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Matemateaonga Tiki Tour 24th to 27th May, 2023
Bernie Hammersley, Dave and Jill Wilding, Jean Caulton, Gill Tate, Jenny Verschaffelt, Raewyn Rush, Russell Watts and Elsie Skelton climbed aboard the club bus at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday 24th May, westward bound with stop offs for coffee and dry firewood in Taumarunui - (Bernie had been told that there was no firewood at the hut) and toasted sandwiches or homemade lunches in Whangamomona.
The turn off to the track is reached a further hour and a half on from Whangamomona off SH 43 near Strathmore, east of Stratford, where the signpost indicates the road connecting to Upper Mangaehu Road. The track entrance is at the Kohi Saddle and is well marked. We reached that around 2.00p.m.
The firewood was distributed between us with the admonition that one could only share the fire’s warmth if one had participated in carrying some wood in. Well, that stack of firewood disappeared into packs in short measure. A few groans accompanied the hoisting of packs onto backs as the legs adjusted to the weight. There were two stiles to negotiate, requiring a careful balancing act, before getting onto the track proper. We set off along the old dray track which descended gently through regrowth Manuka and young Rewarewa. The track was wet in places and the exposed Papa Mudstone looked slick and slippery so there was a lot of careful foot placement to ensure safe passage. We were making good time till we reached a freshly fallen tree. We ladies were in the lead and tried climbing above the windfall. The men arrived later and looked at us askance saying “the track is down here” only to have to swallow their words a moment later and try to figure out a way through too. Russell chose the downward end of the fall and was soon through and on the track on the other side, followed not too long afterwards by the rest of us all sporting dirty bottoms or dirty knees and some adorned with hook grass spangles in their hair.
We stopped for a rest and drink in an open area. Jill realised that she had lost her “Fitbit” and we assumed it would have been as we scrambled around in the windfall,so we planned to look for it on the return journey. A corner or two later was the perfect
stopping place where a fallen tree had been cut to make seats but we didn’t dilly dally as we’d already lost time and the sun was sinking lower towards the horizon.
Jean’s firewood was determined it wasn’t going to end up as a fiery sacrifice so it kept leaping out of her pack hoping to end up in a stream and thus become too wet to burn, but it was retrieved each time and it kept us nice and warm later that evening.
We reached Omaru Hut before 5 p.m. We were pleased to arrive in the daylight but it wasn’t long before dusk descended, the fire was cranked up and the gas cookers were pumping out their cheerful song with interesting smells emanating from a variety of different meals.
Someone suggested that a prize should have been offered for the dirtiest trousers but it was deemed too close to call.
Omaru Hut is a “Serviced” Hut. It is well appointed with a big area of bench space and has an upper and a lower sleeping platform with five mattresses on each. The fire worked well and “yes” there was still some dry wood left by DOC to go with what we’d brought in.
It was very dark in our bush clearing even though the sky was clear and shining with trillions of bright stars. The moon was only a little fingernail arc. There were no Kiwi calls during the night. Russell said he heard a Ruru (Morepork) when he got up later.
It had been a long drive, there were no packs of cards on offer so everyone was in bed at Rest Home time of 8 o’clock and conversation ceased not long after.
Day Two: We woke to a clear, crisp, bluebird morning without any wind, just perfect. Today we planned to walk about half way to Pouri Hut where the track to Mount Humphries branches off.
It was a lovely, easy walk, certainly as family friendly as the DOC literature mentions.
There were some beautiful big Rimu, Totara and Kahikatea with an under story of Horopito and ladder fern and on the wetter banks, or where streams crossed our path, New Zealand Begonia (Maori name – Parataniwha) were growing in abundance.
Not far from the hut a “Trip Wire” of young Rata vines seemed to have been cunningly laid to slow the leader down. Hmmm…. there had been much upping and downing during the night…..I wonder who??? One of the men had brought a folding saw with him so the offending vines were quickly rendered harmless after not one, but two, of the group had done a face plant. The saw was used on another couple of smaller windfalls and we were wondering how many more we would come across. There was only one more, a big one, that we had to climb up the bank off the track to get around and then it was clear the rest of the way.
We could smell “Billy Goat” in many places and we saw their foot prints embedded in the soft mud with any low growing Keikei being well chewed. Piggy Poo piles and tell tale signs of fresh rooting told their own story. We heard North Island Robin, Kereru, Piwakawaka, Miromiro and Tui - we were not alone in the wilderness.
Once we reached the ridgeline “windows” between the trees showed scenes where islands of hilltops floated above a sea of fog. A couple of wider sections of trail appeared where other tracks joined the Matemateaonga, one at Kurepete and another at Whakaihuwaka. We stopped for morning tea just passed the former. From here on we had wonderful scenic snapshots of Ruapehu in its half winter white, Ngauruhoe’s perfect volcanic cone and Tongariro’s sprawling bulk all standing proud and clear against the horizon to the East.
We reached the turn off to Mount Humphries around 11.30 a.m. The sign said it was a return trip of an hour and a half to the trig. We were aware of the time knowing that we needed to be back to Omaru Hut around 5.00p.m. so as not to have to use our torches. It was not an easy climb. It was steep and slippery with few markers. The track was overgrown with Horopito and Ladder fern so it was hard to see. We passed under an overhanging cliff face where there was the pungent smell of “Goat” giving testament to their ability to find good shelter, although there were big drops of water falling off the stalagmites that had been formed by the water permeating through the shell bearing rock. We stopped for lunch in a sunny north facing spot high above a forested valley which looked out to farmland in the distance. With lunch over, and some looking to relax a while. The “Mountain Goat” got itchy feet. We weren’t at the summit and the summit was calling, so a deal was reached that a couple could go on for a further 10 minutes, so off they shot like a rocket and low and behold only five minutes later burst out of the bush at the trig and onto a stunning view. The others were within calling distance and were soon at the trig enjoying the amazing vista: From East to West – Mount Taranaki looked so close it felt as if you could reach out a hand to touch it. Taranaki wore a thin belt of cloud around his hips. To the north Mount Hikurangi, Taumarunui’s landmark, stood a head and shoulders above the surrounding ranges. The Hauhangaroa Range was covered in cloud but the distinctive curves at either end, up onto its top, were visible. To the west Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu still clear. Between us and those distant land marks a sea of varying shades of green, lush forest, farmlands, hills and valleys, just beautiful.
