card' common sense prevailed and we decided against it ..in hindsight we could have passed over it as the hut warden told us “Oh the track Maintenance crew were doing minor maintenance and maybe forgotten to remove all the tape …how annoying !!! Packs back on and onwards & upwards as the track climbed steeply through subalpine forest towards Ces Clarke hut. We passed the Croesus Top Hut which is purely historical, although some of our group used it as an “ensuite” to freshen up & change, as the hut was open plan and provided no private space. Ces Clarke Hut was perched on the edge of the bush line set among low alpine scrub and on a clear day you would be rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Brunner, the main divide down to Mt Cook …we had to wait a couple more days for these views. We 10 shared the 16 bed hut with 4 other trampers and a biker.
Wednesday March 10th : Ces Clarke Hut to Moonlight Tops Hut 9.7 km. What a weather experience we had today. Left the hut at 8.30 in full wet weather regalia, hats & gloves in low cloud damp conditions and NO views. After about 30mins from the hut we passed the Croesus knob turnoff -this is a 1 hr 10 min return trip to top of knob (1204) where views of Mt Cook & out to the Tasman Sea …sadly none of our group bothered as the weather was so bad The weather got progressively worse as we tramped through sub alpine scrub & tussock on very exposed ridges of the main Paparoa Range .The wind was vicious reaching 90 kmph (according to hut warden once we all blew inside) The rain was relentless as we “crept” along the open ridges holding on to any tussock for fear of being blown off. Four pack covers were blown away never to be seen again..nit was the most vicious conditions most of us had ever endured. After 3.5 hours we arrived at Moonlight Tops Hut drenched and wind blown. However a young Australian guy and his Kiwi girlfriend had a great fire going and the kettle on boiling …they had planned on going all the way out but the hut warden advised them to stay put ..I think they slept in the storage shed for the night. It was an afternoon of drying gear, playing cards & dice, numerous cups of coffee & tea and then the luxury of watching the Americas Cup on a punter’s phone …Mark had a very heavy power pack which allowed us to watch the race. The Moonlight Tops Hut has panoramic views across to the escarpment, Pike stream & Paparoa National Park We shared the hut with 5 other trampers and one biker.
Thursday March 11th : Moonlight Tops Hut to Pororari Hut 19.1 km .Thank goodness we woke to a very welcome clear ,still & dry day. We felt like we were on top of the world this morning .We set off down trail that dropped into the Goblin Forest ..an enchanting mossy forest .We stopped for morning tea to enjoy the near 360 deg views ,then on to walking along the escarpment of the Paparoa range with expansive views of steep limestone cliffs and impenetrable wilderness ,with the ocean far beyond. It is truly breathtaking! Just before we dropped off the escarpment, you look down into a deep valley ,the valley that held Pike River Mine. Three air shafts are visible and today we could hear work going on in the hope
of retrieving bodies .
Leaving the alpine forest, we descended down towards Pororari Hut going through a beautiful rainforest, with this day being our longest, taking 8hrs. With the hard, compacted track, quite a few of our group experienced, if not one, then multiple blisters making for a hard walk out.
This hut is a replica of Moonlight Tops. We shared this hut with 6 mountain bikers and 3 other trampers. One Kea called in for a visit sitting atop a high tree.
Friday March 12 Pororari Hut to Punakaiki 16kms
We descended into the Pororari River valley for a pleasant day walking through an amazing gorge and beautiful beech forest. This whole area was stunning.
Once at the end of the track we all made a beeline for the Punakaiki Tavern to await our shuttle back to Greymouth, refreshments in hand.
Kay and Jenny
TAIRUA WEEKEND Feb 2021
‘Twas on a Friday morning that nine of us left home
En route to Coromandel, well known to some
A coffee stop at Matamata the Hobbits to snap
Then on to Tairua our packs to unwrap
A beach tramp via dotterel nests to Sailor’s Grave Bay
Then up and down till kauri die-back blocked our way
Back we came still up and down, some braved the surf
But for that day enough was enough
Into town for fish and chips outside in the heat
We deserved them and all felt beat
On Saturday morning to meet Raewyn we drove
On the road to Broken Hill area with its treasure trove
Up, up on roots to Collins Drive and lookout we stumbled
Hobbits were nearly past it as for snacks they fumbled
Then joy of joys it was downhill and through a tunnel
All with head-torches on, it was like a funnel
The track along the water race was fun
Tried to eat lunch by the river but rain won that one
Later into town to a restaurant we made our way
A delicious dinner was to end our day.
On Sunday morn two groups divided
Three to the beach, six on the cycle track decided
Easy walking all agreed
Then back to Raewyn’s mansion for a feed
Hobbits especially were very pleased
How back into hilly tramping they eased.
A great weekend and thanks are due
To Gill, Raewyn and Carroll our driver too.
