Monday, April 30, 2012

Lance’s Ramblings.

Ruahine Ranges

This is a story about a trip to New Zealand. We stayed at a sheep, cattle property owned by friends of mine ( Or they were) Alastair and Kay who have turned it into a B and B called the AK Ranch. It is situated near Kimbolton about  a half hour drive north of Palmerston North. The AK Ranch lies beside the Oroua River near the mighty Ruahine Forest Park and it was here we did our walking.
People on the trip were Annette and Greg Neill, Ann Tracey, Bernadette Smith, Anne Kemp ,Ted Wassenberg.  And me.  There are five people that are sixty and over and one teeny bopper just under fifty. She could be recognised as the one flitting around in ballet shoes and pink tutu.
While the story has a few exaggerations , it is basically true.  Well some bits are.
Monday 27th February 2012
Well, we made it -Sunrise Hut.  On the east side of the Ruahine Ranges, south east corner of the North Island of NZ. It has taken a bit of planning but we are doing the Sunrise Hut, Top Maropea Hut, Te Atuaoparapara Peak, Waipawa Saddle, Waikamaka Hut, Waipawa River Circuit. Try typing that with your mouth full.
We left the cars at the North Block Road carpark at 12am and had our lunch at the nearby Triplex Hut and started our walk at 12.45pm. Seven people with packs ranging from 15 kg up to 20 kg. We do not know how Ann managed 15 kg.  We think it comprised of a very heavy sleeping bag and 4 noodles for 4 days. We do not mean 4 packets of noodles. Just 4 noodles.
Up the track we went. We had to gain 700m in height. Now I know that school groups walk up to Sunrise Hut and parents take their young  kids up there on family outings. Probably kindergarten kids walking 2 or 3 abreast, holding hands, skipping and singing ‘’ Kookaburra sits in the old Gum Tree” or in NZ’s case. ‘Kiwi sits in the old Rimu Tree” which is kind of silly because Kiwis can not fly so how the hell did it get a great big Rimu tree. Bloody lying New Zealanders. Even though it is such an easy place to access, we still thought it was a flaming big up.
Much to our surprise, even though there were some awfully unfit people amongst us, we managed it in 2hrs 30min which was the recommended time. We normally have great trouble matching NZ times.
The great thing about Sunrise Hut is that it sits on a ridge with a beautiful view facing east where the sun rises on fine days. On other days I am not quite sure where it comes from.
But …….. if you pick up your camera and climb a little hill just to the south of the hut and look west then the majestic  Ruahine Range unfolds. You can see Armstrong Saddle and Waipawa Saddle and the top section of the rocky Waipawa River  and the diamond shaped Te Atuaoparapara Peak , 300m above you. This is what it is all about and this is why we are here.
Might  think  about  tea.   “Bernadette!”
Tuesday 28th .
Woke up about 6am.  Looked out the hut window to the east awaiting the sunrise and saw a figure walking around outside.
THINKS. “Ted is up awfully early walking around outside and I did not even hear him get up”.  Then something very strange happened as another figure walked past and another and another.
THINKS AGAIN.  “ Nobody else in our party would even consider getting up that early”.
And then it happened. We were overrun by a thousand NZ Commandos. Barking orders and waving their firearms around, their faces hidden by balaclavas, beanies and sun hats.  Well it felt like it, anyway.  Nineteen school students and their instructors had left Triplex Hut, 700m below at 3am and walked up to Sunrise Hut for the sunrise at 7am.
Glad I only did woodwork at High School.
Lovely sunrise, lots of photos.
Today we walk over Armstrong Saddle and down the ridge 200m to Top Maropea Hut which is down in the valley to the west. A little four-bed hut with lots of character which means some are going to tent because four does not go into seven very well.
I now know how Captain Bligh must have felt because we had a rebellion. Not unusual in a DMP (Democratic walking party).  It seems some of the party become overawed with the opulence of Sunrise Hut and wanted to stay another night there instead of the small, cramped, drafty Top Maropea  Hut way down the opposite valley in the predicted rain.  Whingers.  It was not so bad an idea except one of them was Bernadette, my designated cook.
So we all left for Top Maropea Hut at 9.30am. Three of us to stay there and the rest to return to Sunrise Hut for the night. We lunched at the Top Maropea Hut and then the others set off back to Sunrise Hut while we rolled out our swags to the sprinkle of predicted showers.
The three in Top Maropea had an exciting afternoon. We slept and read and slept and talked and slept. Then at 2 o’clock in the afternoon , down came the rain. Not heavy, just constant showers. You do all sorts of things to fill in a afternoon when you’re confined to a 4-metre square hut. It had a table, a fire place, a seat at the table and one chair, wooden, sitting for the use of. That’s my Army training for you.
“Going out in to the rain to check the water tank” stated Ted.  “ Yep, it’s a water tank”
“Going out in the rain to see if there are any clouds”.  Ted again.
I think the pressure was getting to him.
Be damned if I know what one party did that spent 3 days there.
“Bernadette, what’s for tea?”  Even though Bernadette was not with us, because she is a clever little ballet dancer, she cooked up my tea before she left at lunch time, now all I have to do is con someone to heat it up for me at tea time.  “ Anne, are you busy at present?”
