Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mt Arthur Mission

A quick, spur of the moment dash up Mt Arthur (1,795m) with a friend and friends of friends.

Driving across the Moutere Valley we could see the peak of Mt Arthur bathed in sunshine above a layer of cloud. This cloud promised to lift, and as we swiftly marched up the track from Flora car park we had sunny spells and glimpses of the surrounding country. Unfortunately the cloud only lifted to about 1,700m and the summit remained swathed in cloud.

There was a bit more snow than we were expecting which made it fun. The only really sketchy bit was traversing above a gully just after the Winter Peak turn off - the run out was awful! A couple of our party were in running shoes and I was the only one with an ice axe. We made it safely across but then met a couple descending who told us that the last little bit was trickier. Only two of us pushed the last 5 minutes to the summit as the others decided that they had come high enough without proper gear. A quick retreat off the mountain in thickening cloud saw us back at the car with plenty of daylight to spare.

A marvellous little adventure!

Familiar view on the summit!

18km, 5:20 hours return to Flora car park. (2:50 hours to summit)

Solo to Starveall

It was 0°C when I set off mid-morning from the Aniseed Valley car park in the Richmond Ranges. Pretty cold for the first couple of kilometres along Hacket Creek! (Later I heard this section referred to as "Polar Mile"). I was wearing shorts and my quads were soon red and numb. It took 1 1/2 hours to reach Hacket Hut, which was serenely situated in a sunny clearing. After a quick break it was 30 minutes and 8 river crossings up Hacket Creek, all of which I managed to tiptoe across with dry feet, before beginning the relentless 900m climb. My pack felt pretty heavy! I chugged up the hill steadily; there was no rush and I had the world to myself.

I popped out at Starveall Hut after 4:40 hours and 1,140m of ascent. A hunter (Phil) and his dog (Molly) were already in residence but there was plenty of space to spare in the cosy 6 bunk hut. The tap had broken off the water tank so I had to climb up on top and scoop water out with a billy into a 20L container. Nearby Pt 1258 provided a spectacular vantage point with panoramic views of Mt Rintoul, Abel Tasman and the Arthur Range. There was not a breath of wind so I spent well over an hour soaking up the serenity. Returning to the hut for a hot soup, I was soon back out to watch the brilliant orange sun slowly sink behind the silhouetted shoulder of Mt Arthur. The evening was spent sitting in front of the fire spinning yarns. Phil regaled me with hunting stories and tales of his time trekking in Nepal.

Sunset behind Mt Arthur

Watched the sunrise then headed over Mt Starveall (1,511m) to Slaty Hut. There was a bit of powdery snow around on the tops which was good fun. There was no time pressure as I had all day to fill in so I took my time and had plenty of stops. Two hours through to Slaty Hut, and then I carried on along the track and popped up to Slaty Peak (1,544m). I lingered here in the sunshine for a while before deciding that it was time to get a move on as cloud was spilling over Starveall. Instead of backtracking I continued north then east along the ridge to pick up the track where it entered the bush. The temperature dropped a bit once I entered the cloud, but there was no wind so it was actually quite pleasant. Picking my way down rocks coming off Mt Starveall my foot slipped and I took a small chunk of skin off my hand - nothing a plaster couldn't fix. It was still early in the afternoon when I arrived back at Starveall Hut so I spent a while mucking around gathering firewood etc. There was a pile of logs where a tree had been cleared down the bank so I lugged those up to the wood shed. Cloud came in even thicker at 3:30pm with light showers and a few pellets of hail; the temperature plummeted to 4°C. I was alone for the night, basking in the warmth of the fire.

Slaty Peak
Woke up refreshed after a good long sleep. Packed up efficiently and lugged more firewood to the woodshed before setting off down the hill. The hut was in cloud but I soon dropped down below. I moved steadily, only stopping for photography. For over a kilometre a friendly fantail kept me company, darting around my legs and often approaching within a few inches. He left me at the second to last river crossing. It took 2 hours to reach Hacket Creek and then another half hour through to Hacket Hut. Once again I managed to tiptoe my way across all 8 stream crossings with dry feet. All that remained was a pleasant stroll out to the car park.
Starveall Hutt


I couldn't trace the origin of the name Starveall in the region, but it seems to be a common English farm name implying poor land which is certainly apt.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Winter Solstice

What do you do when winter solstice falls in the middle of the week?
Why, you go camping of course!

With tarps pitched by 9pm we spent the rest of the warm night in our sheltered possie relaxing on the carpet of soft rimu leaves, four alcohol stoves providing a pleasant bonfire ambience. Dan even furnished fruit cake and custard to celebrate mid-winter!

