Monday, September 25, 2017

NZAC Girls Trip

The Auckland Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club organised a girls only trip to Mt Ruapehu, and last weekend found 10 ladies ensconced at the NZAC Ruapehu Hut at Delta Corner near Knoll Ridge CafĂ©. The objective was to walk up to the top of Pyramid (2,645m), one of Ruapehu's 12 peaks, but mainly to simply enjoy being on the mountain.

Three of us took the Friday off work to travel down and so managed to catch the last chair lift up the ski field - the others didn't arrive until about 2am! The afternoon was ridiculously warm with blue skies and a touch of lightly falling snow. Having skipped the walk up to the hut, I made myself useful and got some exercise digging out the fire exit.

Saturday morning was clear but a little breezy so I got up at 6am to watch the sunrise. The sky was clear all the way out to Mt Taranaki in the west, and the rosy light gradually crept over its slopes as it emerged from the shadow of Ruapehu. The late arrivals didn't emerge from bed until a while later, so it was just after 8am when we began wandering upwards. We opted to go up the gut and through the notch onto the Summit Plateau, where we were sheltered from the worst of the wind. There was blue sky all the way until we reached the southern corner of the plateau where we paused to regroup before heading over to Pyramid. I could see the peak with cloud billowing in front, but by the time everyone had caught up we were encased in cloud with almost zero visibility. Occasional clearances allowed us to find our way over to the north ridge of Pyramid, which we followed to the top. Despite being directly above the crater lake we didn't see it at all! It was cool and breezy on top so we only stayed long enough to take a few summit shots before retreating to a sheltered spot for lunch. Then it was simply a matter of retracing our foot prints back to Whakapapa. Some of us had hoped to traverse the ridge along to Te Heuheu, but decided it wasn't worth it in the wind and limited visibility. As we went through the notch and headed down toward the ski field we dropped below the cloud and once again had a view. Back at the hut in time for afternoon tea after a leisurely 6 hour stroll.

I poked my head out of the door at first light on Sunday to be greeted by a wet shroud of white and a blustery breeze. Oh well, back to bed. It wasn't worth trying to climb anywhere in the rain and wind so we simply packed up and walked down to the cars.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Kauritatahi Hut

Kauritatahi Hut at the top of the Kaimai Ranges has been on my to-visit list for several years and I finally decided to stop talking about it and actually make the trip happen. Unfortunately the cloud was down around 500m so we had no views, but at least we were sheltered from the westerly gales.

Wandering along the swimming hole track from Aongatete Lodge was an easy introduction to our weekend excursion and allowed time to adjust to heavy packs again. Seeing as it was only a two day trip both of us brought along a few luxuries and didn't bother packing light. A knee-deep crossing of the Aongatete Stream heralded the first climb of the day. The route meanders for a while along old bulldozed tracks which were put in for the construction of the Kaimai railway tunnel. Passing the Upland Road turnoff, we headed gently down to the Poupou Stream then up and over to an unnamed stream where we halted for lunch after 2 hours of walking. The track got rougher the further north we went and in places it was so dark under the trees that I had to strain to make out the track. Thick cloud was down to around 500m with the occasional light shower. Six crossing of Kauritatahi Stream brought us to the start of the day's real climb, of which the first 100m of ascent was quite steep with a few flights of Kaimai floating steps to negotiate. After that the gradient eased off as the track sidled gradually upward. Near the top we startled an animal and heard it crashing through the undergrowth although we couldn't see it or identify it. On gaining the ridge the full force of the westerly wind made itself apparent and we wasted no time in carrying on around to the sheltered eastern side of Ngatamahinerua.

Leaving the North-South track signalled the beginning of the really rugged terrain, and this was the bit I had been looking forward to. The track up to Kauritatahi Hut began easily enough but steadily got steeper, rougher and more overgrown. There were a few rocky steps which were awkward to negotiate with packs on. By this time we were well and truly up in the thick cloud, although still sheltered from the wind, so we can neither confirm nor deny that there are good views from the track. It took us 50 minutes from the North-South track to reach the route to the DC3 wreckage (see note below), and then another half hour through to the hut. This last kilometre along the flat Te Hanga Ridge is a bog so we spent the entire last half hour squelching through the mud (and relishing it!). Arriving at the hut I poked my head inside and stared in disbelief: the fireplace was gone! A note in the hut book revealed that it had been removed less than two months prior. Oh well, there probably wouldn't have been any dry firewood anyway. The small 3 bunk hut turned out to be quite cosy with two of us inside plus a couple of candles for ambience, albeit slightly draughty. For dessert I experimented with making fried scones on a camp stove for the first time; smothered in jam these tasty morsels went down a treat!