Even the night passed slowly. We all had our tea then off to bed.   Again.
Woke up at some ungodly hour and looked out the window and all I could see was stars.  Thought to myself, “Tomorrow is going to be a very special day”.
I do a lot of thoughting.
Wednesday 29th.
Awoke at 6am with a covering of frost on the grass. Packed up quickly and climbed the 200m back up on to the ridge top by 8 and waited for the others turn up from Sunrise at the designated 9am meeting time.  It was a glorious day.
Off we went and slowly plodded up on to the top of the world at Te Atuaoparapara, getting there at 11.30 for an early lunch. Our times may seem a lot slower than the NZ trampers but as I am a Past President of the Nullarbor Plains Walking Club I have yet to appreciate big hills.  Or any hills for that matter.
Had our lunch looking out over a magnificent view.  Ruapehu in all her glory.
Then we headed down the scree slope for the Waipawa Saddle at 2.15 and then a rock hop down the creek to Waikamaka Hut which is privately owned by the Heretaunga Tramping Club. Our donation will be in the mail.
Great little Hut, 8 bunks and there were 7 of us. You just have to take turns to cook. Some went for a wash.  I had to remind them that only dirty people wash.
“Bernadette! Is my tea ready yet?”
That night at some hour I was lying awake and then I heard it. It was something I dreaded.  Rain.
I rolled over to face Ann who was also awake and quietly let fly with a string of foul mouthed obscenities. “ Bugger,bugger,bugger.”                                                                                                             Rain meant that the lovely creek we rock hopped down yesterday would now become a swiftly flowing torrent.  Rain had been forecast for the next day. I just did not want it to start so soon. What I did not know was that the wind was going to blow, and blow it did. It did not just blow.  It howled.
Thursday 1st March.
Arose at 6.30am, still dark, wind blowing. We breakfasted, packed, and were away before 8am. Once we got into the creek I knew we were in for a fun day. There was an air of purpose in the party, not a lot was said, the joking stopped, everybody was rugged up and I could tell everyone meant business when, instead of trying to keep their feet dry  crossing the creek, they just waded straight through. It does not normally happen in Queensland.  Wet feet.
Ann T had a badly swollen knee held together by my knee brace that I always carry.  The creek was up, flowing and dirty.  And the wind was howling with scuds of rain constantly driving through. I had read trip reports of trampers crossing Armstrong Saddle on their hands and knees because of the wind. We were about to find out.
Ted being the fittest and most experienced was out front finding a suitable route around the various challengers, then Annette. Greg was next as he could keep an eye on Annette in front of him and also help AnnT behind. Anne K was next who is an experienced walker and she could help AnnT  in front  and keep an eye on Bernadette behind. Bernadette was very fit but not very experienced in this type of situation. Boy did she learn fast and I must say performed beautifully. I as leader stayed down the back and just watched it all unfold.  And I must say a very clever leader.  Giggle, giggle.
We slowly waded our way up the creek and where we were rock hopping yesterday, we were wading today.  And all the while the wind howled. The further up the creek we went, the stronger the wind.
I bet everybody was happy they had $400 parkas instead of $50 specials. You may not need your good gear very often but when you do….
As we neared the saddle there was one section where the track went along a small ridge, one track wide with a drop on either side. Normally it would be nothing but I could see where people had to crouch and wait for a lull in the wind and then dash forward to a more secure position. At one stage there was a waterfall off to our right --- the water was pouring over the lip of the rock and promptly being blown back up and over itself.  A waterfall truly flowing uphill.
Bernadette, who was just in front of me, was sitting down on an exposed section of track because she just could not stand up. And the look on her face! It was not fear, she did not appear frightened. It looked like a face of amazement. It was a “what do I do now and get me out of here” look.
Must confess. I was loving it. It was man against the elements. The rain, the howling wind and me.
People who run Marathons. Most do not expect to win or even get in the top 100. They are competing against themselves or their personal best time. Some do not even care what times they do. They just want to finish.
Walking is sometimes like that. Yourself competing against the elements and your own mindset.
Getting over the crest of Waipawa Saddle was very interesting. With packs on , Ted had to crawl over the top and find the start of the track on the other side, some crabbed their way over. Bernadette got to the brink and that is where she stayed. Crouched, head down, legs braced and supported by her one remaining walking pole. The other pole had disappeared down the creek a little earlier.
She stayed there for an eternity, which was possibly only a minute. When you think you are going to get blown off the face of the earth, it seems like an eternity. We ended up linking arms and supported each other as we inched over the top. Or if you are very young, centimetred over the top.
Eventually at 9.30am we were all over the crest of Waipawa Saddle and we slowly worked our way down the track in the scrub to the creek which is the head waters of the Waipawa River. The wind was still blowing but the ferocity was gone. The further down the river we went, the stronger the flow and the muddier it got.
People were starting to tire, Annette crossed the river below a small rapid, lost her footing and the only thing above water level was a head and top of a pack. She quickly dragged herself out. AnnT limped on. People were tiring from constantly concentrating. There was no respite.
