It was a stunning blue sky Spring day and the need to get up high and look down on the world was strong in me! So, I persuaded my running buddy Jo to go on an adventure. Gnarly, technical, non-runnable tracks are not really her jam but I took the gamble that there was enough runnable down on the return route to keep her happy!! It was a new route for us and it turned out to be the perfect day for it so I thought I’d share it.
Note: The Pylon Track is not marked on the Information Board in the car park nor is it on NZ Topo map. It is described on the DoC site. It was built to replace the Kauri Loop Tracks which have been closed to protect the Kauri.
From the Wairongomai car park take the Low Level Loop Track. About 200 metres in there is a signpost directing you down to the right to the Pylon Track. Very quickly you arrive at the river. It is easy enough to boulder hop and keep your dry feet on a good day but after heavy rain, it may be impassable as it’s quite wide.
The path continues up through the forest on the other side. You climb steadily and at times steeply through varied vegetation. Tall Rata trees are a feature of the forest and we were chatting to a DoC worker who goes up to monitor them. He was also part of the team that constructed the Pylon Track in 2015. The path is reasonably obvious and well-marked but keep an eye out for the orange markers as it isn’t a well-walked path and fallen leaves had formed a thick blanket. There were also a few fallen trees that provided interesting diversions and obstacles!
All part of the adventure. As you climb there are a few ‘vegetation windows’ that give you views of the Waikato Plain and Te Aroha. The path follows a ridgeline and the last 200m of climbing is quite steep. According to our friendly DoC guy it was one of the steepest pack pony routes. There are still a few remains of the steel power pylons which were used for the power line linking the Horahora hydro-electric power station with the Waihi gold mine and Victoria Battery in the Karangahake Gorge.
At about 4km in (and roughly 600m ascent), you reach the bushline and emerge into the open to an amazing view of the Waikato in front, the Kaimais stretching out to your left and Te Aroha to your right. The climb is definitely worth it! It was such a clear day that we could see the snowy peaks of Ruapehu and Ngarauhoe in the distance. It is quite exposed so probably not a great trail to do on a cold, windy day. We quickly cooled down in the breeze – the sun was warm but the air temperature with additional wind chill factor was bitter.
Continue to climb for a few more metres over more scrambly terrain to a rocky outcrop. This is apparently known as Pylon Peak. On the map there is a summit called Pahiko marked off to the right as you climb. There is an old sign and a path leading off to the right which is not marked on the map which I suspect takes you to the Pahiko summit but this description suggests there are no views from it. We carried on to the left heading towards Te Aroha. This is the Old North-South Route and it is pretty slow going to the junction. You do need to keep an eye on the markers but the path is mostly obvious just not very well-used so quite overgrown.
You are following the contours now on the ridge so apart from a few undulations it is pretty flat. There were a few muddy patches to negotiate which could be challenging after heavy or prolonged rain. At this point I started to lose a little bit of confidence in my map reading skills and route planning – surely we should have got to the junction by now? We stooped to check the map – I had the NZTopo paper map and also brought it up on my phone so I could zoom in. I reckoned we had a little bit further to go but not far so we continued on. After about 5 minutes we rounded a corner and I spotted the green DoC sign up ahead. Phew!
It was roughly 2kms to that T-Junction and then we headed left towards Te Aroha mountain. The track is now much more runnable; there have been a couple of landslips which have been cleared which provide a clear view down to the valley. Pukekōhatu was my goal summit at 799m is to the right off the track as you run but sadly there didn’t seem to be a path leading to it and after spending longer than expected in the gnarly stuff we were keen to get running.
We were running along the ridge still and there were some cool views between the trees. It didn’t take long to get down to Wairongomai Saddle junction running along more formed trails. For a longer walk you could turn right and climb the track Te Aroha but then you either come back the way you came or head down to Te Aroha domain and then another 7km or so along the road back to the carpark.
We went left to go down the tracks back to Wairongomai Road. This is the main Wairongomai Valley and you will start to see signs of the old rail tracks that are part of the network that fed the goldmines in the 1800s. A phone torch is sufficient to light the way through a short tunnel and then you can pick whichever route you like to get back to the car park.
We went down the side of the May Queen Incline, past the top of Butler’s Incline onto the High Level Pack Track and then on the Cadman Track and straight down to the car park. If you haven’t been this way before there are plenty of remnants of the goldmines and the tramways built to carry the gold to explore and wonder at.
It took us around 3 and a half hours to the do the 15km circuit but we didn’t really stop except for photos and a bit of route finding as described above and we did run the 8kms from Pukekohatu summit down to the car park. The sign at the start of the Pylon track suggests 4 and a half hours to get to the North South Track junction and our friendly DoC guy was pretty surprised that we did the whole circuit in less than 4 hours. He reckons most people would take the 4 hours to get to the top and take a full day to do the full circuit. Having said that we’re pretty swift for a couple of ‘old nannies’!
The last stop on our roadtrip. Why? That’s easy… beer! McLeods Brewery to be precise! We have driven past here on many occasions on our way to hockey tournaments with Gus, we even stopped briefly once to have a look around. And the refrain “Waipū? Because you have to…?” is one that is chorused whenever the name of the town its mentioned! (Long story involving a van load of young male teenage hockey players!)
Since we have been avid followers of the NZ craft beer scene though, we have looked for opportunities to cost Waipū as it is the home of McLeod’s Brewery. Last time we came through it was winter and it was closed. Since then we had met Geoff in Kirikiriroa at Craft Hamilton and he had said to contact him next time we were in the rohe and make sure we called in. The pizza barn is very popular… I guess it was the height of the summer season but we had to wait to be seated even just for a drink! We ended up eating there too. Good pub grub but not a huge variety for vegetarians. Could do better on that score but the beer makes up for it! Disappointingly, when we went back the next day to get our carry out bottles filled we found that although they now have an “off” licence, they still don’t have the right gear to dispense so we went away empty-handed!
