Weekend Trip - Friday 17th to Sunday 19th August 2007

Easy Trip

Another wonderful weekend away with the ATC, this time to the Northern Ureweras, where the Northern Te Urewera Ecosystem Restoration Project is the largest “mainland island” in New Zealand, covering approx 50,000 hectares, a quarter of the park. Possum control is occurring using ground-based trappers, and rats and stoats are also targeted. As a result the fauna and flora recovery is spectacular. The NTUERP survival rate for kiwi chicks is up from 5% to 50%, robins, kereru and kaka are thriving, and whio are achieving high fledgling rates. We were privileged to view all of this at first hand.

Our destination on Friday night was the Ruatoki Rd end,10km from Whakatane, and this was where we camped after our arrival at midnight, Friday. Athol quickly put his tent up, obviously not seduced by the thought of snoring in wrap-around quadraphonic sound. The rest of us “slept” on the bus.

In the morning after the usual GPS readings and discussions as to where we actually were, and a quick brekkie, our party of 13, including novice tramper Heather, set off up the true right of the Whakatane River. We saw the locals using jet boats, and there was also 4-wheel-drive access all the way to Ohora Hut, our destination 12km away, but we were using “shanks’s pony”. Pity, those jet boats looked like fun!

Instead, we decided to try and put Heather off by starting the day with a 50- metre plunge through ½-metre deep liquefied cow poo! However, she was made of sterner stuff, the track improved and we enjoyed a lovely scenic morning meander, mostly along the river banks.

A highlight was hearing the robins calling. Chris spent some time making friends with a female - a magical few moments. They were certainly a welcome antidote to the bones which littered the trail. No, not careless trampers, but just about everything else, including most of a horse skeleton! By 1pm, and shortly after crossing the swing bridge over the Ohora Stream and following the left fork of the track, we arrived at 19-bunk Ohora Hut. It was hardly the Hilton!

Before anyone else arrived, Chris and Noel had washed down the bloodstained benches, where haunches of meat had lain. They used a discarded pair of socks, as, apart from a few rusty spaghetti cans and a pile of rubbish, the hut was empty. Meantime Camp Mother Liz shifted a dead possum from outside, but drew the line at the goat on the river bank. The next chore was to clean the muck out of the fireplace and from around the hut in an attempt to improve our star rating! Then it was firewood gathering, which became a competition to see who could drag the biggest and most unwieldy log back to the cave. It didn’t matter that there was no axe - all sorts of antics ensued to break the wood into manageable proportions. In the end the fire door had to be left open all evening while one recalcitrant 2-metre length was gradually fed in. After dinner, sudoku, botanical education, and stories about helicopter rescues of trampers entertained us. The evening ended with the worst snorer in the group choosing to relocate to the back porch, a prime sleeping possie, to doze off listening to the river music while everyone else bunked down inside, even Murray and Penny.

The next morning we cleaned up and were off at 8am as it was a 5hr-tramp via the Ohora and Pohatu Streams and over the saddle to descend into the Orouamananui Stream and out to Matahi Valley Road and our 2pm rendezvous with the medium/fit group.

Luckily it was a lovely fine day as we spent until 1pm in and out of the water, which was great river-crossing practice. The water level was never above knee height and the water was beautifully clear. The going was easy, apart from some slippery stones where Leki poles were great. We were really lucky to see a pair of whio and a single. (We learnt later that the other group had seen three pairs and a single.)
Leaving the stream, a good blow-out was provided by a rapid ascent 200m up and over the saddle. As we walked out the vegetation changed with different localised mixes of rata, kamahi, rewarewa, pukatea, tawari, matai and kahikatea.
It was 3.30pm before we all reached the road - it was an environment to be savoured and to linger in. Brian and Graeme went ahead; they were keen to collect the bus which was parked further on at Oglivies Bridge and drive the 8km up to collect Carol’s medium/fit party who were due out at 2pm.

Confidently, we waited for the return of Big Blue so the two parties could regroup - and waited and waited … After about an hour the suggestion was made to build a fire and to boil the billy because that was bound to bring them. Just as the billy boiled, eureka! - it was the bus with Brian and Graeme, but no medium/fit group! A tale of woes ensued. A few km on, the way forward was blocked by a fallen tree. Cars could get through but definitely not a bus. Brian and Graeme had left a note to say they had gone in search of a chainsaw, and then Brian had to back the bus a kilometre down what was a winding, precipitous excuse for a road, before he could turn around, and report back to us.

Not to worry, Carol’s group were going to walk down the road and meet us, weren’t they? No, her group, after exiting the track at 2.30pm, had taken their boots off and declared their intention to sunbathe and await the bus. Only Geoff started off as planned, shortly followed by Carol, who straight away managed to secure a lift with some locals who hurled down the road, kamikaze style, sans seatbelts, with Carol wedged in the back braced in the crash position. She had arranged with them to return and bring the remainder of her group to our side of the tree. We found all this out when we screeched to a halt to pick her up as she flashed an eyeful of juicy tramper’s thigh in order to obtain a lift. Back at the turnaround point, we now met up with Geoff, who, complete with the radio, had walked the road having turned down a lift from Carol’s locals. He reported that he had seen the note at the tree site, but also two shovels marked ATC. Unless they belonged to the “Air Training Corps” they were likely to be the snow shovels off Big Blue. Graeme had obviously decided that if you don’t have a saw or a chainsaw then a snow shovel or two will do. Never mind, the rest of the medium/fit people who were just pulling up might have them. No such luck! Ironman Geoff, instantly turned around and ran back up the road to get them. No wonder Steve Gurney has retired. He can’t compete with our Geoff.

So eventually with 18 trampers and two shovels on board we started to head home. The $20 Athol gave the hunters was money well spent as without the help of these friendly locals we could easily have been another couple of hours getting away.
As we finally left the Waimana Valley at 5.30pm we saw an unusual, vertical rainbow comprised solely of pinks and oranges. Then, as Brian did a good job of avoiding the stock wandering the roads, we saw three young Maori on horseback herding cattle. Both were suitable farewells, for the time being, to the Waimana Valley and Te Urewera.
It was to be a long trip home and quite a surreal experience, lying back, seeing glimpses of the Southern Cross, and the odd shooting star framed in the bus skylight. We finally got back at midnight, after an 8pm dinner in Te Puke, tired, but exhilarated, after our memorable weekend.
Thanks Liz, you put together a corker trip and thank you, Carol and Brian, for being such great drivers. It’s good to feel that you are in such safe and experienced hands on these trips!

We were: Liz Ware, Murray & Penny Firth, Chris & Noel Ashton, Colin Wright, Michelle Waldron, Graeme Pollock, Kay Willcocks (scribe), Elizabeth Eden, Brian Alexander, Heather Robinson, Bruce Calvert.