We arrived at Waipawa Forks Hut which is at the bottom of the steep section of the river at 12.45pm after four and a half hours constantly on the go. People stripped off their wet parkas, overpants, clothes ,boots, socks and shuffled into the hut for a brew up and a long lunch.
After everybody had suitably recovered, we put our wet gear back on, saddled up and proceeded down the river again. Here it is wide, rocky and flat and 2km and 13 creek crossings later we reached the road that led us back to our vehicles.
We had intended to spend the night in Triplex Hut before driving home the next day but as a large contingent of high school students were camping there we gave it a big miss and to keep our Bernadette happy, we drove on to the YHA hostel in Napier, the Art Deco Capital of the World.
There are going to be lots of stories at the next Bushwalking Club meeting.
Monday 5th.
We have just spent a few days at our base, the AK Ranch. Resting,reading,eating and drinking and now we are off to our next walk. This is a circuit on the west side of the Ruahines. Another long, steep walk up to Rangiwahia Hut, across the open grassy tops of the Range and down into the headwaters of the Orowa  River at Triangle Hut and then down stream to Iron Gate Hut and still further downstream past the Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge and out to our transport. This entailed a car shuffle and while at the lower car park had a yarn to 3 people waiting there. It seems that they were being flown in to Triangle Hut to paint it, with 2 DOC ( Department of Conservation) fellows. This meant our plans to stay in the 6 man hut had to be changed so we decided not to stay there and do a long day from Rangiwahia right through to Iron Gate so making our trip one day shorter.
Walking up the track to Rangiwahia Hut was a 500m climb and it eventually levelled out once we stepped on to the hut verandah. It took us two and a half hours to get up to the hut with a detour around a recent large land slip. We soon grabbed our bunks which to those not familiar with NZ are fitted with mattresses and we were soon drinking tea and nibbling bickies while we waited for sunset and more pictures. From this hut the snow covered Mt Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are clearly visible and way off in the distance on the west coast is Mt Taranaki or Egmont to the English-speaking  gentry.
It was not a special sunset but still got some good photos and then inside for “ Bernadette, is my tea ready yet?”
Tuesday 6th.
AnnT was not on this section as her knee was a mess and we were leaving Greg and Annette behind here as they were both suffering from the lurgi. (Did you know this word, also spelled “lurgy”, was coined by Spike Milligan?)  In retrospect I wish I had been ill also.
Rangiwahia Hut is a modern hut sleeping 12 and is at 1327m. The walk from the hut to the top of the range took a couple of hours to cover 3km and we left our packs and wandered up to high point of Mangahuia at 1583mt. The track now had to drop 800m down to Triangle Hut on the Orowa River. It was steep,washed out and grown over with long grass. You could not tell if your next step was going to be 10cm or 1metre which I found a little disconcerting for one who no longer has any shock absorbers in my knees. It was a long, slow painful journey. It improved once we got into the forest which I was told was very pretty as all I was watching was the next step in front of me.
Arrived at Triangle Hut at 1.30pm, had a late lunch and a yak with the painters and the DOC fellows and then off to Iron Gate Hut, 3km down the Oroua River. The water level was higher than usual due to the recent rain but with Ted in front we crisscrossed our way down the river. But there was a small catch. Just a little bit before Iron Gate Hut it is necessary to swim or wade through the Iron Gate Gorge. We did not get to see that bit because as the water was high we opted to take the safer wet weather route which entails climbing 5,000m up on to the top of a ridge and then 5,000m all the way down the other side.
Well it felt like it. In reality only a 200m haul up but when you are stuffed to start with, a steep 200m is a long way up.
Eventually we reached Iron Gate Hut at 6pm and was I glad to see that hut. A few months previously, a party had to be air-lifted out due to the swollen river.
“Bernadette! Is tea ready yet?”
I slept like a log that night.
Wednesday 7th.
Up and away around 8 and on the home run now. The track from here follows the river, though well above it, contouring around the ridges. The other option was to walk down the river. We followed the track which was very pretty and not all that hard going as there was no major change in elevation. Not quite as flat as my Nullarbor stomping ground though.
We were supposed to take 4hrs and we did. Had lunch at the fairly new Alice Nash Hut and then it was a half hour stroll out to Pattersons Car Park. It would be a most enjoyable walk given fine weather and a bit more fitness. We had the fine weather.
Over all, by New Zealand standards we have had really good weather as it has been wet for the last 3 months. On the way home back to the B and B, which was only a hour away, we stopped in at the Apiti Pub for a couple to celebrate.. Bloke at the counter said, “Are you the mob that came down the Oroua?”  Word sure travels fast.
Back to the B and B.   “Kay! What’s for tea?”
It really was an unforgettable 2 weeks’ walking, made better by the hospitality of Kay and Alastair.
I thank everybody for their effort and company. Ted for his leadership qualities up front when we were walking. Truth is he cannot walk as slowly as some of us manage to do.  From me a special thank you to Bernadette for solving my lack of enthusiasm for cooking and persisting with some miserable walking conditions without even a whimper. The rest are all old stagers and I expected them to show the qualities that they did.
Love Lance.

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