TRAMPERS: Gill Tate, Carroll Robertson, Sarah Bloomer, Val Wilkinson, Vanda Marshall, Anna Van der Kaay, Sandy Fletcher, Raewyn Rush, Austin and Isabel Hutcheon
Taupo - Ohakune- Wanganui -Taupo Cycle trip
Day 1 October 1 2020
Vanda, Jill L, Barbara, Raewyn, Dave and Jill, Jenny V, Bernie and Sandy, Kay and Roger, Sarah B, Brian and Celia, Gill, Ngaire and Gerald, Nicky D, Lyndsay B.
Loaded all 17 e bikes and 2 normal bikes onto Hammersley trailer and carriers and we set off in Bernie's van, TTC van and Dave’s SUV. Lunch in Ohakune out of the wind in a random car park. Had a great ride out of Ohakune to Rangataua Village to Harrods. Cycled thru a farm on a paper road where the farmer knew how to farm his stock. No dirty bums on sheep and lovely grass and trees. Out onto road again and around a wee lake. Back to Ohakune to motel and dinner at Osteria.
Day 2 October 2
Up early and off to Pipiriki where we had lunch in a shelter. Batteries helped heaps and were showing a range of assist. That made good discussion about how to get the best benefit from battery and gearing. There was a big range between bikes and individual's. Jill W kindly followed in her SUV so that she could take Bernie back to collect his van. Pipiriki to Matahiwi Old School camp where we left 6 to stay, where the option was a lovely Roast Lamb meal. The rest of us were shuttled back to the convent at Jerusalem Church and
Dormitory accommodation. Bernie is good at taking short cuts BUT...
The convent was like being in an old hospital with curtains wrapped around each bed. Doesn't stop the snoring sounds though or the shadows formed of body profiles with your light on. Lots of different meals made up our dinners from sausages and mash to dehydrated meals.
Day 3 Saturday Oct 3
49 kms bike to Upokongaro where we ordered a lovely lunch. Kay ordered her lunch and then the glass cabinet exploded giving everyone a hell of a fright and sent glass through all of the beautifully prepared food. Biked into Wanganui. The wind was blowing a gale so made it hard biking to the sea. QDave you nailed it. Bikes loaded up and after an icecream it was back to Taumaranui where we refuelled. Bernie was concerned about tyre pressure fault on dash board so pulled forward to the air pump and checked the tyres. Guess what 30kms down the road Bernie realised he had completed a successful drive off without paying for fuel. Of course no reception for phones at that time so we continued driving expecting the men in blue to catch up with us. The phone call eventually contacted BP Taumaranui and they knew it was a Blue Van that had driven off. Payment made on line. Thanks to Dave and Jill, Bernie and Roger for driving us safely. Dave you are a machine on that normal bike.
A total of 164 kms biked. A new experience for some and we all loved the biking and companionship. Thanks Bernie and Sandy for organising. Hope we get invited again.
TARANAKI GARDEN FESTIVAL OCT 30 - NOV 3 2020
The weather reports were dire for the days to come, but our group of seven set off from Gillies Ave on Friday morning with great anticipation for the sights and experiences ahead of us. As it turned out we were most fortunate in striking wonderful weather apart from one solitary downpour at the end of our last day.
We kicked off with a good stretch of the old legs on the White Cliffs track after our picnic lunch. We followed the gas line and Dave Wilding kept a count of the steps on the way down – he reckons 630 of them. The beach was stunning with black sand, round rocks and towering cliffs that looked more grey than white to me. Lots of waterfalls off the cliffs and straight down onto the beach. We moved on to the Stratford Holiday Camp next to the Patea river. An excellent choice of accommodation.
Bernie selected a superb array of gardens for us to visit, too many to mention every single one. We started on Saturday with the lovely Hollard Gardens where we had plenty of time to explore, followed by Openlands with its restored chapel and Oakley with the flamboyant hanging baskets. The remarkable thing about the whole trip was the fact that Bernie and Sandy are so well known in Taranaki that, wherever we went, somebody would know them
and give us so much more information than we would otherwise have gleaned. Gravetye garden in Hawera was very different with impeccably maintained hedges radiating from the house. This was one of the most impressive gardens we saw. Tawhiti museum, our lunch stop, was truly a wonder to behold and we could easily have spent days there.
Dave did the driving for us and there was a fair amount of that because the gardens are pretty widespread over a big area. Some of the Rhodo shows were over at the Pukeiti gardens but enough were flowering there for us to enjoy. Te Popo has to have a mention
with all its impressive metal African mammal sculptures – that’s where the rain came down! At Bertrand Bridge we held our collective breath as Dave negotiated the ultra narrow bridge with a couple of centimetres to spare! On we went to the Jury gardens which were lovely but no cup of tea for us there, much to Jan’s dismay! We managed to squeeze in a good walk up the river in New Plymouth, starting off from the Windwand on the impressive Coastal Track. We had lunch one day near the beautiful Te Rewa Rewa cycle bridge and Elsie spotted a rare bird, the Cape Barren Goose. I duly reported it to the Rare Birds NZ committee.
