Extended Trip - Saturday 24 February 2018 to Sunday 11 March 2018 (16 days)
This year the ATC hosted members of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club on the safari to the central North Island. Eight Hawaiians arrived; two of them (Barney and Phyllis) for a second time with the ATC.
ATC - Russell Allen (leader), Marilyn (driver) and Dave Best, Hazel Walton, Linda Webber, Barbara Fish, Graeme McGowan , Teresa Janssen, Diana Greig, Karen Wesley, Caroline Witten-Hannah, Young Kim, Ian and Anna Roberts
HTMC - Barney Griggs , Phyllis Cox, Deana Nelson, Gayle Lanthier, Dawn Robinson, David Chin , Yucong Kida, Karen Sorto
Saturday 24th February was planned as a ‘meet and greet’ for safari participants and included a tiki tour of the Waitakere Ranges. We met at Arataki, viewed the displays, and answered the Hawaiians questions on early European settlement in Auckland and on flora and fauna of the Waitakeres. A walk on the Arataki Nature Trail revealed how different our bush is to that in Hawaii; the size and diversity of our ferns was of particular note; the size and stature of the kauris at the knoll impressed all. We explained kauri dieback and was told of a disease affecting the o’hia, the Hawaiian equivalent of the pohutukawa. Lunch at the Piha café followed then a stroll along the beach to experience the black sands of the west coast beaches and the vista of Lion Rock. Not enough time for a hike as we had to return and get spruced up for dinner at Chez Best, hosted by Dave and Marilyn – an excellent evening, thank you both!
The following day, all participated in the club Sunday tramp, meeting at Donald McLean and tramping along Omanawanui to Whatipu - fine weather with stunning views of Whatipu and the Manukau set a high standard for the days to come. The front runners side tripped to the Whatipu caves whilst those of us at the tail end chatted and took in the views in a more leisurely fashion.
On Monday 26th the main party assembled at the Club garage for the trip to Rotorua while others took cars; we all met up at Blue Lake where we stayed in the campground for next two nights. Waimangu was our first destination and we spent several hours enjoying the thermal features of the valley as we hiked down to lake Rotomahana and back. In the evening the group split with some attending a Maori cultural show while others dined in Rotorua.
For many years the Club had tramped through the Waimangu Valley over Mt Tarawera then down the river to the Tarawera Falls; this was typically a 3 day tramp scheduled for Queen’s Birthday weekend. Nowadays, if you want to explore the mountain it has to be done with Kaitiaki Adventures a guiding company located in Rotorua. Therefore, in the morning we climbed aboard Kaitiaki’s white waka for a very rough ride up to the old airstrip near the crater rim of Tarawera. Our guides lead us up to then along the crater rim to the trig point - unfortunately no views as the maunga was buried in low cloud all the time we were there. However, the run down the scree was great fun and went a long way to compensating for the lack of views.
Back to Rotorua where the white waka parked up alongside our blue waka which we boarded and were off to Ohope. Bookings had been made during the early planning of the Safari for guided tours to both White Island and Whale Island. However, a persistent north-easterly swell prevented landings on both islands, so some quick thinking took place to come up with good alternatives - we succeeded! The first day we drove to Kawerau and obtained a permit to drive through the forest to the outlet of the Tarawera River from the lake where there are tramping tracks towards Lake Okataina and down the Tarawera River to the falls (the river is noted for its disappearance underground then emerging out of a cliff face a bit further downstream as spectacular falls. Prior to flowing underground, the river goes over a 5m fall then turns abruptly 90 0 . This drop and bend aerates the river so much that it looks like foam). The party split into several groups depending on interests and fitness, meeting again later in the day at the falls.
The diversity and extent of ferns was spectacular as were the rapids on the river. Epiphytic orchids were in flower; fungi starting to sprout.The sight of the river emerging from the cliff face impressed locals and Hawaiians alike and everyone dived for their cameras. Further entertainment was provided by kayakers who had entered the river at the lake, portaged their kayaks past the falls, then re-entered the river to test their skill on the rapids.
