Category: fauna

Summer 2020-2021: Puketi Forest

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We had decided that a change of scenery might be good for us. Never let it be said that I had tired of beaches and the sea but my poor skin was bearing the brunt of my penchant for the sea and coast. So, into the forest we went.

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In the Kauri Forest

The ngahere is one of my happy places, the coolness and the trees and the sounds of the birds and insects. “Puketi Forest is an ancient kauri (Agathis australis) forest located in the heart of New Zealand’s Northland. Along with Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland.” We have been here before to see the Kauri Trees on one of Nigel’s birthdays – we bought cakes from a bakery and the four of us sat and ate them under the majesty of these mighty trees.

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Off we go!

This time we were just two and we had bikes – I had insisted we bring them and so we were damn well going to use them! The Pirau Ridge Track is an ‘easy 11 km walking track, with walking and mountain biking opportunities’. Sounded good and it connected with the Pukatea Ridge track that goes through a beautiful regenerating Kauri forest. So ‘we’ thought it would be good to cycle to the junction, stash the bikes in the forest, go for a walk in the forest and then cycle back again. Easy peasy!

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Nigel on a down!

It pays to look at a proper map before believing Doc information. If we had have done so we would have seen that the track crossed lots of contour lines! In itself that’s not bad – we’d done plenty of hill-climbing after all! But hilly metalled road with 2 inch grade gravel is not the best terrain for rolling bike wheels over either up or down! The first km was flatish but then it started to climb and when we got to the top of the first hill, it went down again. What goes up must come down and that’s pretty much what happens for the next 8km! Thankfully the gravel reduced in size somewhat after 4km and was easier to navigate. Being in the forest might have been pleasant enough, we heard some birds and the forest kept most of the sun off us but there are no views and it isn’t really very pretty. But the killer was that every 200m or so there was a possum trap, and pretty much every trap had a possum in it and some of them were positively minging! They were the humane traps that drive a spike through the possum’s brain and kill it instantly as it tries to climb the tree. The smell of death was at times overpowering – and just try not breathing deeply as you’re trying to get up a steep hill!

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Kauri Bark entangled in an epiphyte

So, we we were glad when we got to the junction. We stashed our bikes as planned in the bush and set off on the walking track to find a pleasant place to have lunch. Our plan to go for a sizeable walk was tempered by the thought of retracing our wheels back the way we had come. The forest really is beautiful though. We quickly came to stands of Kauri that went deep on either side of the track. Although it is is another ridge track, at this point, it seems quite wide and there is a boardwalk on some of the path. There were Kauri of varying ages, some quite tall and wide, others still small but plenty of them. We wandered through appreciating the majesty and beauty of the forest especially after such a grind to get there!

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A knot!
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The Kauri and the broadness of the ridge peters out after about a km and the path starts to descend. At this point, the path is less well defined and we decided that we should head back and find a spot on the boardwalk to have lunch.

The return journey was less of a challenge than we had expected – maybe we were just inured to the smell and the grind of gravel!? – and we were soon back at the van. Time to head to Kerikeri and the relative civilisation of Chris and Ross’ section which was to be our campsite for the next few nights.

I was tempted to stop and take a photo of one of the many dead possum but couldn’t quite make myself get off the bike and get close enough! But I found this tiny skull in the undergrowth – it wasn’t neatly arranged like this! I found the pieces and put them together. Not sure what it is – too big for a mouse – could be a stoat …?

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Days 8 & 9: Cape Brett Track

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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.

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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!!

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Haruru Falls
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pneumatophores with oysters growing on them

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. 

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Sunrise at Paihia
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Raring to go! The start of the track.

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! 

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Where there’s a trig …..

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. 

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following the ridgeline

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. 

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View from the ridgeline
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looking out along the headland

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.

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taniwha at the pest proof fence

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. 

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Glimpse of the ridge through the Kānuka Trees

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. 

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Deepwater Cove

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?! 

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Crossing the peninsula

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.

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Another hill looms!

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.

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Looking back from where we have come

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! 

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We can now see the lighthouse and the hut down below it. The path snakes its way down, zigzagging along the contours. 