The hut was still shrouded in cloud as day broke so we simply rolled over and snuggled back into our sleeping bags. Eventually thirst prodded me to boil the billy for a hot drink and breakfast while Lydia lazed in luxury and got served breakfast in bed (a side effect of her bunk serving as the table). It didn't take long to clean up our small abode so we were out on the trail just after 8am. We enjoyed wallowing the swampy kilometre back to the top of the descent, slopping straight through the mud and finding the deep spots. A couple of the scrambly bits were more awkward going down than climbing up, and some of the markers were less obvious, but on the whole the descent was drama free. Once back on the North-South Track it was simply retracing our steps from the day before, and for the most part rather unnoteworthy. There was a definite line where we suddenly popped below the cloud and could see sunshine streaming through the canopy. Lydia managed to rock-hop all 9 stream crossings while I decided that my shoes could do with the additional washing. We stopped to scrub off in the Aongatete River before ambling up the final piece of track to the car park.

I enjoyed the variety in the forest and wandered along observing the different trees and terrain. The dominant trees seemed to be tawa and tanekaha, but there were plenty of other species such as rimu, puriri, beech, rewarewa, miro and tree ferns. I even spotted a lone kawaka, or New Zealand Cedar. Up on top of the range there were even a few Dracophylla (Dr Seuss trees). A few good stands of Dawson Superba (Giant moss) were spotted beside the track. On the fauna front, there were a few grey warblers, and a couple of tui low down, but not very many birds were around. This may have been partly due to the windy and cloudy conditions. Fresh hoof prints were widely spread; I don't know enough to tell for sure but I think they were pigs.

5:40 hours from Aongatete Lodge (out of Katikati) to Kauritatahi Hut (770m), 4:55 hours on the return trip.

Back in 1963 a DC3 slammed into the western side of the ridge in a storm; with the loss of 23 lives it remains the worst air accident within New Zealand. Due to the steep terrain and thick bush recovery of the wreckage was not possible, so rock was blasted down onto the crash site. However various bits and pieces remain scattered in the bush as a memorial. A couple of years ago I met an elderly man in Te Aroha who was one of the original search party, and was incredible to hear his account of trying to reach the plane without any tracks. There is now an unofficial route down from Ngatamahinerua to the crash site (half an hour before Kauritatahi Hut), but with the inclement weather and limited daylight there was no point us wandering off in search of the wreckage.

Campsite observations:
  • There is a well established campsite where the North-South track crosses the Poupou Stream (true right bank).
  • At the Kauritatahi turnoff there is a decent camp spot about 30m up the Kauritatahi Track. Water can be found a couple of minutes south on the N-S track, or a couple of minutes up the K track.
  • On the North-South Track between the Aongatete and Upland Rd tracks there is quite a long flat area along the western side of the track for the northern half of this section. It looked like it should be easy to find a campsite under the rimu and tanekaha trees, although there is no water.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mt Arthur Mission

A quick, spur of the moment dash up Mt Arthur (1,795m) with a friend and friends of friends.

Driving across the Moutere Valley we could see the peak of Mt Arthur bathed in sunshine above a layer of cloud. This cloud promised to lift, and as we swiftly marched up the track from Flora car park we had sunny spells and glimpses of the surrounding country. Unfortunately the cloud only lifted to about 1,700m and the summit remained swathed in cloud.

There was a bit more snow than we were expecting which made it fun. The only really sketchy bit was traversing above a gully just after the Winter Peak turn off - the run out was awful! A couple of our party were in running shoes and I was the only one with an ice axe. We made it safely across but then met a couple descending who told us that the last little bit was trickier. Only two of us pushed the last 5 minutes to the summit as the others decided that they had come high enough without proper gear. A quick retreat off the mountain in thickening cloud saw us back at the car with plenty of daylight to spare.

A marvellous little adventure!

Familiar view on the summit!

18km, 5:20 hours return to Flora car park. (2:50 hours to summit)

Solo to Starveall

It was 0°C when I set off mid-morning from the Aniseed Valley car park in the Richmond Ranges. Pretty cold for the first couple of kilometres along Hacket Creek! (Later I heard this section referred to as "Polar Mile"). I was wearing shorts and my quads were soon red and numb. It took 1 1/2 hours to reach Hacket Hut, which was serenely situated in a sunny clearing. After a quick break it was 30 minutes and 8 river crossings up Hacket Creek, all of which I managed to tiptoe across with dry feet, before beginning the relentless 900m climb. My pack felt pretty heavy! I chugged up the hill steadily; there was no rush and I had the world to myself.