The alternative to Whale Island was hiking the Nga Tapuwae O Toi Walkway. This is a series of interconnecting loop tracks through scenic reserves and along the coast linking Ohope and Whakatane. The reserves are home to a large population of kiwi as well as other native birds - sights and sounds were impressive in sections of the tracks as were the old Pohutukawa trees at the Ohope end of the tracks. Lunch at a café in Whakatane marked the half way point of the 16km full walkway, then it was back along the cliffs and beaches with spectacular views especially at Kohi Point. Shell collecting was indulged in when the beaches arrived. That evening we all went to the local Fisherman’s restaurant to celebrate Deana’s birthday including cake, candles and song!
Saturday 3rd we left the BoP and drove to Ruapehu. The blue waka returned to Rotorua then drove towards Taupo with a stop to explore Wai O Tapu thermal area - the very spectacular thermal features (especially the mud pools) was enjoyed by Hawaiians and locals alike (while the Hawaiian islands are volcanic in nature, they lack the thermal features seen throughout the Rotorua area). A stop off at the Huka Falls provided more stunning scenery, then it was onto Taupo where we lunched and bought food for the days ahead.
Arriving at Memorial Hut we found that the hut had been unexpectedly double booked with the Napier Tramping Club. While this caused initial consternation, we adapted to the situation and beds were found for all and we settled in to make the best of it. The evening was spent packing and weighing packs for the start of the multi-day tramps the following morning - for most of the members of HTMC, an overnight tramp was a new experience and some were understandably concerned about the weight of their packs - with guidance we were all able to get them to 10kg or less. Fortunately, our portable scales could do both kilograms and pounds, preventing some mathematical gymnastics.
Next morning our big blue waka was loaded with people and packs after breakfast and Marilyn drove us down the road. Ian’s party for the Round the Mountain tramp (Ian, Barney, Teresa, Dave, Graeme) were dropped at Park HQ to begin tramping to Waihohonu Hut, their destination for their first night. The remainder continued onto Mangatepopo Road end for either day trips (Linda, Hazel, Barbara; Marilyn stayed with the bus to catch up on work commitments) or to start the Northern Circuit (Russell, Deana, Dawn, Gayle, Yucong, David, Phyllis, Karen,Young Kim, Anna). Weather conditions were perfect! We set off up the valley at our own pace to meet up at the start of the staircase climb. Here, Dawn realized that 3 days with some big climbs with a 10kg pack was going to be a bridge too far for her, so turned back with Linda to spend time at the springs then returned to the bus and hut for the next two days. Hazel and Barbara continued on to Tongariro summit then down the ridgeline above Mangatepopo stream to the hut then back to the bus.
When we last were on Tongariro the toilets installed to cater for the needs of the people doing the crossing were very intrusive and smelly and therefore very unpleasant. Therefore, it was excellent to see that the toilets (at the end of Maungatepopo Valley and at start of South Crater) have been considerably upgraded, moved to the side of the track , and painted to merge into the background. Well done DoC!
The remainder of the party tackled the two climbs for the day – the Staircase to South Crater then the ridge to Red Carter – enjoying 360 0 views of Ngaruahoe, Mangatepopo Valley, Oturere Valley, Red Crater, South Crater, Central Crater, Emerald Lakes, Blue Lake. After taking in the views, we scrambled and slid down the steep scoria slope to Emerald Lakes for lunch then continued on with the steep rough climb down into Oturere Valley and hut, our destination for the night.
We settled in and enjoyed an evening with the other occupants including - to the Hawaiians delight - an expat Hawaiian Lara and her Kiwi partner leading to much sharing of experiences on both sides of the Pacific.
Mikey the resident ranger was a wealth of information and when night fell took everyone interested outside to view the Southern Cross and Milky Way, a first for many of the Hawaiians.
Concern had been expressed by local trampers about been able to do a day’s tramp on Tongariro with the new 4 hours parking restrictions at the end of Mangatepopo Road. While members of the local community were at the road end recording times and registration numbers of vehicles arriving, there was no problem with Big Blue being waved over to a special area and being given a day’s permit to park there. Mikey, the ranger at Oturere, informed us that this would apply to local trampers arriving by car at the road end for a day’s tramp and on identifying ourselves to the people checking cars there we would be given a day’s parking permit.