Time was of essence, we had to drag ourselves away and set our course back to Omaru Hut. It took us as long to climb back down to the Matemateaonga Track as it had taken to climb up. Jean found a native orchid fallen from its Widow maker perch onto the track and we also saw the distinctive green “bullet” like fruit of the Keikei plant.
It had taken us about three and a half hours to walk from Omaru to Humphries junction. It was two thirty by the time we reached the junction again, so if we kept our mornings’ gentle pace we most certainly would be in the dark getting to the hut. Instead it would have to be a route march, no sight seeing, no photographs. We had a drink and a bite to eat, then we were off at a brisk walk and the kilometres churned out under our boots at a great rate. The sun was shining right on the tree fall that we were hoping to reach before dark so we were able to skirt it with no trouble at all. We walked into the hut clearing at 4.30p.m. having cut a good hour off our outward journey.
We were elated. We’d achieved our goal for the day and what a superb day it had been, clear skies, fabulous views, and summiting Mt Humphries. Fantastic.
Dehydrated meals never tasted so good, the dry wood we’d carried in had the hut cosy and the boots drying. Rest Home hours were observed and the candle was snuffed at 8.00p.m.
Day Three: Friday. We’d all had enough of hard mattresses and snoring companions by 6.45a.m. even though we could have had the luxury of a lie in as leaving time was programmed to be 9.00 a.m.
The men set about cleaning up the rubbish left by previous trampers, numerous empty gas bottles, vape bottles, mouldy food and spent tea light candles. Somehow they managed to stash them all into their packs to take out with us. Others cleaned the benches, swept the floors and tilted the mattresses up.
We were up packs and off by 8.45a.m. for the leisurely uphill walk back out to Kohi Saddle. The day was overcast. Gone were the blue skies of yesterday. We kept an eye out for Jill’s “Fitbit” as we clambered around, under and over the windfall. A fat black and white goat had been breakfasting on the newly fallen choice leaves and took off like a rocket when we approached.
We had a brief stop for “Sawman” to deal to a tangle of bush lawyer that had earmarked a few of us as we passed. We marvelled at the threads of supple jack vine that were pausing the fall of broken branches on their way to the forest floor or the sight of fairy swings of vivid green lichen. There were fungi in shades of red, orange, fawn and black. Walking at No 7 in the crocodile, an Eagle eyed one, found the “Fitbit” and presented it to a surprised owner who had thought it lost and gone forever. We had morning tea at the van.
We drove passed a local entrepreneur’s farm where two fallow deer, numerous black pigs in varying sizes and goats in many colours watched our progress with wary eyes even though the fences were festooned with signs saying “No Shooting”.
Bernie had a Tiki Tour planned for us. Instead of turning left onto SH43 and driving on towards Stratford we turned right and drove back towards Whangamomona. We turned into Junction Road to follow part of the Kopiko bike trail down through the Purangi Valley where we marvelled at the tenacity of the Pioneers and subsequent farmers to break in this steep country and indeed the women folk to live and rear families in this isolated area. Junction Road took us through to Tarata Road where the hillsides were being denuded of their pinus radiate cloaks and the road was turned to mud and pot holes by the logging trucks. We turned into the little community of Tarata and commandeered the seats outside the community hall to have our lunch. On again through the Tarata Tunnel (Date Constructed: 1904 The Tarata Tunnel was originally dug by hand in 1904 at a cost of £315. In recent years the historic tunnel has undergone enlargements to allow larger vehicles accessing the farmers in this area). The further west we went the better the farm land became from steep brown top and ring fern clad hills to choice rolling hills with rich green pasture. The road was improving too. Once we drove passed the Todd Energy production area we had a white line again and “shoulders” on the road.
We reached a road with a “Road Closed” sign at the turn off, but down it we turned and continued right down to the Waitara River where an old suspension bridge spans the river. There are bollards at either end of the bridge to discourage big vehicles from crossing but Dave knew from past experience that he could sneak the club van through with about 5 cms of space on each side. We automatically pulled our tummies in and through we went, just!! The information board beside gives a detailed story of the bridges’ origins summarised as : The original suspension bridge over the Waitara River, linking the Tikorangi and Huirangi communities, was built in 1897. In 1927 the bridge was replaced by one of similar design, which was closed to traffic for safety reasons in 1985. A private trust raised $630,000 for its restoration, and the bridge reopened for light traffic in 2006.
Now we were off in a speedy van to the Fitzroy Motor Camp where hot showers and a few home comforts awaited. We patronised the local R.S.A. at dinner time. Then “home” to bed to luxuriate in clean sheets for the night.
Day Four: The beach was calling and I think everyone got out for an early morning breath of fresh air even if it was only to walk as far as the handy coffee cart. At least a dozen hardy souls (not us though) were out swimming, dogs raced the black sand to greet their doggy friends as their owners passed the time of day.
To the south the sky was inky black and ominous looking but to the north the sky was lighter even though it was streaked with pink.
We were all present and packed into the van ready to leave at 8.30a.m. The first stop on today’s Tiki Tour was at the “Wave” cycle bridge. We walked it end to end. We scanned the stream below for any sign of the Cape Baron Goose but didn’t see it and we didn’t have time to hunt.
Off north again up the coast to Uruti where we turned inland up passed the “Last Samurai” stage set pagoda shaped, building and up some more till we passed through the tiny Moki tunnel then down and down to the Moki Stream flats on Kiwi Road till we found DOC signs for the Rerekapa Track.
A bakery visit before leaving civilisation made sure morning tea and lunch stops today were a gourmet treat. We enjoyed the former all together on the road side before we left Bernie to move the van around to the Mangapapa Road end where he would walk in to meet us.
Today’s walk started out across very soggy farmland before crossing a wee stream to a fence line beside the bush where the remains of another old dray road formed the base for the day’s walk. A stile hurdle took us from the farm land into DOC reserve. We climbed steadily up to the saddle where a stand of Nikau Palms took the eye. Many different types of lycopodium (club moss) and banks covered in whole swathes of N.Z. Begonia gave us plenty to enjoy.
