by Lynda Going
Labour weekend, yet traffic was alright heading south on Friday night, so we had a good trip, usual stop at the pristine Matamata toilets. We didn’t even have to queue for a change, the security lady was there and she left the main toilets open for us, so for once it was a short stop. Then on to the Lodge at Lake Aniwhenua, once again flush toilets – men’s AND women’s – wow luxury trip this. Luxury for the tenters who vacated the bus too, plenty of perfect lawn. Good night’s sleep, except one person got cold and all she could find to put over her sleeping bag was her noisy raincoat – a sin which she owned up to in the morning when a complaint was made.
The morning dawned cold, but with multiple toilets, decks, plenty of outdoor tables and chairs to have brekkie, mist rising from the lake, we were very content. We were off by 7.30 tho’ to do the drop-offs. Headed north to drop the Fit group off first, then we, the Mediums, next. We headed along a forestry road, then as most tramps seem to do in the first 5 minutes, headed up. Had a few views over the plains north towards Rotorua & Whakatane if you turned around. Got to the top and started down, only for the road to peter out and realise we’d missed the track. Backtracked a few hundred metres, eyes peeled, and found it. Was really nice to go straight from forestry road into lovely native forest, soft underfoot and the track easy to follow, quite steep downhill. Came out at the Mangamako stream and followed along till we found a sunny spot for morning tea. More delightful travel alternating between the river and the soft fern-strewn tracks when we had to avoid the stream.
Carried on enjoying this until we came to the sign for Mangamako Hut – a really steep grunt up to this hut. Nice to be elevated tho’, and look out over the bush. The hut had an absent resident, lots of belongings and a tidily made bed by the fire. Was a sunny place to have lunch, can’t say relaxing because of the absent resident’s dog barking the whole time, and the pieces of bone, fur and blood all around.
Off down the steep track to join the stream, we had such perfect conditions, sunny, warm and the river a perfect level. Enough to make the crossings interesting, but nothing to worry us, although one of us did fall in at one stage, thanks to a slippery rock, very glad he was that for once he had his sleeping bag well protected. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t need to be tough – was wondering what the heck Geoff was sternly pushing me away for – a super precious native plant?? I’d never encountered ongaonga before, and even tho’ I was trying to avoid it, I just kept ploughing straight into it, what a dufus. Trouble is, it becomes tiresome to keep scanning your body perimeter, you want to look at the stunning surroundings – the second you do that tho’ – you get stung. None of us were unscathed by the end of the weekend.
There were regular orange triangles to give us an indication of where to cross and where there was a river alternative for oh, about 20 seconds. But what was very helpful were the jumbo sized orange triangles hanging over the rivers, alerting that this is the place to turn off to the huts. So we left the Mangahoanga Stream to head for Casino Hut. We were keen to get there before our ATC fit group, to nab ourselves a reasonable tent site. Tony HAD warned us that we’d need to be creative. But it soon became obvious that they would be there before us, this track went up and up and on and on. There were tree falls on the steep ups, then we gained a ridge and thought here we are, but more down, then up again, finally we burst out suddenly into the clearing at Casino Hut, once again nicely elevated and basking in the late afternoon sun. A group of 3 hunters were set up in the hut. The fit guys ’n girls tents were beautifully situated, they were comfy and ready to relax. We were getting desperate to do the same, so we left our leader to confer with them, and carried on down to the river to find a spot for our tents. By now we’re not fussy, ready to dump our tents on any rock (but not any nettle).
We were very impatient to get our tents up so we found a spot which was just satisfactory, one quietly spoken member suggested we dump our packs and go just a little bit further, but she was purposely ignored – that same member went for a wash and came back exclaiming about the stunning flat ‘commercial’ campground just metres away through the trees. She was still basically ignored – don’t care, too tired. Next morning when our freshly rested bodies went wandering and found it – we’d made a real booboo. We’d missed the only perfect camping place we saw the whole weekend, a dead flat expanse, basking in morning sun. That’ll teach us for feeling sorry for ourselves!
Sunday morning was another stunning day, beautiful by the river with the sun shining through the mist, not a breath of wind. We knew we were in for a great day, and a nice short walk so we were all smiles. We set off, after a wistful admire of the perfect campground we’d missed out on. We left camp at 8.30, and set off down Te Inepa Stream. Even the nettles couldn’t take away from this beautiful place, each corner presented another peaceful sight, sometimes the trees over us like a tunnel, other times wandering up the middle of the river in the sun, sometimes wading through deep pools. Whio were a special sight, sometimes they bobbed along next to us, so effortless for them. The only bit of excitement was when Geoff lost his pole during a crossing, thought it may be gone, but a bit further down it was seen glinting under the rapids, wedged between rocks.