Another beautiful day dawned and we were treated to the sight of a full moon over Ngaruahoe as we set off for Waihohonu Hut.
An easier day as were tramped over the ridges towards the beech forest above the hut, unfortunately no sightings of karearea the native falcon which Mikey had said were resident there. We arrived at Waihohonu for a late lunch and the specious new hut was much appreciated by Hawaiians and locals alike.
In the afternoon, a few of us set off for Ohinepango springs (and a good wash in the exiting stream!) followed by a visit to the historic Waihohonu Hut once an overnight stage coach stop on the road from the Desert Road to the Chateau (now the basis of the tramping track). The stocks of old food in the hut elicited great interest! Back to the new hut where several of us visited the stream by the campground for a brief refreshing emersion, then back to the hut for a relaxing, social evening - one of the pleasures of hut life.
For anyone planning to use these huts – during the main season they must be booked. Both huts have gas cooking and lights operating off timers. Both huts have kettles, therefore trampers dining on freeze dried food do not need to carry cookers and billies. However, outside the booking season, the gas is turned off therefore cookers and billies need carrying. Oturere is gas heated so there is no heating in winter, whereas Waihohonu has a wood fired stove (and a large store of wood) so can be heated in winter.
After photo stops - an exceedingly large photographic collection was built up by the party over the 3 days of the hike - we set off to Park HQ next morning in fine cool condition but with clouds looming over Tongariro.
The party split early with some visiting the old hut, photographing spiders and their webs in the sun, and enjoying the scenery. The track linking the hut Park HQ is excellent as a result of recent upgrades and the DoC times posted exceeded by even the slow section of the party. Unfortunately, the cloud came down and the Tama Lakes were bypassed. The fast group made the Chateau for lunch with Deana and Phyllis partaking of the champagne option of High Tea. The slower group stopped at the foot of Taranaki Falls for lunch then continued onto the Chateau for afternoon tea at the Pihanga T bar , courtesy of David - much appreciated!
Marilyn was contacted and the blue waka arrived to return us to the hut for very welcome hot showers and clean clothing and the welcoming smell of a roast cooking for dinner.
Meanwhile, the Round-the -Mountain group were still consuming freeze dried dinners.....
Having had an easy walk in to Waihohonu via the Tama Lakes on the first day, the second day was the testing one with Rangipo Hut being bypassed and Mangaehuehu Hut the destination for the night. The posted time was 11 hours; we managed to shave half an hour off that, arriving 10.5 hours after setting out from Waihohonu, with lunch at Rangipo. We chatted to the ranger there and he radioed Oturere to ascertain that all was well with our other party. Barney discovered his liking for Swing Bridges after crossing the Whangaehu river, then upped this to addiction after crossing the mighty Wahianoa valley and river.
Not much was said on our arrival at Mangaehuehu but conversation flowed after a brew and wash. The only other occupant in the hut was a young Dutch woman who was working at the Skotel. She asked us questions on the route we had just tramped as she was heading to the Tukino Road the next day and meeting arranged transport back to Park HQ.
The time to Mangaturuturu Hut was less than that half that of our previous day, so we left at the more reasonable hour than Monday’s 7am start. Barney continued to indulge his liking for swing bridges and muttered about getting high... Just after the last bridge, an early lunch was called; better to have lunch beside a stream than on the edge of the Ohakune Mountain Road. The morning had been cloudy so the promised reflections of Ruapehu in Lake Rotokawa never eventuated. However, on the shore line was a dead koura about 50mm long and the largest specimen that any of us had seen. After lunch came the plod up the road then the drop down into Mangaturuturu Valley and negotiating the Cascade - always fun. The Hut has recently been extended and a fully enclosed wet gear area complete with sink has been constructed on one side of the hut. This addition has increased the bed space available but you need to provide your own sleeping pad. Well after dark, a Frenchman arrived from Park HQ; he tented outside and that was all we saw of him.
