All posts by Keyman

Pouakai Circuit, Taranaki, New Zealand

A couple of days after my hike in the Tararua Ranges, I drove to Taranaki for another hike. Like that earlier hike, the weather got in the way, but I still got to walk on Mt Taranaki after trying several times this year.

Since being back in New Zealand, I’ve been planning the Around the Mountain hike in Taranaki. But in February, a wave of heavy rain came over the North Island on the week I was to do it, so I flew to Queenstown and did The Routeburn trek instead. In March, another wave of heavy rain took the entirety of NZ, so again I cancelled it. As the cooler months were upon us, I left it until the end of the year. The Around the Mountain track has high and low trails along most of its length to allow for people wanting different grades of difficulty. However, there are three parts where there is only one option, and during the winter of heavy rain, a slip wiped out the largest of the three, closing the hike indefinitely. So I was left with its baby sister hike, The Pouakai Circuit, which can be done over 2 days, but I decided to split it over 3.

Day 1 – North Egmont Information Centre to Holly Hut

I stayed in a hostel in New Plymouth and on the morning of the hike, watched cloud cover the entire region. I couldn’t see the mountain from the city, but the weather was due to clear up. So, in the afternoon I headed out to the North Egmont Information Centre. Even as I approached the mountain, it was enveloped in clouds. I spoke to the lady at the information centre and watched the repeating weather forecast on their TV.

At 1pm I finally set out up the manicured wooden steps following the sign that said I should be walking that way.

According to the topographic map on my phone, I had about 90 minutes climbing before I met the trail that would take me around the mountain and then another 2 and a half hours until I arrived at Holly Hut. After 30 minutes, the clouds blew off and I finally got a good look at the mountain.

The climb wasn’t difficult and the steps made it easier. After a while, as I pushed on, the steps turned into a stony trail.

The main Holly Hut Trail was muddier with fewer of the wooden steps and more raw rock to climb over. However, beside the trail were pallet sized stacks of wrapped wood dropped off by chopper. It looked like they intend to lay a kind of boardwalk along the track, which would stop the mud and would also make it easier, not to mention more accommodating for tourists. I walked on and eventually came over a ridge to see the Ahukawakawa – the Sphagnum Moss Swamp – nestled in the crown of several lesser peaks.

The muddy trail continued joining a boardwalk for the last hundred metres to the Holly Hut. In the hut were two other walkers, an American girl and a local guy. We chatted and drank Korean alcohol she’d brought with her from the Pouakai Hut the night before. Then when the hut lights came on – solar powered with a darkness sensor – we all retired to our separate sleeping rooms, of which there were three in the Hut.

Day 2 – Holly Hut to Pouakai Hut

The sky was clear overnight and plentiful stars were out and it stayed that way into the morning. The local guy had left early, and the American girl and I ate breakfast and chatted. Then after she headed off, I walked the side trek down to Bells Falls behind the hut. As today’s walk is short – 2 hours – adding an extra hour would give me something to do. I headed out down a less defined track avoiding large puddles and pushing grasses aside to get through. I even got a good view out to the sea in the west.

I followed the trail attached to the side of a large mound The Dome, dropping some two hundred metres in height until I came to the junction with the closed Around the Mountain trail. Five minutes later and I was rock hopping across the side of the river to see Bells Falls.

I climbed back along the trail back towards the hut. I had almost arrived when I heard a chopper overhead. When I came out at the hut, there were workmen there and the chopper that had delivered bags of firewood. They were also swapping out the shit crates – the large plastic crates the long drop toilets sit on that fill up with… well, shit, and toilet paper. I had to wait until they’d finished and flown away before I could continue.

I donned my pack and headed off just as two ladies with day packs arrived. I walked the 10 minutes back to the junction and took the route downhill towards the Ahukawakawa swamp. The trail is a wooden boardwalk all the way, and half way down I met a girl sitting in an information booth. We chatted before I continued on.

When I got down to the swamp itself, it was mostly tussock grass. I continued across it and over the Stony River on a footbridge – the river flows to the west where it cascades down Bells Falls. I climbed the hill on the far side on manicured wooden steps and a fair way up looked back to see the Ahukawakawa, the river, the mountain and the little green dot that was the Holly Hut at it’s base.

I pushed on, getting to the top of the ridge and around to a nice rocky outcrop beside the trail where I stopped for lunch. After eating, I continued on behind a large mound poetically named Hump. On the other side, I came to a rocky area with the trail heading down. I followed it for several minutes before arriving at the hut. I chose a bed and dropped my pack. Many groups of day walkers were coming up from the Mangorei Track. They would come across the deck to use the toilets, or go inside and have lunch on the tables. Across from the hut is another mound, this one unnamed. I chose to climb it to get away from the daywalkers and sat looking back at the Pouakai Hut.

Later, an older gentleman arrived, and we chatted for the afternoon. He’d come up from the Mangorei road end just for the night to relive his youth where he’d climbed Taranaki six times. Later an older couple arrived for the night, they’d walked the same route I had, but instead of stopping at Holly Hut had crossed the Ahukawakawa. They would be finishing the circuit the next day with me.

That afternoon I got several shots of New Plymouth when the clouds weren’t hanging low over it.

And even one in the dead of the night.

Day 3 – Pouakai Hut to Mangorei Rd

In the middle of the night, the wind picked up and the clouds swallowed us. When we awoke, visibility was at 20m or so. To finish the circuit, the three of us would have to climb over Henry Peak with the heavy wind gusts. I climbed up to the junction without my pack to check out the situation and found the winds rather strong.

We decided that climbing a mountain without any cover would be dangerous. The lone older guy offered to drive us around to the information centre when we got down, which sealed the deal for the three of us. We headed down the manicured wooden steps for the next two hours.

