Labour Weekend Trip - Friday 25 October 2013 to Monday 28 October 2013 (4 days)

The Urutawas is an area of bush, steep hills and lovely little streams in between the Bay of Plenty coast near Opotiki, and SH2 as it goes through the Waioeka Gorge on its way from Opotiki to Gisborne. The main tramping area is to the west of the Motu Road, now a popular cycle trail, which once used to be the only road going through that area.

The Fit Party

The club was last in the area exactly 3 years ago, and what an ordeal by unmaintained and slow, rough tracks that was then - to the extent that all 3 parties then ended up in different places from what was intended. But it is gorgeous country, so a chance to revisit, taking nothing for granted. Even Liz Ware came back for more - and she left last time in a helicopter!

The planned routes for the 3 parties started from the end of Otara Rd, 15km from Opotiki, where the bus stayed all weekend. Black mark #1 for the leader when the bridge to the road going to the other end of the Easy / Fit circuit had a weight restriction less than the empty bus - so just another 7 kms riverside road walk for those parties.

The rest of this report is for the fit party’s trip. In the picture - Gary, Antal, Carol, Caroline, Tony and Kathy. #2 when on reaching that road end the leader could not locate the maps for the first half of the trip (having previously sorted them into 2 packets).

But enough collective maps to continue onto the Pakihi cycle trail that winds alongside a stream to the Pakihi Hut, and then ever so gradually in and out of all the bush covered gullies up onto the Motu Road through some pleasant cooling bush on a warm sunny day. The hut is a little old hut, recently upgraded superbly with a new built in verandah …. cycle trail money no doubt ! It even has 2 large outdoor picnic tables.

Along the way sitting on the side of the trail having lunch, Carol and Gary set little traps for the regular cyclists coming around the corner by blocking the track with packs, feet, etc to see how many could be encouraged to explore the valley way below … no luck - clever cyclists.

# 3 - since it was easy walking we were going fast and covering a lot of ground on a dry track - I should have told everyone to soak their feet in streams every now and then - sorry Gary ! A superloo on the Motu Rd in the middle of nowhere - more cycleway money - and then another 2.5 kms to get to our first 30 kms for the day at 1.45 pm. Great views at this point to the Urutawa valleys, and some farm land down in the valley on the other side of the road.

That’s where the tramping started - going as planned along a marked track on a short ridge then dropping down into the Pakihi Stream again - first following animal tracks through grass and scrub then into bush becoming increasingly steeper. The original plan was to come up rather than down this way, but still #4 for letting the party going down what ended up being one of the steeper areas. In bush, but a shingly hill side, with Carol having this irrational fear of people not far above her taking the fast route down … as happened from time to time. We soon learnt to navigate the areas with no handholds by starting directly uphill from the next decent tree. Carol found it all “quite fun” - I think the rest of us were just extremely relieved when we all reached the stream at the bottom safely.

Time for a Rest

Note for next time - find a better route down that hill !

So into the Pakihi Stream at around 3.30 and heading upstream … just going on until we find a decent campsite. A lovely stream mostly straightforward going, given that travel in a stream bed is never fast. Picture of the group having a short stop while we check how far we have come since our last stop.

#5 because the campsite turned up 3 ½ hours later when we reached the Pakihi Heads biv - an old NZFS / DOC hut now no longer on the DOC website, being used primarily for goat cullers. 40 kms, 12+ hours for the day.

Previous hut book entry from Feb 2011, so proud to add our details with an ATC sticker as the next entry.

Only 2 decent bunks with lots of gear there, so we all camped outside, quite exhausted, but very pleased as to how far we had come, Birdlife, lovely bush, stream, a warm day, enough space to camp, a great team - what more can you ask for at the start of a tramping weekend !

Carol complained when we left later than our scheduled time the next day … so we saved that one for later. First up a steep climb of 3-400m onto a solid ridge line (no shingle sliding this time), following an old track that was in remarkably good condition, and well marked with orange markers … taking us all the way to Wahaatua Hut in the track time of 4 hours on the old NZFS signpost.

This is where the (Medium) party that Kathy and I were in 3 years ago arrived from a different direction after a 10-11 hour day from the Waioeka Gorge. The sign said 3 hrs to another hut back along that way - yeah right - it took around 6 hours 3 years ago. Wahaatua hut is still a great 6 bunk hut with a large grass area, but again no longer on the DOC website. A good spot for a leisurely lunch stop, since we were now definitely half a day ahead of ourselves.

#6 on finding the maps that I thought I had left behind in the bus, when we no longer needed those maps !


Not such a warm day, so we agreed to go onwards - which meant down the Wahaatua Stream to a recommended campsite at Stag Flat. River level much the same as 3 years ago - normal flow - just as well, otherwise we would have had to find some other way out … or wait.

The stream is a busy little stream regularly going through some narrow very beautiful green sided gorge sections, where the pools are deep green, and the cool water goes up to waist and … arrggh .. ribs height at times. The picture is of Tony in one of the not so deep pools, avoiding that deeper area on his left.

Carol decided on a pack float at one point, but Gary did a tremendous job helping the rest of us get around that short deeper section .. no he was not standing in the stream with us on his shoulders, just helping to manhandle us around a slippery corner with limited hand / footholds. The afternoon remained cool, so we just kept on going - to stop would have meant everyone would have been too cold in about 30 seconds. Must go there again on a hot day where the conditions would be ideal for a more leisurely splash through the middle of all the cooling pools.

The High Water Mark

So by mid afternoon we arrived at the campsite at Stag Flat - grassy patches and a pleasant area under the trees, knowing we were now only around 4 hours from the bus. By now Gary and Antal were the walking wounded, so a quiet evening relaxing by the stream, an occasional little shower of rain, and the promise of a more leisurely start the next day. Just enough room to stretch out the mountain radio aerial to confirm that the other parties were all on track for getting out the next day too.

Which dawned with a little mist on the tops that soon cleared to provide a hot sunny Labour Day. Carol was caught out delaying our departure by a massive 5 minutes that was in no way related to her being ready too early and reading a book while she was waiting.

A real track to follow out to Te Waiti hut - a bit rough and overgrown at first with some little slips and a few larger tree falls, and now taking us a long way above the stream and its remaining gorge sections. The hut is easily accessible to anyone from the road end, so we were very surprised to find no one there - 3 years ago it was full with many tents outside. And then on to the bus to wait not very long for the other two parties to arrive.

Leader/Scribe: Tony Walton

With: Our super fit party were Antal Kalocsai (2 photos), Carol Exton, Caroline Lemos, Gary Williams and Kathy Engelbrecht.

Note: Thanks also to Terry Chubb for taking on leading the Medium party and to Brent Rose for picking up the extra driver slot at short notice. Also a big thankyou to locals Stuart Slade (for some very accurate track and hut information), and from the Medium party to Dave White (who does a great job maintaining the Lagoon Biv and tracks in that area).