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Nigel on the path looking down to the Cape Brett Lighthouse
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The Cape Brett Hut below us

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.

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the old concrete jetty
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Yellow sky above the old stone jetty

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.

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The change in colour of the sky – east and west

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.

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Looking up the hill from the hut to the Cape Brett Lighthouse
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Looking up the hill from the hut to the Cape Brett Lighthouse – just a few minutes later

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.

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View to the west out of the hut window

Part 2: The Return Journey

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Smiling at the start!

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!

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Walking into murkiness
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Up the hill, ‘slow and steady wins the race’
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Handstand on the summit

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.

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walking by the cliffs as we cross over

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.

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Looking out to sea at the 9km to go mark
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The sun through the trees was still quite eerie

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!

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A ‘down’ on the way back
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One of the ‘ups’ on the way back – possibly the last big one!

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!

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We saw lots of Miromiro – Tomtit flitting about along the path.

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!

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View of Urupukapuka and other islands from Pukehuia
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The last big up is done!
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Made it!

Time for a hill!

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Day 3: Hauturu Highpoint via Six Foot Track

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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Vegetation Window

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! 

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Meadow

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! 

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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.

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View from the 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. 

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The view south to Waipoua Forest

There was a trig – and trigs need handstands!

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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.

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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. 

Hogmanay here we come! 

A Caving Trip!

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Plan B, Day 2 – a bit of an adventure up the Maitai Valley. Starting at the Maitai Dam, this trail took us for 3kms or so along a really runnable, undulating trail.

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Then we hit the river, which we had to cross! Knee deep and about 15ft wide with freezing water! The trail from here on in, as described in the guide was very gnarly, lots of tree roots, narrow, greasy and at some points the stream flowed along it. So we sloshed our way upwards as the path climbed through beautiful woodland.

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After a couple of kms (less than the signs indicated) we arrived at Maitai Cave.

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I ventured in to explore while Jo and Paula waited outside for me. I could hear the stream from above and it sounded like there was quite a lot of water. Difficult to see initially how far down the climb was to get to it and how much of the passage it filled. I clambered down greasy, muddy boulders making tentative use of the rope that was belayed around the rock that wedged across the entrance.

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Landing in the ankle-deep stream at the bottom I could see that it emerged from a small opening directly ahead of me. I looked to my right first to see what was there but after a few steps saw that there was no way on. I ducked down and could see that it was possible to get into where the stream was emerging. I crawled into a short passage that only went a few metres. the water seemed to be coming from under the rock wall.

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On coming back out, I followed the stream (all of 2 – 3 metres!) to where it disappeared underground – a couple of tree trunks were wedged in the stream.

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Turning around to my right, I looked up and saw that there were more boulders with a piece of tat hanging down. Above them was an aven. I climbed up, inspecting the rope carefully as I may well need it to get down again. The floor was strewn with large boulders, mostly covered in greasy mud and knowing that Jo and Paula were waiting outside I decided not to go any further. It didn’t look like there was a way on.

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Shining my light upwards I could see that the aven was about 30 ft high but difficult to see if there were any stals. Apparently Maitai Cave is the home to a very rare snail but I couldn’t see any pools that it could have been in – all water I saw in the cave was flowing quite fast!

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I was quite cold by the time I clambered out, very muddy and wet! We made our way back down through the forest. It really is a beautiful trail. The river flowed on our left and we soon came to a point where the path met the river and by then I was warm enough to give myself a bit of a wash and get rid of the bulk of the mud!

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It took us about 2 and a half hours in total to do the 11kms and 20 minutes or so of cave exploration. The sign at the start says it is 13km and will take 5 hours. However, we did run all the runnable parts (approx 6km).

Adventure in Mo’orea

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So, Nigel and I have escaped for a real holiday. Overseas, together, just the two of us. I feel a song coming on! No, sorry, I won’t even go there!

Anyway, we’ve run away to paradise. Tahiti. I might write some other blogs to tell you about what we’ve been up to here, and our photos will all be on Flickr as usual.  But this evening’s blog is just to recount the adventure we had today.