While we were there we decided to explore Waipū Cave. It is just a few miles out of Waipū, along a gravel road that climbs up inland. We weren’t expecting how busy it was! It was great to see so many families there, kids barefoot and intrepid as they waded through the steam or picked a path over the stepping stones. Tourists of all nationalities venturing in with phone torches to light their way. Pockets of people switching off their lights and sitting quietly in awe at the glow worms.
Being intrepid, (and knowing caves!) we carried on through the stream as the roof lowered when everyone else stopped. We waded through the water which at its deepest reached our mid-thighs and soon lost the shrieks and chatter of families and found peace and quiet. After climbing over some breakdown boulders we arrived at a pool. There was a small passage leading on but it seemed a bit squalid and we really weren’t equipped to push on further! There had already been a few avens that were full of glow worms.
We carried on exploring, climbed up to a higher level passage above the boulders and circled back round through rift passage to the main . chamber. We met a guy who had brought a group in and was playing hide and seek with them. He said he came in regularly with groups.
On our way back out we noticed that to the right as you enter the cave there is another passage. Wide and lower than the passage to the left and full of water but with reasonable airspace. We thought we could see light coming in somewhere and had a quick explore to see if there was an aven that connected but couldn’t see anything, We went back to the van and saw a couple of groups coming back to the carpark who had clearly been swimming. Intriguing.
We headed off up the hill on a walk – just a wee walk but there was a good climb and great views from the top. We went past a heap of limestone outcrops which we explored on the way back down.
Once we got down we headed across past the main cave entrance and round to where we had seen people coming from. There was another entrance (or exit!) – looking back neither Nigel or I can work out if there was any flow and if there was, which way it was going! We could hear the voices of tourists at the other end and I decided that it was too tempting not to swim through. Since it was only a few metres to the car and dry clothes, I took my shoes and socks off and headed in. I waded the first few metres until I reached waist deep and then swam. Slowly, steadily into the sem-darkness. The ceiling was just a half metre above me at the lowest point but there was mud and flood debris so it clearly sumps in wet weather. For a few metres, there is peace and quiet. I float on my back looking up at the ceiling just contemplating and remembering times when I sat at the bottoms of cave pitches deep underground. That absolute sense of being. Connected with the whenua. At one with but also ephemerally disconnected to nature. Then I turned over and swam on out to the noise of tourists happily exploring this natural playground. Part of me wanted to stay there and relish the oneness, I also love that so many people are experiencing a space that for so long was my life. It makes me want to get back and explore underground again. Maybe.
It was probably time for a bit of R and R. We’ve done a few kms over the last week or so! 78.43km to be exact and 4,068m of elevation. Pretty impressive! So the next two days were pretty cruisy and since it was Nigel’s birthday, I thought I should cut him some slack!
We started by catching up with our old friends Chris and Ross who are currently living on their boat in Opua. They have bought some land in Kerikeri and have spent the last 6 months clearing it and exposing what is beneath the overgrown mass of weeds. They plan to build a house on it in the next couple of years. It was lovely to see them, catch up on all their news and see where they are living. Isn’t it funny how you can not see someone for years but pick up where you left off as if no time has passed at all?
They dropped us back of at our van at around 3pm and we decided to catch the ferry over to Korokororāreka (Russell) and walk up Flagstaff Hill. The flagstaff at the top is the one that was cut down 4 times either by or on the instruction of Hone Heke in protest against British sovereignty. It was a beautiful afternoon and we sat for a while at the top- another 100m of climbing! We were sat for a while just enjoying the views and the peace and quiet.
It did seem like an opportune place for a handstand….
Then we walked up to the trig point and the information boards. I have read about the history of Korokororāreka before but actually being there makes it so much easier to understand and give meaning to the stories. Like any stories, it takes time and many readings and listenings for all the details to embed themselves and to triangulate the different perspectives. So, I will need to read more to gain a deeper understanding of the history.
But a trigpoint calls for a handstand….
We wandered back down the hill into Korokororāreka and found a bar that served some decent beer and sated our thirst before getting the ferry back over to Paihia. A dinner worthy of a birthday was in order. We tried the Indian and Thai place that Ross had recommended but unfortunately it was absolutely chocker and incredibly noisy. We ended up going to Zane Grey’s – a pleasant meal that we ate sitting next to a large aquarium with fish swimming round in circles which was a little disconcerting! We have had better meals that were less expensive but we did discover a very nice wine that we have since found in our local wine shop for a third of the price!
We had a lazy start to the day but were in no hurry. Our destination was Waipu and we had planned in stopping in Kawakawa to meet a friend for coffee. Unfortunately, she messaged to say that a kaumatua had passed and she would no longer be able to meet me. We decided to stop in Kawakawa anyway and have a wander and whilst there I remembered that Ruapekapeka wasn’t far away. I like Kawakawa, it has a real charm, not least of which is the railway that runs down the middle of the main street.
It is also home to the Hundertwasser toilets which are fascinating but as a local said to me, ‘unnerving when you actually want to use them, and they’re full of tourists taking photos’! I did limit myself to a photo of the inside of the toilet cubicle whilst I was using the toilet. Although, I have been guilty of more than that in the past!
We spent some time in the library/art gallery which had some beautiful pieces all well outside our price range! The children’s mural was delightful and I bought a bright summer dress in a recycle shop for $20 that I have since “upcycled”.
We were tempted to go into the museum purely out of interest after seeing the advertising but decided that for a $10 entrance fee we weren’t that tempted!