The rain set in at 2am and immediately I could think of half a dozen better configurations for my fly. Not that I got wet exactly, just a bit of misty spray when gusts of wind came. Up at 5:45am to quickly decamp and head in to the city in time for work.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp!

As I amble through the bush
Tramping cheerfully along,
Listening to the bellbird's melody.
My heart it sings within,
This is where I do belong:
Among the birds and mountains, wild and free.

Tramp, tramp, tramp! The joys of marching
Over mountains, o'er hills,
And beneath the starry sky 
We shall pitch our tents again,
With knowledge that there's more to cover still.

We are following the route,
Picking carefully our way,
Swirling clouds and drifting rain obscure the view.
Undeterred we carry on,
This is summer after all;
Bad weather in New Zealand's nothing new.
I lie in my tent worn out,
Muscles weary, yet content;
The journey has been long and hard today.
But despite the challenges
And the arduous ascent
I've relished every footstep 'long the way.

The aroma of wet earth
And the sunshine on my face,
Lungful after lungful of fresh air;
With nature all around
I am in my happy place.
There's nowhere that I'd rather be than here!

To the tune of 'Jesus loves the little children'
Listen to the tune here

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mt Pirongia

Mt Pirongia, southwest of Hamilton, is the Waikato's highest point at 959m. Perched just below the summit is the relatively new 20 bunk Pahautea Hut alongside the old 6 bunk hut and there are several tracks up the mountain, all of which are rugged and muddy, making for a good adventure. I had previously been up four times to stay at Pahautea Hut but every time had been clagged in with no view, so when a couple of friends asked me to take them on a tramping trip I was eager to tackle Pirongia again. This would have to be one of my favourite weekend tramps close to Auckland.

There are two convenient loops up to the summit - we chose the longer and harder route from Limeworks Loop Road, up Tahuanui Track and down Bell Track. Many comments have been made throughout the years about the state Bell Track including statements such as "Short people may require a lifejacket" and "It may have been easier with snorkel and flippers"!

The first couple of kilometres is a gravel vehicle track alongside the Kaniwhaniwha Stream and was a nice gentle warm up. It took half an hour to reach the campsite, including a brief pause to find our first geocache of the weekend. Once onto the Tahuanui Track proper, the gentle but consistent climb began. The trail follows the almost straight ridge for several kilometres at a steady gradient before steepening up at the 700m mark. The track was pleasant going, although featureless, and I enjoyed being immersed in the bush. As altitude is gained the flora changes from tawa and podocarp canopy to stunted, twisted montane forest. The track also gets muddier the higher you get - which at first seems slightly paradoxical. However the mud should come as no surprise when you consider that the upper slopes of the mountain receive twice as much rainfall as the plains below. It is not until high up on the ridge that the first views are to be had; northwest to Mt Karioi and eastward over the Waikato. Reaching the boardwalk signals that the summit is nigh and the section from Tirohanga Track to the summit viewing platform is easy going. It was a bluebird day so the vista was grand - we could even see Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu in the distance. I was glad to finally get a decent view on my fifth time up Pirongia!

Twenty minutes later we were peeling off muddy shoes and socks on the deck of Pahautea Hut, first to arrive for the day. After claiming some bunks we took a barefoot stroll along the 800m of boardwalk to Hihikiwi summit to find the geocache hidden there. The evening was whiled away relaxing on the deck, playing cards, reading, and solving crosswords with some of the other hut occupants. At sunset the horizon turned a brilliant orange, although the ridge blocked our view out to the west. We did go outside to look at the stars for a while, but although the sky was clear it was brightly illuminated by the almost full moon.

Pastel hues issued in the dawn, the air so still that cows could be heard mooing down on the farms below. With a long day ahead of us we made an early start and were soon packed up and heading off along Bell Track. The first 10 minutes is boardwalk, which then abruptly stopped and left us to the mercy of the mud as we picked our way carefully from root to root, balancing along logs and swinging around trees. The occasional exclamation punctuated our passage as one or other of us misjudged and planted a foot in the deep, sticky mud. 45 minutes of this saw us at the top of the Cone (953m) where Lydia retrieved another geocache from the scrub. A steep scramble down ensued, with no reprieve from the mud. Where the ridge flattens out around the 600m contour there was a change from mud to bog. Whereas so far there had been plenty of roots and trees to give a solid footstep, now it was just knee deep ooze. At first we all tried inching along the vegetation at the sides, but after one foot slipped in I yielded and just waded through (at least where it didn't look too deep). It was actually quite fun wallowing along!

