Te Araroa Trail in the Tararuas Part 2

30 12 2011

This is the second of two posts about the part of the Te Araroa Trail between Otaki Forks and Poads Road, Levin. Click here for Part One.

After a night in the comfy Nichols Hut I had a cloudy morning which meant that I started off on the wrong ridge from Mt Nichols and I worked out I was headed for Park Forks, where the Park River joins the Waiohine (mainly because the track was dropping away too quickly, and it wasn’t a track) so I retraced my steps and the cloud had lifted. I was an hour away from the hut, stuffed-as, and yet I could see I was only 100 metres or so above it. How I missed the track heading in the right direction I don’t know. The forest on the correct ridge was magical. It was a nothofagus forest, covered in moss. I’d recommend this bit of the walk along the Dracophyllum Ridge to anyone, but it is two days hard walk to either end of it, so it will be a seldom visited pleasure.

On the ridge between Nichols and Dracophyllum Huts

The forests are largely silent, apart from the odd rifleman, tomtit and tui. I found this little fella on a mossy log. He wasn’t moving, and he was dead. Going by his antennae he was rather cross about it.

This weta was broken. It needs a visit to the Weta Workshop.

The sign said 2 hrs between the huts, but with my little, useless detour and my general plodding it took well over 4 hours. It was probably the loveliest bit of the trip, but still hard work with two small peaks to get over before getting up to the biv. The photo below shows the track on a relatively flat bit.

Enroute to Dracophyllum hut

Finally …

Sweet, sweet water on the ridgeline at the hut

After Dracophyllum the track emerges from the forest, goes up and down a few small mounts like Butchers Knob and heads to Pukematawai, the line of the track can be seen following the ridge to Pukematawai at the back of the photo below (with Mt Dundas further on)

The ridge to Pukematawai north of Dracophyllum

I try to not step on any of the plants in the alpine zone, and especially not the cushion plants. I find them amazing.

A large cushion plant

After reaching Pukematawai (300 metres of vertical doesn’t seem too much after yesterday’s 1100 metres) the trail follows down an adjacent ridge. (I didn’t have the energy to get to the summit). I could see Te Matawai Hut 500 metres below. I made it down only 10 hours after leaving Nichols Hut. That was a huge demanding day.

Spot Te Matawai Hut 500 metres below Pukematawai

Day 4 saw me heading over the Dora Track and down the Gable End Ridge, which is not the Te Araroa Trail, which is routed through Waiopehu Hut and the Waiopehu Ridge. Gable End Ridge is about 2 hours quicker. It is almost a kilometre of vertical down. Again it was a hard slog, with occasional views over the Horowhenua. Getting off the endless downhill to the flat at the confluence of the Ohau and Blackwater Stream was heavenly. Then it was just an hour out.

Levin and Lake Horowhenua from the Gable End Ridge

According to the DOC times on the back of my map Otaki Forks to Poads Road is 22 hours. I did it in 32 hours. I found it pretty damn hard. It was long. It was up and down. Most of the track was rough as guts.

I’ve had some hard tramps in the past – There was buggering the ankle in the heather on Scotland’s Ben Hope and hobbling down the mountain before going to the pub and then the hospital. There was buggering the other ankle and walking out of the Rees Valley for 8 hours high on codeine and ibuprofen after the ankle had deswollen enough to get my boot on. There was the 8 metre fall on the Rabbit Pass in Mt Aspiring National Park (I bounced). There was the food poisoning and altitude sickness summiting Mt Kinabalu and chucking up 20 times on the way down. There was the 465km south-north crossing of Tasmania.

This little 4 day walk was up there. Routing the Te Araroa Trail over this route was a bit contentious. It’s only walkable in sustained good weather, which pretty much means Summer only. A lower, safer route over the Oriwa Ridge bypassing the high main range of the Tararuas was proposed and then opposed by some tramping clubs, so it didn’t happen. There isn’t a continuous route over Mount Thompson behind Manakau (but maybe there could be one with a bit of imagination). After seeing the people at the Te Araroa Trail opening I figure a large portion of people walking the Trail are retirees. So the question is could you throw 60 year olds over the Main Range of the Tararuas and expect most of them to make it out alive? I think the answer is for every hundred 60-somethings trying it at least 90 of them would make it to out alive, 50 of them at the other end. In other words I think it is just a wee bit too hard. Highly memorable, and fantastic, but also pretty damn difficult. Maybe as an alternative skip this section and walk up the beaches from Waikanae to the Ohau River estuary. The current route is not as hard to walk as the Whanganui River section, which is really hard if you are not the Messiah, but maybe the Te Araroa people could consider choosing another route.


Te Araroa Trail in the Tararuas Part 1

29 12 2011

This is the first of two posts about the part of the Te Araroa Trail between Otaki Forks and Poads Road, Levin. I had walked from Seatoun to Otaki Forks 3 years ago and got to Otaki Forks and thought the next section would require a bit of forward planning and 4 days of good weather. It took me 3 years to pluck up the courage, and have the time off work coincident with good weather, but I finally did it.

