This weekend I went on my first proper tramp – a weekend trip to the Whirinaki Forest, in the Ureweras National Park in the north island. Here is my trip report written for the tramping club newsletter. I have also sneaked in a few photos that were taken by fellow trampers rather than me. I was too busy trying to keep up the pace and make it look like I knew what I was doing to take pictures. Plus their photos are just better…
To aid your appreciation of this little story I have posted a video entitled What Tramping Is Really Like here.
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My hopes of Wellington being the sort of city that can be escaped in matter of minutes in favour of the great outdoors were dashed as we discovered the state highway choc-a-bloc with others making the same assumption. Spirits stayed high though for the long drive north. Our initial delays meant we couldn’t get as far north as we had hoped, so we camped at Reid’s Farm near Taupo, a big free site next to a warm river. Within a minute of zipping up the tents, a light rain began to fall.
Our short night’s sleep was somewhat tainted by a group of revellers elsewhere on the site but we made up for it by indulging in real coffee at the service station the next morning. We arrived at the Whirinaki forest car park at 10am, when the group split into the EM and M tramps. The EM group set off and we immediately had a sense of being deep into the forest. We had good, clear paths meandering amongst lush native bush. The conditions were perfect: bright hot sun overhead, but being under the canopy meant little chance of sunburn. We had been given prior warning of the forest’s lurking danger: the ongaonga plant, a viscous stinging nettle. We accused every sharp looking leaf we saw of being the unwelcome weed, but in the end it was Dave who settled it by taking one for the team and securing a horrid sting to the arm.
Our lunch spot was a picnic bench in a beautiful clearing by a well-equipped shelter used by DOC rangers. By mid-afternoon we arrived at our night stop, the Central Whirinaki hut, which was set in a lovely open spot with high trees all around. The sun was still gloriously warm and we sat out on the deck chasing rays and spotting blue duck in the river. As we were making dinner we were joined by a larger tramping group and soon discovered that they had the same route planned as us the following day including – critically – the same hut as their destination. The realisation dawned that this meant a minimum of 21 trampers trying to sleep into a nine bed hut and trying to cook 21 dinners and breakfasts in a kitchen that would be cosy in a house of four. True to our wholesome, community spirited, good samaritan nature, we set about concocting various ways we could slow them down and beat them to Mangamate. The most inventive proposal to divert their course was quietly quashed by the trip leader, presumably anxious that he might not be invited to lead further WTMC trips if the group returned with ongaonga stings in unusual places. Jokes and joshing out of the way, Mike struck upon the miracle plan of amending our plans by doing a day-walk and returning to Central Whirinaki – leaving the other group to their mission without us spoiling their peace and allowing us to enjoy the big hut and idyllic setting for a further night.
So day three had the unexpected bonus of light packs, and the chance to visit a cave. I enjoyed my first proper day of stream crossings (“yes we cross rivers on walks in the UK, but usually by bridge”, said Paul, the other Brit) and discovered that boots take in water easier than they let it out. We had lunch at Upper Whirinaki hut. The return journey involved longer strolls through the river, which by then was sun-soaked and warm. We arrived back at Central Whirinaki hut glad to have our beds already made and enough sun left in the day to dry out our socks and boots, leaving our feet vulnerable to the sandfly invasion (damn those opportunistic beasts).
On our final day, the prospect of a late return to Wellington – combined with the 111g of pasta we had each consumed the night before – spurred us on to walk at a hearty pace back to the van and cover 16km of forest trails in four hours. Back in the bus we piled; Mike having mapped out a ‘shortcut’ via tiny winding unsealed roads to pick up the M group the other side of the forest. A long drive through deforested and partially reforested land gave us an alternative perspective on the Ureweras. “I knew where we were all along, of course”, said Mike, and we believed him, of course. A long sleepy drive home got us into Wellington as the sun was starting to go down. A lovely weekend had by all and thanks again to David for taking over the lead at short notice.
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Day 2: 16km
Day 3: 14km
Day 4: 16km
Kilometer-o-meter = 286km