By DominicOberhumer, 02 September 2014
Ivan wanted something with lots of rivers. I wanted something that would take a while. Achim was happy to oblige and wanted to throw some bush-bashing into the mix. Sergey just wanted to take some nice pictures.
After catching a bus to Wainuiomata there was a brief time spent on the track heading up Nikau Creek. Roughly twenty minutes was spent on the track before a turn uphill was taken. A proper DoC walking track would not be encountered again until the next day. The uphill was reasonably short-lived though rather intense and at a pace that was not really sustainable. We walked along a bushy ridgeline and through the catchment area for a water treatment plant which you’re not really supposed to do according to someone.
Strolling down into a valley there was the loud roar of a chainsaw the owner of which might not be pleased about a group of trampers walking through what was technically a restricted area. Walking into the valley was fine as there was plenty of bush cover and little chance of being spotted but at the bottom there was a bridge which was part of the water works that we had to cross. It was decided that we should just cross the bridge briskly and nonchalantly. If someone yelled out at us that we shouldn’t be there we’d just walk faster until we couldn’t hear them shouting anymore. That went off without a hitch and we found a tunnel which we could use as a short cut to the river that we were going to spend most of that day walking up: the Orongorongo and one of its tributaries. The tunnel was long but not quite long enough to need a headtorch. After a small dam in the river (the last sign of civilisation) we stopped for half an hour to have lunch in the sun; we walked from 9am to 9pm that day and that half hour for lunch was the only time we weren’t moving.
Walking up the Orongorongo was pretty fun, never getting very deep but wet boots were inevitable. At some point it started to drizzle but it was still quite warm so it didn’t really matter. After a few hours we reached the tributary we were going to take up to Waiorongomai saddle. Bush bashing was back on the menu heading towards the saddle, interspersed with walking in the stream from time to time, still fairly easy going. When we got up to the saddle things got a bit rougher.
There was mud, lots of it, knee deep in places and filled with supple-jack and the odd piece of bush-lawyer here and there, it was not easy going. After some time trudging and some discussion as to where exactly we were and how best to avoid cliffs and canyons that were in the generally vicinity it started to rain. Within five minutes of the rain it started to hail and then soon after there was thunder and lightning. I will never forget the brief conversational exchange that occurred in response to the new walking and weather conditions. Sergey turned to us, knee deep in mud, wrapped in supple jack, being pelted with hail stones and having to compete with thunder to be heard and said “this is awful, what are we doing here? Why would anyone want to do this?” Whether it was Achim or Ivan who responded I can’t recall but the reply that came out was delivered perfectly “Well, you wanted to see the real New Zealand” and that was that.
We found our way to the other side of the saddle and realised we weren’t we wanted to be and would have a steeper down climb than we had hoped into a valley and would have to spend more time in the stream at the bottom as well. After part falling, part climbing and part sliding down to the river it had turned dark and head torches had to come out. Walking over the saddle had been bad (it was slow, frustrating, a little cold and just a little bit filthy) but now, now it got miserable, or I thought so at least. It was that really impressive kind of miserable as well where you can really sink your teeth into or drape it over yourself like a cold, wet blanket and really just fester and grumble in it. The sort of misery that leads you to denounce tramping as a pass time and decide that this is your last one, you’ve had enough, it’s not worth it. Worse still is the knowledge that this is entirely your own fault, you didn’t have to come, you didn’t have to be here and this was your choice. With that comes the thought that the only way to get out of this god-awful situation is to keep walking, to grit your teeth and push through it. The river was filled with slime filled rocks, the banks covered in supple jack, bush lawyer and now a healthy dose of ongaonga for good measure. I couldn’t see anything in the river and kept falling over. So I was cold from the air, wet and cold from the river, bruised from falling onto rocks constantly, I was tired and hungry, sore and scratched up and this went on for several hours. You either fell over in the river or you got stuck on the bush along the banks. At some point since this experience I realised that I’m addicted to that sort of thing.
We got to Waiorongomai Hut, had dinner and crashed. The next day Ivan, Achim and I went up another stream to try and find a waterfall. It was large enough that from no vantage point could we see all of it in one go. After that we splashed out through the Waiorongomai River towards western lake road. This was a really easy day, the track was good, the river was nice, the sun was shining, everything was just kind of fantastic. When we got to the road we hitch hiked back to Featherston; Achim and I got picked up by a couple that had just come from a wedding rehearsal. Smelling very trampy and still being quite muddy I spent that car ride sitting next to a pristine bridesmaids dress, it was nerve racking. From Featherston we caught a train back to Wellington and that night I slept amazingly well and ate a lot of peanut butter.
With: Ivan Andrews, Dominic Oberhumer, Achim Gaedke and Sergey Maximov