Words cannot do this special wahi justice. You can listen to this RadioNZ or watch this documentary to hear the story. I plan to watch again now that I have visited the wahi and have a picture in my head so I might visualise more easily what happened. Māori dug an intricate maze of tunnels and trenches in which they sheltered as an army of British and other Māori iwi bombarded them for ten days. Then when it was clear they could withstand no more without losing men they withdrew into the forest behind. You can still see the remnants of the tunnels and look out at where the British had their base. On a hot, still summer’s day it is hard to imagine the violence, noise, fear and tension that must have reigned in this wāhi a century and a half ago. It was the last battle in the north.
We spent a good hour wandering around, getting a feel for the place, trying to understand the layout and how the battle must have played out. It’s incredible how nature reclaims places, reinstates peace and order, honours the lives of those who died and how somehow there is calm and serenity where once there was bloodshed and mayhem.
We walked back to the van retracing or steps over the British advance position on which you can still see indentations that marked battle positions. Then we headed southward to Waipū.
We hatched a plan sometime back in the winter when we were craving sunshine and adventure. Not that we don’t always have adventures but this one was special. We wanted to do the Heaphy Track but thought that once we had paid to get down there we might as well also fit in the Abel Tasman and get our plane flight money’s worth! The way the hut availability went meant that we needed to do Abel Tasman first and then Heaphy. The way that the flights worked out meant that we needed to travel down on a Saturday morning and come back the following Friday. A bit of a squeeze but we thought we could do it. We are fit and used to walking/running long distances.
Sunday morning saw us waiting for the HeaphyBus to take us to Marahau and the start of the Abel Tasman. It was a beautiful day, we were ready to rumble. We had decided to get a good 10km under our belts before stopping for ‘Hobbit’s Breakfast’. This was going to be a long day as our destination was the Awaroa Hut 35km away.
Apple Tree Bay proved to be a beautiful spot to break for food. A cheeky seagull seemed to think that he needed some too! We found some shade and whilst the sea beckoned, I resisted as I didn’t want to get sandy and salty so early on in our walk! The weather was due to turn to rain by the evening so a swim was definitely planned for later in the day! Unfortunately, Amie already had a blister on her wee pinkie. This was unexpected as she is used to walking in her boots and doesn’t usually get blisters. She dressed it and we carried on.
On we went, tummies and hearts full. What a beautiful place to be! Stunning views at every bend, birdsong, sweet smells of blossoms and great companions. Between Anchorage and Bark Bay we took a wee side trip up to Cleopatra’s Pool. Another inviting swimming spot in freshwater but pretty chilly. We wished we had more time to linger but we decided it was better to get a few more kms done before stopping for lunch.
We crossed the Falls River by way of the 47m long swingbridge and carried on through lush forest. We were entertained on the way by quail and weka as well as fantails, tūī and other birds.
Onwards to Torrent Bay where we aimed to have lunch. It was teeming with flies when we went down to the boat ramp to get water from the toilets and look for a lunch spot. So we carried on and came around to another bit of beach that was much more pleasant. We put the stove on to make coffee to go with lunch. Couscous and salami for me with nuts and raisins for dessert. Our friendly seagull seemed to have followed us!
From Torrent Bay to Bark Bay the track climbs up and over headlands, leaving the coast for a while. We could see down into the turquoise blue of the ocean, along the coastline and out to sea. It was so inviting as we sweated it out up those hills. Soon, I promised myself, just a little bit further until we are within striking distance of the hut. I didn’t want to slow everyone down by taking a break to swim. Cheeky weka popped up all over and kept us company.
We descended into Bark Bay and along the beach. Hot and awkward on our feet and Amie was really starting to feel it. Her feet were sore. The weather was starting to close in, the wind came up and the sky darkened. The threatened rain seemed to be on its way earlier than expected. Selfishly, I decided that swim time was going to have to be Tonga Quarry or never! As our pace grew slower, I said to Jo that I’d run on ahead and have my swim while the others came on behind. Jo came with me and then Paula and Amie carried on over to Awaroa as I got changed. It was a wee bit chilly as the wind was quite strong by now but once in the water it was lovely. I splashed about for a bit and then went to the freshwater stream to rinse off and get dressed. The beach at Tonga Quarry has shifted a bit since that fateful Christmas Day when Aonghas was helicoptered out after scalding himself. The stream was very low and may well have not been enough to cool his burns now as we did then.
Paula and Amie had about a 20 minute headstart on us so Jo and I set off at a good pace to try to get to Awaroa Lodge not too long after them. We were still looking forward to beer and pizza! Up and over from Tonga Quarry to Onetahuti Beach was not as far as I remember but that trudge along the beach seemed to go on forever! Somehow the relentless climb up from the beach and over to Awaroa had been erased completely from my memory but maybe that’s because I’ve only ever been down it!
Finally, we made it but sadly too late for pizza! We went into the luxurious Awaroa Lodge to look at the menu but decided the food was a bit rich for us after a day’s walking. We found a space outside in what ended up being the last of the sun for the day. Beer and bread and dips with chips went down well though!
It was hard getting moving again but it had to be done. Only 3km to go but it was slow going and we’d forgotten that we would have to cross the stream. We spent some time trying to find the narrowest part to avoid getting our feet wet but by now the rain had set in and it really made little difference! Those last few kms were done with heads down, one foot in front of the other at snail pace!
It was good to see the hut and walk through the doors! We were the last to arrive and had to find 4 beds in amongst the bodies already collapsed on the bunks; we slotted in where we could, Paula joined the collapsed ones and the three of us set to tending blisters then making tea!
Up and out early as we have to be at Wainui by 1.30pm for the shuttle. The tide times fell nicely for us as it was at its lowest at 6.45. We opted to wade across in jandals which was ok apart from the muddy sections when jandals stuck and the pull between my toes added to the grittiness was a tad painful! I remember last time I crossed the estuary I wore my walking sandals which was much better!
