Bulls, Bush & Bullshit
Bulls, Bush & Bullshit.
Peter's Beetle chugged to a halt and we prised our gear and city-worn bodies out into the steaming remains of a mellow May afternoon. Colonel Atkinson, Peter Radcliffe and I were already well away from civilization, twenty-five miles up the Tapuaerua Valley from Ruatoria (north of Gisborne), swinging packs onto protesting shoulders, we set off up the grassy ridge above Pakihiroa station, heading for the hut below Mt. Hikurangi.
A joyful cry broke the evening silence - "Shrooms!!!" Showing more enthusiasm than we had for the uphill slog, we filled our hats and bags with a generous haul of finest mushrooms. While we were engrossed, darkness and rain began to fall, good reason to stop short of our destination in a small shack. Logs from nearby provided some good wood, and a fire made the establishment quite pleasant indeed. After a brew and feed we set to on the sometimes arduous task of spending twelve hours in pit (Oh, the hardships of winter tramping !)
Fortified by a feed of bacon and 'shrooms from Peter's famed carboniferous billy, we departed the next morning for Hikurangi. A pleasant hour's walk in sunshine up the tree-strewn grassy ridge took us to the Gisborne Canoe and Tramping Club Hut, which looked enticingly comfortable. Though tempted, sanity prevailed and we sweated up the steep slip behind the hut onto Hikurangi's upper slopes.
By this time we had climbed into a layer of clammy cloud, so, donning warm gear and dumping packs, we set off up a ridge that seemed to head in the right direction. Near the top, we had some enjoyable clambering over and around a few jaggedy nergs, and soon reached a point that seemed very summit-like, but lacked a trig. Pausing briefly to admire the top-grade skin on a possum inhabiting a cleft, we traversed in the mist down to a saddle, then followed a well worn route along to the top, which boasts an impressive wooden trig. With thick mist obscuring the expansive views from this, the highest non-volcanic North Island peak, we had no cause to linger, and returned to our packs by the standard track, sidling around rock and scree before climbing a shingly gully (ugh!) to the saddle below the summit.
Having returned to our packs, Colonel made mutinous (but timely) mutterings about his slim chances of getting back to the big smoke when due there, if we continued our planned route. We amended our overambitious plans to the satisfaction of all, and made our leisurely way down to the GCTC hut. While Pete and Colonelsoaked up sun and scenery from a perch up on the slip behind the hut, I nobly raced down and lit a fire, only to be driven outside by smoke. We were able to cook later when the wind changed. The day died in hues of red, with the ramparts of Honokawa and Wharekia picked out in red and gold, and we three marvelling at a truly Wagnerian sunset.
In the morning Peter and I fed and fled, wishing Colonel a pleasant few days' sojourn in the hut. We set off up onto Hikurangi again, followed the track above the bushline, through well frosted surroundings to the track that travels along the ridge above the Maungamuku stream. We soon realised the problems with this track: wild cattle churn it up, and they create confusing side-tracks. A more serious problem became apparent later. We found ourselves face to face with a particularly large black beast that showed no signs of moving aside for us, and when it made hostile advances we page 4 made a very rapid and painful detour through some bush lawyer. This same hulk confronted us on rounding a corner a little later. Again we fled at great speed, and I silently swore to bring a shootin' iron on my next trip to the Ruakumaras.
Lunching on a leatherwooded knob we surveyed the expanse of tangled ridges with an awe heightened by our discovery that we lacked a compass. The track petered out soon after the knob, so we steamed off down a ridge into the head of the Maungamuka to where we thought the track ot the Maungatutura was, and headed up a tree-choked stream. As darkness fell, we camped in big timber at a stream forks. The feeling of being a little lost and the sky filled with trees made our minds buzz with strange feelings that evening as we sat by the fire smoking, talking of dead friends and life.
We departed hurriedly in the morning and headed up a heavily bushed ridge. At the top, tree-climbing allowed us to see that we were above the saddle in question, and some grotty tutu bashing and sidling took us to the N.Z.F.S. track over the saddle. Following the track down through some amazing rimu-tawa forest we reached the picturesque Maungatatara streambed.
After some four hours travel along a good marked track with impressively timbered terraces, we spied the N.Z.F.S. Maungatutara hut on a high forested terrace on the true left. Used largely by long-staying possumers, the hut is very clean and well supplied with clothes, food, boots, utensils, and firewood - a hut-bashers dream. Hardly visited by trampers, the hut is one of only three in the whole range indicating how little frequented is the whole area.
We had a very comfortable stay at this hut and departed at 7 a.m. in the first light of a perfect day. Travelling quickly back up the Maungatutara Stream and over the saddle, we soon reached the beautiful Oronui Forks. The grotty NZFS hut here and the mess made in clearing a site for it were in sharp contrast to the Maungatutara hut. We boulderhopped for some hours down the river below Oronui Forks, thankful for the low level of the river, till the bush gave way to farmland. In the late afternoon we clambered out of the riverbed onto the road at Gate Station, just across the river from where we began.
Some very hospitable farmhands in a truck saved us from the 25-mile roadwalk to Ruatoria. The miles passed quickly as we talked, smoked and laughed with them, soaking up the sunshine and smiles gratefully at the end of a hard day. They plied us with much-needed refreshment at the pub, and with our stomachs and senses well-filled, Peter and I headed south and north respectively, each vowing a return.
Points of advice -
1. The Ruakumara Range is still a very wild area, little frequented by trampers. For a new and primitive experience, go there! The forest is amazing.
2. Navigation can be very difficult - see Gisbourne Lands and Survey office for aerial photos and advice, local knowledge, etc.
3. There is much game in the area - take a shootin' iron.
4. Stick to ridges (not high ones), the larger creeks and rivers. There are few tracks.