Auckland Tramping Club - Classic Kaweka to Kaimanawa crossing from East to West taking southern route via Makarako.
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Party members: Michael Loo, David Cray, Tony Gibson, Dennis Brown, Sally Johanesson, Peter Waworis (Leader) - ATC.
Day One - Makahu Saddle to Ballard Hut - 5hrs
Our party of six set off on Saturday the 20 of February for a eight day adventure starting on the slopes of the eastern Kawekas and finishing at the Kaimanawa road, not far from Turangi. Two parties from the Auckland Tramping club were hoping to complete the trip from alternative directions swapping car keys midway. It had been an early start leaving Auckland at 6am with a 6 hour drive to the Makahu saddle carpark. With little wind and a cloudless sky we were soon working up asweat as we climbed the 700m to the tops. Michael & Pete were a bit off colour from some suspect lunch on route but started to come right as they travelled over the undulating tops towards Ballard hut. The drop down to Ballard was somewhat more eroded than Pete remembered on his last stay there six years before. On arrival we all quickly refilled our drink bottles and rehydrated as most had run out of water due to the extreme heat. The hut has a single occupant, Hugh, an 85 year old local just in for the night before travelling back to the Makahu saddle carpark. We all hoped we would still be able to get out tramping when we were even close to Hugh's age. Luckily for us Hugh had travelled our planned route 20 odd years ago and provided us with valuable information on the track location west of the Rangitikei river.
Day Two - Ballard Hut to Mangaturutu Hut - 5.5hrs
Fine weather the next day had us grunting up the steep climb out of Ballard with us back up on the tops by 8am. As we walked we had a greats views of the terrain we would be travelling over during the next few days. We could make out Makarako over 30km to the west which we hope to be climbing past in 4 days time. After just under 3 hours we had an early lunch at Tira Lodge. More undulating tops travels now within the bushline had us at Mangaturutu hut early afternoon. Again, some set themselves up in the hut while the rest pitched tents in the shade and everyone enjoyed a leiserly afternoon snoozing in the shade. A great sunset had us out with the cameras catching some of the great views out to the east. The mountain radio sched provided a favourable weather forecast for the next three days with a front passing thru on day six. The party travelling from the east reported a freshly recut track east of the Rangitikei river which had been a major concern with a party the previous year spending all morning climbing up onto the tops.
Day Three - Mangaturutu Hut to Harkness Hut - 5.25hrs
We awoke to yet another blue sky day and quickly were up and on our way attempting to get to Harkness before it got too hot!! The track thru to Te Puke hut dropped in and out of the bushline with some absolutely fabulous views in all directions. The views around spot height 1455 were spectacular. A steep scree slope off the tops had most of us carefully negotiating our way down while a few of the more fearless used a shuffling running technique to get to the bottom. It was starting to really heat up so we by-passed detouring to TePuke hut and instead had another early lunch on the tops above the hut. The views from the trig at 1506m provided us with a view all the way down to the hut nestled on the river flats over 500m below in elevation. The track steepened considerable as we got down towards the river with the last 500m particularly steep. Much of the track was clay based which would be a bugger in the wet!!. Most of us had run out of water by the time we got to the river so a cold drink and a quick break was very welcome. A climb out of the river had us at the hut very early afternoon where we found 2 fisherman in residence cooking their lunch. We all took the opportunity to have a wash in the river that afternoon and do some washing which dried in next to no time. The fisherman had flown in and intended spending the next week working their way out to the southern Kawakes.
Day Four - Harkness to Boyd Hut - 4.25hrs
A heavy frost overnight had us struggling to get our tents dry before depature. We we off before 7:30 as we were enjoying the lazy afternoons at a hut out of the heat of the day. This was David's first long trip so today he was steeping into the unknown. The pace and length of the days had deliberately being short and easy as we all wanted to enjoy our time out in these wonderful surroundings rather than enduring it. We planned to meet up with the east bound party today at 11am at Tussock hut so there was no mucking around as we travelled down the river. It was a welcome change to travel up the Ngaawapurua river for a fewkms before climbing out onto the tussock slopes. Before long the hut was in view and the other party were making ready to depart. Keys and stories were exchanged and they were quickly on their way. David had been absent during the discussions on various route options but we quickly located him in the hut helping himself to a venison sandwich supplied by a couple of resident hunters. Luckily for us they were flying out the next day and kindly supplied us with a great feed of fresh venison. Michael, a vegetarian had to make do with a couple of fried eggs but the smell of the cooking meat had him wavering. A happy team of trampers reluctantly left the hut and continued our journey in some seriously warm conditions. The 150m climb up to the top of the hill had us all puffing like trains and the downward slope to the Ngaruroro river flats provided welcome relief. As we broke out of the cover of the bush the views were fabulous with the steep eroded banks of the river and wide open flats. The heat was becoming oppressive as we dropped into the valley and it was a slow trip along the flats with Dennis at one point disappearing into a hole on the side of the track. Another early finish to the days hike had us enjoying the luxury of a large hut and wash for ourselves and our sweaty clothing. The views down to the airfield below the hut had me planning a winter flight into here providing a base for some good tramps to out lying huts. Michael was starting to have an issue with an eye infection probably brought on by a dirty contact lense. An eye patch was produced with many a witty comment to be made over the following days.