We reached the Waitara Boys Brigade Hut at 12.30 where we made use of their outdoor dining suite before continuing. From here on, the track and the bridges had been widened to take a quad bike. The bush had been extensively logged in the not too distant past with Manuka now the dominant species and all the other natives were just regenerating young ones.
We met Bernie on this stretch of track – he had been communing with a family or two of choice, fat piglets along the way, none of whom seemed too disturbed by his presence. There was plenty of evidence of little pig snouts learning to turn over the soft soil. Another stile brought us out into farmland which Phillip Donnell’s book, “Into the Wilderness” says belongs to the Irwin Family. We checked out the Rerekapa Waterfall. Pretty but pretty insignificant as far as falls go.
A nice herd of “blue” weaners milled hopefully in front of a gate hoping we’d let them through. Further on a new set of galvanised iron cattle yards and a small woolshed as well as a bulldozer and two sets of discs showed this to be a busy working farm. A cottage, sporting an innovative “Spa Bath”, gave us pause for thought and amusement. From this hub of activity out to the road end was a slog along a well maintained road with the only light relief being a delightful wee lagoon with perfect Rimu reflections and the welcome sight of the bridge over the Waitara River Headwaters.
We didn’t take long to load into the van and drive out to Ohura Road and then East and East and East again to Taupo, arriving there at 6.30p.m.
After saying a big “Thank You” to Bernie for his organisation, and to Dave for all the 708kms of perfect driving, we dispersed to our various parts of the country hoping to meet again out on the track for another adventure soon.
Great Barrier Island March 26 – April 1 2023
12 of us gathered at Auckland Airport to fly to Great Barrier. Our van awaited us for the drive to Tryphena House. Kayaks and paddle boards along with a swim were the main activities that day. Some enjoyed a bathtub soak up on the knob overlooking the ocean.
Monday morning 10 of us set out to do the Aotea Track. We started first with a short walk to Station Rock followed by a drive out to Windy Canyon to commence the Aotea Track. Up to Mt Hobson (temp of 29 deg) then on to Mt Heale which has amazing views and a wonderful sunset.
With track damage the planned route of Kaiaraara was changed to go down South Fork Track to Kaiaraara Hut. This hut sits beside a stream with great spots for a dip.
Our last day, the plan was to follow Forest Road then Tramline Track North finishing at Kaitoke Hot Springs where our wonderful van movers would meet us. However, our leader with island knowledge had an alternate plan that appealed to all. Contact with the van movers was made for them to meet us in Port Fitzroy and we would have an easier day and walk out towards them. Yeah right!
At this point we joined Raewyn’s boot camp and she walked our boots off our feet. First up Warrens Waterfall track out to Port Fitzroy then lunch at Glenfern Sanctuary carpark. Up Old Lady Track and back down the road followed by the Glenfern walk which has a giant Kauri tree that can be climbed into. View out over Port Fitzroy and beyond.
Thursday we climbed Te Ahumata followed by a 45 minute walk into Kaitoke Hot Springs for a soak.
Friday morning, we headed over to Whangaparapara Harbour for a boat cruise to Port Fitzroy. Along the way, Russell and Helena both braved cool conditions to swim into a cave. Further on, a boat had been washed up, firmly lodged and suspended between rocks. This due to Cyclone Gabrielle.
Our skipper pulled into Motu Kaikoura Scenic Reserve and sent us of for a bit of exploring with our return to a lovely lunch and more of his morning tea cake that he’d baked. We headed back to Whangaparapara having seen a blue penguin then dolphins in this harbour. A highly recommended day trip.
The tracks on Great Barrier are very well maintained by DOC.
Trips like this can only be done with grateful thanks to our van movers Celia & Brian and our ever-ready driver Dave. And yes, last but not least our Leader/Organiser Raewyn.
Saturday we visited the local market and awaited our flight back to Auckland.
The participants were Raewyn, Dave & Jill, Celia & Brian, Doug, Jean, Trudy, Christine, Russell & Helena & Jenny.
Cape Runaway (Whangaparāoa) Trip 22-25 January
The TTC hiking year started with good resolutions, one of these morphing into the reality of Christine Elmiger’s brilliant trifecta of day walks on the glorious East Coast. Given that this is her playground, she was superbly equipped with knowledge and local contacts to structure the trip.
Eight of us left Taupo on Sunday morning stopping for a mandatory smoko at the very good Palmer’s Garden Centre café before driving on to Lake Rotoiti for the first exertion of the day. A gentle walk through pretty bush along Hongi’s Track, took us to the Wishing Tree, also known as the Sacred Matai or Hinehopu’s Tree named after the Maori chieftainess who lived in the area circa 1620. Calamity struck when poor Jenny’s cell phone rang to summons her home as Gary had fallen off his bicycle sustaining injuries that merited hospitalisation. We drove her back to Rotorua Airport where she was collected by her good grandson to return her to her car in Taupo and the long drive back to Waipukurau.
Our destination was Waihau Bay, sweetly situated on the slinky curve of the East Cape, the sun smiling diamonds onto a madly turquoise sea. Like most places in New Zealand, I felt that it would be yet another choice place to own a bach if Lotto were to grace one’s bank account. Christine met us at the newly completed St John’s Ambulance station. She spearheaded this project from conceptual start, through fundraising, to an eventual opening ceremony, a slow and challenging gestation spanning a decade of some almighty hurdles. It’s an impressive asset for this small and remote community, an invaluable contribution that Christine deserves to feel enormously proud of.
Christine had organised comfortable accommodation for us in two adjacent sea-facing Airbnb homes which worked a treat. The hum of the sea over the road soon triggered that calming internal ebb and flow that being coastal seems to do.
Kind Christine took us under her culinary wing that first evening and arrived with a wonderful ‘meals on wheels’ that she had cooked for us all to enjoy. For those of us who are ‘cooked out’ after a few decades of feeding families, this was a treat indeed.
Our big walk was on Monday, up 700 meters of an unmentionably steep hill to the Tikirau Trig and then down its equally testing descent to the Cape Runaway lighthouse. Thighs and knees were in clench mode (screaming mode for some) as we braved these gradients, but the distraction of magnificent views was our reward. At lunchtime, we sprawled around the short concrete block that houses the fully automated lighthouse. An essential swim at the beautiful beach on our way home cooled our molten inner mercury. Nobody summarises topographical details as well as Austin Hutcheon so further details may be pursued here.