The three sustainable gardens that we visited were a real eye opener for us all. I reckon that a dedicated visit just to see these gardens would be awesome! We also managed to visit the private gallery of Margaret Scott – what a prolific artist she is and her colours are so vibrant. The gardens at Tupare were another feast for the eyes and I was delighted to have Jan point out a garden sculpture designed by Julie McDonnell, a badminton buddy of mine! We ate out one evening in Stratford after first watching the Glockenspiel display of Romeo & Juliet.
En route home on Tuesday, Bernie treated us to the Forgotten Highway with a stop in Whangamomona for morning tea and yummy cake. A long drive for Dave and he never complains. The scenery was fabulous for the entire trip and we all had a most wonderful time thanks to Bernie, Sandy and Dave.
Participants were :- Bernie Hammersley, Sandy Fletcher, Dave Wilding, Jan Harding, Elsie Skelton, Anna van der Kaay, Jean Caulton
A Piece of Coromandel Doggerel
6th to 10th November 2020
Coromandel tramp, great anticipation,
Eve of departure, great precipitation!
I chew the fat with the old club cap,
Check the forecast on the weather app.
Optimistic eleven venture forth,
Compass heading, “North”.
The sun is soon shining, Kapai!
Eighteen eighties old gold mine,
Steep inclines Butlers, May Queen to climb.
We sweat a bucket in next to no time,
Thank goodness for the flat section of tramline.
Thames Dickson Holiday Park,
Didn’t hit the Triple A mark.
Up with the Tuis on Saturday morn,
We soon vacated the Double D dorm.
The Kauaeranga Valley beckoned.
We could be turned back at any second.
At eight fifteen we’re through quarantine,
Boots and poles sprayed with detergent Trigene.
The Pinnacles our destination
We set off with grim determination.
Swings bridges, steps of stone,
The calf muscles creak and groan!
Nikau palms in tropical glades of green
Orchids – four different kinds were seen
Most unusual Kei Kei flower.
Billy Goat Falls over us tower.
Up and Up and up, ladder and rung,
Till we stand at the top the Pinnacles won.
Yahoo, Yipee, I can see the sea
This is the sight that greeted me!
Tairua to the East, Hauraki to the west.
As the East Beast says, “East is Best!” (Apologies to Dr Seuss)
Bush clad valleys in deepest green,
Cover the landscape in between.
A friendly gent from Taiwan,
Urges us to go further on
To stand at the top of a great abyss,
So glad this spot we didn’t miss.
Now reluctantly it’s down and down,
Feeling we deserve the Victor’s Crown.
Ladies opt for a quick “Tea Bag” dip,
Kingfisher sings ooh la la pip pip!!
Shelly Beach here we come.
Will we make it before setting sun?
Ah Corina has done us proud,
Lovely units to house our crowd.
Sunday morning rise with the sun.
Another adventure has just begun.
To drive up the Coromandel Coast
To the rest of the world a scenic boast.
Vistas superb mark our way
From Fletcher to Stony Bay.
Kaka give us a Royal Fly By,
Sheep and Cattle barely blink an eye.
Warblers warble and cuckoos call
From Manuka sculptured like a dense wall.
Rocks at Stony roll and rumble
With each wave they wash and tumble.
Curving waves break upon the land.
Leaving designs of white spume on the sand.
A sighting of Dolphins along the way,
Is a perfect end to a perfect day.
Monday, a day to rest and relax.
We’re done with all those tramping tracks!
Let’s dawdle a while along a beach,
New Chums, Whangapoua is within reach.
This white sand beach has International fame
But we’re too early for Pohutukawa flame.
A maiden swings, hair flowing, cheeks glowing,
Others from rain spots in caves are cowering.
Matarangi for lunch on the sand spit,
Binoculars trained on the birds at the tip.
Dotterel, Godwit, Oyster Catcher too,
Tiny bumble bee sized chicks clean and new.
Coffee calling at Kuaotunu
Luke’s Kitchen – good food but no view.
Fire siren sounds it’s time to leave,
Back to Shelly to prepare for the eve.
Drinks and nibbles on the deck by the sea.
Back into Coro for a slap up tea.
Tuesday we bid farewell to Beach Shelly.
We’re off to see the Tapu Square Kauri.
A colossus of the living kind,
Not many bigger can you find.
Twelve Hundred years to get to this size
Pleased it wasn’t a saw miller’s prize.
Up the Valley of Waiomu,
More Kauri there for us to view.
We lunch in the midst of these gentle giants
Their bark patterns, a designer’s patent.
Now it’s time to set course for home.
Our care free days are done and gone.