We took the time to clean and dry our feet carefully and thoroughly on the other side before continuing. We made steady progress and were soon at Goats Bay. We had already shed our rain jackets as there wasn’t enough rain and it was quite warm. Now the sun was trying to sneak through the clouds. We were aiming to get to Anapai Bay before stopping for second breakfast which was about 10km. Amie trooped on at a reasonable click despite her sore feet and on the whole our spirits were high. We were, however, starting to wonder whether we were going to be able to do the Heaphy given the state of Amie’s feet and the impending weather conditions. Totaranui was our first gauge of the progress we were making – well under the 2h20 suggested by DoC and on target for shuttle pick up.
The section from Tõtaranui to Anapai provides a change of scenery and flora and the grey started to lighten. The lower level bush is softer but also more dense and despite the sun trying to break through, it was quite chilly.
The track over to Mutton Cove and then onwards to Whariwharangi where we had scheduled our last stop rose up again and we had beautiful views down to the places we had left and glimpses of places we were yet to arrive at!
Whariwharangi is a beautiful beach with huge pines behind it. The hut here is an old homestead with an interesting chimney. We stopped briefly for a snack but decided that we’d rather just push on. One more hill – the biggest on the trail – and then it was all down hill to Wainui. Just 5.7km to go! We had built this climb up to be more than it was! In the end it didn’t seem so bad and we found ourselves looking down at Wainui before we knew it!
The problem with being able to see your destination is that it seems a long time coming. And so it was! But eventually we saw the waharoa marking the start and the end of the walk. We made it but not without sacrifice; Amie’s feet were a mess and there was a severe weather warning out for the next two days so later that evening we reluctantly made the decision to review our plan to walk the Heaphy Track. Plan B was put into operation!
We were so incredibly lucky today! A friend from work picked us up at 9.00am from Rawhiti beach where we had stayed the night after our adventure yesterday. The Kaingahoa Camping ground is a great place to stay. It is clean and well-maintained. Margaret, who runs it is a bit brusque but once you get her talking, she doesn’t stop. Full of information about the history of the rohe. I emailed to book a place but it was never responded to, so I would recommend phoning. Fortunately, there was plenty of space on the day we wanted to stay! From reading the information on this website, it seems that the main building which is not accessible to campers, was the old Te Rawhiti schoolhouse but was used in the 1960s during renovations of te Rawhiti Marae as a replacement wharekai. The campsite revenue goes to the maintenance of the marae.
So, back to today! Tania and Scott picked us up and took us for a wee tiki tour around the islands. We stopped in at Otehi Bay on Urupukapuka Island for coffee and then we walked over the hill to Urupukapuka Bay campsite where they were staying with a bunch of friends.
The plan was to find a sheltered bay where the kids could swim, while the boys went fishing. They plumped for Moturua Island and we cruised off over there in a selection of boats. Once on the island, we had a picnic, then the men went fishing and we stayed and went for a walk around the island before jumping in the sea for a swim. At Mangahawea Bay there is an archaeological dig going on. Evidence suggests that this place was inhabited more than 700 years ago.
It was a lovely day out, meeting friends and generally just relaxing. The walk around Moturua takes about an hour at a leisurely pace in jandals! It is quite hilly though! The sea was delicious and it was nice to be able to swim with other people rather than on my own! The boys struggled with the wind on their fishing trip and Nigel was the only one who caught a legal fish so that’s what I had for my tea.
But the big excitement of the day was seeing orca. We first spotted a mother and her calf, and then a large male on our way over from Rawhiti.
The male swam right under the boat and then surfaced on the other side. they cruised on along the way, two close together and the other just off to the side. Then when we were sitting on the beach in Urupukapuka Bay, they came into the bay itself. We spotted some splashing off to our left and then saw them swimming on out and around the headland through a gap in the rocks. Tania said that there had been stingrays and plenty of piper fish in that area the day before and so they had possibly come in to feed.
When we went out to Moturua we saw them again. Scott cut the engines and we bobbed about for a good 10 minutes just watching. They swam quite close but seemed to be happily cruising. They carried on out to sea and picked up a few more on the way. At one point we counted 7 fins in the water. Such a special and humbling experience to be in the presence of these beautiful creatures.
Day 7 was a transition day. We drove out of Horeke past the site of the bushfire where the smell of burning is still strong and firefighters are still up there damping down and checking hotspots we presume on the blackened hillside. If this is the aftermath on a very small bit of land we can only imagine in horror and disbelief what Australia will face when (if) the fires over there are ever brought under control.
Then it was on to Waitangi, book into the campsite, get provisions for the next few days and pack. We called in at the i-Site in Paihia to get our track passes and book into the Cape Brett Hut. We had tried to do it online from our phones but internet access had been intermittent and the website had been troublesome as a result so it made more sense to do it in person. The guy in the i-Site also struggled and it took a few goes to get through to be able to book the track permit. It turns out on a closer inspection of the documentation we were given and after an email we received this morning, that we are actually booked in for this weekend not last weekend so there clearly are issues with the system!
The first part of the Cape Brett track from Rawhiti to the Deepwater Cove junction is on privately owned land and a fee is levied ($40 per person) to help pay for maintenance of the track. From then on it is on Department of Conservation land. DoC administer the booking process for the track through their booking system. It appears though that not everyone bothers to pay the fee (maybe they don’t also pay for the hut?) There are also complexities to the system in that you can walk from Whakamumu which is a DoC track and join the Cape Brett track where it is still on private land. You could also start from Deepwater Cove, walk to the hut and then walk all the way back out to Rawhiti crossing the private land. You can also be dropped off by water taxi at Cape Brett and walk back to Rawhiti. In theory all these options require you to buy a track permit, in practice, how many do? Margaret who runs the campsite at Kaingahoa Marae and whose iwi own the land the Cape Brett track is on was telling us that there is talk of taking back management of the permit system in the next few years. The track will officially start at the marae, there will be information boards about the history of the land and what the fee is used for and walkers will check in there and pay before they go.