Day Five - Boyd Hut to Mangamaire campsite - 7 hrs
Our first overcaste day found Dennis with a leg injury after yesterdays fall and Michael's eye was extremely painful and had to remain patched. The wide open river flats provided us with a different range of sights as we travelled into the private land north west of the Boyd. We had each paid $30 to access this area which usually is the sole domain of hunters ferried in by plane or helicopter. The hut in the upper river flats of the Ngaruroro provided ample evidence that some had little regard for the environment with the hut surrounded by dozens of empty beer cans with a few unopened slabs still sitting where they were dropped off by the helicopter. Not wanting to linger we had lunch by the river before the climb up to the saddle. As we followed the narrowingvalley into the tree ine we stuck with the river and followed it until we reached a confluence. Here a marker identified the route up the spur to the Parerawera ridge where we lost the track and stumbled around for a while before picking it up 500m to the south. The route down to the Mangamaire was straight forward and provided good views of tomorrows climb up onto the tops. The cloud was lowering and providing us with ample evidence that the forecast front m aybe arriving sooner than forecast. We struggled to find some flat clear ground to pitch the tents with those carrying bivvy bags strategically placed next to Pete's large shaped fly. The radio sched that night confirmed what we were experiencing withheavy rain and high winds forecast for midday the following day. We had a day in reserve if the weather was too unfavourable the next day but some planning was in order to assist navigation. Pete loaded the GPS with enough waypoints to permit travel in poor visibility while David noted compass bearings as a backup. The rain arrived much earlier than expected and those in bivvy bags quickly moved under shelter.
Day Six - Mangamaire campsite to Waipakihi Hut - 10.5hrs
Wet tents compensated for our ever lightening packs the following morning as we departed into the mist and rain. The climb out of the Mangamaire quickly was obscured by the clouds. The poorly marked route provided little evidence of the direction we should travel so the GPS was utilised to navigate us over the tops. Unfortunately the stunning views afforded to our east bound party only 4 days before were totally lost to us. The winds increased to around 60km with horizontal rain and hail. Those that weren't wearing polypro leggings didn't need any encouragement at this time to stop and put them on. We were much to wet and cold to stop for any breaks so for the next 4 hours we navigated our way along the wide open ridge tops before picking up the track down to the Rangitikei. Two hours later we arrived at the Rangitikei to find it rising quickly from all the rain so a safe place to cross was identified, a quick refresh on river crossing techniques and then across we went. The water was thigh deep and easily handled by this experienced group. We stopped at a campsite on the other side for lunch and discussed our options. Heavy thunderstorms were forecast for later that afternoon, had we already have experienced the worst or was there more to come? We were all wet and tried but as the Waipakihi hut was only three hours away we decided to press on rather than risk a wet night in tents. The climb up was easier than expected but there were a few weary trampers as we crested Junction tops and dropped down towards the hut. After just over 10 hours tramping we arrived at the hut and quickly got a hot drink into us. Much wet gear was hung up to dry and we all had time to contemplate the day's travel. Big climbs, no views, high winds with rain and hail, slippery descend down to the Rangitikei and having to navigate by GPS. But to compensate we had a dry hut to sleep in and everyone tried but elated that we had completed the hardest leg of the trip. It was a very contended team that went to bed that night knowing we had a rest day tomorrow and a chance to hopefully recharge the flagging batteries.
Day Seven - Rest Day
Friday brought the sun back and quickly everyone had the gear scattered around the hut drying out. A few, Sally, Tony and Pete climbed back up to Junction tops to see what they didn't get a chance to enjoy yesterday - views of the terrain that took over 10 hours to cross. They were well worth the hours effort to get back up to the tops and a few hours were spent exploring the ridge tops enjoying the views. Michaels was now having problems with his other eye, luckily he can now see out of his previously patched eye. A days rest provided us a chance to make the most of the environment and chill out before entering back into the hum drum routine tomorrow when we walk out to civilisation. It had been a fabulous week away, enough of a challenge each day for the hard core and easy enough for those wanting to spend some time enjoying the outdoors without long days tramping. Everyone agreed that doing the trip in reverse would be something all would consider in two years time. The radio sched that night provided a few headaches as we couldn't communicate with our other party. We ended up talking to Ross Thompson in Auckland who relayed the other parties position. They had bugged out on Thursday(bad weather day) after being nearly blown off the Kaweka tops. They had swapped cars at Turangi and had gone back to Auckland leaving Graeme McGowan in Turangi waiting for a lift back with us. We arranged to be picked up the next day at the roadend at 1pm. Discussions over the course of the day had us all agreeing this had been one of the most enjoyable tramps we had ever done. The terrain, relaxed short days (mostly) and great comradeship had all contributed to this. All agreed that they would like to complete the trip in the reverse direction in 1-2 years time.
Day Eight - Waipakihi hut to roadend - 5hrs
A mist blanketed the valley as we climbed up onto the Umakarikari tops on another blue sky morning. Seven fine days out of eight, not bad even for late February. After a days rest we travelled at a quick pace and enjoyed the views out to Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. It was't long before we dropped off the tops into the treeline and the welcome shade. We arrived back just as Darryl and Graeme arrived with the vehicles and it wasn't long before we were in Turangi enjoying a hot shower at Darryl and Jose Couchman. Before long we were driving back to Auckland and away from the enjoyable lifestyle we had enjoyed over the previous week.