And that wasn't the deepest...
Central Clearing Campsite provided a nice dry lunch spot (and another geocache) and we had a quick poke around to find the water source for future reference. Not far past, in a smaller clearing, there was an abundance of blackberry bushes so we stopped to forage for late-season berries. From here it was another couple of relatively mud-free kilometres along the plateau before dropping down to Blue Bill Stream. Dropping packs we took the 10 minute detour out to the tallest recorded native tree in New Zealand, which is a 66.5 metre tall Kahikatea. For some reason I had mis-remembered the next two kilometres along the stream as being good track and easy going so it took longer than I expected to reach the Kaniwhaniwha caves. These are the only two known limestone caves on Mt Pirongia, the main one being 20m long and just wide enough to walk through. We quickly scrambled through before trundling on. By now our legs were weary and the gravel plod back to the car, although easy, was hard on the feet.

Team Statistics:
3 young ladies
30 kilometres walked (approx.)
12:45 hours of walking
1 blister
7 geocaches found
1 block of chocolate consumed
3 crosswords (almost) completed
1 goat seen

Click here for map

Monday, March 27, 2017

Timber Trail

Escaping Auckland after work on Friday night we crammed 3 bikes into the back of Brendan's van and headed south to Pureora Forest. Arriving at Ngaherenga Campsite around 10:30pm in light drizzle we pitched our tents alongside Christian & Bryon. A relaxed start in the morning with plenty of fiddling around with bikes and bags. All five of us were new to bikepacking so our stowing arrangements were relatively untested.

Brendan, Me, Bryon & Dan (photo by Christian)

Heading off into the ancient podocarp forest at 10am we relished the first couple of kilometres of flowing dirt single track through magnificent trees. After crossing through a logged area it was time to tackle the long, gradual climb up to Mt Pureora. There was nothing particularly steep (only dropped into my granny gear once) and it was all nicely rideable. After passing the highest point on the Timber Trail we made a detour on foot up the tramping track to the top of Mt Pureora (1,165m).

Back on the bikes it was a nice long downhill through the forest to the first of several impressive purpose-built suspension bridges, where we stopped for lunch. Bryon suffers from vertigo so he crossed very tentatively without looking down. Another bridge soon followed, and then it was onto old forestry roads with a few dips in and out of gullies. Dan got a flat tyre which was a good excuse for a rest. The last section through to Piropiro Flats campsite crisscrossed gravel roads and was pretty fast. We had all thoroughly enjoyed the ride and couldn't wipe the grins off our faces. It had taken us 6 hours to cover the 41km at a laid back pace, including an hour detour to the summit of Pureora. Dan & Brendan experimented with pitching their tarps using bikes for support while the other three of us used tents. Light drizzle rolled in not long after we were set up, so Brendan's tarp became kitchen and living quarters for the evening.

I was a bit saddle sore in the morning for the first few minutes of riding (and after any stops) but soon loosened up. It was easy going to the bridge over the Maramataha Stream, which at 141m is the longest on the Timber Trail. This led to an unexpectedly long grunt up to the start of the old logging tramway and I realised just how un bike-fit I am! After that the gradient was pretty easy as the trail follows the tramway almost all the way down to Ongarue. By this stage I realised that my front brake had completely given out - diagnosis was leaked hydraulic fluid, probably due to disuse - which meant that I was careful not to pick up much speed on the descents as I knew I had limited braking capacity. At times this was frustrating as the track was great for blasting down. There were a few mud puddles which Brendan described as being like riding through PVA glue. After the first few I decided to walk these to avoid stalling mid-puddle. A small mishap when I lost one of the bolts attaching my carrier rack, but once I caught up with the guys Brendan came to the rescue with his bag of tricks. By this stage I was getting a bit tired as I hadn't had much in the way of a rest or food all morning so was glad for a break.

Sheltering briefly from the rain

The Ongarue Spiral is a marvellous bit of engineering where the tramline corkscrews underneath itself with a bridge and curving tunnel. A further couple of kilometres downhill brought us to the Mangakahu Stream - both Bryon and Dan copped wasp stings near the end. The final section of single track followed fence lines along the stream before abruptly spitting us out at the Bennett Road car park. The 43km had taken only 4 hours as it is mostly downhill. We were early for our shuttle pick up, but within a few minutes of texting Paul from Epic Cycle Adventures was there to meet us and drive us back to the cars at Pureora.

I found the difficulty level of the trail perfect for me - it was interesting without being too difficult to ride with a laden bike (despite not having ridden off road for several years). The only bits I had to walk were a few small but sticky mud puddles in the middle of day 2. There was a little bit of passing and re-passing a couple of other groups but the trail was by no means crowded.

It was a fantastic weekend away and definitely exceeded expectations!


Photos by Brendan, Dan & Christian

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Friday Haiku

Leave work Friday night;
Camp in the bush, talk with friends.
Rain on fly. Ah, bliss.

Inspired by Ricky Baker (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)