At the bottom, the lone man’s wife met us with their camper van and were driven to the end. This is the route we should have taken it.

Overall
Without completing the last part of The Pouakai Circuit, I would rate the walk as fairly easy due to much of it being manicured. I do like how they are making it more accessible for tourists and day walkers and I hope they fix the trail for Around the Mountain so that one day I can come back and complete.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Alpha and Omega Track – Tararua Forest Park, Wairarapa, New Zealand

At the beginning of Spring, I set out on a road trip around New Zealand’s North Island to see some friends and walk a couple of hikes. After several days I found my way to Masterton preparing to head into the Tararua Ranges.

As I didn’t wish to spend the entire walk in the forest, I planned a walk across the open ridges, staying in huts as I went. The weather can change quickly in the ranges, and being a cautious walker I was prepared to change plans if needed, and indeed, I did. So, this hike is different to my original plan, which is described later.

Day 1 – Waiohine Gorge Carpark to Alpha Hut

I set out from my accommodation in Masterton and drove into the Tararua ranges on a dirt road, parking at the Waiohine Gorge Carpark. I then headed out from the carpark laden with pack and across the swing bridge over the Waiohine River.

On the other side, the trail began climbing steeply immediately. The track was thin and knotted with roots, moist and slippery underfoot, with puddles of mud along the way. I began at around 170m above sea level and climbed to around 570m before it flattened out a little.

I continued on, climbing another 100m over a longer distance before the trail headed down, to come out at Cone Hut built in 1946. I stopped here for lunch. I also noted that a previous walker had marked in the hut logbook that they had left a small bag in the Alpha Hut. I would keep an eye out for it.

To continue, I had to cross the river and had bought sandals for this occasion. Before changing I spent some time looking for a way to cross, but with not luck I waded across in my sandals and up the bank. Back in my boots, I began climbing up the Bull Mound Track towards the Bull Mound, although I never did figure out why it was called that.

The first climb of the day had been rough, but this trail was worse, steeper, muddier, more tangled in roots. At one point, it was entirely blocked, forcing my to take time to find a way around. My river crossing was at around 320m, and three hours later I reached the sodden top of Bull Mound at 1060m. After 900m, the trees had begun to change, growing barely taller than myself, and almost completely covered in moss.

And, of course, the best view when climbing so long in the forest, the exit into the high alpine region.

But, I couldn’t take a rest as it was cold and wet crossing the open area, so I pushed on and into the cloud layer. Fifty metres later and I crossed the top of a small hill blanketed in sodden moss.

Stepping carefully, I marched on before beginning a descent onto a saddle known as Hells Gate. Icy wind swept up from one side to another, but thankfully there were plenty of thin trees.

On the other side, I climbed to nearly 1200m, thankfully leaving the wind behind, but my breath was coming icy and temperatures had dropped. I descended to below 1100 before climbing again. The topographic map I was following on my phone didn’t have my hut on it, so I assumed to was near the summit of Alpha, still 200-300 metres higher than I was. But not long after, I came out of the trees to find the hut.

I rushed inside, and tried to get the fire going to get some warmth, but alas, none of the wood would light as it was all wet, and not being a serviced hut, firewood wasn’t periodically dropped off. I quickly cooked some food, changed into warmer clothes and still freezing, got into my sleeping bag in hopes of getting warm. During this time I did locate the small bag left behind and squirrelled it away in my pack.

Day 2 – Alpha Hut to Tutuwai Hut

I’d gone to sleep breathing into my sleeping bag, and woke up in a cloud of warm air even though it was freezing outside. I even had to throw my sleeping bag off, and remove some of my thermal clothing as I was too hot. There had been a change in weather overnight, the icy clouds were getting a push along by some pretty heavy gusts of wind. The next couple of days were to have been spent in the open ridgetops, and as a cautious hiker, I felt that high gusts on the icy ridges was not going to be safe (or fun), so I decided to descend back to the lower huts for the rest of the hike.

After packing I headed back along my entry the trail. I descended to Hells Gate, which was again windy, but not as cold as the afternoon before, and on the other side I came to a junction and headed up towards the summit of Omega which opened out onto the rocking area. Low clouds hung over the area but I got my first views of the low lying lands of the Wairarapa. I also had reception on my phone and contacted the owner of the small bag, informing her that I would send to her when I exit the park.

The trail down was similar to the Bull Mound Track I’d climbed the day before. But I would imagine climbing it would have been more difficult. Eventually, after several hours, I came out at the Tauherenikau River I’d crossed upstream the day before. Again I studied the best place to cross, swapped into my sandals and headed across. I’d decided that I would be staying in the Tutuwai Hut that night, and as that was not far from where I’d crossed, I kept my sandals on and walked up the track. I got to an open area with a lunch table, but no hut. It took me a few minutes to locate the hut hidden up the hill – the sign had been smashed. I settled in for the afternoon, found dry wood and got a fire going. Practicing fire making skills is always a good thing!

Just as darkness fell, a pair of young guys appeared, the only other people I’d seen in the two days I’d been in the Tararuas.

Day 3 – Tutuwai Hut to Totara Flats Hut

After a warm night in the hut, I contemplated whether to exit the park or find another hut to stay in for the night. I’d set aside four days in the Tararuas so I located another hut far enough away to give me a fair walk, but also within a fair walk ofwhere I’d parked my car. I followed the river for an hour back to the Cone Hut I’d stopped at on my first day, passing three middle aged guys going to the Tutuwai Hut.