On Tuesday, Christine gathered up the keen and the slightly crippled of us to walk to the spectacular cove that is Lottin Point Bay, reached after another intimidating haul up and over a saddle. First prize to our able leader for orchestrating the superb setting for the culinary service that followed outside the rustic shed where we ate our lunch. No word of a lie, as our photographs are the evidence, but she had organised local farming friends to drive chilly bins of crayfish, fresh tuna sushi, sausages and bread, (and tomato sauce) over the saddle in quad bikes. Kai moana of the highest order to be chased down with chilled cider and beer followed by marshmallows that we toasted! A precedent has been set which may remain unattainable ever again.
As Christine is a fisherwoman of note in these parts, so much so that she has earned the respect of local fish one imagines, a meal at the local fishing club was organised for our final night. We walked the few meters from our AirBnB’s across the lawns to the Waihau Bay Fishing Club where we were served truly wonderful meals. If it wasn’t a four-hour drive for us living in Taupo, I would be first in the queue to book a table here weekly. High on good cuisine, stimulating conversation and the mushed muscle satisfaction that comes of a good leg stretch, the verdict was unanimous: East Cape rocked!
Wednesday morning dawned with bright promise as we carefully folded ourselves into the van for our drive home. My marshmallow thighs were not unhappy to ‘sit and stay’. We paused for a cuppa and muffin/croissant in Opotiki before wandering through the lushly treed beauty of the Hukutaia Domain. This 4.5-hectare area was set aside as a reserve in 1918, mainly to safeguard Taketakerau, the Burial Tree. This giant Pūriri (Vitex lucens) thought to exceed 2000 years in age, was highly tapu. It was a repository for the distinguished dead used by the local iwi, Upokorehe. It’s a massively girthed tree, its stature commanding respect as one views it from behind the protective railing.
A final walk through Onekawa Te Mahwai Regional Park located near the Ōhiwa Spit, sealed the day and we ate our lunch here before heading home.
A big salute to Christine for gathering us up and guiding us in good shepherdess style up, up and over some beautifully challenging countryside in her backyard. For five (of the original six) of us, it was an impromptu reunion after last sharing the track during our Nepal trekking experience three months earlier with Trudy able to join us.
How fortunate we are that we are able to enjoy these fabulous ‘getaways’ through our club.
Bernie Hammersley, Dave and Jill Wilding, Jean Caulton, Jenny Verschaffelt (half of day 1) Lindsay Brown, Christine Elmiger, Casey Bainbridge, Sarah Hart, Trudy Haringa, Claire Furniss.
Sunrise Hut 4 November 2022
I met the club van beside the Tikokino pub and we drove to the Carpark to tramp into Sunrise Hut in the Ruahine Ranges.
It was a cruisy start having had lunch at the carpark. We started wondering how many choices we would have for beds given our late start. I was imagining I would be in the heavens again on level 3. This trip is advertised as an easy family trip and indeed, we have encountered primary school groups on the track before. However, it is still a push in with two steady climbs resulting in the walk taking a little over three hours. Towards the top we encountered very strong wind. Incredibly we were the first at the hut. Wahoo! A choice of booked bunks. Having quickly got ourselves organised and one member choosing to tent, it was very apparent there would be no going up onto Armstrong Saddle. Denys gave Dave a lesson in getting a difficult fire going then out came the cards and in between having fun, a weary eye was kept on the tent to make sure it was still there. More groups turned up as the evening wore on with the latest at around eleven pm. A very windy night ensued.
Sunday morning, bright and early, we waited for the sun to rise and were not disappointed by the display. The wind, if anything, was worse so we headed down to the carpark, after a small detour to look at Triplex hut, and onto Waipawa for a lovely brunch. A huge thanks to Dave for his driving over.
Participants Gill Tate, Dave & Jill Wilding, Denys Gayton, Donna Gordon, Jenny Verschaffelt
Getting High in Nepal: 10-29(31) October 2022
Brief would be a relief instead of wading through the runaway paragraphs ahead but trying to compress our extraordinary trekking trip into fewer words is like trying to pretend you can breathe normally at 4700 meters. Impossible! Herewith my summary in a longish and somewhat breathless nutshell.
When a gap on Jean’s long-planned trip to Nepal became available, I vaulted myself into the space with some ‘pinch myself’ disbelief. Her brilliant idea, conceived pre Covid and then frozen during global lockdowns, was finally able to thaw and became reality for some of us over-excited (and slightly apprehensive) maturing teenagers. The original intention to trek to the Rara Lake was disbanded due to a shortage of regional aircraft that were needed at short notice to evacuate 2500 trekkers stranded elsewhere in the Himalayas due to ghastly weather. Right up until the day before we set off, we had no idea where we were going to trek, but this dialled up the adventure ahead.
Queen Jean and her keen team left NZ for Nepal on Monday 9 October with great faith vested in Acclimatize Nepal, the same excellent husband-wife managed company Jean had used on her previous trek to Everest Base Camp in April 2019. As events turned out, she had chosen exceedingly well, so well that some of us are entertaining a return trip if legs and lungs continue to vaguely cooperate for those of us of a certain maturity. It was an epic experience for all 19 days of perfectly behaved weather—expectations exceeded, stunning views surpassed, bodies taxed to new heights.
There was a sense that it was going to be an extraordinary journey from the day we left Kathmandu to drive to Syabrubesi, the small town that was our trekking departure point. Driving there took our comfortable van eight hours to navigate a mere 140km. The sheer amount of traffic clogging up the roads out of the city was the first reckoning. The ‘jam’ in traffic jam has never been more apt as we snailed along, bumper to bumper. Wildly painted trucks as is customary here, the drivers’ compartments decorated with an eye-watering amount of bling, filled the roads like an endless circus on the move. Once out in the country and as we started to climb into the mountains, the road itself became an uncharted continent of ridges and valleys, a mini-Himalaya range all on its own. Coupled with the sheer drop off caused those of us on the left side of the van into clench mode until we eventually descended into Syabrubesi.
