By achim, 27 May 2014
Mon, April 21st
We (Matt, Keith and Achim) started in the afternoon on Monday, trying to drive up as far north as possible. In one go we reach Pak'nSave for shopping in Napier. I (Achim) had three different tramps in mind (Waikareiti/Manuoha Loop, Whakatane/Waikare Loop and something at the Te Urewera Mainland Island / Tauranga river with access from further north) and we decided to settle on one of them once we were in the Urewera Ranges.
In the evening we drove up to the Waikare River Mouth campsite (at the Waikar*i* river!), that is about 20min off the SH 2. We pitched our tents on the free campsite and had a quick evening tea - expecting a long day tomorrow.
Tue, April 22nd
The campsite turned out to be a beautiful spot at the river mouth, it takes about a quarter of an hour by foot to the coast. Matt and I enjoyed the sweeping morning view of Hawkes bay.
Back on the road we did the final shopping in Waiora and drove off to Lake Waikaremoana, where we had a planning session in the visitor centre, we were quizzing around the staff on shuttle prices, track conditions and safe places for cars. After we got the numbers, we discarded the option of closing a potential gap in our tramping routes by hitch-hiking or shuttle - finally we decided to go the Whakatane-Waikare-Loop. There is no intentions book in/around the visitors centre, so we asked DOC to call Cécile - our emergency contact - from the land line to update our intentions. (I had some trouble spelling Mataatua properly!)
We reached Mataatua at 2PM. Makarei in the last house promised to take care of our car for the next days (a koha of 40NZD). We did a 2.5 hour walk along the Whakatane river, had fun with the walk-wire over one of the side streams and reached our destination well before darkness. We had Tawhiwhi hut for us. It features a big open fireplace and funny three storey bunk beds.
Later in the evening we had a chat with Sarah and ??? - they gave Matt a little big fright on entering the hut, as he bumped into two bright head torches and a gun. They were roaming around to hunt some possums in darkness.
Wednesday, April 23rd
The early morning fog hung in the trees magically, the tranquil Whakatane valley looked exactly like one of the plenty haunted and misty photos from the Te Urewera national park. We slept in and started late-sih. Once the sun broke through the mist the day started promising and - indeed - becomes quite warm!
We were walking up the Whakatane past Ngaheramai Hut, and meeting another couple doing hunting and chilling out. They seem to know everyone but also wanting to learn everything on them and dear trails. We were warned about some sections of the track after Hanamahihi Hut, as people left heaps of complaints in the hut books.
A fairly easy tramp brought us Hanamahihi Hut, which was a bit of a shit-hole in a beautiful spot. On the front porch we had a sunny lunch time here. After crossing the Whakatane via a swing bridge, we were climbing over a hill and we did good progress while listening to a number of roaring stags - sounds all in all like massive digestion problems.
After reaching the river again, the track sidles along the steep valley side and crosses several gnarly slips with tree fall and loose gravel. We had some great expectations on 40m slide and (hopefully) taking a plunge in the river. Progress was pretty slow. Less dangerous but more tedious were the flat bits, the track just vanished in lush high grass. We discovered one or the other hunters camp. One of them featured a quad-bike in a makeshift garage! At the end of the flats it was some effort to find the track again. At the 3rd flat, I became impatient and dropped into the river bed. Though the Whakatane river was well filled, but the banks were still wide, so we did more than 1.5 km in no time!
That was the opportunity to train Matt and Keith up for river crossings, at each crossing a bit more - till disaster stroke. At the bent just 300 m from the bridge over the Waikare (here with E at the end), I made a bad judgement and we crossed the river at the bottom section of a rapid instead of wading or swimming through calm but deep pool on top of it. The water turned out to be waist deep, we didn't train the caterpillar to turn around and also Matt and Keith had no idea how to swim with backpacks. - More than half way across I got knocked off my feet and swam back to the shore, while Keith and Matt thought it would be a good idea to take refuge at the logs inside the river a little bit more downstream... (The water flows beneath the logs and tends to drag people into submerged branches, me shouting out that they should swim past the logs were unheard. - Ok, always give the full set of instructions beforehand.)