I stopped at Cone Hut for a bit as it had begun to rain lightly, but when it didn’t stop after 15 minutes I headed on. I climbed up the track I’d come in on the first day but split off towards the Cone Saddle. The sign said 30 minutes to the saddle, but I’d discovered that most of the timeframes on the signs are works of fiction, often heavily underestimating the times… it says 1 hour to the hut, 3 hours later I arrived. In many cases, other walkers had scratched off the original times and added more realistic ones. I climbed on, and arrived at the saddle 45 min later.

Perhaps I should have climbed the extra 500m to top of Cone peak and followed the ridge down, but I chose the easy path and headed down towards the Waiohone river. I crossed a small plateau and stopped for some lunch before continuing down to the river.

For the rest of the day, I followed the trails beside the river where I could. There was little climbing and I could take a rock hopping option instead of going up onto the knoll. There were plenty of flat areas, although this is also where the muddy ground is most prevalent. At one point the trail led me up a knoll and I decided to try rock hopping instead, but ran into a dead end and would have to wade into the river to get past, so I went back.

Then I came out onto the Totarani Flats, and for the next 45 minutes it felt like I was crossing a grassy paddock, but in slight drizzle. At one point I found a dry covered spot to have a rest, but was harassed by sand flies, so after five minutes continued on. The trail headed into the woods, and soon after the hut appeared.

As with the day before, I set about making a fire and got ready for the evening. An hour later, a lone runner appeared, stopped in to say hi and sign the hut book, the ran on again. She had started her ‘jog’ 12 hours earlier and still had a bit to go. Trail runners are insane.

Day 4 – Totara Flats Hut to Waiohine Gorge Carpark

The next morning, the weather was fine and once ready, I headed down to the bridge to have a look before donning my pack and leaving. I retraced my steps along yesterday’s trail through the flats, enjoying the sunshine. I crossed the long sections of flat trail and mud to eventually arrive at the the junction I’d passed coming from Cone Saddle. The sign said 2 hours, but who knows.

The trail turned out to be more difficult, with plentiful knotted roots and rocks. It felt like I was climbing over hurdles, up and down and up and down. 2 hours in and I was only half way towards the carpark. The final hour of the walk, and I noticed the trail was more manicured, with sections of boardwalk, cut steps lined with wood and long easy trails. I eventually arrived at the bridge I had crossed at the beginning and crossed over to my car, where I took a rest, changed and prepared to exit the path. After I’d left the Tararua Ranges, I stopped at Carteton and shipped the small bag back to the lady. Later that day, as I was relaxing at my friends’ farm south of Palmerston North, the clouds over the ranges where I’d just been looked ominous.

The Original Plan

The original plan had me going past Alpha hut, along the ridge lines known as the Dress Circle up to heights of 1500m plus to Kime hut, then the next day along the open ridge line to Maungahuka hut. In the cold wind and under cloud cover, the walk wouldn’t have been fun, and with no guarantee of heating at the huts I feel I made the best decision. Then from Maungahuka hut to the carpark I estimate the day would have been between 10 and 12 hours, with long steep descents and a huge climb. If I had done in mid summer it would have been more fun, and perhaps I would have split the last day.

Overall

The walk was good although as I had chosen to not go into the high open ridge tops, the majority of the hike was in the forest. The huts were pleasant, well, the ones where I could get the fire going. I felt cozy and enjoyed the warm solitude of the place. I was prepared for the possibility that I might not be able to get to the higher areas, and had alternative options. Perhaps if I’d chosen early summer, I would have had a different experience: more heat, more alpine, but then more people to contend with on the trail and in huts. Still, I give it a good rating and add it to my experience.

I think I would walk in the Tararua Ranges again.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Aitutaki Island, Cook Islands – Impresions

While staying on Rarotonga, fellow backpackers mentioned travelling to Aitutaki, the Cook Islands’ second most popular location. So, I booked a flight and went to see what it was all about.

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The Island
Aitutaki is 45 minutes by small plane north of Rarotonga and is the main island of an Atol of 15 islands is a loose equilateral triangle, surrounding a much more defined lagoon. Indeed, many people fly to the island for a day trip, with an hour long tour of the island, and a half day lagoon tour.

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The atol is vastly quieter than Rarotonga, with fewer locals also. Some tourists have said the locals live more poorly here, I think they don’t need the lavish housing of Rarotonga or NZ. The community is more friendly, not that those on Rarotonga aren’t, the Aitutaki community is just more friendly. And, if you stay more than a couple of days, you quickly become a member of said community. Unlike Rarotonga, Aitutaki has no dogs, so the cats have taken over, making it their island.

Lagoon Tour
On my first full day on the island, I was collected in the morning and taken out on the water with 16 others for a full day tour. We headed towards Honeymoon Island, stopping to snorkel on the way. Unfortunately my old waterproof camera decided not to work, but it was an enjoyable swim with some giant blue trevally and a rusted shipwreck.

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Honeymoon island is the classic tropical island, and would be empty except for the Kite Surfing school in it’s only hut.

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We crossed to Maina island, where we stopped for lunch, a fantastic feed of fresh tuna steaks, chicken and local salads, including the classic curried papaya.

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It was then back onto the boat to our second snorkelling spot. We passed a 2000 year old Brain Coral as we swam along a series of bouys eventually meeting the boat in a metre of water. The bar opened and we drank beer as we floated in the warm water while a giant white trevally swam around us. Our third stop had to be cut short as the wind was picking up and the water was getting a little dangerous, but we got a quick dip to see some blue and purple coral.

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We then stopped off at Tekopua island, also known as One Foot Island, for a walk around and another beer. There’s a post office on this little island, so I handed over my passport and got a stamp. It was then back to Aitutaki and the end of an excellent day on the bay. That night, the guys in the hostel, kite-surfers who had been there for two months, had cooked curried fish and curried papaya. As I said, community.

