Sunday, August 31, 2008

Northland rain and Waikaremoana sun & snow.

After two long weeks back at work (it was straight in to three night shifts the day after arriving from London - jet lag? Didn't have a chance.), it was time for another holiday in the apparently miserably wet NZ winter (thankfully I missed most of that!). Adele & two of her friends (Anna & Ben) had flown up to Auckland that day & we managed to fit everyone & everything in the mighty (so to speak) Galant - including three large tramping packs & my bike (of course), you could easily tell that the rear shocks had not been replaced in the seven years I've had the car (probably never). Staying the night at Matakohe, we visited the Kauri museum in the morning - mostly for Adele's benefit as there is a bit of Dad's family's history in there, not to mention the restored house of our great-great-grandfather. A stop in Whangarei saw the rest of the car filled with wedding presents & we continued up to Coopers Beach, where Anna had rented us a house for the rest of the week.Settling in to watch the Olympics on the 14" television with awful reception, I tried to acquaint myself with Adele's macbook & mostly enjoyed it - but it still bugs me that there is no easy way to maximise windows (not that I could find anyway). As Thursday dawned reasonably fine, if a little breezy, we hightailed it in to Kaitaia, had a quick look around & met up with a lot of the people involved in the wedding (two of Adele's med school friends, also a former flatmate, getting married). Eventually our little procession of cars set off to Cape Reinga stopping a lot along the way - to look at flowers on the side of the road, wait for stragglers, change a flat tyre, stop at a service station & so on. Eventually we hit the twenty kilometres of gravel that is the top of SH1 only to find that it wasn't quite twenty kilometres - sealing of road has started at the top of the country & is working slowly down (apparently so that all the heavy vehicles don't ruin the recently laid tarseal while going to lay the next section). Obligatory photos at the top of the country in the wind & then off to the sand dunes to have a look - somewhere on that road is part of a rental Corolla's muffler & a fair chunk of the underbelly of the Galant as we managed to bottom out twice landing in rather large holes in the road. Somehow I found myself at the stag party for someone I didn't even know six hours previously - for such a low key event, it was surprisingly eventful. Mike got knocked out on Coopers Beach, the cops turned up & then finally (to add injury to insult or injury to injury) Mike went off to A&E with a rather large gash in his heel.Friday's weather was utterly miserable, but we were happy to stay inside & read, start a jigsaw, watch the Olympics & generally do sweet buggerall. I did manage to have a phone interview that day - but as I was outside in the car (stuffed cellphone battery) in the middle of a massive thunder storm, I was slightly distracted (not to mention firmly in holiday mode) & was a bit poor at answering questions. About the only thing I did know was what a pivot table was - geek that I am, I had made one that morning while I was still trying to work out the macbook. Saturday dawned a lot better & it was almost warm for the wedding (it definitely wasn't raining). Sunday, up early for the hike back to Newmarket where we spent much too much on tramping gear - pack, down jacket, gators, shoes, Camelbak... Dropping Ben at the airport, it was back home to Pukekohe for a night of rest & unpacking & repacking for Waikaremoana.

Monday held another big day of driving, via Hamilton to drop Anna at her parents, on to Rotorua to leave valuables at Andrew & Kate's (I don't rate the security of my car) & the mission that is the gravel road to Waikaremoana. Adele managed to drive most of that, so it was good to have a break; with the weather closing in, it started to sleet & then snow on us - much to Adele's surprise ("this is the North Island, it's not supposed to snow down here"). At the motor camp we decided to change the direction of our walk to start at the flat (ish) end as the forecast wasn't looking fantastic & so we would have a bit more company than just each other (a German couple - Anna & Thomas - were the only other people we saw for three days). A much better packing of our gear was called for & then it was off to bed with the snow falling outside - this was possibly the coldest night of the trip & we hadn't even started walking yet.

When we got up on Tuesday morning it wasn't much warmer & walking to breakfast the snow started falling again. Looking out of the dining room it was quite easy to see the snow settled on the trees not so far away. Well packed & our hut passes changed the four of us loaded our packs on to the water taxi for the ride across the lake to Whanganui hut (we had to start here as there was a impassable landslip blocking the track close to the end). Well rugged up on the back of the boat it wasn't too cold & the lake was so wonderfully flat I was dreaming of a waterski; however the cloud was still low & I would have taken a lot of persuading & a thick wetsuit to jump in.