The routing of the Te Araroa Trail over the tops of the main range of the Tararuas is a bit contentious since it is thought to be too hard for most people. I definitely have an opinion on that but I’ll save that for part two.

It only takes 50 minutes to drive from Otaki Forks to Poads Road on the flat, but it takes 4 days to walk it. If you were super fit you could walk it in three. I think it is too hard to walk it in any less time. It took me a total of 32 hours of walking over 4 days. I was slower than just about every advertised time.

I started from the picnic grounds at Otaki Forks and over the footbridge it starts off on an easy track towards Waitewaewae, also called YTYY. (the first time I saw YTYY on a sign, a direction marker for where the track is diverted above a slip, I thought “huh?” and guessed it meant Tuktoyaktuk airport, then I said it out loud, and went “oh derr”)

Above the Otaki River

The track is easy til it gets to the swingbridge over the Otaki. (The swingbridge would make a nice there and back walk in an hour from the picnic grounds)

Swingbridge over the Otaki, not far along the Waitewaewae Track

The track goes up the Waitatapia Valley(not the Otaki Valley) following some old timber cutters’ tram tracks. So yes this is some flat bits. It’s also the last of the flat bits for 4 days. There is the aforementioned slip to negotiate, with a straightforward little climb and you come upon an old stationary engine.

Logging relic on the Waitewaewae Track

The track up Saddle Creek to the Plateau is, as the guide book said, as rough as guts. At least if you’re thirsty all you have to do is bend down and drink. Water would become an issue over the next 3 days as the track follows the ridgelines, and there is never much water on a ridge. The huts all had good water. Waitewaewae Hut on a swimming hole in the Otaki was a welcome relief.

The comfortable Waitewaewae Hut

The next morning another swingbridge takes you to the east side of the Otaki River and then there is a 1000 metre climb up Shoulder Knob to Junction Knob on the main ridge of the Tararuas. There is no other way to say it other than it was hard, steep, and relentless. I climbed and climbed, and then I climbed. When I made it to the sign on Junction Knob I had a little rest and fell asleep.

Just above the tree line, a kilometre of vertical above the last hut

I love walking on the tops and seeing all the alpine flora.

Daisies on the tops

At the junction I turned left for Mt Crawford (I once had a day climbing the similarly named Mount Crawford in South Australia with a friend, and drove back afterwards through Birdwood where the National Motor Museum had a historic pinball display. $7 and we had an all afternoon lock-in with 63 historic pinball machines – my favourite being the Dennis Lillee Howzat! machine. Sadly it is a different Mt Crawford). Mt Crawford was the highest point of the tramp at 1462 metres. That’s not high by New Zealand standards, but in the Tararuas the tracks go over the ridge tops, and hence are seriously up and down. Down in the Southern Alps the tracks follow valleys and use passes to get between them. Tramping in the Tararuas is therefore hard work.

The ridge between Mt Crawford and Mt Nichols

Nichols Hut was also wonderful to see. When first glimpsed it is 100 metres below, and the rutted track down to it after a gruelling day was hard. I was too tired to go back to the hut to get the camera, but I’d vote the view from the loo at Nichols looking down the Waiohine Valley all the way to what I think was Carterton District spectacular.

Nichols Hut

More in part two …

There is still time to make a submission against the proposal to destroy the Rimutaka Rail Trail

18 12 2011

The Rimutaka Rail Trail is under threat. The group behind it is worthy of our scorn.

Make your voice heard to save the rail trail. You can still make a submission here at the GWRC website. You have til 4pm January 31st 2012 to stand up for continued access to an unstuffed up rail trail.

The other Wainuiomata gondola proposal

5 12 2011

I didn’t know about the other proposal for a Wanuiomata Hill gondola when I wrote my post last night. My proposal is better as the one in the Hutt City document is a tourist gondola to the top of the Wainuiomata Hill and luge rides down, replicating Queenstown’s or Rotorua’s. My plan is an integrated part of public transport infrastructure designed to give quicker connectivity to Wainuiomata residents to get to Central Wellington.

As the old Red Green TV show said “if women can’t find you handsome, make sure they find you handy”.

Usefulness is the key to success. Doing things just for tourists, where there aren’t too many tourists, is a little like a cargo cult.

A Proposal for an Aerial Gondola linking Wainuiomata to Days Bay

5 12 2011

Wainuiomata has about 16,800 residents. It’s a distinct suburb/town of Hutt City in the Greater Wellington metro area. It takes about 60 minutes to get from Wainuiomata to Central Wellington on a bus which has to go over the Wainuiomata Hill Road (which operates only in the peak, otherwise a bus goes as far as Lower Hutt and you can change for the train at Waterloo). Yet it only takes 20 minutes on the Days Bay Ferry from Days Bay to Wellington and Days Bay is just the other side of the hill from Wainuiomata.

The Eastern Harbour Regional Park  owned by the GWRC lies between Days Bay and Wainui.

