Date: 29/3/2013 – 1/4/2013
Location: Kaweka Ranges
It started as a cold day with little light. The motorway was mostly devoid of signs of life, and houses were barely awakening from their serene slumber. The crew met outside the library and mumbled out some introductions as our brains started to remember how to talk. Soon we were on our way. We snaked along the highway towards Napier, passing various mobile
police restaurants. After a quick stop in Napier, we were on our merry way again. The Kaweka promised land did not disappoint. There were trees, windy roads, road signs and crashed army trucks. Everything one looks for in a national forest. At the Lakes carpark the journey began. Five university students became five travelling sages, ascending through the dry green pine giants. The earth was yellowish brown with visible signs of cracking. A light haze blanketed all around as the effects of the summer drought were in full blossom. After a moderate march skywards, the party eventually cleared the bush line and eye candy of the surrounding forest and rolling mountain ranges beset our eyes. Then came the descent towards Kiwi Saddle Hut – built and maintained by the Heretaunga Tramping Club. While we walked the sun sank over the horizon and eventually cast a large silhouette over Mt Ruapehu. The hut was quaintly tucked away behind some trees and had a cosy feel to it. It was well maintained. The spaghetti dinner with sautéed onions, portobello mushrooms, capsicum and cheese was prepared by our head chef Keith and sous chef Blair. The sages promptly devoured it like a hungry pack
of wolves. Later, we kicked back over a cup of hot chocolate with condensed milk and exchanged stories of terrorist shape-shifting raccoons before heading to bed. The next morning started with a hearty bowl of diabetes-inducing porridge and a small walk through the bush, past Gun’s Camp, meeting our first people of the day. From there, the party clambered out of the bush and stayed on the ridgeline for most of the day. It was a slow ascent through the rolling ridge, often with a 360 degree view of the mountain ranges and dark green pine all around. We could see Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe in the
distance, fading in and out of the cloud towards the west. In many places, steep cliffs dropped on either side of the track and connected to the valleys below. Lunch happened on Studholme Saddle in near perfect weather and life was good. Not long after setting foot towards Kaweka J, a mad rabid dog set upon us. Its menacing jagged teeth and towering stature dwarfed our existence. But the sages would not be so easily deterred. By entering sage battle formation our collective efforts beat back the howling dog. Step by step, inch by inch, we crept forward. The dog was relentless. It tossed.
It turned. It threw muddy fits. But at the end of the day, our liberally dispensed sticks of justice prevailed and the mad dog acknowledged our power. The sages were enlightened by the mighty Kaweka J and hastily moved on (sages are weak against cold elements). Having maxed out our Peaks XP for the day, we journeyed down Makahu Saddle in our first death defying descent, walking a fine line between the jaws of sure death on a thin line of safety.
Dominie Hut provided a quick reprieve and more eye candy before our continued fall from the heavens. Having mistakenly missed our turnoff at Trials Spur, the party proceeded along Makahu Spur and used our sage wisdom and care to navigate down treacherous cliffs and slips in what turned out to be wonderful training for the days ahead. Slip and slide. Fun for the whole family. Makahu Saddle Hut beckoned to us but our rightful beds were plucked from us by a group of Korean hikers who had brought half a kitchen and were in the midst of cooking up some amazing smelling Korean BBQ and kimchi meals. After some exploration, we set up camp in a small clearing next to the most luxurious DoC toilet we had ever set our eyes and bums on – it was extraordinarily clean and smelled like bubblegum inside. Next, our powers were used to find water. We met a lady working on kiwi conservation who offered us tank water, which was graciously accepted. She had been tracking two kiwi birds in the region and had a cute kiwi tracking dog which enthusiastically wagged up to confirm the presence of sages and most definitely not kiwi (birds). Dinner this night consisted of couscous with vegetables, cheese, chocolate and wonderful dinner conversation about guns, military treaties, gun regulations, and music. Our camp was ambushed in the evening by a ninja
possum foraging through our food bags and once again the sticks of justice came out, this time to chase the ninja possum away. Day three started out with a gentle uphill stroll through some bush and clearings before eventually coming to Donald Canyon. At this point, I would like to note that according to the original email, we were to cross it “like a honey badger”. Some members of the party were under the impression that honey badgers were furry cute animals that would stroll
and skip happily through the forest. This is not the way of the honey badger, nor the Kaweka Easter sages. On our hands and feet we carefully dropped into the bottom of the canyon, through slips and steep drops. All that ninja training from Makahu Spur was now put into full practice. At the bottom of the canyon everyone had lunch and basked in the glorious rays of the sun, while tasting the raw sweet goodness of the Donald River. Once rejuvenated enough to move again, our steep climb on the other side through many slips began. Looking back where we came from we wondered how a track was even possible through the bushy cliff side. At Mackintosh Hut we laid around like tortoises, reading and soaking in the afternoon sun while celebrating our achievements of the day. The streams had all dried up but thankfully a water tank had been recently installed at the hut. Trampers from Taupo, Wellington and 24 25 Hastings were also enjoying the afternoon sun, including a fellow who had walked 25 km that day from Makino Hut. Around 6pm a group of five Germans turned up in t-shirts and shorts, with no packs, no water, four litres of wine and only cellphones for light. They had come from Mackintosh Spur (a four to five hour trip) and intended to head back the same way that day. After everyone at the hut unsuccessfully tried to convince them to stay the night, they were offered some survival blankets. They took one, and remarked that they did not need any more as one of them was carrying a sweat towel. Like the wind they were on their merry way, never to be heard from again (and presumed safe or dead). The evening meal consisted of rice risotto with capsicum, cheese and shiitake mushrooms and dessert, as well as musings over the day’s events. Keith, who bivvyed out, heard kiwi during the night. On the final day’s journey we traversed through more forest and gorges. About two kilometres from the carpark we took a wrong turn and ended up on a path going up. Shortly after, GPS alarms went off and we backtracked to a suspicious junction where the dismissed route ended up being the correct route. This dismissed route had logs put at the junction to discourage entry, and the track markers had been removed. After deciding this was indeed the correct route to take, we proceeded along this overgrown path with no markers. Eventually we made it out with no obstructions or slips along the way, and track markers resumed eventually, before disappearing again closer to the carpark. The sages then underwent an inverse sage transformation. The trip was not complete without indulging ourselves with fatty fast food in Napier before battling the last of the Easter traffic jams on the way back to Auckland.