Landing, the water taxi took off & left us to ourselves in the middle of nowhere. The sun even managed to come out long enough for me to drag my sunnies out of my pack - & then promptly disappeared. The first morning of the tramp was a mixture of ascending & descending - nothing too high or steep & a mixture of rain and then snow. At this stage we were still quite excited by the sight of snow at such a relatively low altitude in the North Island. Thankfully we didn't have to walk all the way around one of the peninsulas (not that the track even went that way - but it sure looked like quite a circuitous route) - there is a relatively recent kiwi sanctuary there. Being day time & all we didn't see a kiwi, but did manage to spy a rather impressive predator fence. For an early lunch we arrived at the brand spanking new Waiharuru Hut (it replaces one that was removed closer to the kiwi sanctuary). It is actually two pretty large buildings - one kitchen & dining, the other thirty odd bunks - a sign of just how popular the track is in the summer; a common remark during trip was how glad we all (all four of us) were to be walking such a beautiful track in the solitude brought on by winter - the place must be teeming in summer. Nice and close to the lake with great views of Panekeri Bluffs & some sunshine by now made for a great lunch stop. We reached our overnight hut (Marauiti) by 2 pm and proceeded to do nothing all afternoon - that's not quite true, I did nothing much, Adele tried to study. Dinner over & done with we gathered around the gas heater (luxury! - when I was a child we used to have to sleep in a lake) & attempted a game of Who Am I? - Twenty Questions. This proved a bit trickier than normal as ze Germans had little idea of NZ celebrities and we ignorant Kiwis had even less idea about famous Europeans (don't mention the war, I did once, but I think I got away with it). Sherlock Holmes proved to be the trickiest of the night & Obama the easiest - although we never quite got over Adele thinking his first name was Frank & the game ended slightly after that & it was off to bed at the late hour of 8 o'clock.
After easing in to the tramp with a nice five hour day first up, the plan was for the second day was slightly more ambitious. It was supposed to be eight hours to Panekerie Hut & we wanted to do an hour detour to a waterfall to have a look. Leaving earlyish (nothing compared to starting work at 5 am though) it was more of the walking close to the lake and going up, over & down the odd ridge. By this stage we were beginning to see just how ravaged the bush had been by recent high winds & high rain fall. Still we managed dry feet & enjoyed the brilliant sunshine that was to be with us for the rest of our walking. Lunch in the sun again at a campsite & it was off to the waterfall. Thankfully it was only about twenty-five minutes up the river to the falls - but there was one good crossing over the swollen river using big slippery boulders as stepping stone, aided by a cable strung across the river. We had to stand in the river a couple of times (still dry feet), but thankfully no embarrassing & chilly falls. Quick look at the small falls & it was back to pick our packs up again & carry on. Beginning to realise it could be quite late & dark by the time we finished, we blitzed the next section to the next hut (another really new one) and from then on it was pretty much (I've got one word for you, Kim) vertical. It wasn't too long before we had climbed long enough to be walking through small patches & then large patches of snow. Round a corner after three hours climbing we were pleasantly surprised to see the hut (we were expecting another hour) & it was packs off & time to admire the wonderful view of the lake & the setting sun. Off to the east the lights of mighty Wairoa started to flicker against the much mightier Pacific. A much quieter night after such a long day - the gas heater was a complete let down; Adele did manage to spend twenty minutes standing outside in the freezing cold balancing on a bench wishing Mum a happy birthday after she found her phone worked up there.
Sun was the order of the day again for our last day - unfortunately, we didn't feel quite as radiant - Adele sick & my knees aching strangely. Away early with more great views & walking along (more up & down really - the down playing havoc on my weak knees) the bluffs we could really admire the amazingly still lake. Not much more of note except beautiful lunch spot perched on a rock on the edge of the bluff & a slow descent - almost forgot, all the snow that was quite fun to walk through. Still we were nicely early for the water taxi & that gave us (more me really) heaps of time to read the displays about the hydro scheme flowing from the lake - strangely, the lake was lowered five metres (I'm not sure I've quite worked that out yet) - and the track - it was built in the '60s & '70s by high school students (it probably wouldn't happen like that nowadays). Back at the motor camp it was straight in to the car for the drive back to Rotorua & then Te Puke. The ninety kilometres of gravel sure made it easy to spot all the ice on the road (c.f. tarmac) - this was despite all the sun; at least icy gravel is not too slippery.


  1. Very interesting reading. The house at Matakohe was built by Edwin Pheasant, your great great grandfather. M

  2. Hey, nice adventures! Mum linked your site to me, thought I'd say hello... and see if you can even remember me *dons mysterious disguise and swirls cape around*

    (I've also been doing a lot of mountain biking recently, and hiking through the snow)

  3. I prefer to read about snow than actually encounter it so thanks for the photos and captain's log Brendan. Also nice to see you have been bike riding in England.