We still had plenty of daylight left and decided to take a wander up to the Manawa Groves on the way up to Haruru Falls. We totally misremembered how far it was an ended up walking 10km in jandals – probably not the best preparation for a big walk tomorrow!!
We were up and ready to rumble by 5.45am to drive round to Opua and get the 6.30am ferry. It’s a 40 minute drive over to Rawhiti where we parked up at Julie’s parking spot next to the Kaingahoa Marae camping ground for $10 for secure parking for the two days. We found out later that the land was not Julie’s but she manages it for the whanau who owned the land. One of the lads, Zane, who was up at the hut with us is part of the whanau but has only recently rediscovered his roots in Rawhiti after being brought up in Hawkes Bay.
What can we say about the Cape Brett track? All superlatives! Stunning views, incredible experience, 2,300m of ascent over 32kms (except that it is nearer 35kms!) Demanding, strenuous, rewarding, relentless ups and downs!
The first 2km is just up – easy trail but it ascends from sea level to 345m over 2km so it is steep! There is a shelter at the summit of Pukehuia and an information board that tells that Pukehuia literally means hill of the huia bird but that this is representative of the gathering of chiefs from the 7 waka of the Great Migration fleet. Pukehuia is one of the 7 peaks along the peninsula and each peak represents one of the waka. Rakaumangamanga is the first at Cape Brett itself and is the branching of the canoes. From Pukehuia there is a beautiful view down to Rawhiti Bay and beyond.
The track continues on down steadily for a while through forest and whilst it is still early the heat of the sun is starting to break through and it is nice to be in the cool shade of the trees. There are steep sections of down followed by steep sections of up and also some steadily rising flattish sections along the ridge where there are views out to the ocean and the crinkly coastline that juts in and out. Blue, blue water turns to white as it crashes against the rocks. The birds are starting to sing – Tūī, Bellbirds, Miromiro, Pīwakawaka and others I can’t identify. And then amongst the birdsong, there… the shrill but heart-warming sound of the cicadas.
We reach the ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ – a pest control fence at about 4.5km in – a description we read suggested that this was a third of the way to the lighthouse. It is not true. Not even mathematically if the track really was 16km (which it isn’t!) and very definitely not in terms of time and effort. We have been going about an hour and three quarters by now and decide that we will aim to get to 8km before we stop for ‘second breakfast’. The going has been fairly straightforward, plenty of climbs but not unduly hard underfoot. An hour later we find a sunny spot at the top of a hill where there is a space off the track in the shade of the Kanuka trees to sit down and have our picnic. We haven’t quite got to 8km but it looks like 8km will be at the bottom of a hill in the thick of the forest so this is a good bet.
A couple come past us going the opposite direction; they left Cape Brett hut at 7am and tell us that the second half of the walk is much more rugged and demanding. A single walker goes past us as we eat – we spend the next few hours playing leapfrog with him as we each walk and take breaks at different points. He hasn’t booked into the hut and when it appears to get busy later on he sets off back to walk the return trip in the same day.
We are getting used to the ups and downs now – what goes up must come down and vice versa. At least there is variation and the downs provide a sort of respite from the effort of climbing up! But the views, sometimes just glimpses through vegetation windows, sometimes full-blown, take your breath away. Vistas of amazingness make it all worthwhile.
The Deepwater Cove junction comes upon us sooner than we thought. We have been going for about 4 hours and we are more than three-quarters of the way according to the km markers. We head down the 700m that will take us to the cove where we have lunch and I have a swim. I have been looking forward to getting in the water but there is a chill breeze, and whilst it is a pleasant spot, as our companion noted, Deepwater Cove isn’t an overwhelmingly attractive cove. There are many more that are much more picturesque and inviting. Nevertheless, I am here and I will swim! Once I ventured in, tiptoeing over the pebbly beach strewn with clear, almost invisible jellyfish, it was quite refreshing and I spent 5 minutes or so swimming across the bay and back again.
Back up the hill and we have only 4km to go according to the markers. But the sign says 5km and 2 and a half hours. Hmm! Surely it can’t take us that long to do 5km?!
It is indeed much more challenging than the first section of trail. The ups are more up and the downs are more down. The ground underfoot is very rugged, rooty and loose and going down takes as long if not longer than going up. But the views are getting even better than before. As the trees thin out, and as we cross the peninsula and climb the ridge, steep drops to the side of us down impressive cliffs, we have panoramic views of the ocean and we can look back along the peninsula from whence we have come.
The last 2km are excruciatingly slow. The wind has picked up and we are literally putting one foot in front of the other. From Deepwater Cove onwards I have stayed with Nigel – before that I trotted on ahead and waited for him or went back to meet him. He is tired and his legs are sore but he battles on! What a trooper – I certainly test him with my adventures and he always responds.
As we cross the headland and can see out towards the end, it is very clear that there will be more than the 1km to go that the 15km marker might suggest. Sure enough, as we climb the last hill (Rākaumangamanga) and reach the top there is a 16km marker with small writing underneath that says ‘approx 1.2km to the hut’. Seriously!
We can now see the lighthouse and the hut down below it. The path snakes its way down, zigzagging along the contours.
Finally, we enter the hut seven and a half hours after we set off. It’s good to sit down!
That would be it for today – there is little point talking about all the usual happenings in a mountain hut; jostling for the ‘best bed’ – wondering who we might disturb with Nigel’s snoring or who might disturb us; discovering that there is just a dribble of water from the outside tap and none from any of the inside taps; working out how to switch the gas on; boiling water for drinking the next day; Nigel falling asleep almost immediately; chatting to new arrivals as they stagger into the hut in various stages of pain, exhaustion and relief!