For this wonderful world in which we live
To the Creator of it all we must give
Honour where Honour is due,
Lord, we give the Honour all to you.
(Participants: Elsie Skelton, Dave and Jill Wilding, Vanda and Peter Marshall, Jill Lloyd, Claire Furniss, Jean Caulton, Laura Andrews, Helen Bosch, Gill Tate)
Stewart Island 14-22nd November 2020
Participants - Jenny Verschaffelt, Christine Elmiger. Robyn and Jill from Whakatane, Trudy from Rotorua, Lynda from Tauranga.
Our route - The Rakiura Great Walk with an add-on of two days taking in Freshwater Hut and Fred's Camp.
We flew from our different locations, some with other trampers and some without and met up at the South Sea Hotel in Oban for the night.
Day One saw us at the visitor centre prior to setting off to gather any relevant information including weather. Some alarm was caused when the DOC lady declared Christine would be sleeping in the shelter as her booking was not correct! (Later confirmed to be in order). The group opted for the luxury of a taxi to Lee Bay to miss out on the road walking. Only light drizzle to contend with and this soon stopped. This section of the walk is truly beautiful with unspoilt bush and the sea right alongside and an easy walk to Port William Hut complete with semi tame white tailed deer grazing in front of the hut. This section of the track is very manicured with hardly a scrap of mud to be seen. Bunks were sorted and the hardy few took a quick dunk in the freezing water to freshen up.
Day Two over to North Arm is a longer day and the track is no longer so fancy and more like what you expect from Rakiura. More climbing now and away from the sea until you come back down to the North Arm. Two huge old log haulers provided a good rest stop and a great point of interest. This old machinery and the evidence of the tramways certainly make one think about how hard it must have been getting logs out at that time. Today and every day after, we stopped for a 'boil up' on the side of the track. This is such an enjoyable thing to do and something we should do more often - just sit a bit longer and look and listen.
Day Three we were off to Freshwater Hut. This involved Thompson's Ridge - a long, hard climb and descent and a nine hour day. The DOC time was seven hours but all those we spoke to needed nine hours so we didn't feel too bad. All very tired on arrival at the hut to find a group of Stewart Island school children out overnight. Eventually everyone found a bunk after the boys in the group set up their bivvy for the night. We spent two nights at Freshwater Hut which is quite a long way up the Freshwater River and a popular exit point by water taxi for people walking across from Mason Bay. The next morning the fire was lit,
washing dried and the cards set up on the table for a leisurely morning followed by three hours of exertion in the afternoon. Up Rocky Mountain we went for 550 m pretty much relentlessly to be greeted with mist and drizzle at the top but still with some views and the mountain conquered.
Day Five - into the unknown over the wetland to Fred's Camp negotiating the swamps and dodging the bogs. One lady got it wrong and sunk up to her thigh and had to be dragged out! Care needs to be taken here as trampers cannot just spot a pole and head towards it. We walked on higher ground occasionally seeing much more variety in the podocarp forest and hearing more birds, then up and over and down to Fred's Camp where we had the hut to ourselves. Everyone into the sea and appreciating the sunshine on emerging! Around seven hours this day. Cosy fire and more card challenges.
Day Six. The water taxi turned up half an hour early due to an incoming storm so a quick scramble and onto the boat and over to North Arm hut where we waded ashore. Lots of trampers here leaving for the walk back to Oban so boots back on and away we went. The bush is not so spectacular here as it has been milled in the past and there are interesting relics to see. A bit drizzly but we still managed our boil up for soup or tea, then on to Oban to our lovely bnb and lots of hot water, soap, shampoo and washing powder consumed!
This was a great trip with lots of fun and laughter and so lucky with weather following a simply atrocious weather forecast and a massive gale the day after we finished. Only one kiwi spotted but many high pitched calls heard at night.
Whanganui Kayaking Weekend: 20-22 November 2020
Thanks to the expanding non-tramping repertoire of the TTC with forays into e-biking most recently, four of us were able to test our amateur kayaking skills under the able tutelage of Bernie Hammersley backed up by Russell Watts in their single-man kayaks. We partnered up sharing two-man Canadian canoes, the ‘steerer’ seated aft and the ‘motor’ seated fore.
The maiden run started at Pipiriki late morning after our drive down from Taupo in the club van. Smeared with UV-factor and trussed up in lifejackets, we looked reasonably proficient until we dipped paddles into the water. For obvious reasons, a linear route is preferred to facilitate paddling efficiency, speed and energy-saving. We differed from this with some spectacular zigzagging as we meandered down the broad reaches of the accommodating Whanganui River on day 1. We paused for lunch in the quiet contemplative atmosphere of the grounds at Jerusalem, otherwise known as Hiruhᾱrama. The place has special significance, historically being home to Mother Mary Joseph Aubert whose Catholic mission exists here. The old convent still stands and offers modest accommodation in its gloriously preserved dormitories to the increasing passage of cyclists and kayakers. Jerusalem was also home to that eccentric giant of NZ poetry, James K. Baxter, who started a commune here in the 1970’s.