We had morning tea in yet another superb spot where the Te Inepa and Waihua streams meet, sun, warm stones, glinting pools – perfect. I know I’m raving, but when you get weather like that…. Then we wandered off and by 1pm we were at another supersized triangle indicating Waihua hut. A gentle slope through juvenile rimus up to the hut, not far above the river. This is a lovely little hut, surrounded by bushy xmas tree shaped young rimus. Bruce got stuck in right away and cleaned the windows and surfaces in the hut, so we were now very happy at our new home. We lazed around, basked in the sun having lunch and cuppas, went up above the hut to have a higher view of the forest from the helicopter pad, nice place to do our stretches and relax. 5 of us went down to the river and had full-on dive-in swims – obviously delighted with our bravery! The river was so inviting, and the mossy rocks gave us a lovely sunny spot to warm up after each dip. No-one else arrived at Waihua Hut, so two of us chose to sleep in the hut (there were 4 bunks, 6 nice new mattresses), but the weather was so perfect the other 6 of us slept out in our tents. Two of us were very brave and slept on sloping ledges, it was worth it to listen to the moreporks and cuckoos (at least that’s what we decided the sound was when we heard it for much of Monday’s walk). Although Christine filled us in on their nesting habits, so cuckoos not so popular after that.
Monday morning we reluctantly left our spot, had one river crossing to make, then straight away a right turn up a new stream, and ran straight into a tree fall, followed by a beautiful shallow gorge, then some deep pools. Most went up the steep bypass, which turned out to be easier than navigating the deep pools - the only time our leader’s lead was a bit dodgy.
Right after this, we left the stream and headed up the Waihua track, and it went up and up to 650m. Although we huffed a bit and had the usual tree fall to negotiate regularly, the track was otherwise lovely, felt so soft underfoot after all the river walking, and the sight of the huge old rimus covered in their lacy creepers never got old.
We relaxed for morning tea at 10.30 up on the ridge, just before our last uphill. After that it was downhill again, as we started heading towards the pine forest and our exit point. The last little bit down to the forestry road was super steep, then out we popped onto the metal forestry road. Bill was always very patient with the badgering about ‘are you sure this is the way’, ‘when did you last check your device Bill’. At all times he calmly assured us that he was in no doubt we were on the right track, and heading in the right direction.
Once onto the boring forestry road, we stormed ahead, and so got to our pickup spot at the road by 1pm. By then it was so hot, but luckily there was one tree for shade, so we took up spots at different levels on the bank under it. First half hour ok, ate lunch, 2nd and 3rd half hours ok, had a snooze. During this time there was not a sound except for the odd car going by, must’ve been an odd sight seeing 8 lifeless bodies scattered across the bank. Up to 4th half hour now, awake and chatting again but starting to wonder?? Everyone wishing we had spare water to make a brew. 5th half hour starting to wander about, 6th half hour hosting drop-in visits from locals. A motorbike rider who’d been to Whakatane and back, did a u-turn to come back and make sure we were ok because we were there when he first rode by. Some locals in a ute who stopped to check – each visitor told us there were ‘more of us’ down the road, so we knew our wait couldn’t be blamed on the easy/medium team. When Bill started to say that was our other party, he exclaimed “Party! Not much of a party stuck here eh, you wanna light a fire and keep warm”!! Yes it had started to chill off. Another ute we’d watched paddock-bashing (apparently looking for worms) came over to check us out – he was a man of few words. When we said we were from Auckland he just said “good on ya”. Finally – 5ish I spied the bus and shrieked. Some were afraid to believe me, they were convinced it was a mirage. It wasn’t, and we couldn’t get in quick enough. Perfect timing, it started to rain lightly.
Wonderful route, wonderful weather, wonderful team – thanks to everyone, the actual hikers, the drivers, and the behind-the-scenes organisers.
We were: Joanne Cochrane, Christine Major, Ming Lo, Lynda Going, Bill Mancer (leader), Bruce Butler, Geoff/Grace (the team within the team).
Photod: Christine Major, Ming Lo, Bill Mancer