Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lake Waikaremoana and Hawkes Bay

After our last epic walk we then had two days off before then making a dash from Hawke’s Bay to Lake Waikaremoana for another four day walk as there was a good window of fine weather which we find makes the walks very pleasant. Before we got to Hawke’s Bay we stopped off for a walk to an old copper mine of which there was very little to see but I did get to see real live wild wetas living in a tunnel. It was a bit like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark as they scurried around on the roof while I tried to photograph them with a little torch, the camera unable to focus in the dark and trying to keep my feet out of the water. It was worth it as they were interesting creatures with enormously long antennae. Someone told me they can give a good nip but I didn’t know that at the time. The dragonflies can be pretty huge too!

The walk around half of the lake is another of New Zealand’s Great Walks which makes it fairly popular but by going in March and mid week we didn’t see too many others. We visited some of the pretty waterfalls the day  before we started the walk. We then caught a mini bus to the start with information on how the lake was formed by an earthquake and huge landslide about 6000 years ago. The lake is now used as part of a hydro electricity scheme which lowered its level by a few metres. We began by climbing Panekire Bluff, the high point of the walk but with the reward of fantastic views of the lake. The top was just another of a series of peaks which had us continually going up and down. They are in the process of building a new wide track that skirts around the peaks and makes for easier walking but you lose the beautiful mossy winding track that has you stepping over tree roots (and stops you thinking about your aches and pains as you are too busy watching where your feet go!) The hut was a welcome sight at the end of a tiring day.

The second day involved losing all that height we had gained the day before and taking us down to the lake’s edge. We completed the four hour walk in three hours and headed on to the next campsite to make our last day easier (11 instead of 19 km). We took a side trip to the beautiful Korikori falls and some of us swam in the lake while others stood in the shallows and washed. Not having a hut to retreat to the sandflies made a meal of us but the  beautiful view was worth it.

Another foggy morning to begin the day and then a walk around the lake edge which is not as easy as it sounds. Every so often it was just a stroll but this morning involved lots of ups and downs and in and out through gullies and scrambling over tree roots with the reward of a glimpse through the trees of the stunning lake. Lunch was had at a hut set in a lovely cove and then an easy afternoon saw us at a huge twin hut (one was bunk room and the other kitchen/dining) and we had the place all to ourselves!

We strolled out on the last day to be met early by our bus driver and saved us sitting with the sand flies for an hour. We then had to backtrack to Napier and all the sights we had missed. Napier has made the most of being demolished by an earthquake in the 1930’s and being rebuilt in the art deco style – now a feature of the town. We enjoyed the jazz playing pianist busking in the street the most. We also drove up Te Mata peak – in the fog the first day with bus loads of cruise ship passengers and then returned in the sunshine the next day.

The main reason we had returned after the walk was for me to visit the gannet colony on the cliff at Cape Kidnappers. It is the largest mainland colony in the world and tourists have been visiting it for years so the birds are quite used to it. The bus pulls up right next to it with just a chain between us and the birds. Some of the chicks are quite curious and check us out as we watch them. The chicks were at the stage of testing out their wings and I watched one take off and fly away, its first flight and only 20-30% chance of returning to breed.

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Wanganui to Wellington and beyond

Unfortunately from Wanganui to Wellington didn’t involve a lot so I’ve had to extend the blog and there goes my alliterative title – no W towns down here in the SE corner of the North Island. Wanganui provided us with a drive up the Whanganui River, the highlight being the little settlement of Jerusalem dominated by the convent and its church. We drove down the coast and then inland to a lovely river campsite with lots of cicadas willing to pose for the camera.

Wellington gave us a change of pace, catching a bus into town to visit Te Papa museum, Old St Paul’s church (beautifully made out of wood) and the Weta Cave to get a bit of insight into the digital and miniature effects used for The Hobbit and many other movies.

We then headed back to the countryside to use some of the DOC camps and see the bottom of the North Island. At Catchpool we took a circular walk to one of those big NZ rivers that are all gravel with a bit of water down the middle (quite different when they’re in flood as we saw in 2004). The bridge crossing on the side stream wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Japanese garden with its arch and quite different to the usual swingbridge which we have seen in many different standards. The next stop gave us a lighthouse up 254 steps, a NZ fur seal colony and some amazing gravel pillars. We also found a town where old bulldozers go for semi retirement. They are used for towing the boats up and down the beach.

We went to our 3rd DOC camp in the mountains and after admiring its very high swingbridge, it gave us some mountain weather – rain and hail and sheltering outside the toilets to cook tea!

This called for a retreat to a caravan park with their very useful kitchens to escape the inclement weather – more rain and strong winds. Castlepoint  has a very interesting coastline with a sheltered bay behind a rock reef that the lighthouse is built on, all dominated by the towering Castle Rock. We also know what to do if a tsunami warning sounds.

Tararua Ranges in the southern part of the North Island has only 80 clear days in a year (or 57 according to a fellow walker) and we managed to get one of them. Usually it looks like this or worse.

We had a perfect cloudless and more importantly windless day on top (as it usually blows a gale). Admittedly we did watch the weather forecast and wait for the right conditions. The first day saw us climbing up 900m through a beautiful gnarled and mossy forest in the fog which suited the trees perfectly. We reached Powell Hut which sits just above the tree line and offers a grand view down to the valley below. The cloud gradually lifted to afford great views.

We could see the lights below and the sunrise was awe inspiring.

We climbed to the top in the perfect conditions and could see the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean both from the top of Mt Holdsworth. All the mountains marched off along ridge lines all with their own routes and Ray would like to have explored them all (though when we met a Kiwi couple at 7pm that night who had walked for 10 1/2 hours along one of those ridge lines to get to the hut I was glad we weren’t). We could see our ridge line and set off with many stops for photos and chasing gorgeous red butterflies. We reached the point we had to  descend to the hut at lunchtime so took a side trip to the next peak along the ridge.

Jumbo Hut was smaller but still with a great view. The next day we had to descend to the stream – 750m in 2km and relentlessly steep or very steep right until 20m from Atiwhakatu hut. Our knees were glad to see it. The path out from there was a breeze apart from the two bridges that were out and we had to detour into the creek bed, the tiptoeing across the top of the land slip and the swaying wire swing bridge that one poor lady caught her finger on and lost her ring!