Easter Weekend Trip - Thursday 28 March 2013 to Monday 1 April 2013 (5 days)

In years gone by, I tramped the Ruahines numerous times. With fond memories I went along this Easter, my first tramp back to the Ruahines.

Day 1: Enjoying the open tops, I used to lead trips from Mokai Patea and south just so we could enjoy those open tops. Now, however, we were going north. The track starts off very steeply, then sidles along the bottom of Mokai Patea only to climb steeply again to the tops. I do seem to remember we used to climb straight up all the way.

From the open tops we headed north to drop down to Iron Bark hut, confirming position and direction using my new toy, GPS. I still need to build up trust and confidence in this thing.
Our tramping party included Carol, Margaret, and Tony. I was not sure I had the ability to keep up with these fit people. Ruahines for me means cool, wet, misty weather, but this time, still being morning, it is hot and dry and the sweat is pouring off me.
Iron Bark hut is a pleasant place, with two new bridges nearby. Lunch consisted, as always, of cabin bread with cheese and salami, but nowadays I need to add electrolyte tablets to my drink, to keep this body going. Along the stream we found a pretty butterfly with blue and white eyes on each wing, floating on the water. Gently I placed it on a rock to dry its wings. We grovelled (to use James McQueen’s phrase) out of the stream to start our climb up to Ohutu Ridge. I wondered if James still tramps? Luck was on my side - Carol and Tony both are slow climbers.

Today with blue sky, sun shining, hot, no breeze to be felt, I was sweating big time. Ruahines should be cold and wet, with wind rustling the leaves. Not to the top yet, sensing imminent dehydration, I had my last water with more electrolyte. This fixed me enough to carry on. I used to cruise upwards, enjoying the workout. Now my body slowed me down, with spirits flagging. We arrived at the tops, inspecting a tarn for water. The drought left it dry and dusty, no sign of moisture. On we went, how far before we find water? A clearing, another dry spot! A larger grassy clearing, finding a trickle of beautiful cool, clean water. We pitched the tent on top of sphagnum moss, normally too wet to camp on. Broke my tent pole - that’s a first. A full moon night, no breeze present, so quiet and so cool. It was a hot long day, with decent climbs, measured by a soaking wet sweaty body most of the day. 9 hours.

Day 2: Refreshed from sleeping on comfortable mossy bed. Along Ohutu ridge, needing to locate peak 1298. Before we descended, I scanned the terrain ahead. GPS cannot beat knowledge of the land, and observation of stream and flow direction. DOC has cleared a track through the thick scrub, dropping into a lovely stream, so we crossed this and grovelled up. We were then on the park boundary, under the dominant view of Te Rakaunuiakura. Lackluster on the idea of climbing Te Rakaunuiakura, we still had a long way to go. Leaving Te Rakau behind, we gazed over extensive views of straw-coloured tussock plains.

We found ourselves on a quad bike track, where we could stretch the legs to move at a good pace, heading for the 4-wheel drive track and turning south towards Ruahine Corner hut. Two hunters were present, and I had not been in this lovely hut before. I had heard that this hut is a miserable cold, wind-howling, desolate place. Maybe, but not today. Today it was a lovely spot for lunch. Along Potate ridge, in beech forest. However to the west of us, down in a large basin, Mountain Cedar trees dominate almost 100%. Potate ridge top shows itself to be made of Rangitikei Pliocene stone. The track sidles along spectacular, vertical rock walls, towering above us. We speculate, do Mountain Cedars and Rangitikei Pliocene rock complement each other? Potate ridge drops into a side-branch of the Mangatera River, a messy affair, but signposted. Along the river flat, disturbing a deer, pleasant semi-dry tramp, Colenso hut appears. The hut was full, so we camped out. As the stream was very low, and rain unlikely, going against old wisdom, I camped in the stream bed. After 8 sweaty hours, a wash in the stream was enjoyed.

Day 3: An uneventful morning, heading for Otukota hut via Iron hut. The bush showed signs of dryness with wilted leaves and bare horopitos. DOC has installed two new bridges near Iron hut. One new, and very nice bridge crosses the side stream of the Maropea River. We followed the Maropea River up, with a pleasant lunch break. We used GPS to keep track of our progress along the river. Halfway along the river should be a swing bridge. Four pairs of eyes kept looking for a swing bridge, that never appeared. As far as we were concerned that swing bridge ain’t there. (Easy party confirms the swing bridge is there, they crossed it!). The drought has its positives, as we made good time tramping along the river bed to Otukota hut. Tina’s party was already present, camped out on grassy flats. A short but very pleasant day, 4 hours.

Day 4: Task of today was to get to the bus via Mokai Patea by 1 pm. After some discussion, both parties went the same way. For variety we swapped party members. I joined Tina’s slower party for no other reason than I haven’t tramped with Tina before. We did not get far from the hut, before stopping in confusion. The track had been obliterated by a massive slip. A short burst of fearless determination saw us get past the trickiest part of our 4-day tramp. Once out of the bush it was a steady climb to Mokai Patea ridge, a very happy and joyful moment with the tops clouded in mist, a breeze present, temperature low, and climbing up. Yes, this was more like the Ruahines I know. Ahead, the faster party dissolved into the mist, giving us that mystery of what lies ahead. Moving from pole to pole brought memories of past tramps and the joys of familiarity. Then we were on the other side of Mokai Patea, leaving the mist behind, descending towards the road and the bus. Taking our time, we absorbed the Rangitikei landscape, tall trees, vertical cliffs, green fields among dry paddocks. I felt privileged to be there. A short jog, down the steep hill and we arrived at the carpark. Lunch and a choc bar for Carol. It was a fantastic trip, with many new and different experiences.

Thank you to Margaret for organising our tramp, and a big thank you to our two drivers.

Leader: Margaret Laws