Our overnight base for both nights was at Matahiwi in quaint cabins. A communal kitchen catered to our cooking needs as we whipped up individual culinary storms in little pots and frying pans.
Day 2 on the river was a similar 22 km meander, our paddling quality still questionable although going with the flow is a reliable backup when a new skillset is developing! The scenery was stunning: steep riparian cliffs bursting with feral goats, an avian choir and even the occasional fallow deer with a little stiletto-heeled fawn in her wake. Jean’s ornithological knowledge came in handy and she was able to spot a Nankeen night heron that morning.
We stopped for a pre-booked lunch at the most extraordinarily quirky place, the Flying Fox. Access to this gorgeous retreat embedded into lush bush with its delightfully eccentric cabins, is only via the river or the flying fox which carries four adults at some height over the river in a small open cabin. The female ‘rowing fours’ went for a post prandial ‘flight’ over the river in this. The gardens surrounding the cabins are bulging with fat blooms tangling with jungly bush and fruit trees that are testament to the temperate climate of the Whanganui River Valley. Our lunch hosts described frost-free winters and an abundant annual avocado harvest which has them taking 1500 fruit to town weekly over the three-month season.
On day 3, we became landlubbers and laid our weary paddles to rest. We visited an historic flour mill at Kawana, followed by a steep walk at Atene (Athens) up to a ridge with spectacular views over the river and its previous water course which was altered by an earthquake in 1843.
It was a fascinating three days and we returned home feeling deliciously stimulated and stretched in every sense! These short breaks in our lovely countryside are as good as having a deep inhalation of some powerful tonic.
Grateful thanks to Bernie for coordinating yet another trip down this magical river, our third-longest and a taonga to be treasured.
Participants: Bernie Hammersley, Russell Watts, Jean Caulton, Claire Furniss, Carol Johnston, Gill Tate
GRAND TRAVERSE March 2020
Three months and a post-Covid lockdown later, many of us have forgotten the detail of what we were doing in the days leading up to our temporary bubble lives. For once, mercifully, I don’t have to rely on either photographic triggers or my crumbling memory to remember exactly where I was.
Five of us from Taupo, Gill Tate, myself plus good husband and two neighbours, succumbed to the lure of hiking the Grand Traverse in non-DOC style. This involved using a company that provided the ‘package’ deal padded out with those end-of-the day essentials like hot showers, three course meals followed by a draughtless, vermin-free solid sleep beneath a duvet. I should feel embarrassed by sharing this with some of the hardy beasts I’d like to call my tramping mates, but such was the pleasure of the experience that it begs sharing.
The entire tramping experience was quite glorious and splendidly scenic as it can only be when afoot in the postcard landscape of Aotearoa. At the risk of boring the reader silly with what he/she already knows, the scenic splendours of Fiordland are beyond description. From chlorophyll-dripping pristine bush, to rivers and waterfalls plunging downhill to ancient valleys with the ever-present avian orchestra trilling from sluggish sunrise to sudden sunset, The Great NZ Outdoors delivered in excess. The lodgings with their gradual incline from comfortable rustic to super comfortable luxe in remote bush have ruined me forever. For some of us, DOC huts are now much lower on the list of preferred accommodation when ‘going bush.’
To the facts then before adjectival overload distracts. The GT (Grand Traverse) covers 65 km and follows the Greenstone Valley through to the Routeburn track. On the first day, we were driven up the extended dogleg from Queenstown alongside Lake Wakatipu, through Glenorchy to the mouth of the Greenstone River. Here we disembarked, hoisted our light packs on and plunged into an immediate immersion of red beech forest to follow the Greenstone River. Our destination was Steele Creek Lodge, a manageable 18km away. Our small group of ten comprised a regular Australasian mix of six homegrown Kiwis, and four delightful imported ‘bushwalkers’ from Tasmania and Sydney. We were accompanied by three guides, young and shockingly fit enough to be our children who all ably epitomised the multitasking concept (even the boys) doubling as chefs and lodge hosts each night.
On day two after a Continental and/or cooked breakfast and having assembled our lunches from an array of good nutritious goodies, we set off for Lake McKellar Lodge, our accommodation for the next two nights. Much of the walk was on broad tussock-tufted river flats with sweeping views of the Ailsa and Livingstone ranges.
Day three offered the choice of a rest day or not. The ‘not’ took precedence naturally as typifies this tramping reflex we all share. The morning workout was a scenically distracting uphill plod, ghostly mist drifting through ancient arthritic trees until we emerged beyond the bushline. The lookout rewarded us with stunning cameos of Lake McKellar and the Greenstone Valley slipping in and out of the misty mizzle.