But what is worth describing is the amazing light we witnessed during the evening. Surprisingly, we had very good mobile phone reception at the hut and had seen and read posts from people in Auckland about the orange sky. There was even a news report that Aucklanders had inundated the police with 111 calls, thinking that some catastrophe had occurred! Well, there was a catastrophe; the bushfires in Australia and the orange sky was a result of the smoke filtering and blocking sunlight.
At Cape Brett, the sky went a strange shade of gloomy yellow to start with, the sun was a pale pink colour and it seemed quite dark. There are no lights at the hut and we needed torches to cook our tea inside. I had ventured down the stairs to the jetty to explore – the history of the lighthouse is interesting and there is an old railway track that was used to winch supplies into the small community that lived here. It is now mostly home to the seagulls who nest just below the hut – it’s a bit smelly and very noisy! It was rather unnerving as the birds shrieked and swooped around, some clearly protecting nests and I was a little nervous of being attacked!
We could see across the sky – to the west the sky was quite yellow, but to the east it was clear. You can see in the photo below a line in the sky where it starts to lighten.
Then the sky started to darken even more and turn orange and spread more across the sky. The two photos below are looking up towards the lighthouse which is more to the east. They were taken a few minutes apart and you can see how the light has changed.
It started to get cold and feel like night was setting in but it was only 6.30pm! We retreated inside and watched through the windows as the light changed. The part of the kitchen facing east was much brighter! This photo is taken from the window facing west.
Part 2: The Return Journey
We slept well and late – didn’t rise until 7.30am. Legs a little creaky but it didn’t take long to crank them into gear and start the climb up from the hut to the summit of Rakaumangamanga. Slow and steady was the order of the day. We did feel a little daunted about the climbs ahead after the first day but also felt a bit proud that here were we, two ‘old’ people up and walking out when the majority of the youngsters at the hut had opted to pay $50 a head to get the water taxi out!
It was much windier and cloudier than yesterday and I was a tad nervous about the strength of the wind at the point where we cross the peninsula – a hefty gust could lift you off your feet and down off the cliff. However, the wind seemed not too bad at that point and as we walked back the cloud lifted and we walked into sunshine.
One of the young men had tried to convince himself when deciding on the water taxi that there was little point walking out as he had seen all the views on the way in. A different day brings different weather and different views! The light across the ocean with dark clouds was beautiful.
We were making a good pace and decided to stop for something to eat at the top of the cliff at around the 9km to go mark. The rugged stuff was under our belts and whilst there was still plenty of climbing to do, it was gentler and we knew that the last 3km was all downhill! It was hot though, the wind seemed to have dropped at least in the shelter of the bush and the humidity was high! Plenty of water stops!
As the sun came out, so did the birds and the cicadas and we were surrounded by the noise of the bush. It was lovely. Miromiro flitted about – difficult to get a photo but you can just about see this one!
The top of Pukehuia – all the climbing is now done and all we have to do is negotiate the dry, sand, gravelly downhill on tired legs!
We awoke late. So peaceful here. After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered up the hill for second breakfast of Raglan Roast coffee and freshly made scones and cinnamon koru. Luxury! (Graham and Paula lived in Raglan before they made the move north and bought Wairere Boulders. It was awesome to have a taste of our rohe up here!) We made the most of a good WIFI connection to checkout accommodation around Paihia and found that there was none until tomorrow so decided to stay here another night. It was already 11.30 so we decided we’d finish off the bits of the walk we didn’t do last night, drive down to Horeke and check it out, go to the Mangungu Mission House then come back and decide whether to kayak through the mangroves to the harbour or not. The tide times meant that this couldn’t be done until 4.30pm.
We rebelliously went the wrong way round the walk to get straight up to the Magic Rock rather than going all the way round the Loop Track. It is a steady climb from the stile and although it was overcast, it was very humid and hot. You can see the Magic Rock from the campsite and it seems a long way off, but it took us about 25 minutes to climb the 185m hill. It is a BIG rock! The view of the harbour and the rolling scenery is beautiful although there is no view of the boulders – the best place to see them from is the Lookout. After a handstand at the top (not the top of the boulder although I reckon it could be scaled – just not by me on a windy day with no backup!)
We headed down to the swimming hole. When we had looked at this yesterday, I was a little unsure about it – the water is a peaty brown and you can’t see the bottom. We found out later that it is stained by the bush tannins and is perfectly clean. As I couldn’t see the bottom, I poked my feet down until I could feel a rock, and then a bit more to find the shingly bed before I launched in. It was deliciously refreshing. I splashed around for a bit, swam out to the middle and found a rock to stand on before coming back and getting out. A quick dry while Nigel practised his weaving on the Nikau Palms and then we headed back.
Next stop Horeke. Or maybe not. Horeke is a reasonable size settlement. It has the oldest pub in New Zealand and the oldest Post Office. There is a school, a church, a community centre, a sports centre and a medical centre. The pub is closed. The Post Office has been moved and is now a resource shed. But it is busy with cyclists as it is the endpoint of the Twin Coast Cycle Way. The ice cream van in front of the Sports Centre is doing the roaring trade the pub could have been doing had it been open. There are well to do looking houses and along the Horeke Road there is also evidence of the poverty of the rohe. A place of haves and have nots. As I wrote this blog I came across this article from Stuff.co.nz written earlier this year.
We had read that the Mangungu Mission House was open 10am to 3pm from December to February. It was now 1.45pm so we headed off to have a look. Only a few kms down the road but we found it too was closed. We looked around the grounds, wandered through the cemetery, read the information boards and then decided that we might as well come back to the campsite and have lunch there.
The afternoon has been spent writing this blog, generally relaxing. We decided not to kayak though it does sound interesting and I sort of had FOMO when another group were getting kitted up to go.
