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
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.