That afternoon, with a bellyful of lunch onboard, some of us fired up our legs and lungs and hiked in heavy rain dripping through the magical bush skirting Lake McKellar to the Caples/Greenstone junction.
Day three delivered a greatly anticipated highlight. After the February floods, the track between McKellar and Mackenzie Lodge had been closed due to slips. Our anticipated tramp across this section had, most excitingly, morphed into a helicopter hike. The ride was exhilarating, aerial perspectives revealing that dimension that one misses on the ground. From the air, Mackenzie Lodge was impressive and even more so once we’d landed. This is the type of comfort that threatens to ruin any tramper’s resolve to ever do it tough again! A vocal extended family of Keas greeted us enthusiastically, flashing orange underwings as they hopped heavily to ‘inspect’ our bags and poles. One solid feathered fella decided to devote himself to a closer inspection of helicopter’s rotor blades so our pilot ate his lunch on top of his flying machine guarding his precious blades until he could escape Inspector Kea.
Originally our group would have expanded by another twenty trampers joining us at Lake Mackenzie Lodge. However the Covid effect was in full evidence even out in this remote bush, the majority having cancelled with only two joining us as we started our Routeburn experience here. Dare I say that we weren’t unhappy to maintain our cosy small group dynamics.
Having squandered the morning being airlifted between two lodges, we took to the trail with gusto after an early lunch, the Earland Falls our afternoon destination. The track to these eye-watering falls was a mere three-hour return hop, skip and squelch over muddy track diversions and a glorious way to stretch one’s legs on a Sunday afternoon. The falls plunge a loud 17 meters down from their origin in Lake Roberts. There were plenty of photo opportunities with much lens wiping as water seemingly gushing from the falls and sky simultaneously. A night of sumptuous comfort, cuisine and card-playing camaraderie with our cosy group signed off a perfectly rounded day.
Day five dawned with a heavy sky hanging overhead and a dripping soundtrack. Perhaps this was the unscripted setting for a grand bit of unplanned drama ahead. Leaving the soft, dry comforts of our lovely lodge, we plodded wetly uphill through splendid vegetation, a botanist’s garden of alpine Eden. At Ocean’s Peak corner, increasing icy rain obliterated the promised views towards the Tasman Sea at Martin’s Bay. A lunch reprieve at our highpoint on Harris Saddle in a warm hut owned by the guiding company, put temporary hairs on our collective chilly chests. Fortified, we set off on the remaining downhill hike to our last night’s accommodation at Routeburn Falls Lodge. Fantastically, it started to snow as we headed down, but we were still rewarded with epic views across Lake Harris and the rolling upper basins of the Routeburn Valley, with occasional glimpses of whitening peaks through the gloom. 9.
We'd barely walked into this gorgeous lodge (I was thawing in the shower and mentally easing into a fifth and final night of comfort), when an 'emergency' meeting was called by our young guides. They announced that we had an hour to repack our sodden backpacks before being flown out. This decision was made in the light of having 48 hours to get home before our government implemented the level four lockdown.
The heli evacuation from the Routeburn Falls Lodge in poor weather would not be what ordinarily spins many wheels. I must grudgingly concede that as a maturing mammal hugely uncomfortable traveling at altitude, the evacuation (our second heli flight in two days) was a bonus. Perhaps it’s these less comfortable experiences that endear and embed some memories forever. We are all in agreement that Ultimate Guides distinguished themselves in managing this as well as they did.
Once safely returned to Queenstown, a literal ghost town forty-eight hours before level four lockdown, our journey back to Taupo was linear. This was not the experience for our Sydney and Tasmanian hiking mates. Their journeys home read like a devilish game of Snakes and Ladders.
The past few months have been surreal times for all of us but I can’t help feeling grateful for the launching pad of our GT experience into lockdown. I imagine these memories will drip-feed our magnificent group of ten fellow hikers, the ‘final class’ of summer 2020 on the GT.
Our other kiwi tramper, Murray, has been amazing since our trip and put together a great website. He’s very kindly allowed us to include this link if you wish to read further. (lots of photos too) https://grandtraverse2020.weebly.com/
TWIN COAST CYCLE TRAIL
Opua, Bay of Islands to Horeke, Hokianga Harbour 87kms
Given that a number of our members have added E cycling to their outdoor pursuits, I thought I would share my enjoyable experience on the Twin Coast Cycle trail in the Far North and maybe pique some interest amongst them. A group was drawn from the ranks of the Old Farts, a band of local mature gentlemen who ride together on a weekly basis. There were eleven riders which included a number of our wives while two others provided a support and rescue service.
Our shuttle operators, Twin Coasts Cycle Transporters provided an excellent service. At their suggestion, we started each day at Kaikohe which is both the mid and highest point of the trail. This means there is negligible uphill riding.