No good idea, it took me a while talking to get them out of this situation: Keith being in an awkward position hugging a log and Matt ending up with the foot stuck under the roots. (Furthermore, the PLB was with Matt in his backpack. It is advisable to have the PLB in a pocket or on the belt to have it REALLY handy in case of emergency, one might decide to abandon the backpack - typically without the chance of unpacking it.)
Once we were out of the water (quite wet, shaken in confidence), we changed clothes and bush bashed up steeply till we found the track again. The bridge over the Waikare was reached soon. A final climb over the hill should bring us to the hut, dusk was setting in. And again, at another clearing we lost the track and I wasn't able to find it in the darkness. Using my (very basic) GPS bought us finally back to the track and into the Waikare Junction Hut.
The hut was welcoming us with a lit candle in the window and a radio transmitting static, so we knew some other occupants were not far away. We settle in one half of the hut and soon the other half is full of three generations male Maoris, they came by horse, had more dogs than they could count for hunting. Initially a bit reserved, but later quite friendly and chatty. They told us about a Dutch exchange student coming to one of the Maori settlements out there, who went out into the bush with them some years ago. The contrast must have been overwhelming for that kid.
Thursday, April 24th
We got up at 7AM, not too early (would be damn cold for the river) and not too late (assuming this is the most difficult day). Without many deliberations we started the 3 km river bash up the Waikare river from the confluence with Whakatane till the valley widens - after yesterday's ordeal it was surprisingly easy! From there we found track markers for sidling tracks. Progress was surprisingly good, we made it in roughly 3.5 hours to the former Waikare Whenua hut site next to the swing bridge in the middle of nowhere. Short after dropping down into the creek Keith is celebrating the 50th river crossing, we all had fun bashing up Motumuka Stream (indeed, one can't miss the distinct Te Kumete stream fork in order turn sharp left.) The creek was just beautiful (Ivan would have loved it!), there were two canyon-like sections which we bypassed using marked tracks. After the 100 and so-and-so-th creek crossing (Keith gave up counting just before the hut.) we reached Takurua Hut - finally a hut which was used more frequently for tramping than hunting.
One note on the vegetation of the Te Ureweras: It is a lush green rainforest with a much thicker fern cover on the ground than I've seen it before. Whenever we stopped, we've heard birds singing and coming closer. The forest makes a much more untouched impression than the normal Tararua forest.
After a good lunch time, we faced the biggest uphill on this trip: 360m (oh, what an easy tramp!) - and also the highest point on our tramp: Te Wharau with 666m (nearly disappointing, but beautiful with groups of tall trees without much bush, these places remind me of Europe). The track was hidden under a dense fern cover and on the way down we had trouble to find the right way from time to time. But finally, we made it back to Tawhiwhi Hut - just an hour before sunset, this evening Keith's knees were crushed.
Friday, April 25th
Our way back starts with a short sprint back to Mataatua and picking up the car, it was well guarded, thanks! We continue the way on the SH38 towards Rotorua - completing this SH becomes another achievement on this weekend. Driving along the wiggly and sometimes narrow road is nearly as beautiful as tramping, the bridges are shared with the horses - The surface is slippery, so hitting the ditch seems to be a kiwi habit (I was told).
We made an hour long stop in the hot pools in Waiotapu - we and our sore legs loved it! The SH5 to Taupo was blocked anyway (we've seen the totally destroyed truck on a long truck) - unfortunately the cleanup wasn't finished when we were on the road again. So we had to take the detour, which offered some more excitement with more slippery backcountry roads - sharing the road with trucks, buses, campervans... having another near miss - this time with traffic on the other side. Anyway, after that we drove non-stop and without any incidents to Otaki in no time. There we got a Subway and someone was distracted by a beautiful waitress.
I think, I need to get back to the Ureweras in summer for a bit longer, as driving there and back was entertaining as well as tiring - 2 days driving (thanks, Keith) and 3 days tramping is not bad for a short Urewera Tramp. - We loved it, got wet and we had no rain!