Our plan for our time away is to be as active as possible. Two reasons – one, we just don’t like sitting around sort of holidays and two, we’re in training. I’m running the Abel Tasman trail event in two weeks time so just need to keep my legs moving and, in January we are both doing the Old Ghost Road.

We explored what guided walks were on offer so that we could learn about the local flora and fauna and history. We couldn’t find any that went on ‘real’ walks although we were given the number of a local ‘sage’ who we tried to contact but were unsuccessful.  Undaunted, we decided to go it alone.

Mark, our host at our accommodation, Mark’s Place, told us that a well visited view point called Les Trois Cocotiers (three coconut trees) was accessible by a less well-travelled route from just a few kms around the road from us at Vaianae. It is also possible from Les Trois Cocotiers to continue on to Le Belvedère which is where most people walk from.  Our plan was to try to get across to Le Belvedère and then return by the same route.

Mark dropped us off at the start of the metalled road just a few metres further on from the shop at Vaianae. He gave us some basic instructions as a starting point but told us to call in at a place called “La Maison de la Nature” and introduce ourselves and say that Mark had sent us. They would give is more detailed information about the route from there.

On the way we chatted to a local who confirmed what Mark had said; it would take us about an hour and a half to reach the col and then a further 90 mins to get to Le Belvedère. However,  unlike Mark he said the route was quite straightforward and well way-marked.

The first 30 minutes climbed gently up a metalled road past houses which varied from being simple dwellings, with gardens full of fruit trees, chooks and dogs to more lavish houses with well-manicured gardens. There are dogs everywhere here.  Even though they bark they tend to stay put even when there is no fence but I still find them alarming.

Man walking up metalled road palm tree to left, lush vegetation all around, cloudy sky but sunshine.

Our first challenge came when the road split. One way went over a bridge and then turned sharp left up the hill. At the bend was a white house. The other road turned left up the hill and it seemed to be the continuation of the road we had been following so we took it.  About 100m higher up there was this sign;

Hand drawn map of local roads showing where people should be to start a walk

It might have been more useful to put it at the junction!  So back down we went,  over the bridge and up the rougher road.  Ten minutes or so further on we came to a building.  By this time the road was more overgrown,  the trees much thicker. There was a sign but it only had a phone number on it.  It looked like the whole place was being renovated.  To the right we could see a large shelter with a sort of climbing wall.  We climbed the wooden stairs which kindly asked us to walk ‘doucement’ to a balcony where a pair of jandals sat on a mat. We called bonjour,  but got no answer and didn’t feel that we should walk in so we continued up the track.  However, it went past an upper entrance to the building where a man was working a saw of some description.  We introduced ourselves, said we were staying at Mark’s Place and that he had said to call in.

His instructions were as follows.  Continue up the path,  at the windmill turn right,  continue on until you get to a stream. There used to be a bridge but it’s broken so just follow the track across the stream then turn left.  Keep going to the col. At the col, head left for about 10 minutes to the viewpoint where you can see north and south.   It should take about 45 minutes. To carry on to Le Belvedère, go down at the col for about 20 minutes or so then the path traverses, meandering up and down through beautiful terrain.  Roughly an hour to an hour and a half. ..

Off we went. No sign of a windmill (We saw it on the way down) but a junction of sorts – the single track path through knee high grass was clearer to the right.  Then we spotted a sign post hidden under the tree.  Confirmation.

A windmill in bush area with a mountainn in the background

Old signposts with indistinct writing attached to a tree

Reminders that La Maison de la Nature used to be, and may well be again, a ‘Colonie de Vacances’ for children lay half buried in the grass and vegetation.  Rope swings, balance beams, stepping stones and other adventure challenges. We came to a waterfall at a stream with a broken crossing but not what we would call a bridge and there was no obvious way on.  From the way the description had been given, I didn’t think we should have got to the stream crossing yet anyway.  So we looked for another way on and found a grassy track heading up to the left. It wasn’t well-defined but it was definitely a track and there were more kids’ adventure type obstacles half buried.  Convinced we were on the right track we continued.  Until a fallen tree seemed to block the way.  Maybe not,  we thought, and went back down looking for another option.  But not finding anything we went back up again.  The fallen tree negotiated we refound the path. A little further on we started to descend gently on a grassy slope, back to a single track in knee high grass.  A junction gave us a choice of continuing down or turning sharp right.  A rope looped between wooden posts helped to convince us that this was the right way.