The trekking covered twelve days and involved two separate routes with 172 km covered in total. We tossed out the two scheduled rest days as the active options surrounding us were just too tempting! Altitude adds an entirely new perspective to the hiking equation, enough to shake the cockiness out of any tramping boots. Panting mode becomes the norm as one heads up into thinning air. The brain might desire more speed, but the body cannot always comply. There were three consecutive days when we ascended 1000m, a recipe guaranteed to zip the lips and divert energies where better required. Multiple photo stops are a discreet way to pause for breath. ‘Bistari, bistari,’ was the regular cry from our guides, a reminder to reduce pace and arrive at the destination intact and with more opportunity ‘to smell the roses’ on the way up some of those stunning gradients!
Langtang Valley trek:
. Syabrubesi 1350m-Lama Hotel 2340 m 14km
. Lama hotel- Langtang Village (rebuilt) 3480m
. Langtang Village- Kyanjing Gomba 3870m
. Rest day- hiked up Kyanjing Ri (4700m), Lindsay and Peter headed higher up to up Tsergo Ri (4984m)
. Trek back to Lama Hotel
. Lama Hotel- Thulo Syabru 1900m
. Thulo Syabru-Shing Gomba 3330m
. Shing Gomba- Gosaikunda Lake 4380m
. Gosaikunda Lake- via Lauribina Pass (4681m) to Tharepati (3610m)
. Rest day number 2 spent trekking to Chisopani (2150m)
. Chisopani to Sundarijal and back to the excitement of flushing plumbing in the Hotel Mulberry, Thamel, KTM.
The first trek was into the beautiful Langtang Valley situated in the national park of the same name. This park was proclaimed in 1976 in the central Himalayan region and is home to precious fauna and flora. The only way into the valley is on foot. On the first few days, we walked through lush forests of maple, oak, alder, bamboo and pine interspersed with dense stands of huge rhododendrons that turn the slopes into a spectacular technicolour garden of Eden in March. The forest grows profusely to a height of 3500m unlike our alpine regions. Animal residents include the red panda, musk ox, Himalayan black bear, snow leopard, and monkeys. Domesticated yak—the female is quaintly called a nak— and hybrid yak graze on the higher pastures. Yak are solid squares of beasts able to withstand the harsh winters ‘carpeted’ in thick, long fur. Jean, our unofficially crowned team ornithologist, was in her element identifying local birds. That she had packed her bird book in her backpack spoke of her dedication to the bird population.
The Langtang Valley suffered great damage in the devastating 2015 earthquake. This triggered a massive landslide completely burying Langtang Village and 243 people, including 41 trekkers, under 20 meters of rock. We walked over this landslide, a virtual rubble cemetery of epic dimensions. Tering Dorje and his impossibly young-looking wife, Kelsang, were our teahouse hosts at the Glacier Hotel that night along with their 16/12 daughter. His sad story is one of many similar in the area. After both his parents died in the landslide, he shelved his postgraduate studies to return to the valley and care for his surviving family. Foreign trekkers were understandably scared to return but the locals are dependent on passing tourism. Having rebuilt homes and teahouses, they are keen for business especially after Covid further squeezed their already compromised livelihoods. Our hostess the following night further up the valley at Kyanging Gompa, a woman widowed by the quake, was an enterprising businesswoman with a hothouse in one of the pastures where she grows salad and vegetables. In this same delightful village hemmed in by glaciers and peaks at the top of the valley, a chance encounter with a man washing his baby son’s small clothes at an open tap led to an afternoon tea invitation to meet his wife and baby. This random meeting with a nephew (on vacation away from his German studies) in attendance as interpreter, is the catalyst for a project to fundraise for the future education of this child. Kay Feather, who sadly was unable to accompany us on this trip, has very kindly offered to spearhead this campaign
On day six we started hiking the Gosaikunda circuit. The attraction to this hike is the string of holy lakes as one heads up towards the pass. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims trek up here in August for blessings. These are called oligotrophic lakes due to their minimal nutritional content. That night spent in the modest teahouse perched above the largest lake will remain unforgettable forever. Icy air to blew in through the many gaps in the wooden walls and floorboards, the small, the curtain fragment in front of our small, closed window billowing wildly all night. There was agreement that this was the coldest we had been for a sustained period. Swaddled in six layers of good technical gear inside my goose down sleeping bag, failed to keep me warm. We started trekking at 6.30am the next morning, a little desperate to regenerate some inner heat with a long day ahead and crossing over the snowy and icy Lauribina Pass just under 5000m². That same afternoon as we started descending rapidly, we stripped down to short sleeves again. Altitude is a great leveller when it concerns thermodynamics!
The teahouses we stayed in were modest, some more comfortable than others. Their names are often hilarious—the Himalayan Hilton, Me Very Happy Guest House, Bob Marley Guest House. There is no internal heating except for a firebox which is lit for only a few hours in the evening as wood generally must be portered up over days from lower down. Somehow, our wonderful hosts they always managed to produce excellent filling meals in basic ‘kitchens’ with none of the mod cons we consider essential. The choices were unvarying but always satisfying and included Thukpa (amazing noodle soups), pizza, huge spring rolls, delicious momos (dumplings), pancakes, omelettes, chow mein and the best belly filler, Tibetan bread drowned in honey, the ideal jet fuel before starting the day!
We ate our way through many dishes of dal bhat. This is the signature dish of Nepal which lives up to its popular description of powering up any sluggish legs, ‘dal bhat power, twenty-four hour.’ The meal comprises small containers filled with an assortment of vegetables (pickled and fresh, sometimes supersonically spicy), a mountain of rice, lentil soup and possibly a papadum and meat. The beauty of this meal is that it is pretty much bottomless, extra portions being offered until one can munch no more.
That none of us fell by the wayside with any gastric bug was a bonus that cannot be underestimated. Toilet paper is not provided so we carried our own and hoped for the best. Ablution facilities are basic, a typical hole-in-ground squatting option, no flushing plumbing (used paper goes into a communal bucket to be burned) and occasional showers or a bucket shower provided for a fee. Teahouses and all the villages have a ‘shop’ or shelving with handmade woven and knitted articles for sale. Most women do crafts with either commercial wool carried in or use yak wool to weave and knit into socks, hats and bags to waylay the passing traveller.