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Scooter Adventure
With a day and a half to spare on the island, I called the hostel owner looking for a scooter and he brought me his personal one on loan. Unlike Rarotonga, you don’t need a licence to ride on Aitutaki, this gave me free reign of the island and I took full advantage.

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I found some prime snorkelling sites, and got in on a couple, although it was murky in both.

I found some good cafes, the Koru Cafe at the end of the Airport Runway, and the Avatea Cafe at the other end of the Island, serving amazing fish tacos. I found my way to a Marine Research facility where they were breeding clams, both the small local ones and the giant Australian ones for repopulating the lagoon.

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With the aide of the scooter, I climbed the two higher ‘peaks’ on the island, barely over 100m, but still providing excellent views. This is from Piraki…

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… and the tallest at 124m, Maungapu.

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Then as darkness fell, one of hostel mates snuck us into a local resort where some of his friends were performing after the local feast. It was nice to see the traditional dancing and music for the first time.

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Impressions
While I was only on the island three nights, I felt that was about enough to see what the island had to offer. I liked the quietness away from the crowds in Rarotonga, but in turn, it was a little too quiet for a tourist. Still, it felt like the real Cook Islands and not the tourist centre that is the main island.

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Until next time,
The World Wanderer.

Rarotonga Island, Cook Islands – Impressions

Three and a half hours by plane north east of New Zealand is Rarotonga, the largest and capital island of the Cook Islands.

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As COVID lockdowns ease across New Zealand, I skipped out on winter for a bit and shot off to this tropical paradise. Here are some of my explorations during my time there.

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The Island
Rarotonga is surrounded by a reef where waves crash sometimes a hundred or more metres out. The shallow lagoon it provides makes plentiful snorkelling available right from the beach, assuming clear waters on windless days. The island sits atop a 3000m volcano with 600m sticking out of the water. Thankfully, Rarotonga has been dormant for millions of years.

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The inner parts of the island are hilly, with many climbable albeit forest covered peaks. On the south east is the largest lagoon with four explorable small islands. As a tropical island, there are huge amounts of sun, sand, palm trees, coconuts and, of course, mosquitoes.

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A road runs around the coast and is a constant buzz of motorcycles, scooters and small vehicles. Two buses run in opposite directions on an almost hourly basis, circling in about 50-75 minutes depending on number of stops. Bussing is affordable enough that you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of sitting your scooter license and its associated costs. Much of the island is on ‘Island Time’, though, so the buses don’t operate on Sundays, and businesses tend to close early.

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Rarotonga is a dog island, with dogs everywhere. While most run loose, they are collared but aren’t wild, having their own territories around the Island. They tend to get excited when you walk along the beach, but ignore them and they lose interest quickly enough.

Round the Island Walk
With no buses running Sundays, what better day to walk the entire ring road of the Island? At about 32km, it’s a fair walk in the winter tropical heat, thankfully at around 27-28ºC with only 70% humidity. Still warm, but not hideous.

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Thankfully in many places there is an offshore wind, and the shore is fairly close to the road. Also, thankfully, there’s a store at least every kilometre selling all manner of refreshments.

The walk took me about 6 hours with most being flat. My problem with flat walks, is that I tend to walk too fast, sustaining around 5.5km an hour with few breaks. This caused my Tibialis Anterior muscles – the front muscles below the knee – to be in pain for the next three days.

The island has plenty to see. The south has the best views out to the ocean, while the south east, around the second largest town, Muri, has the best lagoon views and its four smaller islands. The north is the site of the main township, Avarua and the North west is the airport, where tourists tend to hover waiting to watch planes fly over. The island’s peaks can be seen from all sides, although I felt the best views are the north and the east.

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Raumaru Walk
A couple of days after my Island Circuit walk, I decided to climb one of the hills near my hostel, on the island’s western side. The start of the walk is near where I was staying, so together with one of the girls from the hostel, I headed out in the heat of the morning.

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We cut along a road to the inland circular road and climbed an easy dirt road to the trailhead. From here we followed a dirt track skimming under branches. It wasn’t a hard walk, more of a steady gentle climb. The main issue was the heat with sweat pouring off us for much of it. It had rained overnight, and showered twice during the walk making the path slippery even in my hiking boots.

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About a kilometre and a half into the climb, the trail came to a rock scramble, with a knotted rope and climbing struts hammered into the rock wall. I got a few metres up, and with a good ten more to go, I decided against proceeding. I could have made it, but was concerned about coming down on the slippery rock, and my companion was adamant she didn’t wish to climb. Taking advantage of what views we did have, we headed back down.

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Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise
There are many cruises in the Lagoon out from Muri, I chose Captain Tama’s as they seemed very popular. And, indeed, on the day we had four boats and about 80 people, not including the ‘captains’.

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The weather, however, was not the greatest, and we were told the snorkelling might not be the best due to the murky waters, but we were heading out to see what was possible.

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We got out near the edge of the lagoon, but found it indeed too murky and rough to snorkel. Annoying, as this was why I came, but it is what it is. We headed back to one of the islands for lunch, a show and a bit of a swim in the shallow but still murky waters. Then it was across the bay and back to the main island and home.

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Cross Island Walk
While the Cross Island walk can be done without a guide, I chose to go with one to hear stories of the island and its local flora and fauna. Pa was the guide I wanted to walk with, a local hero, but it wasn’t to be.

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Pa had been crossing the island on tours barefoot for 35 years, doing more than 5000 times. However, when COVID hit, and at the ripe old age of 70, he retired, handing the reins to his niece’s husband. He was awarded the above monument for his efforts.

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The walk was still good, and I learned a lot following Bruce, with the walk being fairly easy and the partial climb up The Needle on ropes and chains fun and the views across the island great.

One other in our small group struggled due to fitness levels, which slowed the walk, but as it was only a half day walk anyway, there was plenty of time.