Now we came to another junction.  A wide grassy shelf headed up gently to the right, to the left, a narrower steeper path.  I went up it to recce. It seemed to continue on as a well defined path, but we weren’t sure it was heading in the right direction.  We tried the other way. After 20m or so, there was another wooden activity challenge but then the path seemed to head back down in a loop.

Man walking in forest, heavyvvegetation, lush and green

We decided to go left.  On we climbed.  The path was rugged, steep at times, very rooty with quite a lot of fallen vegetation and we had to keep our eyes peeled to stay on track but it was clearly a path. All the way up were had enjoyed the changing vegetation, the lush tropical plants – the sort that I once had as house plants in my bedroom as a teenager in the 70s. The colours are beautiful,  bright red hibiscus in the trees around us and also splashes of colour on the path where the blooms have fallen.

Mountain shrouded in cloud seen through forest

The path started to climb more steeply and through the trees we glimpsed the impressive tall rocky peaks, half shrouded in mist. We were still waiting for the path to turn right and eventually it did. After having spent the last half an hour on a ridge we descended into a bowl of trees. Quite different, dark but not foreboding.  We were still searching for the way on when we suddenly noticed the trees.  Tall, incredible buttress roots, gnarly and twisted into the most surreal shapes.  We marvelled at them,  realised these were the chestnut trees or Mapes that we had read about, and thought about sitting down and having lunch.

twisted buttress roots of chestnut tree in a forest

Man in the middle of a forest of tall trees, sunlight shining through the branches

We decided we couldn’t have far to go by everyone’s timings so thought we would press on.  Despite thinking that we needed to stay right, we weren’t happy that right took us down hill.  So we went left,  uphill thinking it would swing back round.  After bushwhacking our way through more fallen trees and rotting vegetation up an indistinct but definite path we came to a stream and small waterfall which we crossed.  We were clearly climbing higher,  the canopy was lighter,  we could see the sky.  Surely we would hit the col soon!  I battled my way up and got to a point where I could see down to the ocean on the west side of the island.  But just more forest behind me.  A path alongside a stream led us up to an impressive black wall of rock with a path to the left.

Black rock wall with hollowed out area at the base, and a stream bed running down towards the viewer, fallen trees across the valley with new growth growing upwards from horizontal trunks

By now we were well past 45 minutes.  This was not an easy route.  We seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. We must have gone wrong way back down at the ‘shelf’ when we chose to go left and not right.

We turned round.  On the way down we noticed slash marks on the trees. In NZ in the back country, hunters and bushmen mark the trees to help them back track.  We started to think that we must have come across the traverse route from Tuatapae which we had read about.  It didn’t take long to get back down to the Mape forest where we spent 15 minutes or so just checking that we hadn’t missed a way on.

Feeling quite weary now and very frustrated and annoyed that we had missed a turn off somewhere, we knew we should really eat to put some energy back in our bodies. We had been bashing through the bush for over an hour but were reluctant to stop until we knew where we were.  So, we retraced our steps. Back down to the ‘shelf’ in no time. As we had thought the first time,  it simply looped down to the waterfall. I crossed the stream and climbed up the other side.  An unlikely route as it was not easy. The stream that fed into the waterfall bounced over dark rocks and I scrambled over and through but could find no easy path.  I heard Nigel call me.

white fungi growing on a fallen tree

Just a few metres back down the track he had spotted some bits of wood.. broken structures of some kind which he assumed were more of the kids adventure stuff.  Looking the other way,  a track down to the stream was more obvious and Nigel then spotted more wooden debris.  The broken bridge

stream bed, foliage and broken wooden structure in the streambed that used to be a bridge

We were back on track! With renewed energy we set off up the much easier, open track.  Still quite gnarly,  lots of trees roots, the path zigzagged up the flank of the hill, the stream gurgling beneath us.

