By Jason, 06 September 2009
Party: Jason, Rob, Chris
The earliest start we'd all had in a while saw Rob, Chris and myself getting up around 5:30am from the Putangirua Pinnacles campground with prospects of a long, hard but sun filled day ahead. A quick drive around the coast and we were at the mouth of the river that would serve as the first leg of our journey from the coast to the divide between the Northern and Southern Haurangis. None of us had been into the area before so the prospect of new country has spirits high as we started out. As the sky cleared and the sun warmed our backs we knew we were in for a good day. The wide river bed made a especially good start and we made reasonable time to our first checkpoint Mangatoetoe hut.
The hut is situated on a nice grassy flat surrounded by light Manuka forest. The hut is a really good size and although it only has a few bunks for its size there is heaps of floor space and plenty of camping room right outside. There is a great big open fire to spend the evening gazing into over mulled wine, or a big fire circle outside for more fire gazing and a few beers. All in all a really great spot for social trips. Oh and to top it all off the bog has a pleasant citronella smell.
After a brief stop a bit of an accidental detour up the wrong stream we saw the first of many pigs. This one happened to be dead and butchered however the other half dozen weren't. The first climb of the day followed shortly and was over pretty quickly and easily as we were all still in good spirits moving at a good pace. Over the other side of the saddle I sighted the first live animal. Only a glimpse of the rear end but I'm pretty sure it was a small deer. Quite fitting given that 30 minutes later were came across some hunters stalking up the river bed we had just bashed down. A few pleasant words were exchanged although their greeting to me could have been improved "Nice legs you got there boy, had my sights on them for a moment." Uh... great... Nice to know and good to still be breathing. After that the rest of the way to checkpoint 2, Kawakawa hut was a highway. First a nice track running along the side of the river and then a full blown road that the laser would have had no trouble with and even Adam's car would have managed!
Leaving checkpoint 2 we were on another highway and made good progress for the first wee while and climb number two passed pretty quickly as well. Although it feel like much much further than is displayed on the map it's actually a pretty cool section of track and if you shoot off to the left of the track at the saddle there is a spot which will give you a good view over the valley below. The descent is pretty steep but offers a few tantilising glimpses of a sun drenched clearing containing Pararaki HuT (checkpoint 3) on the other side of the river. We stopped there for lunch, a spot which I thoroughly recommend. The hut itself is an older style hut but due to the large amount of sun it gets it was in reasonble condition and would be a pleasant spot to stay. For us is was only a temporary pleasure, but pleasurably it was none the less with good tramping lunches of cous-cous, cabin bread, and peanut butter. Although Rob had to be a d*ck and have a few left over rat-packs so his lunch was something that looked like it should be coming out of the human body at the opposite end to that which it was going in. However his moans of delight with his satay chicken, or beef stew or whatever it pretended to be provided the lunch time entertainment.
The route to checkpoint 4 had a lot of treefall and there were several sections which were spent crawling on our bellies. We were starting to feel the pain in our legs a bit and tiring from the 7ish hours that we had been going however we still made good time to the high point which is again another reasonably sunny spot and although still in bush its pretty light. A short distance down towards Washpool Hut is a small clearing on the spur which offered us some great views out towards the coast and over to Surf peak, our final climb of the day. Washpool hut is in an odd spot some 20 metres above the river on the shady side. It doesn't get a lot of sun and consequently was pretty mouldy. However there is a nice grassy clearing less than 5 minutes down the river (although sufficiently above it) which would make a much better location.
We stopped at checkpoint 4 much longer than intended but we were all feeling pretty tired by this point and not really relishing the highesh climb of the day. This section of track also had a lot of tree fall which slowed us a bit. Somewhere around here I started feeling like I had eaten too much sugar so I slowed down on the lollies. Fortunately it wasn't too much further to the top were we started the bash over Surf and to the 4WD track on the other side in the last of the sun. The trail across here is sketchy and fades in and out. There are plenty of markers but these too are patchy. However its only a short distance so after we had gone far enough we made the decision to simply drop off the side and meet the 4WD track closer than planned. I can recommend either option to future groups. While it is certainly much easier sticking to the ridge you do save some time dropping off the side plus you get the pleasure of crawling on your belly through thick bush and scrub wondering how much further it is to the 4WD track. This went on for some 15 minutes and there were a few stops to check the map and our elevation. Of course just happened to pick the spot that saw us spend the most time fighting through the thick bush!
The walk along the 4WD track felt very long and particularly draining. I finally arrived at Sutherlands hut around 8pm ahead of the others and was pleasantly surprised at its location and size. As always there was too much food for dinner. I simply could not fit any more into my billy but surprisingly it all got eaten.
A final note here is that the Turanganui river is pretty pleasant to bash along and has some pretty cool spots which are very reminiscent of the Tararuas.