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We ended at the Papua Waterfall with lunch provided before being dropped back at the hostel.

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Markets
There are two main markets on the island, The Punanga Nut day markets, every morning but Sunday in Avarua, and the Muri Night Markets, 3 nights a week. Both offer different experiences and were worth the visit. The Punanga Day Markets are the classic markets, selling clothes, food, drinks, and on Saturday mornings some of the island’s best selections of fruit, vegetables and local cooking. While it’s quiet most of the week, Saturday morning can get busy with tourists.

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The Muri Night Markets is more of an outdoor food court surrounded by food shacks. While there was some local food types, there were many typical foods, such as waffles or pizza on offer. The atmosphere, however, was still great.

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Snorkelling
As the island is surrounded by a shallow lagoon, if the weather is right, there are many good places to snorkel. I had several occasions to to get in the water, even hiring fins to make getting around a little easier.

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I was able to spy many different varieties of fish during my sessions, some the length of my arm. I was even able to see several Moray Eels while swimming, usually just poking their heads from holes, but on one occasion, one at full swim.

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I had brought my old waterproof camera, and used this until one day it just stopped working. After that, I had to do what I could without it.

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Impressions
Overall, my time in Rarotonga was most enjoyable. A couple of weeks away from New Zealand’s winter on a tropical island. While it was more expensive than I was expecting but not surprising given COVID shut down the country for most of 2 years. I got to see many sights, both physically and culturally, and while the Cook Islands’ culture has its similarities in NZ’s, it was good to see the differences. A fun overall trip to what I am calling Little New Zealand.

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Until Next Time

The World Wanderer

Cape Brett Track – Northland, New Zealand

With winter and rain on the horizon, my hiking season is coming to an end. Nevertheless, with a short gap of sun I did find an interesting overnight walk and shot off up to the Bay of Islands in the Northland province.

The Bay of Islands houses Russell, site of the first European settlement in New Zealand. And, at the eastern edge of the bay is the Cape Brett Peninsula, a forest covered area with a lighthouse at its tip. One of the islands just out from the end of the peninsula is also home to one of the region’s better known tourists spots, a natural arch of rock called the Hole in the Rock.

After my drive north from Auckland, I stayed at a backpackers in Rawhiti, right near the beginning of the track, driving a winding road to Russell for dinner.

Day 1 – Oke Bay to Cape Brett Hut – 17.3km – 8 hours

My backpackers is a kilometre from the trailhead of the Cape Brett Track, and my parking was included in the price, otherwise places charge NZ$10-20 for the night. I walked along the road past Kaingahoa Bay, to Hauai Bay, through the waharoa and up stairs.

With Oke Bay at my left, I began the climb up the highest peak on the track, Pukehuia, although at 345m it isn’t as tall as some of my previous climbs. Most of the walk will be through forests, so I am resigned to just enjoying what I can. As the climb to the top of Pukehuia is over 2km, the track is not particularly steep. But as the day is warm, I made it to the rest stop at the top covered in sweat, but with great views of the Bay of Islands.

I stopped for a brief break, and when I was about to leave, I met one of the three other people I’d see during the walk. I set off again, and on the far side of the hill is a track leading south which is marked as closed. There’s also a good view south to another pair of rocky peninsulas.

At the base of Pukehuia is another closed track, this one also leading to the remains of Whangamumu whaling station. Soon after, I reached the predator proof fence that crosses the entire peninsula. It’s an electrified fence that keeps the possums out, although the gate was open when I arrived, I closed it once I’d gone through. For my second climb of day, smaller than Pukehuia, and the second highest of the walk, with a pair of peaks which I called the nipples. As I climbed down the first of these nipples, I passed the other two people I would see on the trail, and continued on to the far side of the 2nd nipple, where there’s a shelter. I stopped in an open grassy areas nearby for lunch with Outu Bay below.

Over the next several kilometres the trail descended to the Wait ui Stream before climbing steps to the junction of the only side trip of the walk and location where the Water Taxi collects people. As it would have added an hour to the walk, I skipped it and continued on up the hill to be regaled by views of the end of the peninsula and climbs yet to come.

As I drew closer I could make out the track climbing along the sheer cliff face on the most dangerous part of the walk. Thankfully, today the wind was calm.

After the fourth and shortest climb of the day, I came to the cliffs leading up to the entrance of the aforementioned most dangerous part of the walk, the clifftops.

At one point, on the way to the pole that marks the highest point, there’s a guard rail to protect walkers. Beyond the highest point the thin trail leads along the top of the 200m high cliff.

And from this last rise, the lighthouse came into view, along with Piercy Island, home of the Hole in the Rock.

I climbed down to the old lighthouse, which is now redundant, replaced by the smaller (a tenth of its size), stronger, electric powered one on the other side. From that vantage point, I could for the first time see the old lighthouse keeper’s hut below, which has been converted into the Cape Brett Hut by the Department of Conservation. The rest of the walk is down the hill on long switchbacks, but after a long day walking, my legs are a bit like jelly.

On arrival at the hut, I discovered there was already a dozen people there that had walked in earlier in the day. The hut also had its own cookers, pots and cutlery. I had been warned that as it’s late summer, the water may have run out, so I carred in extra water. But, I found there was still water in the tanks, although I still used my own water first. After reading for a while, I cooked my dinner and returned to my bunk for an early start the next day.

Day 2 – Cape Brett Hut to Oke Bay – 17.3km – 8 hours

More people had arrived after me the night before, and the hut was rather busy. There was also a cyclone pushing down on Northland, so most people in the hut were arranging to catch the water taxi before the seas got too rough. As I hadn’t seen a single person walking back the other way on day 1, I assumed they’d also got the water taxi too. Maybe I’m too cheap, but I came to walk, so I hikedout. When ready, and with a far lighter pack in the morning, I climbed the hill back to the lighthouse.