The gentle Nepalese living remotely are sincerely good and humble folk. Their beliefs are deeply rooted in their faith, either Hinduism (81%) or Buddhism (9%). They actively apply the tenets of compassion, charity and embrace a peaceful lifestyle, living subsistence lives as their families have done historically. They are enormously resourceful with provisions having to be carried in over a period of days by porters or themselves on their backs in mind-blowingly enormous loads.
The other transport option is mule trains. These are heard before they are seen, the sweet tinkling of bells worn around these little beasts’ necks announcing their approach. Many folk tend their vegetable gardens, may own a yak for milk and
cheese production if they can afford to buy one and have a few chickens for egg supply as most are vegetarians. Meat is a rarity given the Buddhists’ compassionate stance towards life forms means they don’t kill animals. I was happy to pay good rupees (200Rs the most, the equivalent of NZ$2.37) for the biggest of the three precious apples I managed to find during these twelve days, as fresh fruit and veg obviously must be carried in. The return of tourism to these remote corners is a huge relief to these folk two years later. This also applies to the city. As much as bargaining with stall owners within the pulsing alleyways of Kathmandu is the normal style of commerce, winning a good deal becomes unimportant when remembering that survival is a daily challenge for most of the population.
Keeping us all on the not-so-straight and very steep tracks, were our two wonderful guides and three magnificent young porters. Tashie was our excellent ‘number one’ guide, a master’s graduate in social science from KTM university and English fluent. He hailed from the Everest region, his grandfather and father having also guided. Number two guide, Sarkie, was a delightful father of two, always sweetly generous with his encouragement in his limited English when the going got a bit strenuous.
Our three young porters, Phurba, Pasang and Sonam were the real trekkers in my opinion. We were each allowed to pack a duffle bag of clothing and essentials weighing no more than 15kg. Each porter carried two of these plus his own small backpack on his shoulders attached by rope to a headband, the strain born by head, neck and shoulders. The typical Nepalese man is a small, compact powerhouse. Just looking at them loading up their considerable weights each morning was sufficient to make one’s knees buckle.
One of our porters had a narrow escape one morning and tumbled 40 meters down a precipitous slope towards the river. The local gods and spirits must have been out to spare Pasang. We were only told afterwards that this notorious segment of track claims a few lives annually. We were fortunate that none of us had to use our heli evacuation clause included in our mandatory travel insurance. The sound of rotor blades whirring overhead was a reminder that altitude or injuries can so easily wreck a trip. Sheer good luck and FOMO must have played a part!
Aside from the trekking focus, there were two days both before and after our trekking to explore some of the highlights of Kathmandu. In a city jammed with five million, it’s a mad juxtaposition of Asia colliding with the West, an insane network of psychotic traffic with little adherence to lane convention, tight alleyways crammed with stalls, merchants desperate for trade stepping into your path with wares for sale, well fed dogs sprawled in various relaxed poses, the occasional wandering cow, enormous piles of garbage as rubbish is collected on a random basis and the all-pervasive stench of poor sanitation threaded through with incense and cooking spices. The city’s infrastructure lags behind the insatiable demands of an expanding population. Coming from our tidy first world lives, it’s all too easy to pass judgmenton this perceived chaos but for the people who live there, an order exists within this.
The traffic, oh my goodness! There was a hair-raising taxi drive in a doll-sized taxi to our welcoming dinner on the first night. Christine and I sat welded at the hip in the backseat alternately sucking our teeth or trying to mute our hysterical shrieks as our driver roller-coastered with the other million lawless taxis, trucks, motorbikes and death wish cyclists as we hurtled towards our restaurant.
Among this inner-city mayhem, lies an oasis, The Garden of Dreams, 7000m² of unexpectedly gorgeous garden and peaceful landscaping. We visited this on our penultimate day, arriving early morning to enjoy that signature sound of women sweeping the dirt paths with handmade brooms, others hosing the lush shrubberies before the day heated up. It’s a century old now, originally begun as a private garden in the neo classical tradition with garden rooms containing pavilions, ponds, and an amphitheatre. After major damage during the 2015 earthquake, it was restored to an impressive standard.
There was also a visit to the biggest Buddhist temple, Boudhanath Stupa and the medieval city of Bhaktapur originating in the 8th century and still a living city. We visited the Monkey Temple at sunset and vied with innumerable worshippers who vastly outnumbered the apes, to take photographs of the city below.
As for the trip home, hear the collective sighs of six leg-weary trekkers here! You would think that after all our recent altitudinal experience, being up at 30,000 feet wouldn’t have been an issue but what should have been a 24-hour flight path home morphed into a three-day marathon, a memorable grand finale none of us could have imagined. The trigger was our delayed incoming flight to KTM. An eye-watering rerouting then took the six of us from KTM to Singapore, then, unbelievably, northwards to Taipei, followed by a southerly flight path to Brisbane and finally Auckland. As we crawled into our cheap motel beds that night, Jean and I discovered that our connection to Taupo next morning had been cancelled. No time even for a well-controlled meltdown but we booked ourselves on Intercity to get the two of us home the next day. This was not the return planned but the trade-off was yet more stories to tell, including the kilometres of foreign airport concourse covered on foot, chapters of chatting clocked up and many hands of cards played to stay awake!
It was a gift to be immersed within a vastly different culture for a short time. Preaching aside, our first world lives appear excessively excessive, comparatively speaking. One cannot but feel humbled by so much—the people, altitude, magical scenery, even my old body which had to dig deeper into previously unknown stocks! There’s something to be said about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and the self-growth it triggers, especially retrospectively of course.
With enormous thanks to Jean Caulton for breathing new life into an idea that became a dream realised for the rest of us so fortunate to be part of this special team- Christine Elmiger, Peter Staples, Trudy Haringa, Lindsay Brown, Claire Furniss.
Here’s to the road ahead for all of us in 2023 whether high or low, fast or slow.
For anyone interested, there’s an excellent three-part series on Netflix that showcases the real-time and post-quake impact of this on both Everest and the Langtang Valley.