Kaikohe ,34 kms to Kawakawa, passing through the town centre and then 11 kms to Opua. This section utilizes a disused railway line passing through farmland for almost the whole journey. There is about 10 kms on purpose built trails through harvested pine forest and a short section on road but traffic volumes are very light.
It's very easy riding in this direction with no uphill work. It is graded level 1-2 which in terms of off road riding, is assessed as being the lowest level of difficulty.
Kaikohe 14 kms to Okaihau (grade 1-2) then 28 kms to Horeke (grade 2-3).
The old railway line continues through to Okaihau. All easy riding although there is a tunnel but it is manageable without a light. Coffee stop at Okaihau, choice of two cafés, one very rustic. As well, there are some curio shops which attracted much interest amongst our group. Leaving Okaihau, the trail meanders through horticulture and orchard blocks and then it's suddenly 3 kms of down hill riding to the valley floor. The track has a very good surface and there are several switch backs to ease the gradient. It can be ridden uphill but we appreciated the good advice of our shuttle driver.
From this point, the track is a little undulating and follows the valley through sheep and beef farm land. We passed through an alternative lifestyle community while other points of interest were some extensive lily ponds and as we approached the upper reaches of the harbour, the kilometre long board walk ride across the salt marsh.
On reaching Horeke, we were to be slightly disappointed to find the pub closed. The trail end is another 3 kms at the historic Mangungu mission station established 1828. The largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place here.
Overall, the trail is easy riding with good surfaces and is ideal for those wanting a ride that is not demanding. A lady in our party had never ridden anything like this distance ever, but on her trusty E bike, coped admirably. The only downside is that the squeeze bars and cattle grids at the road crossings do have some design flaws and need to be treated with caution.
OPOTOKI RD, TAUMARUNUI - Dec 11th
Twas on a Wednesday morning that twelve of us went through
To Taumarunui early to meet Pete and his crew
Up 7km on a winding, metal, narrow road
Hearts in mouths, was there anything to hold?
We wondered if we’d have to stop
But Driver Dave got us to the top
We met Janet and Mike, lovely cups of tea (sorry, no rhyme for coffee!)
Then off we set DOWNHILL – what a start for me!
From up above the cabin objective down below was spied
It seemed so far away – had Elsie lied?
Peter led us down through ever-steepening tracks
On, on we went, some having to be held back by their packs
Once at the bottom a right turn was made
To tramp a bush-track to Matiere Road
At the railway bridge it was about turn and tramp
Back along our route – would we have to camp?
At last with empty tums the cabin we espied
An oasis lovingly built for trampers to reside
The climb back up was not to be avoided
But great, our packs into the 4WD were loaded
Once back up, in the garden again for tea
Such a lovely location and so much to see
Very many thanks to organisers Elsie and Pete
Our kind of tramp and many others to meet
OPOTOKI RD, TAUMARUNUI - Dec 11th
Wow! What an interesting fun trip! Well, once we made Taumarunui , that is!!
Opotoki Rd is a very narrow, sharply winding, metal road through beautiful bush, but not the place to drop over the side- it is a long way down. The road into the farm, a notch or three above that, reminiscent of the track up to the Tukino installations really. One spot made me a little apprehensive of our prospects of getting out, but this proved to be unfounded, though the van got a bit of a hammering.
And what hospitable people! We arrived to a laid on morning tea, lounging in chairs in front of a pond, overlooking a vista of very, very steep country right out to Mt Taranaki, Pureora, Pihanga, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu on a cloudless, still day with no haze.
Eventually we decide, yeah, better do some tramping, we suppose. So off we go, on a very steep
descent, through farm and bush to a valley floor, with a bit of a side trip out to the railway line and then back the other way to a hut. A hut, to be seen, to be believed – more like the Hilton, so lunch in lounge chairs and our hosts brewing up large.
We were in no hurry to front up to what we could see was going to be an extreme grunt out, but made easier with our packs going up on the 2 aside. With our eventual arrival back at the house, we find our packs sitting by the van and our hosts providing afternoon tea, and this time the frogs serenading us with their muted music. So, a really cool day in a breath taking place.
And now a plug for our hosts….. At $130/night regardless of numbers, you can stay at this Hilton hut, flush toilet, shower, the lot. A genuine place to chill out, with transport provided on the 2 aside and very hospitable people. Thank you to our hosts and to our guides from the Taumarunui Tramping Club for a wonderful day.
Austin and Isobel Hutcheon, Elsie Skelton, Jill Martin, Viv Wrathall, Vanda Marshall, Dave Wilding, Toby Ani, Jean Caulton, Richmond Orr, Nicky Dodwell, Sandy Fletcher
THE HOLLYFORD AFLOAT
After six months of meticulous planning to walk two of the tramping jewels of the South Island, six of us flew to Queenstown on 30th November with great anticipation of the scenic horizons ahead little knowing that the horizons were not to be.