As I crossed the dangerous portion of the track, the wind was a little stronger , but nothing more substantial. While today was supposed to be mainly cloudy, most of the morning was sunny. The track was now familiar, and I remembered all the parts I walked over the day before. During the day, I met a family of 8 heading to stay in the hut overnight. I hope they didn’t get stuck there, as the water taxi doesn’t come in choppy water. A few hours later, I emerged from the trail, down the stairs and through the waharoa.

I walked the 1km to my car and drove to my night spot over an hour away in the city of Whangarei.

Overall,
The Cape Brett track was a nice overnight hike made more challenging by its distance, several climbs and the last section. While I usually prefer not to double backalong the same track, sometimes there isn’t other walking options. Overall, a good couple of days, although I wish less of it was in the forest.

Until next time,
The Lone Trail Wanderer

Rangitoto Motutapu Circuit – Auckland

About six hundred years ago, the volcanic cone that is Rangitoto Island erupted its way out of Auckland Harbour beside Motutapu Island. Rangitoto is the largest of the approximately 53 cones in the Auckland volcanic field, all of which are considered dormant.

I’ve not previously been to either island, and at NZ$39 return for the ferry, I decided to make the most of it and do an overnight hike. There’s no formal hike here though, only a number of day hikes on one or the other. So I made one starting and finishing at the Rangitoto Wharf and camping at Home Bay, the only public campsite on the far side of Motutapu Island.

Rangitoto Wharf to Home Bay Campsite – 12.3km – 4 hours

I booked the last ferry to the island for the day at 12:15 pm. The trip over was only 25 minutes, with a stop at Devonport. There were few people on the ferry, one other guy and his son who would be staying at Home Bay, and a day walker. The Auckland weather was sunny and warm, and there was a slight breeze on the top of the ferry as we crossed although clouds hung across both islands, stretching off into the distance.

On arrival, I marched along the wharf and through the waharoa.

Rangitoto Island has the largest forest of Pohutikawa trees in the world, although large portions of the island are covered in jagged volcanic rock. A wide path had been cleared and flattened in many places for the numerous tourists who climb the peak.

After a while, the clouds moved on leaving a hot day for the rocky climb cutting a fairly straight line up the side of the 260m cone. About 15 minutes from the summit, I came to a small camping area with a trail leading off on the side track to the lava caves.

As I had no intention of returning this way, I cut off along the side track, finding some rocky paths that led back down the slope a little before coming to the first of two main lava tubes. At the first, there were two women and their young children, so I left them to it and continued to the second lava tube. This tunnel was about 30 metres long with a nice spot in the middle with a ceiling gap. At the end I had to stoop down to get through before following a trail back to the start of the tube where I’d left my pack.

The kids were just leaving the other tube when I got back to it, but the holes were only small. I walked the 15 minutes back to the main trail and climbed to the summit where there was a large viewing platform beside an old WWII bunker.

After my brief stay at the summit, I followed a trail around the side of the cone and down an overgrown path to the summit road.

This summit road cut through trees and rock fields all the way to the causeway, which was built to connect the islands during WWII. On the road near the causeway were several baches (beach houses), remnants of the 140 built in the 1920s and 1930s before they were banned in 1937.

I stopped for a rest and at the entrance to the island.

After my break, I cut along a path although the two inch grass made it somewhat hard to walk through. The two islands are like polar opposites, and could be described as Good and Evil, or Heaven and Hell. Motutapu has rolling hills, and lots of open grassy fields, while Rangitoto is harsh, with its volcanic rocks and good covering of trees and plants.

I followed the trail across the island, with good views of the harbour, islands and the Auckland Coast until Home Bay came into view.

I climbed down the hill to the campsite and found a spot to pitch my tent. The Home Bay Campsite has 142 non-powered tent sites and during my stay there was only two tents, mine and the man I’d met on the ferry on the way over with his son.

I hung out on a seat near my tent reading until the sun went down in pinks across the sky.

Home Bay Campsite to Rangitoto Wharf – 13.5km – 5 hours

There was a fine layer of dew on everything when I woke, but instead of the forecasted cloudy day, it was full on sun.

I decided I wanted to make the 2:30pm ferry, and arranged my pickup at the other end. This gave me some time to check out other parts of Motutapu Island. I headed north up the hill and along the Rotary Centennial Walkway.

The walkway came to the junction of several roads and further up a brief hill climb to a set of gun emplacements installed during WWII.

Further down the hill was the main gun emplacement area with several underground tunnels, rooms, and large emplacements along with signs explaining various parts.

After some exploring, and checking out another set of tunnels near the junction, I followed a road along to an education camp. I was supposed to stop off at reception and announce my arrival, no exceptions, but I passed through and up the hill on the other side without talking to anyone.

I crossed Administration Bay briefly before heading back up the grassy hills and around the North Western edge of the island back to the causeway. I stopped briefly to talk with some Department of Conservation workers who were scouting for Kiwi, of which they had caught, scanned and released 23 today with a target of 50. I had no idea there were Kiwi on the island.

I stopped for a break at the causeway before beginning along the coastal trail back to Rangitoto Wharf.

At Islington Bay Wharf, I realised the coastal track would take me too long, and I would miss my ferry, so I cut back along the road, followed it up towards the summit and split off part way to race towards the Rangitoto wharf. The sun continued to beat down during the afternoon, and it was again roasting on the rocky Rangitoto. I arrived back at the wharf just prior to the ferry arriving, but was utterly drenched in sweat. As soon as I could I got into a large bathroom and changed into my dry clothes for the trip back.