I popped out at Starveall Hut after 4:40 hours and 1,140m of ascent. A hunter (Phil) and his dog (Molly) were already in residence but there was plenty of space to spare in the cosy 6 bunk hut. The tap had broken off the water tank so I had to climb up on top and scoop water out with a billy into a 20L container. Nearby Pt 1258 provided a spectacular vantage point with panoramic views of Mt Rintoul, Abel Tasman and the Arthur Range. There was not a breath of wind so I spent well over an hour soaking up the serenity. Returning to the hut for a hot soup, I was soon back out to watch the brilliant orange sun slowly sink behind the silhouetted shoulder of Mt Arthur. The evening was spent sitting in front of the fire spinning yarns. Phil regaled me with hunting stories and tales of his time trekking in Nepal.

Sunset behind Mt Arthur

Watched the sunrise then headed over Mt Starveall (1,511m) to Slaty Hut. There was a bit of powdery snow around on the tops which was good fun. There was no time pressure as I had all day to fill in so I took my time and had plenty of stops. Two hours through to Slaty Hut, and then I carried on along the track and popped up to Slaty Peak (1,544m). I lingered here in the sunshine for a while before deciding that it was time to get a move on as cloud was spilling over Starveall. Instead of backtracking I continued north then east along the ridge to pick up the track where it entered the bush. The temperature dropped a bit once I entered the cloud, but there was no wind so it was actually quite pleasant. Picking my way down rocks coming off Mt Starveall my foot slipped and I took a small chunk of skin off my hand - nothing a plaster couldn't fix. It was still early in the afternoon when I arrived back at Starveall Hut so I spent a while mucking around gathering firewood etc. There was a pile of logs where a tree had been cleared down the bank so I lugged those up to the wood shed. Cloud came in even thicker at 3:30pm with light showers and a few pellets of hail; the temperature plummeted to 4°C. I was alone for the night, basking in the warmth of the fire.

Slaty Peak
Woke up refreshed after a good long sleep. Packed up efficiently and lugged more firewood to the woodshed before setting off down the hill. The hut was in cloud but I soon dropped down below. I moved steadily, only stopping for photography. For over a kilometre a friendly fantail kept me company, darting around my legs and often approaching within a few inches. He left me at the second to last river crossing. It took 2 hours to reach Hacket Creek and then another half hour through to Hacket Hut. Once again I managed to tiptoe my way across all 8 stream crossings with dry feet. All that remained was a pleasant stroll out to the car park.
Starveall Hutt


I couldn't trace the origin of the name Starveall in the region, but it seems to be a common English farm name implying poor land which is certainly apt.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Winter Solstice

What do you do when winter solstice falls in the middle of the week?
Why, you go camping of course!

With tarps pitched by 9pm we spent the rest of the warm night in our sheltered possie relaxing on the carpet of soft rimu leaves, four alcohol stoves providing a pleasant bonfire ambience. Dan even furnished fruit cake and custard to celebrate mid-winter!

The rain set in at 2am and immediately I could think of half a dozen better configurations for my fly. Not that I got wet exactly, just a bit of misty spray when gusts of wind came. Up at 5:45am to quickly decamp and head in to the city in time for work.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp!

As I amble through the bush
Tramping cheerfully along,
Listening to the bellbird's melody.
My heart it sings within,
This is where I do belong:
Among the birds and mountains, wild and free.

Tramp, tramp, tramp! The joys of marching
Over mountains, o'er hills,
And beneath the starry sky 
We shall pitch our tents again,
With knowledge that there's more to cover still.

We are following the route,
Picking carefully our way,
Swirling clouds and drifting rain obscure the view.
Undeterred we carry on,
This is summer after all;
Bad weather in New Zealand's nothing new.
I lie in my tent worn out,
Muscles weary, yet content;
The journey has been long and hard today.
But despite the challenges
And the arduous ascent
I've relished every footstep 'long the way.

The aroma of wet earth
And the sunshine on my face,
Lungful after lungful of fresh air;
With nature all around
I am in my happy place.
There's nowhere that I'd rather be than here!

