Long Weekend Trip - Thursday 5 February 2015 to Sunday 8 February 2015 (4 days)

Our eager group of 11 arrived in plenty of time by 7.30 to board the Sealink ferry - and were rewarded by an uneventful and calm = enjoyable 4 ½ hours trip to Tryphena Harbour - with clear views of the gulf islands and Coromandel as the distant Great Barrier Island gradually came into view.

A bit of a road walk - first around the very picturesque Shoal Bay, then a steady climb up the hill to the start of the track down to Medlands beach camp ... which seemed to take that much longer than expected to reach, given that it was a hot sunny afternoon, and a noticeably steep descent at times back down to sea level.

The campground was in trees sheltered from the sea breezes - much less so from the at times strong gusts of winds coming from inland - causing a few issues for tent pitching (it will die away tonight ...). Time then for walking the length of the sandy beach / beach road, and swimming in the sea. We appreciated the campground shelter from the breeze for our evening dining, and then .... all night those gusts of wind kept on and on and on ... flappy tents, causing most people to have less than a restful night’s sleep.

The next day saw us all packed up and ready in time for the shuttle ride to pick up Jean from the airport (35 mins flight), and then to Whangaparpara to the track start, and campsite where Justin had decided to stay at for the next 2 nights, since his pack was the antithesis of Rob’s. Rob’s party set off along the Tramline track for their next camping night, while Tony’s party, with Justin minus his pack soon turned off onto Witheys Track - an old logging route with a disconcerting long straight view ahead of the track going up and up and .... up. Down and down .... the other side we then followed a stream with some exciting stream and gully crossings requiring careful footwork on the often damp clay soil.

After joining the main Aotea track, we took a side, lunch trip up to lookout views from Maungapiko - all too soon being chased off there by squalls from the mainland. At this point Justin left us to return to his campsite, from where he enjoyed some interesting walks until rejoining us two days later.

Given the time of day and the dampish weather conditions, the group readily accepted the offer of the shorter route through to Kaiaraara hut, leaving the Kiwiriki track for another trip.

The hut was soon enough reached - well located, pleasant hut, wood fire ... but empty water tank. Jean and Tony tried to follow the pipe feeding the tank, at times just above the cut away river bank, but eventually gave up when it went across a rocky cliff face into places unknown. Meanwhile a party formed to make an attempt on the 6km road walk to Port Fitzroy - successfully achieved by most of them with time to explore historic sites, the dairy, and the pub.

The little stream below the hut obviously had a major flood event in the middle of last year, with flood debris to a high level, and the direct track to Mt Heale destroyed in places, including what used to be the best remaining kauri dam in the country.

 

Picture - near Kaiaraara hut, showing the extent of the flood level.

 

So the next day we went via the South Forks track - with a fun section crossing and re-crossing a rocky stream, before starting the steady ascent up to the Mt Heale Hut. Arrived there for elevenses and overnight pack drop-off, and then repacked for a lunch stop on Hirakamata / Mt Hobson - at 627m the highest point on the island. Even on the top of the ridges there were huge slips from last year’s storm. Past one of those, the track to the top became continuous steps / boardwalk like this picture.

On reaching the top, we found a group of people doing their regular black petrel monitoring - this is a large endangered seabird that nests only on the two Barrier islands, before heading out to sea for many months. Their burrows are everywhere, and we were very privileged to see first the extraction of an adult bird from its burrow, followed by the handling of one of the first of the new season’s chicks.

Lunchtime over, the track down the other side to Windy Canyon beckoned, so the whole party took that option ... knowing it was going down a long way that would have to be retraced later in the afternoon.

 

Picture - black petrel extracted from its burrow for checking, and a chance for us to see one at close quarters.

The Canyon consists of vertical rock faces in between which there are narrow gaps, through which the wind rushes on those many windy days - not today, although an account from other trampers said it was performing uncomfortably well the previous day !

As expected we met Rob’s party on their way up, and then eventually we retraced our steps to Mt Heale hut ... including, thanks to the wooden step counters, around 1800 steps up and down Mt Hobson. The hut itself is located on the ridgetop, with superb views across the west of the island to Little Barrier, and nearby to the east and south. Photographers were keen to get the perfect sunset shots, with Isabelle and Garry heading back up to Mt Hobson summit for theirs.

 

Picture - taken from the deck at Mt Heale hut looking west to Little Barrier Island.

The next day was a casual walk down well maintained tracks to the Kaitoke hot springs for a welcome soak, and then out to the road to wait for our shuttle pickup. By the time we dropped Jean off at the airport, we were all envious of her 35 minute flight back to Auckland, while we continued on to wait for the ferry, which delivered us back in town about 6 hours later

We were Don Finlayson, Garry Williams, Isabelle Freeman, Jean Barton, Justin Gleeson, Karen Manning, Kay Willcocks, Margaret Law, Natasha Hulston, Rob McKay (leader), Susan Woolnough, Tony Walton (leader, scribe, photos).