Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Cape Palliser and beyond

After leaving Stu to continue his walk down the beach to Levin, I picked up my car and went tiki-touring around the East Cape, slowly heading south. After visiting the gannets at Cape Kidnappers I drove south to Masterton, where Stu was having a rest day after crossing the Tararuas.

Stu found the crossing really hard. The climbing, with a heavy backpack, really knocked him around. He got the usual rain, but timed his crossing to not encounter too much wind. However the days were long, much longer than he had expected, and he'd not taken a rest day because he had planned to meet up with some Wellington paddlers to raft the Ruamahanga.

The Welly crew pulled out, unbeknownst to Stu because he had no reception, so he decided to run it anyway, solo. Grade 2-2+ rapids, with a few logs. He's a braver person than me, and a more experienced paddler, but still...He survived unscathed, and was recovering in Masterton when I showed up.

I wasn't that interested in joining him for the last couple of days on the river, but was keen to walk to Cape Palliser, the southern most tip of the North Island. I'd also noticed there was an alternate route through the Aorangi Forest, that had quite a few cute little huts along the way. And we know about my hut-bagging obsession....

Stu wasn't interested in anything but the coastal route, even though the packrafts were staying in Lake Ferry. So I decided I would do it myself as a loop. Walk to Cape Palliser with Stu and then walk back via the Aorangi crossings.

I spent a couple of nights at Lake Ferry, packing my gear and waiting for Stu to turn up. He encountered dreadful headwinds on the second day, so finished up walking along the road in quite hot unpleasant conditions. He turned up looking pretty whacked!

Stu didn't want to take a rest day so the next morning we headed off about 8am along Whaikamoana Beach. It was only a short stretch of beach before we took to the road, as the tide times would prevent us walking under the sea cliffs further south. It was quicker to take the road rather than wait for the tide and Stu was hankering to finish his journey. The end was so near and mentally he was done.

Physically, Stu was done too. Now I'm not that fast a walker, but I had to regularly stop to wait for him, or walk at a slower than comfortable rate to stay with him.

We stopped at Puhirangia Pinnacles for a cuppa, and early lunch. After an hour and a half I had to insist on us continuing. We had a long way to go.

The day was hot, with a nice breeze to not make it unbearable. I'd chosen to wear a long sleeved shirt with a collar for this trip, as I was concerned about sun exposure. But perhaps I'm more adapted to the heat, because what was a relatively easy day for me, of unpleasant road walking, was really tough on Stu. We stopped along the way for a swim, and later spent some time sheltering under a lone Norfolk Pine, as Stu was feeling dizzy and not well. After a while in the shade he was able to continue on, and at last we could see our planned camping site for the night.

The only commercial campsite in the area, and they were closed for a private function. There was free camping and a toilet down by the beach, but no water. We headed up to the commercial place to see if they would take pity on us, or at least let us have some water.

Fully loaded with water we walked back down to the beach. There was no shelter and I had only brought my Bivy bag and a simple tarp. The tarp worked well for protection whilst cooking, until a gust of wind ripped out some pegs and the tarp got torn. Oh well….

The tarp was too much of a liability with the wind, so in the end I pulled it down and just slept in my Bivy bag. Which was fine until around 4:30am when the wind began to pick up! With it getting windier I needed to put more layers on inside my Bivy to stay warm. In the end I just got up and packed. When Stu woke he also packed up, and we began walking.

We stopped in Ngawi, a little fishing village that also has free camping, and a bit more shelter too. We sat behind a utility box and had breakfast, and then back into the wind we went.

At Cape Palliser there's quite a considerable sea lion colony. You had to watch where you walked. We walked out as south as Stu could get safely, taking into account both the wildlife and the horrendous wind.

The wind was so bad I needed my sticks to steady me. Thank goodness we were only walking along a road, not some high exposed track in the Tararuas!!

Cape Palliser bagged, all that was left for Stu was to go check out the lighthouse, perched on its rock, guiding ships into Cook Strait. The steps up were really tough for Stu, who was pretty well spent. But he made it, and would now get a lift back to Wellington and a flight home to Rotorua.

I again abandoned Stu, reclining under a shady tree whilst I walked back along the road about 3km, before turning in to the Mangatoetoe to walk up the river. There's no marked track, just various animal tracks, so the best option is to walk along in the river bed.

It was supposed to take an hour and a half from the roadend, but it took me more than 2. Admittedly I stopped for lunch along the way.