It rained during the night with thunder and lightning. As we wanted to be back at Memorial Hut by early afternoon, we left Mangaturuturu at 7.30am in dry conditions. A wet boot crossing of the stream started the day followed by the board walk and climb towards Lake Surprise . Dave fortunately spotted a wasp nest mid track on a short steep section and we managed to avoid it as an attack here with nowhere to run could have been serious. At the lake, the usual jokes about it being a surprise were trotted out, then the rain returned and continued for most of the rest of the day.
Just before we reached the Wakapapaiti Valley we experienced one final deluge, a huge crack of thunder, then the blue sky returned giving us a dry lunch.
We reached the Bruce Road to be met by Marilyn who had collected Russell, David, and Yucong from the end of a wet tramp down the Whakapapaiti. Hot drinks and food awaited us at the Hut (thank you Phyllis!) then it was a change of clothing and we all departed for Waitomo midafternoon.
Those at the Hut had experienced heavy rain and strong winds during the morning and heard the same clap of thunder as the trampers. But the rain cleared in time for a small group of us to walk up the road and out to the always impressive Meads Wall looming over the big country of the Whakapapanui Valley. A great way to bid farewell to Tongariro National Park.
The day at Waitomo saw people do their own thing with walks to and around the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve being popular in the morning. Six of us (Dawn, David, Deana, Yucong, Anna, Ian) elected to do the Black Abyss and managed to book the 5pm session that day. We were fitted with wet suits and driven to the entrance of the tomo where we were given instruction and practice at abseiling before our 35m abseil down the narrow tomo and into the dark. Off the abseil rope we were hooked into a zipline and hurtled into the dark unknown....great fun! An inner tube awaited us which was clutched to our posteriors and leapt off a platform into the dark to splonk into the river and ‘enjoy’ the rush of cold water into the area between our wet suits and our skins. We hauled ourselves upstream along a fixed rope then rafted up (ankles over the shoulders of the person ahead of you) and floated back down the river to our starting point enjoying the spectacle of millions of glow-worms on the cave roof close overhead. The tubes were discarded back at the starting point and we began the wade downstream which included the excitement of a water slide; a few tight ‘squeezes’; the company of eels (a young elver was spotted climbing the rock face migrating its way upstream ); and, of course, cave wetas! Fortified by hot chocolate, we struggled up two small but tricky waterfalls and completed the final squeeze to emerge into the outdoors again, 5 hours after we had descended the tomo. Soup and bagels and a slide show of our journey completed a wonderful (and highly recommended) experience.
The bus (and cars) set out for the return trip to Auckland on Friday (9th) with the bus stopping at the Otorohanga Kiwi house for an encounter with a very feisty kiwi; tui, kaka, kereru and other native birds provided the support act.
Prior to the start of the Safari, we had intended to take our Hawaiian guests to our hut in the Waitakeres, Ngaro-Te-Kotare, but we ran out of time. Therefore, we scheduled a visit on Saturday and two car loads of us set off to visit the hut to be followed by lunch with Caroline and Karel Witten-Hannah at their property above Karekare. Both were a huge success and we were all very appreciative of Caroline and Karel’s hospitality (ably supported by Diana and Owen) and to hear of the story of the foundation of the local school including a walk through the bush to visit it. The sheep in the fields were their usual hit with American visitors!
Ngaro-Te-Kotare - Gayle with Yucong watched by Dawn, Karen, Phyllis, Barney
Sunday we all participated in the Sunday tramp with Deana enjoying the rugged Pararaha Valley and the rest of us having a more relaxed day hiking the newly upgraded Zion Hill track (stunning views of the coast and Whatipu visible from the track which is now located closer to the cliff) and enjoying the sand dunes and black sands of Karekare beach. Shell collecting followed while David braved the surf (rather colder than Hawaiian waters).
We returned home for a wash and final pack up, a simple dinner, then we bad farewell to our visitors at the airport. Overall, an excellent two weeks on Safari, with great scenery and weather and company! A big mahalo to Russell for his organization and to Marilyn our own self- proclaimed ‘truckie’! We look forward to meeting our friends again in Hawaii later this year and sharing more trails and volcanoes.
Ian and Anna Roberts