13th & !4th August 2022
Rangawahia Hut (One)
Back on the road again. This time without the trailer and bikes but instead a full set of winter woollies and our tramping boots. Bernie (organiser extra-ordinaire), Sandy (his trusty side kick), Dave and Jill, Vanda and Elsie set off South. The mountains were spectacular with their shawl of winter snow promising us wide vistas from the lofty heights we hoped to climb.
We turned off SH1 onto Ruahine Rd just north of Mangaweka then turned into Te Para Para Rd following it through two closed farm gates to the carpark at the end. The bottom carpark was fairly full so we drove up to the top park to find even more cars. It looked like everyone else was out to enjoy the beauty and sunshine of the day.
The tops of the Ruahine Ranges were covered in snow so we were hopeful we might get high enough to enjoy the wonders of the “white Stuff”.
We left the carpark at 10.45 a.m. to climb steadily on a well formed track, stopping frequently to turn to look back at the view. This was different forest, dominated by big swathes of Horopito which a sign informed us is a “nursery or primary species”, one that enables the bigger natives to get established before the Horopito is over-shadowed and dies out. There were also beech trees and further up many Mountain Cedar or Kaikawaka, so distinctive with their conical shape and different bark.
About half way up the track, we zig zagged down to a gorgeous “humpy” bridge framed by beech trees and spanning a deep chasm. Bernie said it is sometimes called the Helen Clarke (ex - prime minister) Bridge as Helen over saw the funding for it. It reminded me of the pictures you see of Japanese scenery, the elegant bridge, surrounded by tiny leafed, elegant trees over a pretty stream, only the Japanese streams are not usually 100 feet below!
Further up we reach smatterings of snow with some dagger icicles hanging under the edges of the track. A waterfall splashed noisily down underneath another foot bridge. There were icicles above the fall, not hanging as daggers, but angled slightly upwards where the draft from the falling water had frozen them into a crooked stalagmite of ice – intriguing. We broke out of the sub alpine species here and onto the golden tussock tops and very soon we spotted smoke coming from the 12 bed Rangawahia Hut. We’d made it in time for lunch. We thought the veranda would be a good place to eat but the wind was freezing and we soon joined several chatty people at the table inside, where the warmth from the fire was so cosy and welcoming.
We had to visit the toilet and the woodshed to view the astonishingly beautiful artwork on the buildings. Delightful murals of Tui, Whio and Kereru adorned these out buildings. What a labour of love and a startling surprise!
We walked further up the track on the Deadman’s Loop until we could look out up over the tussock and away to where the volcanos should have been visible but there was a ribbon of cloud between us, blocking the view in that direction, bother….. We returned to the van down the same track, as those that had already done the Deadman Loop, felt there was nothing to be gain by tiring ourselves going that way just to say we had!
The Rangawahia Track seemed to be a “get fit” track for those who live in the vicinity and we met several runners, lean, fit models, travelling light, as well as people taking their family dogs for some exercise.
The sunlight changed the landscape as the day progressed and defined the hills and valleys more distinctly. A ridge to the north of us had a black stippled ridge above an icing of snow as if someone had stuck a row of black beading on its top. It took us an hour 45mins to climb up to the hut, and an hour 20 to come down.
We drove south through Apiti, where we did a circuit of the village and enjoyed the various sculptures around the Tavern. The road skimmed along through beautiful flat country then it would wind down into a deep gully to cross Oroua River then up the other side and off again over the terraces above to repeat the dive into another gully to cross the Oroua River again. This happened several times as the river and the road crossed each other’s path on the river’s way to its merging with the Manawatu.
Our accommodation for the night was A’Adobe Motel across the road from the Hospital in Palmerston North. We enjoyed a substantial dinner at the Rose and Crown, an English style Pub not far from the Motel, before turning in for the night.
Sledge Track (Two)
We were off and away in the van next morning at 7.30a.m. driving south out of Palmerston North and past Massey University, destination Kahuterawa Rd just 17 kms from the city. We parked in the huge carpark, just one of a handful of early birds parked there.
The first part of Sledge Track is a delight. It follows the true right hand side of a stream up a deep valley. The vegetation was different to that which we’d seen the day before. Here Fuchsia, Mamaku ferns, native Begonia and amazingly, I thought, Nikau Palms but then realised that we weren’t really that far from the coast and we were in a very sheltered gully. There were many deeply eroded gulches dropping down from high above the track where the water must run fast and furiously after heavy rain, but today only a few sported tinkling waterfalls. The sides of these were smothered in Begonia and were very pretty.
We popped down to have a look at the sign posted “swimming hole”, it wasn’t at all inviting at that time, in the morning, as it was still in the shade but when we passed by later in the day it was sparkling in the sunshine and on a hot Manawatu day I’m sure it would be most welcome.
After about half an hour we reached a swing bridge across the stream we’d been following but our path didn’t go that way. Ours went down and across a wooden plank over Ross Creek and then we began to climb up an area signed as The Elevation. Hmmm!! The track deteriorated and I likened it to climbing Mt Tauhara but without the big step ups that Tauhara has. We reached the top of Sledge Track at 10.00. Perfect. Morning tea with a view, and what a view it was. We could see the ocean, and Mounts Taranaki, Ruapehu, Ngaruahoe, and Tongariro and all the country in between. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was hazy with the seasonal pollen so the photographs didn’t do justice to the scene. There was a cold wind cutting across the conveniently placed table and chairs at the top, so we hunkered down on the grass in the lea of the trees and didn’t linger long before setting off on the first section of the Toe Toe track. The trees here were covered in hanging green lichen but also hanging from then was plenty of bush lawyer. A longing tendril snagged Bernie’s ear as if to earmark him for future reference and Dave sported a claret dribble down his hand for the rest of the day.
This area was all regrowth and the path dipped in and out of trees and grass and was quite boggy in patches. It didn’t take long to reach the junction with the Platinum Mines Loop. At that junction there is a rock that gives a great view out over the countryside. We had been told to note the excavation work going on across the hillsides in preparation for a new set of wind turbines. Big machinery, big piles of dirt, big job! Further out the flat Manawatu Plains ran uninterrupted to the mountains beyond.