We spent two nights based in Te Anau fortifying ourselves with extra stocks and as much good food and caffeine we could succumb to all the while aware that there was a weather bomb of epic proportions hurtling towards us. Armed with the latest weather report from DOC which was technicolour with foreboding, it was sensibly decided to amend our plans. We’d skip our first night’s accommodation (Big Bay) instead starting our tramp at Martin’s Bay where we’d batten down the hatches for two nights while the feral weather hurled itself around our immediate coastline.
On Day 1, we were shuttled to Milford Sound airfield, sandfly capital extraordinaire, where we were flown in a vintage four-seater through the Sound in the last decent weather we’d see in a week. It was tourist brochure stuff in all respects: a pod of dolphins below cavorting in a boat’s bow, Mitre Peak saluting us as we flew past and the spectacular Stirling Falls plunging into the sea below, an as yet unknown foretaste of the many more waterfalls to come.
The Martin’s Bay hut did not live up to its proclaimed ‘serviced hut,’ status there being no water supply at all, no sign of a tank despite two sinks and a plumbing pipe protruding from beneath the hut connected to nothing but fresh air. This was an ironic case of ‘water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.’ In true blue intrepid Great Outdoors Kiwi fashion, we braved the rain and sandfly squadrons to fill up water bottles and pots at regular intervals over this 36 hour period from the creek down the track. Of course having to boil this water due to giardia and a 1080 drop in recent weeks, applied a little pressure to our gas supplies so the fire box became a secondary source of pre boiling our water. It’s these privations that suddenly make one reconsider the merits of the guided walk options although it’s a thought that tends not to be shared too loudly lest you expose your inner wimp!
The fauna that lives on this remote coastline was a highlight and a welcome distraction from the hours of cards played. In a less torrential window, we were able to walk to the penguin and seal colony and were entranced by the antics of the Fiordland Crested penguin/ tawaki, these little creatures strutting their smartly feathered stuff in endangered numbers along these rocky remote shores. There were also NZ fur seals/ kekeno aplenty sprawled over rocks and difficult to distinguish from rocks at times so that we were all but airborne as one of these rocks suddenly reared up and roared at us.
Having enjoyed the scarce amenities of this hut to ourselves for the first night, we had a sudden change from our sprawled sleeping arrangements on two mattresses each when, at 8pm on night two, a sodden posse of eight arrived to disturb our solitude. Compared to these bedraggled folk, we’d got off lightly when they told us of their gruelling eight (instead of) five hours on the infamous Demon’s Track, their crossing of 3-wire bridges with the lower wire submerged. Oddly enough, there was no envy of their intrepid experiences and we took solace while empathising in another cup of soup or tea.
On day three, we met at the now submerged landing for a jetboat pickup at 7.45am to ferry us in the rain the 45 minutes to the Pyke River confluence. At this stage the river was three meters above normal levels, a fact made stark as we waded towards the Lake Alabaster hut for this third and final night. As this was a short walk, we spent another day immersed in an intense card marathon. Carroll taught us a smorgasbord of new games and is a player not to be messed with as her ‘snap’ reflexes have to be among the fastest draws in the West!
Our off duty doctor member, Gill, had to don her professional hat to advise on a blister on the foot of one of our Demon’s Track colleagues but otherwise we passed the day waiting, watching and hoping that we’d be able to walk the 20km out to meet our booked 2.30pm shuttle on day 4.
Thursday morning arrived and setting off shortly after 7am, heads down, packs up, we enjoyed a good track (used by the guided walkers from a nearby lodge) and relished views of a swollen river and slopes down which hurtling waterfalls were birthing at a relentless rate. Not a commercial break but the Aarn backpacks used by five of the six of us proved their waterproofing qualities impressively, their contents remaining dry while us humans were literally dissolving in the rain.
We were shuttled back into Te Anau that afternoon with snow drifting onto the ridges, our plans to walk the Kepler track 36 hours later abandoned as the deluge was set to continue and the mercury destined to plummet. That the Kepler Challenge route had been altered for only the third time in its thirty year history was warning enough of the conditions at altitude and reassured us that we’d made a decision in the interests of safety.
Although, to paraphrase Robert Burns’ much quoted, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,’ our shared experience of the Hollyford (in parts) will remain memorable for many good reasons: as always the camaraderie, the card and chatfest it enabled and the temporary discomforts which give perspective to our otherwise easy lives.
Sincere thanks to Jenny V again for her hours of planning, dismantling and keeping us glued together in somewhat adverse conditions! And to the good crew for the good vibes and forever memories.
Trampers: Jenny and Gary Verschaffelt, Claire Furniss, Carroll Robertson, Kay Feather, Gill Tate
(We’d planned to complete the Kepler too but had to abandon that idea due to the atrocious weather and forecast)