A crack of noon start to our onwards journey. Still not sure of our plan except that we are heading towards Wairere Boulders. Shall we go on the ferry to Kohukohu and around or up to Kaikohe and along? We decided to go to Rawene for coffee and some groceries, do the mangrove walk and then make a decision. Procrastination is strong but we are on holiday after all!
The coffee in ‘1 Parnell’ is good and we had another look around the artworks but didn’t buy anything. Tempted. A bit of WIFI access gave us chance to check the best route and we opted to go to Kaikohe thinking that it might be a good space to stop for lunch and get more supplies.
But first the mangrove walk. The mangroves (Manawa) are an essential part of the marine and coastal eco-system. When the logging industry came to Rawene and the Hokianga, some of that ecosystem was compromised by the mills and trade. Since the mills have closed down the mangroves have started to reclaim the land on which the mill was built. Some of the hauling mechanisms remain but most of the wood has rotted and sunk into the mud. According to the information boards, sulphur dioxide still oozes from the treated wood that lies buried in the mud. But nature has an amazing propensity to regenerate and it is good to walk along the boardwalk through the forest and see the new growth.
Curious fact: between 1914 to 1948 Dr George McCall Smith developed a unique health-system for the Hokianga – he developed ‘pain-free childbirth‘ and women from all over came to Rawene to have their children!
I am always amazed by the cleverness of plants to survive. The mangroves expel the salt from the seawater from the upper part of their leaves which have soft hairs underneath to trap the moisture so they don’t dry out. You can clearly see the salt crystals on the leaves and if you brush the leaves with your fingertips and then lick them you can taste the salt.
Onwards then to Kaikohe: “Hub of the North” is the proud proclamation on the sign as you enter the town. It really didn’t feel like a hub mid-afternoon midweek. Nothing much was open and the place seemed pretty quiet. This fish and chip shop’s advertising may be just holding onto past glory a little tenuously! We managed to get some homemade samosas and mango lassi from a wee dairy which we saved until we found a spot to enjoy them in Okaihau. They were delicious.
Okaihau, ( I love the meaning and the story behind the name of this place) provided us a place to eat our samosas and then have a wander. It is a wee place with a proud colonial and Māori history going by what we read on the information boards. There were a few shops and a couple of cafes though the cafe where we wanted to get takeaway coffee in our refill cups, refused to let us use them. Said they had a policy that only their takeaway cups could be used. We decided that was a policy we couldn’t support and left. Weird in this day and age where the majority of cafes now offer a discount if you have your own cup!
It was half an hour round to Wairere Boulders but just a few kms out from Horeke, we were stopped by a firetruck. On the way round we had smelled smoke and the air seemed hazy. We had assumed that it was the haze and smoke from the Australian bushfires reaching Northland. We had already seen photos from Kirikiriroa and Taranaki of haze and discoloured sun. But as we turned a bend in the road we could see the smoke on the hillside and helicopters buzzing backwards and forwards dumping water.
No way on, road closed to Horeke for at least the next few hours so back the way we went to Ohaikau and the longer metalled road round.
We arrived at Wairere Boulders – very well signposted and were welcomed by young Magnus who very politely and articulately explained the way the walks went, how much it all was and booked us into the campsite.
All we can say about this place is just “WOW”! From the moment you walk into the valley, you see these huge house-sized boulders. Lying higgledy-piggledy where they came to rest.
The erosion on them is like that on limestone; lapiaz, karst, solution pits, karren, fluting but these boulders are not limestone they are basalt. I won’t start to try to explain here the process involved in their formation – read more here , and here and here .
We did the main loop and then the spurs off to the swimming hole and the lookouts but decided to leave the ‘Magic Rock” until the next day. From the lookout you can see right down the valley and the enormity of the mayhem of boulders. Like a massive boulder choke in a cave the boulders are balanced around, on and under each other.
The walk takes you in, around and through the maze of boulders so that it is more than a walk, it is an adventure, an obstacle course. I loved the way that the signs showing us the way through are bold, artistic and brightly painted. There are also signs for all the different trees and shrubs with their names in the red Māori and in English. Information about the kauri and their connection with the boulders are in ‘lift up’ boards and if you look carefully there are some hidden beasties around the place as well as fairy houses.
The campsite had filled up by the time we got back but it is a beautiful peaceful place and we soon settled in for the night! Usual routine – dinner, reading, cards.
We woke to a clearing sky which was good news as we had planned on walking up the Six Foot Track to Frampton’s Hut and then to Hauturu Highpoint. According to DoC and the TramperNZ blog the views northwards across the Hokianga and southwards to Waipoua are stunning, so we needed a clear day.
The track goes from the end of Mountain Road, which is about 3km north of Opononi. It is metalled but well-maintained and Vera made it easily. Just before the sign that says the road is no longer maintained past this point, there was a place that offered space to camp (Okopako Lodge) – looked like an amazing spot so one to bank for another time we are here. We continued to climb up the windy road for probably about 3km until we went past a few habitations – I hesitate to say houses as most of them seemed to be old caravans or sheds grouped together. Off to the left down a driveway did seem to be a real house – very grand it looked too. Just a bit further on the road widened and it was clear it was the end of the road. We could see the DoC sign ahead. There is space for possibly one or two vehicles if you tuck in but it is also the turning space for the people that live in the houses here.
We spoke briefly to a man and his two children who were there and checked it was OK to park.
The trail climbs gradually as it traverses along the slope through the forest. It was pleasantly cool, easy underfoot though there were some boggy sections as the path crossed streams. I suddenly realised that the sound I could hear was cicadas. Summer is here! My first cicadas of the summer – such a heart warming moment! The track is an old bridleway and you can see that it is slightly raised with clear edges for the most part but there are areas where erosion has narrowed the trail and the drop off to the edges is quite steep.