A few very rickety bridges were crossed very gingerly and a couple of fallen trees negotiated. But it was well signposted with Xterra race markers.

man wearing walking clothes - hat, shorts, tee-shirt waking gingerly across a rickety wooden bridge

35 minutes later we reached the col!  10 minutes after that we looked out north and south at the coast and along the ridges at the peaks shrouded in cloud.  Stunning! Worth the effort! And time for lunch.

signpost that reads "le col tetoatoa dit des 3 cocotiers alt 357m'

Man on top of a hill with more hills in the background.

A couple at the top of a mountain, clouds gathering atop a mountain in the background

Panorama of a view of mountains from the top of a hill

Man climbs the last few metres to the top of a hill. He is just emerging from the vegetation. Hill shrouded in cloud behind him

Down was uneventful.  And quick.  Despite stopping to take photos of the abundant, colourful and beautiful flowers on the way. We called into the Vaianae store for refreshment…a nice cool Hinano beer, and we trudged the last 3km back along the road.

Total kms: about 15km!

Total elevation: more than 500m!

Total time on feet: over 6 hours!

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Great Barrier Island by Gus

Aonghasfaunafriends

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For five weeks in June and July 2014 I went with 29 other boys and two teachers from school to Great Barrier Island  in the Hauraki Gulf.  We were there to learn some new skills, have fun, learn about the community who live there and be challenged.

I flew on to Great Barrier Island (GBI) on a tiny little plane, it looked and felt dodgy.  It was a noisy plane so we got given ear muffs.  Mr Hall,  Aaron and I landed at GBI “international” airport, and drove about 1h to Orama.  We arrived at night and put our bags in cabins and went to tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went on two long uphill walks on Saturday and Sunday with just the teachers because the OPC staff were having a break from the girls trip.  Coopers Castle was a long, very steep walk with great views at the top.  We had to keep away from the edge because there was a big cliff with a huge drop but there was a great view over Okiwi.  It was hard to walk up because it was so steep and we had to scramble parts of it.  On Monday we had the power and water tour and it showed us that Orama gets their water from a stream and power from a generator because they don’t have mains electricity.

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Next Monday we went on our first expedition.  My group walked one and a half hours to a bay.  We found a big dead  mako shark on the beach. and mussel barrels that we kept throwing into the sea and they would float back into shore. We descoverd some good climbing rocks that we scrambled on. We also found some kina it looked like a hard spiky ball but you open it with 2 spoons and there is a mussle like fish inside which Teina ate. Mitchell also caught a rat with his bare hands and strangled it to death.

When we got back to Orama it started raining that night. It got really windy and rainy on Wednesday.  We practised how to belay then went white water rafting (aka brown water floating) down the so-called stream that became a river.  It wasn’t very fun and we got  cold,  wet and numb and then we had to carry the kayaks back to the trailer .

On Wednesday night at 11:59 pm we were awoken from our sleep and were evacuated to the Orama lounge because there was a big storm.  We had to get dressed quickly – luckily I had my waterproof trousers so I pulled them on over my fat pants, grabbed my sleeping bag and rain jacket and followed the adult with the torch – we had no idea where we were going because it was dark and wild.  It was tipping it down with rain, my cabin was shaking in the wind. it was kind of scary but not really, it was more exciting than scary.  In the morning  there was mud everywhere, tractors,  trees and a generator were washed out to sea.  We sat in Orama lounge all day because it was too dangerous to go outside because of all the debris around.teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

The next day we helped Orama clean up. My group had the hardest task of cleaning the classroom and gym, which had knee deep mud and took 3 days to get out of the classroom. Then we ripped up the carpet and cleaned the walls. The tables and the couches had been washed from the classroom through the gym and into the foyer on the other side of the gym. I found my student book outside with mud all through it and soaking wet.

great barrier clean up

My group spent 4 days shoveling mud while group 3 went to Glenfern and got on TV, but luckily TV3  came to Orama for a little bit and we were on TV too. Glenfern is an island wildlife sanctuary that Scott and Emma look after, they are trying to regenerate the native populations of NZ  birds and skinks.  I found a Chevron Skink buried in the mud at Glenfern; they are very rare and so it was quite exciting finding one. 10502489_242198045974132_7513004355070039754_n

Shoveling mud was boring but seeing what we accomplished felt great. Orama lounge became our new hang out space which was way cooler than the old classroom. Unfortunately, there wasn’t another gym that we could use.

