A walk for deaf botanists

9 11 2012

On a train ride home I read over someone’s shoulder an article in the NZ Geographic magazine which detailed that a part of the Paekakariki Escarpment walk had been opened, so I got off my bum on another trip home and had a look.

The Paekakariki Escarpment walkway will eventually be part of Te Araroa replacing the noisy footpath along the Coast Road between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki. At the moment only the first mile or so at the northern end has been finished.

If you want to walk it start near  the SH1/Ames St intersection and walk over the railway overbridge on the western side and go down the new set of stairs and then under the road.

The track is rather overrun with weeds. It seems that every Paekakakariki garden escapee from the last 150 years has taken root and decided to multiply.

In fact it was very Day of the Triffids, and a bit like other 1950s sci-fi where the plants eat everyone:

I had hoped that the escarpment track would be built way up high, but it isn’t. The bit built so far is not that high above the road or the train tracks. So if you are hoping for a peaceful walk then you’re not going to get it. It’s all within the noise cone of the highway, which makes it unpleasant.

Presently at about a mile along there is a gate, beyond which they are still building the track.

Overall the views are quite nice, but it’s a walk really only for deaf botanists. Otherwise take your earplugs.

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Thwarted access to the hills

5 02 2012

In other countries there is a right to roam. On my Scottish OE I enjoyed climbing any hill that took my fancy. In Sweden the allemansrätten ensures you can pretty much walk anywhere you’d like. In New Zealand outside the conservation estate we get a few scraps of land to walk over. When the land was stolen or bought from the Maoris and it was settled and divvied up there wasn’t much thought for the future recreational needs of all New Zealanders. So there is not much right to roam.

I love the fact that all the topo maps are now available for free from LINZ (even if they are the hugest tiff files that slows my computer down to a snail’s pace) and I really like the Walking Access Mapping System that shows all the cadastral boundaries for all NZ and where you can legally walk. Unfortunately it doesn’t show lots and lots of paper roads criss-crossing the countryside. Take the Horowhenua. There’s only a few surprises. The Waitarere-Hokio Road does indeed join up with Moutere Road as a paper road. The Moutoa Floodway and the stopbanks around Opiki are on public land, as is the historic bridge (but there’s no sign to say so near the engineers monument, so everyone thinks they’re trespassing to go down to the old bridge, but they’re not). And there is a paper road through the Tokomaru gorge.

There’s also some paper roads leading off Wallace Loop Road, Potts Road and Heights Road, but they don’t seem to link up with anywhere you could walk, except tracks that cross private land. This is a great shame, as it would open up quite a lot of nice hikes linking through to the Kohitere Forest (which is private, but open for trampers and mountain bikers). It’s this lack of connectivity of the public rights of access which is stopping developing recreational resources for the people of the Horowhenua, and hence also stopping a few visitors from visiting if there isn’t as much for them to do.

Here’s a snapshot from WAMS showing the area I’m talking about. The pink is a paper road, and the orange and white banded road at the bottom is in the Kohitere Forest. Between them are tracks along the ridge line of the first range of hills you can see looking east standing in Levin.

I went for a walk doing the loop in the forest, beginning and ending at the You Are Here, and walking the northern part of a loop on the brown track below to the Arapaepae Lookout and walk the Arapaepae Track back. (It is part of Te Araroa, but it is a bit unique as it as branch off the main part of the Te Araroa Trail, to link through walkers into Levin.) I also thought I’d explore the trails northwards until I came to a big fence or a dumb No Trespassing sign.

I’m much of the same opinion as the late Christopher Hitchens that “faith” is an overrated virtue, if it is a virtue at all, and trespass is a most underrated virtue. (That’s me, that last bit, not Mr. Hitchens) Most often it is just an excuse for a landowner to be a dick and to stop people from walking across their land, which commonly is a low impact kind of thing anyway.

The Kohitere Forest is planted pines with a few covenanted blocks of native forest. It’s a pleasant place for a walk or mountain bike ride.

And the views of the Ohau Valley and onto the Tararuas can be quite pleasant:

The track leading north out of the forest on the ridge line (I dunno if this bit is private or not. There were no signs or gates as such.) The views were fantastic. From Kapiti Island over the Horowhenua and past the Manawatu. The track was a bit overgrown, but would be safe mountain biking (if you’re allowed on it). Here’s the track of unknown legal status:


Then there is a locked gate with a sign saying no trespassing, and it does go past some houses. So I turned around and went back the way I came. It is really unfortunate that there isn’t a stile and a right to keep on walking. It is really close to the paper road down to Wallace Loop Road, and really what harm would it be to let people walk over these tracks? The track continues, but is verboten:

The no trespassing sign was a bit rude, with the trespassers prosecuted rubbish that they often have, when really all they could do to a trespasser is to ask them to move on, and if they complain to the police all the police can do is put a trespass notice on you, and then it would be an offence to go back onto the private bit of land in the next two years. But at least it wasn’t as rude and mean spirited as this stupid one near the start of my walk. I’m glad someone has tried to rip it from the tree.

The views from the ridgeline were all pretty nice, but here is the view from the Arapaepae Lookout:

Nice place for a hike. Pity about the lack of legal access.

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 …

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.

Te Araroa Trail to finally be opened

30 11 2011

At Shorland Park in Island Bay this Saturday at 10am the Governor-General, Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae will declare open Te Araroa, the Long Pathway. All are welcome. It’s quite an achievement, a 3000km walking trail linking Cape Reinga to Bluff, built with the goodwill of many people and not a lot of money and I’d like to say a very personal thankyou to everyone who has worked on it, donated money to the trusts, allowed the route to cross their land, to DOC and all the councils on the route, to the community groups, to Geoff Chapple for the original idea and subsequent enthusiasm, and everyone who walks and loves any part of it.

New Zealand now has a world class long distance walking trail. As far as I know the Rimutaka Incline Railway Group hasn’t yet applied to put a steam train over the route. There are bits that are still along roads (but it’s up to 90% not along roads), and there are still a few bits where yet to be convinced landowners need to get into the groove (like going up onto the crest between the Ohariu Valley and Tawa).

Personally when I became a bit of the backwash and moved to Wellington from Australia in 2008 I wanted to get a feel for the topography of the place so I started walking from Seatoun on the Eastern Walkway to Lyall Bay and then I walked around Evans Bay to Oriental Bay and then I walked to Island Bay on the Southern Walkway, then I walked the Te Araroa Trail all the way to Otaki Forks. It took about 8 days, not all at once, because Wellington doesn’t get 8 nice days in a row.

Here’s a few piccies of the route north out of Island Bay following the trail:

Shorland Park, Island Bay


Central Park, Brooklyn

Near the top of the cable car

Sign in the Botanic Gardens

in the Botanic Gardens

from Tinakori Hill

Old Coach Road, Johnsonville

In the pines above Tawa

Porirua from the slopes of Colonial Knob

Mana Island from Colonial Knob

Between Plimmerton and Pukerua Bay


Queen Elizabeth Park

Mangaone Walkway between Waikanae and Otaki


Otaki Forks

From Otaki Forks the trail goes up over the high peaks of the Tararuas and it becomes a bit more daunting. There I stopped and I still haven’t gone any further. Maybe someday.