We soon arrived at a gate that marked the junction where the 4WD track to Frampton’s Hut veered off from the main trail up to the Waima Main Range Track and Hauturu Highpoint. Another ten minutes on along a narrower path and we were at the next junction. Right to Hauturu and straight on to follow the main track.
Now we started to climb! Steep and rugged in places, we made good use of trees, branches and roots to help us navigate the muddy, Rooty slopes. The forest changed as we climbed. I really need to learn my trees and plants better so I can know what I am walking through! Suffice it to say that the light through the trees dappled the way and whether it was Nikau, Manuka, Rimu, Totara and any number of ferns and mosses, it was beautiful.
The steep ground levelled off a bit and although we were still climbing it was a bit easier. We emerged into a clearing where there was a meadow of Oxeye daisies, buttercups and grasses. A sign warned to keep dogs on a lead because of sheep grazing though we saw none. It was tempting to stop and have our picnic but we decided to continue to the top. From here we climbed to a ridgeline and walked along it for a while, steep drops on either side of us. I thought that if this were Scotland or the Lake District, we would be feeling decidedly exposed. Ridgelines in forests are not nearly so intimidating but nor do you get the thrill of feeling high up and being able to see all around you. I am not sure if the glimpses you get through ‘vegetation windows’ are more tantalising or just frustrating!
Then we started to descend – quite a long way – and I was unsure if we should be going down so far. However, the time and distance we had travelled didn’t fit with having reached a summit and neither did any signs. Surely there would have been a sign!? I peered myopically at the map and thought I could see that the track did cross some contour lines down to s stream and then climb again. From memory that was what we had decided when we had looked at the map with glasses on! But I wasn’t sure so I turned around to climb back up to Nigel. He had also questioned his memory and was unsure. Nigel had the brainwave to take a photo of the part of the map we needed and then enlarge it so we could actually see the contours and confirm that we were indeed in the right place!
The climb up from the stream was again very gnarly and steep but not very long and we were soon at the sign (there was a sign!) that marked the way on over the hill to Waiotemarama and the dogleg off to the Hauturu Highpoint. It was almost a disappointing summit.
A large wooden trig in an almost clearing reminiscent of Maungatautari. Trees had clearly been felled to provide a lookout to Hokianga but they had grown again and partly obscured the view. I climbed up the trig to get a view but still had to crop it to get rid of the tree that had grown and was in the way! I spotted another orange marker pointing on past the trig. Leaving Nigel at the trig I followed the trail.
There was the view! This is when those tantalising glimpses that build a bit of a picture in your mind are worthwhile … the surprise of a full view is all the more spectacular. I ran back to Nigel and he followed me out to the lookout. We could see the Waima Range heading off to our left, the Waipoua Forest in front of us and to our right glimpses of white sandy beaches. Beautiful.
There was a trig – and trigs need handstands!
The trip back was, well the trip back. All that we had done, but in reverse. The downs didn’t seem so extreme as we had thought they might be when going up them and we were soon down to the meadow where we had thought we would have lunch. Too hot and too exposed so we continued on to Frampton’s Hut.
What a wee gem! Nestled in a clearing in the forest, the hut is an old farmstead with a verandah and a chimney and a pot-bellied stove. We explored than had a leisurely lunch on the verandah before finishing off the last section down to the van. 12km (I did a bit extra going backwards and forwards to Nigel) about 3 hours moving time but about 5 hours all up including stops and meanderings!
We treated ourselves to an Affogato in a cafe in Rawene – new since we were last here – and looked at the artwork then wandered around the village before heading back to Opononi.
Sunday evening Dargaville is a ghost town, but on Monday morning it awakes with a bang. By 9.00am the carpark was filling up, the main street was abuzz, cafes were chattering with late breakfasters and those of us getting our caffeine hit. BlahBlahBlah was our choice of cafe and that of most others by the looks of it. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the rohe. The weather seems to have taken a wee turn for the worse and it is cloudy. The sun tries to break through at times during the day but the rain is always threatening and brings with it a bit of a chill.
We stopped at Trounson Kauri Park on the way to Hokianga. We stayed here once before and sat out in the bush on a star-studded night on the lookout for kiwi which we heard but didn’t see. It is a beautiful bit of forest where kauri trees tower without dominating and provide space for other trees and bushes to thrive. We meandered our way along the boardwalk enjoying the cool freshness under the canopy of trees. The boardwalk has been installed since we were last here presumably in response to the growing threat of Kauri Dieback Disease which is decimating kauri trees throughout the forests of North Island. The process for getting people to clean their footwear before entering the forests is much more streamlined and efficient. There is some question as to whether human foot traffic is to blame and whether going to the effort of cleaning our shoes will do any good at all when forest animals wander at will spreading the spores. However, we reflected that at least it raises awareness of this important issue for New Zealand biodiversity and the protection of a tree that is iconic in Aotearoa. Several other footpaths in forests in the region are closed indefinitely due to the disease, so at least we still have the opportunity to see these majestic trees at the moment. If the measures in place enable us to continue to enjoy them then that;’s all good.
The clouds darkened and it turned colder. Rain was on its way. We were ready for lunch but decided to carry on rather than stop for more walks. We pulled into the layby that looked out over the Hokianga Harbour and Opononi and had lunch while we decided what to do about where to stay the next few nights. The lookout at the headland was a possibility if freedom camping was allowed, otherwise we needed to see if any of the holiday camps had spaces.
We drove along to the headland to find that we couldn’t camp there so turned back and stopped in at Opononi where there was space. A bird in the hand is worth holding onto so rather than carrying on we booked in. It’s a family-friendly campsite overlooking the harbour. Everyone seems friendly and it is clean and orderly. It will be interesting to see what happens on Hogmanay!
The rain and cloud blew in in waves up the harbour from the sea and so apart from a wander down the road to the pub for a beer, we stayed at the van, made tea and settled in for the night.