Sea kayaking was the most challenging activity and I didn’t really like it because we got wet and cold.  The day we did it, it was really windy, there were salty big waves and a big swell.  We had to turn back because it was too rough – the waves were 3m high they had big white caps and the wind was 50 knots gusting to 65 knots.

I loved coasteering, it was so much fun and I want to do it again.  It was epic getting pulled in and pushed out in the swell.  I jumped in off some rocks that were 9m high.  I did a swan dive off a 4m high rock – I was a bit sore after the swan dive but it was great fun.

10336627_236232233237380_5175793285606235730_nMy favourite was surf kayaking and I really want to do it again.  It was brilliant  catching the waves and getting tipped!  I got quite good at it and I came 3rd in competition but I got the highest score  of 7.5.  We had to different heats and do tricks but it was timed and I lost in the semi-final.

Sailing was fun but scary because we were in the middle of the ocean with big waves and it felt like we were going to flip.  I didn’t want to be the first to capsize but once we did, we realised that it was quite good fun and we did it lots!  The thing is once you flip you aren’t supposed to stay in the boat or the boat ends up completely upside down.  But my partner stayed in the boat and it completely tipped it so then we had to stand on top of the upside down boat to try to get it back the right way up!  It was hard but we did it.

Nature Watch NZ – The Praying Mantis

faunaNZ


We have continued to be fascinated by the Praying Mantis which seem to enjoy our hospitality. Lots of folk we have met dislike them with a vengeance and find them creepy and unnerving. I have to admit that the way they rock and watch can make you feel a little uncomfortable if you study them for long. They have big bulgy eyes on a little triangular head perched on a long neck which makes them look a bit like a bald, inscrutable ascetic monk. (I think its the praying bit that makes me think of a monk!) But they are also quite comical in the way they wobble along on their long legs. We have noted two distinctall good things must come to a end.... shapes of Mantid – one is quite long, straight and flat, the other has a more rounded body and seems to bend more in the middle. We have looked on some websites to try and find out what the difference is – is one male and one female? Are they different species? No definitive answer though. There are apparently two types of Praying Mantis in New Zealand – the New Zealand Praying Mantis and the South African Praying Mantis, but according to the sites we have looked at the only real difference is that the NZ one has a distinctive blue marking

getting a bit chewy now...

behind the front leg. Also the NZ one sits on top of leaves whereas the SA one

hangs beneath them. We haven’t spotted any with blue markings and since most of them we see are hanging from our ceiling or sitting on the table or the shelves we have no idea of their leaf preferences. They are supposed to eat aphids though so worth encouraging them. Anyway – the reason why I started writing tonight is to tell you the tale of our misplaced kindness to our friends the Praying Mantis and the dreadful repercussions that ensued.Look Mum - no head!

Earlier this evening one of the flat, long bodied variety flew on to my knee and so Nigel decided to put it outside, as he went out he spotted another PM of the fatter bodied variety on the window by the door so he kindly put them together. Since our curiosity had been aroused about the different shapes we looked at the websites and then went to look at our PMs to see if they had the blue markings on the fore legs. Imagine our horror when we found the long, flat bodied one in the jaws of the fatter bellied one! Too late for rescue we got the camera out and proceeded to document it’s demise! Attached are some of the photos – if anyone can shed any light onto the reasons for the different shapes please let us know! It may be, of course, that the flat bodied one is the male and the other the female, who is enjoying her post coital snackette!!

mmm - delicious!  What\'s for pudding?

Only the wings to go

The last vestiges

and she ate it all up!

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