Mangatoetoe Hut was an absolute pearler, sitting in a Manuka clearing on a terrace above the river. No one else turned up, so I took advantage of the solitude to have an early night.

Refreshed and recharged the next morning I set off at 7am. The tramp to Kawakawa was advertised to take 2.5 -3.5 hours. It took me 4.5!!

First there was a meander upstream, initially on quite a nice track, but soon it was back in the river bed, rock hopping with numerous crossings. The river was shallow, and there were lots of stepping stones, so it was possible to keep my feet dry.

After an hour or more I at last reached the beginning of the climb up and over to the Kawakawa. It wasn't too bad a climb, and the track was mostly well signed. I checked out a hut just off the track, presumably a private hut, and then began the descent into the Kawakawa. I met a hunter walking out with his venison but no one else.

At the point where the track met the river was a lovely waterfall and big pool, so I stripped off and went for a wonderfully refreshing swim. North Island rivers aren't icy cold like South Island rivers!

Following the river down took forever, with the final bit being along a stretch of old 4wd track to Kawakawa Hut. I was glad to stop for a while and have a cuppa and early lunch.

I left Kawakawa at 12:40, mindful that I was taking longer than the track times. The track followed upriver for about 40 minutes before it began the long and arduous climb to a saddle. The track was at times steep, at times it was just a narrow ridge, and sometimes it traversed across rather unstable rubble. It was tough going, as the ground was dry and super slippery, with not much in the way of tree roots or well seated rocks for traction.

And then there was the ongaonga. This is an indigenous plant, a shrubby number with hairy leaves that sting, like nettles. Some people have even died from being heavily stung with them!! They are essential for the Red Admiral butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves and the caterpillars eat it. I tried to stay away from it, but I still managed to get quite a few stings!

At last I gained the saddle, just over 2 hours from the hut, and began the descent to Pararaki Hut. It started off quite reasonable, and I made good time, but the final section down to the river was steep, dry, and slippery as shit.

Once at the river it's a short walk upstream and a splash across to the other side to the cute orange hut. All in, a bit less than 3 hours so bang on the advertised times for the route.

Late afternoon it began to rain, but it wasn't cold enough to light a fire. Another early night, no others turning up, despite it being Saturday night and there being two large parties there last weekend.

I decided to change my plans. Instead of a long day in the rain and a night under my ripped fly at Pinnacles campsite I decided to only walk 3 hours to the next hut, Washpool, and call it a day. I would do the rest of the walk the next day when the weather was forecast to improve. That way I would be able to get all the way back to my car in one day from Washpool, without needing to camp.

So the next morning I had a leisurely coffee and did a jigsaw puzzle on my phone before heading off just on 9am. There was a light drizzle at worst, and minimal wind in amongst the trees so I ditched the rain jacket pretty quickly.

It was a two hour slog uphill for about 500m altitude gain, but it was mostly steady climbing, through the best forest of the trip so far. The ground was wet, making it so much less slippery on the steep bits, but there were also lots of tree roots to get a foothold. The sounds of Tui and Korimako singing, and Kereru flying overhead, completed the picture, making it a really enjoyable tramp. Having no time pressure also helped.

There weren't many views at the high point, just under pt 765, though I could see a glimpse of the coastline. There were lots of big trees, rimu and rata, many of the rata in flower. Really beautiful to see big trees.

The descent continued down a ridge line until suddenly dropping steeply to the river. There had obviously been less rain this side of the range because it was horribly slippery and only by some miracle did I stay on my feet!

Across the river were steps up to Washpool Hut, in a small clearing well above the river. 

After lunch and a cuppa, and changing into dry clothes, I collected more water and spent the afternoon reading my book. I'm enjoying having a little more downtime after the long hours travelling with Stu. The rain set in all afternoon, so I was glad of my decision to forgo an uncomfortable night, wet inside a Bivy, for a cosy night dry inside a hut.

The next morning was overcast but not raining. It was a damn steep initial climb from the hut up onto an undulating ridge which I followed for about 3 hours until reaching the turn off to the Pinnacles. There were lots of lovely big trees: rata, beech and rimu on the ridge track but not much in the way of views.

There was a nice lookout over the Pinnacles but the real deal was to walk up the dry river bed into the Pinnacles proper. I dumped my pack for that, so nice not carrying a load.

Then down the river to the carpark and campsite where a couple gave me a lift back to Whangaimoana Beach, where I walked back along the beach to my car at Lake Ferry.

Then I drove to Wellington, to stay with a packrafting acquaintance.