It’s the perfect place for an aerial gondola. I propose 3 stations over an approximately 4.5km route. One in the park near the Days Bay jetty. One near the intersection of Main Road, Fitzherbert St, and the Wainuiomata Road, just south of the main set of shops and one near a lookout on the Main Ridge Track (which would only be used in daylight hours, and supports people out for a walk).

The Wainuiomata station site is in the park shown below and the cable would go up to a tower on the ridge. There are only a very few houses (maybe only a couple that would be inconvenienced by over-flying. If they are upset buy the house at a good price and then sell it again to people who don’t mind being overflown for not much of a price difference)

Despite being surrounded by hills the floor of the valley is flat. So build lots of secure bike parking by the station. Everywhere in Wainui is only at most 15 minutes bike ride from the station. So to get to Wellington ride your bike to the station, hop straight on an aerial gondola without much of a wait and fly over the hill, wait for the ferry and 20 minutes later you’re in Wellington. With a few hundred people commuting from Wainui this way each day then it would be economic to up the frequency of the ferry, which is currently every 30 minutes in the peaks. Total journey time could be as low as half the bus commute time.

For those thinking that an aerial gondola is incompatible with the ethos of a public park I suggest they examine the Cairns SkyRail (see my guest post on the Gondola Project).

This could be a success if there is integrated ticketing and the combined ferry and aerial gondola trip is price competitive with the bus.

The gondola cabins chosen could seat between 4 and 10 people, and could accommodate bicycles and wheelchairs, depending on the design chosen.

The view down to Days Bay:

The view down to Wainui:

Maybe the Days Bay terminal would look a little like this (nicked from here):

The cost I guess would be in a low number of million dollars (20 perhaps?). I have no idea really. There’s nearly 17,000 people in the valley, a few more in Days Bay and Eastbourne (who could do their shopping at the Wainui shops instead of going into Lower Hutt) and the running costs would be a lot less than maintaining and staffing the fleet of buses. It’d also draw a few tourists out for the day and a few more hiking in the park. I think it a good idea worthy of more investigation. Certainly functional, useful, modern public transport is a better thing to spend public money on rather than the steam train proposal for the Rimutaka Incline or the White Elephant Motorway.

Mt Vic Mountain Buster

5 12 2011

This is fantastic. There is an artist in Welly called Tony Anderson and he has a fantastic website called Wellington 2010 2020 <= Click on that. It won’t be a wasted visit. If you were shy click here.

He has a really nice style, and he has some interesting ideas to do with bicycles and public transport. I love his Mt Vic Mountain Buster where there is a tunnel drilled into the side of Mt Victoria, and an elevator takes cyclists to the summit so that cyclists can ride down with huge smiles on their faces. It is of course something that Whanganui did 95 years ago. (See my post on the Gondola Project).

I like his ideas for Kent and Cambridge Terraces, and his bike charging pods. And I like his 4 bridges. It’s all fabtastic.

Some of my own ideas for Wellington – a bike track across the Cake-tin Concourse, various Welly ideas, ferries for Evans Bay, ferries for Porirua. Put those ideas together with Tony’s and I think you’ve got a better plan for Wellington than destroying a historic cricket ground with a motorway flyover.

Another artist, from Brisbane not Welly, who I think is great – Recombinant Records.

Te Araroa Trail opening

3 12 2011

I’d announced The Te Araroa Trail opening was happening today, earlier this week, and I made an effort to make it along.

(I know Te Araroa, means “The Long Pathway” so “The Te Araroa Trail” literally means “The The Long Pathway Trail”, but if you have ever uttered the words “Mekong River” then you’ll just have to forgive me)

This morning in Island Bay it was a day that had everything; sunshine and a brass band:

The Govenor General opened the Te Araroa Trail for all of New Zealand and for foreign visitors too. There were also speeches from Geoff Chapple, who’s original idea was the inspiration for the track, and Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown. There were parallel ceremonies on 90 Mile Beach in Northland and Bluff in Southland.

A plaque was unveiled and trees were planted:

And like a few others, my buddy and I set off to walk the first 14km heading north out of Island Bay. The weather was warm and that made the views quite stunning:

The South Coast looking over to the Pencarrow side

Looking over Newtown to Mt Victoria

It was really a beautiful day for a walk or a game of cricket:

The City from above Brooklyn

The top of the cable car

We talked about keeping on going over Tinakori Hill, Ngaio Gorge, over Mt Kaukau and into Johnsonville and then we shortened it to just Crofton Downs station, then we said hey it is hot, and we walked down to the Wellington Station instead, through the rose gardens which were smelling quite nice:

On the train ride no one sat next to either of us, probably because we weren’t smelling like roses.

One thing Geoff Chapple said during the ceremony, was that one of the first things they did back at the start, circa 1994, was to put together a route the whole way from Cape Reinga to Bluff which could be walked from the start, and ever since they’ve been improving the route sending it off-road wherever they could, which is a process still continuing. In an upcoming blog will be how that strategy could be employed by Nga Haerenga, the National Cycleway.

Congratulations were read out from the organisations behind the Trans Canada Trail, The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and the Bibbulman Track. That puts into perspective what little old New Zealand has achieved with Te Araroa.