Overall,
My Rangitoto Motutapu Island circuit was a success, there was plenty to see on both islands, and being a Monday, it was quiet. I enjoyed my time there.

Next, I will wait for an opening in the weather and will find another, hopefully longer, walk before winter pushes me into hibernation.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Pinnacles Loop Track, Coromandel – New Zealand

After a day walk in the Karanagahake Gorge, I headed to Thames, a 115km from Auckland, to prepare for an overnight hike to the Pinnacles in the Coromandel Forest Park. While a large portion of it is in the forest, there is a good portion in the tussocks above it too, so I will let it go. The mid-March weather also continues to hold up.

The Pinnacles Loop is a 17.2km trail amalgamating three trails, The Kauaeranga Kauri Trail to the Pinnacles hut, the side trail to the top of the Pinnacles themselves and the return walk on day two along the Billygoat Walk. While 17.2km is around my average walking distance on a typical day on my multi-day hikes, I’m stretching it out over two days as I want to stay at the Pinnacles Hut.

Day 1 – Kauaeranga Valley Road End to Pinnacles Hut – 6km – 3 hours + side trail to Pinnacles Summit (2km – 1.5 hours)

I headed out from the carpark at the end of Kauaeranga Valley Road, through the boot clearing station and onto the rocky trail. There is an epidemic of Kauri Dieback disease in New Zealand, and one of the defences is to clean boots before and after walking in Kauri forests, and thus there are boot cleaning stations everywhere. A few minutes in, I followed a short side trail to view the Billygoat Falls. They are distant and small, but caused loggers in the early 1900s much trouble.

I continued along Webb Creek as the trail began to climb steady on a rock and dirt trail with steps cut into it in many locations. These steps were often build with branches or chiselled out of the stone. This was to help the the pack animals climbing the trail and hauling logs back down again.

Much of the 400m total ascent occurs during the first 3km with the trail, crossing the creek several times either by rock hopping or on small bridges. On several occasions there were flood trails for those days when the creek is unsafe to cross due to high water levels, but today it was very low. After two hours in the forest, I came out at the Hydro Camp, a flattened areas which is the junction on the trails. I paused for a break and took my boots off in the sun.

From here the tall tussock begins giving more access to the sun and the views. This entire region was created by volcanic activity over the past 20 million years, with the bluffs and pinnacles acting as rocky plugs of the long extinct volcanoes.

The path grew drier and wider and after another hour, I came over a knoll to see the hut. I proceeded to it and dropped my pack. It was only 2pm and the sign left by the warden said he’d be back at 3.30.

I took a break, had a look around, filled my water bottle, then with only my lighter daypack, headed towards the Pinnacles themselves on a manicured path. The sign says it’s a 50 minute climb to the top.

To make the climbing easier, there are a large number of stairways climbing up to the first of the pinnacles.

But the views from this lower one was still good.

After this pinnacle, permanently installed ladders replaced the stairs. And in several locations, bars of metal have been pounded into the rock to be used as steps in areas where the rock scrambling grew more difficult.

While I didn’t find the climb particularly difficult, the views in all directions were well worth it.

And from this height, the towns of Pauanui and Taurui come into view on the Bay of Plenty coast.

I spent some time alone at the top enjoying both the sunshine and the views, before I made my descent. Coming down was quicker, and when I arrived back at the hut, went straight past to the nearby Dancing Creek Dam, which has been rebuilt to show what the original dam once looked like.

The Pinnacles hut can accommodate a total of 80 people, but there were only 13 booked for the night I stayed. The kitchen area is large and has gas burners and electric lighting. Many of the people in the hut came later than me, arriving close to sunset. As it is only an overnight walk, the wine bottles appeared from packs after dinner. This also meant that people were coming to bed later and making more noise.

Day 2 – Pinnacle Hut to Kauaeranga Valley Road End via Billy Goat Walk – 7km – 2.5 hours
All of the late comers from the evening before also decided to get up early to meet the sunrise at the top of the pinnacles, so the noise began again. And once I’m awake, I find it difficult to get back to sleep again, so I got up. I moved all my stuff into the dining area in the dark, as I watched the light begin to brighten the sky. I made breakfast and began packing waiting to see the fresh pink sunlight on the Pinnacles.

Once I was ready, I made a quick march from the hut back across the trail to the the Hydro Camp where the trail split and I barrelled on down the the Billygoat Walk trail. For a handful of kilometres, the trail undulated with several dips and climbs but always seeming to come back to a similar height, until it didn’t anymore, and the main descent began. In the trees, there was little to see as I came down, with similar steps in many places cut from stone, branches or packed dirt. Eventually I came out at the Billygoat Campsite where I had a brief chat with an American girl who was packing up her tent. I continued on and the main steep descent began. I got a good view down the valley as I went, some mist still hanging on the hills in the distance.

I came past an old tramline a couple of times, the higher end once held the engine which moved very little, but using tow cables, it lowered and raised cars laden with logs and equipment.

The slope continued its steepness, and I pushed on down it for nearly a kilometre until it finally came out at the Kauaeranga River, which thankfully was not running strong at this point. I rock hopped across and came out on Kauaeranga Valley Road 300m from the carpark. Not long after, I arrived and dropped my pack.

Overall,
While a good portion of the walk was in the forest, it was short enough to not set off my annoyance and the views above the forest line were excellent. It was a short walk, and I could have easily done it in a single day, I enjoyed getting away from civilisation for the night.

With the weather packing up for the next couple of weeks, I’m back to the gym hoping to get a clear week at the beginning of April for an early autumn walk at the end of my walking season before I begin my winter hibernation.

Until next time,
The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Karangahake Gorge Loop Day Walk, Coromandel – New Zealand

Instead of putting together a multi-day hike in the Coromandel, I decided to do two different walks, a day walk and an overnight walk. For the day walk, I decided to head to the Karangahake Gorge and figure out what to do when I got there.