To the tune of 'Jesus loves the little children'
Listen to the tune here

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mt Pirongia

Mt Pirongia, southwest of Hamilton, is the Waikato's highest point at 959m. Perched just below the summit is the relatively new 20 bunk Pahautea Hut alongside the old 6 bunk hut and there are several tracks up the mountain, all of which are rugged and muddy, making for a good adventure. I had previously been up four times to stay at Pahautea Hut but every time had been clagged in with no view, so when a couple of friends asked me to take them on a tramping trip I was eager to tackle Pirongia again. This would have to be one of my favourite weekend tramps close to Auckland.

There are two convenient loops up to the summit - we chose the longer and harder route from Limeworks Loop Road, up Tahuanui Track and down Bell Track. Many comments have been made throughout the years about the state Bell Track including statements such as "Short people may require a lifejacket" and "It may have been easier with snorkel and flippers"!

The first couple of kilometres is a gravel vehicle track alongside the Kaniwhaniwha Stream and was a nice gentle warm up. It took half an hour to reach the campsite, including a brief pause to find our first geocache of the weekend. Once onto the Tahuanui Track proper, the gentle but consistent climb began. The trail follows the almost straight ridge for several kilometres at a steady gradient before steepening up at the 700m mark. The track was pleasant going, although featureless, and I enjoyed being immersed in the bush. As altitude is gained the flora changes from tawa and podocarp canopy to stunted, twisted montane forest. The track also gets muddier the higher you get - which at first seems slightly paradoxical. However the mud should come as no surprise when you consider that the upper slopes of the mountain receive twice as much rainfall as the plains below. It is not until high up on the ridge that the first views are to be had; northwest to Mt Karioi and eastward over the Waikato. Reaching the boardwalk signals that the summit is nigh and the section from Tirohanga Track to the summit viewing platform is easy going. It was a bluebird day so the vista was grand - we could even see Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu in the distance. I was glad to finally get a decent view on my fifth time up Pirongia!

Twenty minutes later we were peeling off muddy shoes and socks on the deck of Pahautea Hut, first to arrive for the day. After claiming some bunks we took a barefoot stroll along the 800m of boardwalk to Hihikiwi summit to find the geocache hidden there. The evening was whiled away relaxing on the deck, playing cards, reading, and solving crosswords with some of the other hut occupants. At sunset the horizon turned a brilliant orange, although the ridge blocked our view out to the west. We did go outside to look at the stars for a while, but although the sky was clear it was brightly illuminated by the almost full moon.

Pastel hues issued in the dawn, the air so still that cows could be heard mooing down on the farms below. With a long day ahead of us we made an early start and were soon packed up and heading off along Bell Track. The first 10 minutes is boardwalk, which then abruptly stopped and left us to the mercy of the mud as we picked our way carefully from root to root, balancing along logs and swinging around trees. The occasional exclamation punctuated our passage as one or other of us misjudged and planted a foot in the deep, sticky mud. 45 minutes of this saw us at the top of the Cone (953m) where Lydia retrieved another geocache from the scrub. A steep scramble down ensued, with no reprieve from the mud. Where the ridge flattens out around the 600m contour there was a change from mud to bog. Whereas so far there had been plenty of roots and trees to give a solid footstep, now it was just knee deep ooze. At first we all tried inching along the vegetation at the sides, but after one foot slipped in I yielded and just waded through (at least where it didn't look too deep). It was actually quite fun wallowing along!

And that wasn't the deepest...
Central Clearing Campsite provided a nice dry lunch spot (and another geocache) and we had a quick poke around to find the water source for future reference. Not far past, in a smaller clearing, there was an abundance of blackberry bushes so we stopped to forage for late-season berries. From here it was another couple of relatively mud-free kilometres along the plateau before dropping down to Blue Bill Stream. Dropping packs we took the 10 minute detour out to the tallest recorded native tree in New Zealand, which is a 66.5 metre tall Kahikatea. For some reason I had mis-remembered the next two kilometres along the stream as being good track and easy going so it took longer than I expected to reach the Kaniwhaniwha caves. These are the only two known limestone caves on Mt Pirongia, the main one being 20m long and just wide enough to walk through. We quickly scrambled through before trundling on. By now our legs were weary and the gravel plod back to the car, although easy, was hard on the feet.

Team Statistics:
3 young ladies
30 kilometres walked (approx.)
12:45 hours of walking
1 blister
7 geocaches found
1 block of chocolate consumed
3 crosswords (almost) completed
1 goat seen

Click here for map