On we went around the Platinum Loop. The first mine shaft was a 5 minute walk up a side track. We were all prepared with our headlamps and torches but the entrance to the mine was very muddy and just inside the shaft it was flooded, so that was a wash out. The next three mines were well shafts with steel ladders chained into them inviting the adventurous to climb down. Not too many adventurous ones in the Taupo Tramping Club! Actually, the side shafts in the first two were only short and the third one’s side shaft, though much longer, was flooded. The adventurous one came up out of the last hole totally disorientated and would have set off in completely the wrong direction if left to their own devises!
The last of the shafts was also a horizontal one. It was not very long. A handily placed shovel at the end of the shaft tempted would be platinum hunters to try their hand. The ceiling and the walls of this cavern sparkled silver in the beam of the torch light. Fascinating.
We completed the Platinum Loop at 11.30a.m. so decided we’d complete the Toe Toe Track Loop and return to our morning tea spot before having lunch. Bad decision. This section of the track seemed to go on and on forever, probably because our motors had run down and we were in need of refuelling. Eventually we were back at the top of the Sledge Track. It was 1.00p.m. We slumped down on the grass, again out of the wind, to eat our long awaited lunch. Then it was up, up and away for a final gallop, back down to the van.
We were surprised at the number of cars in the car park. Across the river from the Sledge Track is a Bike Park and as we changed and got ready for the return to Taupo, many lycra clad bodies set off, or returned from, riding the trails. We’d read the signs for the trail and they read as though the tracks were only Grades One and Two but Bernie chatted up a gentleman who said that there were tracks from the hardest Grade 5 downwards, so guess who’s bringing his bike next time?
And so back to Taupo. Two wonderfully different tracks explored, in two days, organised by two wonderful people (thank you both) and enjoyed twice over – out and back – by two couples, and two singles – such an enthusiast group.
Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland 29 July – 1 Aug 2022
Hinchinbrook Island is about a 3hr drive and 250km south of Cairns. It is very close to the mainland - a very rugged, rainforested, national park with the highest point Mt Bowen at 1142m. Its not recommended to swim in the sea or estuaries due to crocs, and there’s also snakes (not that I saw any), bush rats and lots of mossies. Jelly fish in the summer months too. And there’s no facilities on the island, apart from the odd long drop loo.
The starting point is Lucinda, a tiny place, famous for its 5.76km long wharf where they export sugar, and there’s great fishing around the island. My sister Janya , 2 of her friends- Ros and Alan and I stayed the first night at Lucinda Wanderer’s Holiday Park where we were able to leave our cars for the next 4 days.
Our first day was beautiful, getting up to a balmy 26-28 deg, and a spectacular boat ride of about 1 hr 15 up the Hinchinbrook Channel. We had the special bonus of a welcome to country by the captain’s mate, traditional owner Sam Backo. We were dropped off in the mangroves at the north western end of the island. From there it was a short walk across to Ramsay Bay on the eastern side of the island where we headed south along a gorgeous sandy beach. Then over a bit of a headland, through bush to Nina Bay- a lovely spot for lunch.
Leaving Nina Bay, we walked along the sandy beach to it’s south end, climbed a rocky headland to Boulder Bay, rock hopped the length of this bay, and then up and over a small bushclad ridge to Little Ramsay Bay, where we found the our first campsite beside a beautiful lagoon with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. We’d only walked 6.5km but it had taken us about 4.5hours. To find ‘drinking’ water we walked about 10min upstream to a spot where it was also just deep enough for a lovely dip. We’d carried extra empty bottles so we had enough water for dinner and breakfast. Ros was carrying a battery powered UV steripen which seemed to work well (none of us got sick anyway!). She had also made amazing dehy meals- mains and desserts, which were rehydrated and heated in our little ‘kitchen area’ – a Trangia cooker and a bandana for a tablecloth straight on the dirt with a log for a seat.
Day 2 was another gorgeous day. We set off down the beach to the south end but struggled to find the route over the headland. There are markers but they are few and far between in places. Today’s 10.5 km took us about 6 hours. The terrain was fairly rugged- no track here, just a marked route over slippery rocky, root covered terrain with many slippery creek crossings, swamps and tricky spots. Eventually we reached beautiful Zoe Bay and it’s campsite at the south end by a big, but dodgy looking (think crocs) lagoon. It drizzled a bit here but we had the luxury of a picnic table and were able to set up a tarpaulin over it. Zoe Falls was about 800m upstream – a beautiful large swimming hole and our water source for that night. In the early hours, I was wakened by a scurrying sound and then something pecking on my head through the tent- a bush rat, I presume. Needless to say, I was in no hurry to get out of the tent that night. All the camp sites had big steel frames to hang your packs on at night and you’re warned not to take food into your tent.
The next day it continued to drizzle off and on which made the rocky terrain more dangerous. We hiked back up to Zoe Falls and ascended near the falls, using a rope in one spot, to reach the top of the falls, where we had amazing views. We crossed backwards and forwards over the river a few times with me slipping and landing on my butt at one point. Then up and over a saddle – 260m above sea level, the highest point on the track, where it opened up in to grass trees, she-oaks and banksias and more creek crossings till we got to the last campsite at Mulligan Falls. This was in thick rainforest and seemed quite dark but was very close to the lovely swimming hole below Mulligan Falls. It had taken us about 4.5 hours to cover just 7.5km.
The final day was much quicker. 7.5km in about 2.5hrs. After about an hour of the usual rocky, rooty slippery bush clad route, we emerged on to another gorgeous wide sandy beach and headed for George Point, our final destination. There’s one river crossing on this leg that you try to do towards low tide. Just behind the waves we crossed in knee deep clear water, keeping fingers crossed there were no crocs about. From George Point it was only about a 10min boat ride back to Lucinda.
We saw one of the threatened Beach Stone-Curlews, a very colourful Noisy Pitta and a goanna. Heard a Wompoo Pigeon and many other birds but actually didn’t see as many as I expected. Overall this is an amazing tramp to do - such a variety of terrain, views, water holes…… If you’re interested, have a look at https://www.queensland.com/nz/en/things-to-do/adventure/walking-hiking-adventure-queensland/how-to-hike-the-thorsborne-trail-on-hinchinbrook-island. There’s some great pictures there. The campsites need to be booked about 12 months ahead; they only allow 40 people on the island at a time. However, it’s definitely worth adding to your bucket list.