Safari - Lower North Island

Xmas Trip 2011/2012 - Monday 30 January 2012 to Thursday 16 February 2012 (18 days)

After some accommodation difficulties in the Nelson area, our wonderful leaders rearranged everything and we explored the lower North Island, all new to most of us. Bryan flew to Nelson, brought Big Blue back to pick us up in Wellington and drove to our first stop at Masterton for four nights.

31 January

Everyone was keen to get started - we drove a short distance north of the town to an old tram track at Kiriwhakapapa in the Tararuas and were slammed by huge wind gusts as we left the bus. The track climbed steadily through lovely regenerating forest to the summit of 500m and descended to the Mikimiki Rd end. On the return trip some did an extra loop through a stand of large redwoods planted for milling.

1 February Gentle Annie - 9½ km loop.

We set out on an overcast day in two groups and had literally been walking only minutes before we saw two fledgling moreporks resting on a branch at no more than head height, as well as kereru and bellbirds. We had a gradual ascent to Rocky Lookout which had good views of Mt Holdsworth and the Upper Atiwhakatu Valley. We didn’t stop for long as it was very windy and cool. We continued along a ridge with mountain daisies, gentian, blue sun orchids and silver beech to Mountain House Shelter for lunch, followed by a gentle descent back to the bus. It was a lovely tramp that almost everyone completed.

2 February Waiohine Gorge.

The intended walk for the faster group was a 3½ km walk up the river, followed by a climb up to Cone Saddle to 566m and across a 682m point back to the carpark. The first section we had anticipated would take about an hour. It was not to be - after two hours we still had not reached the track junction and already most had clearly rejected the climbing section. The path was covered with roots and minor river crossings, with almost no view of the main river. We decided to return rather than keep the others waiting for hours. During our tramp back, Karen managed to slide up to her waist in one difficult river crossing. She was trying to avoid getting her boots wet!
The slower group got to the river crossing and decided enough was enough.

3 February

Leaving Masterton, we had a very interesting visit to Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre and then drove to Upper Hutt for four nights. Here, Jeanette slipped off her cabin steps in the dark and badly sprained an ankle - some people will do anything to get out of tramping!

4 February Smith Creek circuit.

We parked Big Blue at the YMCA, Kaitoke, and started up the Puffer Track. At its junction with the Dobson Loop Track, three groups formed. The first would travel clockwise, the second anti-clockwise and the third would travel only as far as Smith Creek and return. Attractive forest alternated with scrubby gorse land. There was a slip with a difficult detour which added 20 minutes and, for once, supplejack proved useful on the long downhill slide. The full loop took five hours and climbed about 400m.

5 February Rimutaka Rail Trail.

A hot, sunny day is not the ideal for a 20-km road bash out in the open! The old railway line has been made into a cycle/walking track up to the summit station and tunnel and down to Featherston. There is very little incline - just 200m over 10 km. Of most interest was the description of the Fell engines and brake wagons used to climb the steep gradient on the Featherston side. With it being a Sunday, cyclists were whizzing past us all day.

6 February Akatarawa River Walk-Karapoti Gorge.

This turned out to be another short road bash, more suited to mountain bikes, motorbikes and 4-wheel drive vehicles. There were however two highlights: Russell jumped into the chilly river under a high bridge, and we had a beautiful lunch spot by the water further along the track.
In the afternoon, four of us set off from camp and walked along the Hutt River, up a pretty stream to a small dam. We climbed steeply up a hill and followed the track which undulated along a ridge opposite the camp to a trig. We then descended steeply back to the town and returned to camp via the back streets. It was about 10 km and two hours.

7 February Matiu/Somes Island.

From Days Bay we caught the ferry to the island and walked around it, stopping at many interesting sights. It is rich in history, including a lighthouse, quarantine quarters for people and animals, gun emplacements and a graveyard. We saw skinks, geckos, wetas and kakariki along the tracks.

8 February Orongorongo Valley.

We had a very enjoyable, flat walk through the Rimutaka Forest to the river and up to a big new DOC hut for lunch. The return was a different loop through beautiful mature bush. Russell was the only energetic one to do the high route.

9 February Days Bay

Back to Days Bay and a steep climb up to Lowry Peak for great views over Wellington Harbour. Then we drove to Paekakariki, stopping at a wetland bird reserve on the way - not much of interest there.

10 February Mana Island

Mana Island, a 217-ha DOC reserve, lying 3 km off the west coast north of Wellington. The crossing was interesting and we were landed on the island from a small rowing boat. We had a guide for the day, Brian, who was very informative, having had at least 18 years’ experience helping to develop the island. Over a period of 20 years, half a million trees have been planted in order to return the island to its native condition and all pests have been eliminated, thus supporting native species - in particular sea birds, over 40 takahe and 10 species of lizard. The shore plover was the most exciting find: a small highly endangered species (only 200 surviving at this time) about 20 cm long with a distinctive head, white ring, black collar and red beak (male). We saw many of them on the shoreline.

11 February Colonial Knob, Porirua.

Scenic reserves were an unexpected find on the edge of the industrial area. We climbed 700 steps to get onto the tussock ridge and traverse the summit in a biting southerly, but the views were worth it. It was an easier descent across farmland leading back into bush and completing the loop.

12 February Kapiti Island.

A real highlight of the trip for those who had not visited before. A beautiful day dawned and we were lucky to have a smooth crossing in a small, overcrowded, tinny boat. This was cleverly launched with us on board using a trailer and tractor which resembled a daddy-long-legs. The island is 10 km long and over 2 km wide, climbing to a summit of 520m. It was reforested 100 years ago and so has wonderful mature trees and bush. The birds are extraordinary - from cheeky kaka opening pack zips to a cacophony of bellbirds, whiteheads, saddlebacks, hihi, robin - some of us even saw kokako in the higher trees. It was a great day’s tramping, climbing to the summit and back with the extra incentive of bird-spotting.

13 February

After Jeanette, Caroline and Russell had left, we drove to Levin having done a short tramp at Waikanae on the Te Au Track, climbing to 420m to a lookout and then along the top to a very steep descent. Half the group chose to drive to the end and climb this - perhaps not such a good idea!

14 February

Our first really wet day. Although it didn’t last long, everyone was glad of the excuse for a day off so Big Blue went to the movies!

15 February

A short drive took us to the western Tararuas and a really good tramp along the Ohau Gorge. Access was via a bridge not designed for our bus, so it meant a 2-km road bash to get to the farmland leading to the gorge. We followed the river for an hour then most of the group climbed 400m and completed a loop through nice bush back to the farmland, taking between four and five hours.

16 February

The long drive home - uneventful except for a deluge over the Bombays, which had all Big Blue’s windows leaking!

Grateful thanks from all of us to the organisers, Susan and John, and our one and only driver, Bryan Taylor, for all the running around and getting us home safely.

Participants: Susan Grimsdell, John Minson, Bryan Taylor, Howard Johnston, Jeanette Howie, Ann Stone, Anne Sanders, John Simpson, Ann Simpson, Ray Vickers, Lindsay Vickers, Cherie Cook, Bryan Lynch, Billie French, Ingrid Robinson, Phil Ware, Liz Ware (compiler), Karen Wesley, Caroline Witten-Hannah, Russell Allen.