There were plentiful cars in the various carparks when I arrived, so I parked up, threw on my day pack and headed out. I crossed a bridge and picked a walk from the sign, found it on my AllTrails app and headed out on the 14.4km Karangahake Gorge Loop.

Apparently, there’s a trail called the Windows Walk, but it was closed, so I headed along the other side of the gorge, following a flat path cut out of the gorge wall with a guard rail.

At a bridge, I crossed to the other side where a gate blocked off a cave into an old gold mine.

Across from it, on the side of the gorge I’d just come from was another opening into a large set of mines. According to the sign before me, the mines go quite far back into the mountain.

I continued along the now dirt trail without a hand guard following an old pipe that had been chained to the rock.

The trail wound its way along the gorge for a handful kilometres before coming to the Dickey Flat Waterfall. While the falls are not huge, they are split, with one part running through an old minding tunnel, delivering the water into the river.

Beside the waterfall, the trail entered a similar mine tunnel. I broke out my head torch and headed in and was glad I did, as I wouldn’t have been able to avoid the plentiful puddles without it. At times the tunnel was quite low for my height, but nothing too short. I passed a girl coming the other way and exited through the far end.

Another kilometre on and I crossed the river and walked past the Dickey Flat Campsite and onto a dirt road.

From here, the trail led up the dirt road for another kilometre before arriving at a sealed road, then on for a handful more kilometres, crossing a hill before coming past the Owharoa Falls.

A minute further on and I arrived back at the Karangahake Gorge. From here the trail followed it for 3 kilometres along a wide flat dirt path shared by cyclists and walkers, with the cars streaming along the gorge road opposite.

At one point a small trail leads off to another small waterfall at the base of Dubbo Stream.

Three kilometres along the gorge and a wide rail bridge led into an 1100m railway tunnel, with dim lights spaced along the way. I put on my head torch again to give me a better look at the walls and walked on. At the far end I crossed a bridge and walked for another 500m back to the carpark.

Overall,
The Karangahake was a nice day walk with plenty of history based around the old gold mining industry. After my walk I headed to the coastal town of Thames to prepare for the overnight hike to the Pinnacles tomorrow.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Routeburn Track, Fiordland, New Zealand

During the COVID pandemic, I chose to take a break from Europe and head to New Zealand for a bit. In early February, I’d planned a hike in the central North Island. But due to sustained rain over the two available weekends, I put that trip on hold and instead flew to Fiordland, at the the bottom of the South Island, where it was still sunny.

The Routeburn Track is a popular 3-day hike crossing the Mount Aspiring National Park and the Fiordland National Park. As it’s considered a Great Walk run by DoC (the NZ Department of Conservation), there are 3 huts along the way where most people will stay. However, at NZ$68 a night, I chose instead to camp for only NZ$21 a night. Unfortunately, there are only two campsites on the trail, meaning the first day would be very short, and the second day, very long.

Day 1 – Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Campsite – 7.5km – 1.5hr

Having spent the night in nearby Queenstown, I caught a trail transport to the trailhead at the Routeburn Shelter where several of us were dropped off. I left the shelter feeling icy at just after midday, marching into the forest and following Route Burn. A burn is a watercourse, somewhere between a large stream and a small river.

Over the course of the day, there would be a gradual 250m climb, which was barely noticable. With only a short walk, I out marched the others from the trail transport, crossing several side streams on swing bridges and static wooden bridges. These bridges gave the only real views of the day other than trees. The water of the burn ran very clear and was a tourquoise blue in many of the pictures I took.

As I walked, I came to a purpose built toilet, just off the side of the trail. There’s nothing like the sense of being in the wilderness with random toilet blocks.

The trail itself could be described as the motorway of hiking trails, wide, flat and stony. This was purposeful, I assume, to make the hike accessible to beginning hikers. Before long, I could see the flats opening up on one side of the river and came to the Routeburn Flats Hut. Only 200m to the campsite and I was out of the trees, where I pitched my tent and hung out for the afternoon.

Day 2 – Routeburn Flats Campsite to Lake MacKenzie Campsite – 13.5km – 7hr + Side trip: Conical Hill

It had been cold overnight, but my new gear was warm. I was up early the next day, and as I packed up I watched the pink light on the tops of the mountains as the sun came up, well before it reached me and the other handful of tents. Once ready, I headed out of camp, back past the hut and up the hill. It began a fairly steady climb of 250m over the course of the 2.3km, but still in the trees. The trail became thinner and rocky as it skirted around the mountain until the hut came into view. After my first spot of hard work on this hike, I dropped my pack at the hut and took a 10 minute break, admiring the view back whence I’d come. It was around here that I first began to notice my pack didn’t feel weighted right.

After my break, I pushed on up the hill and out of the forest for the first time. Today, the weather was blissfully sunny, as I climbed another 250m over 2km and got a sight of the trail ahead crossing the small plateau. At one point I passed an older couple and their daughter having a late lunch.

Without looking at the map, I guessed a lake sat in the crater above. On climbing around the side of the peaks my guess was confirmed when Lake Harris came into view at the top of the Route Burn Left Branch.

As the path led around above the lake, I crossed the hike’s highest point (not including side trails) at just under 1300m, and rounded the peak to see the Harris Saddle Shelter. I crossed the saddle and set my pack down for lunch.

It’s here that the side trail up Conical Hill begins. I’d heard it was well worth the effort, so I donned my day pack with water bladder inside and begin the climb. I won’t lie, it was hard work, and I stopped many times for short breathers until I finally came over the top. At 1515m, the summit of Conical Hill gave me great views along the Hollyford River Valley leading to Lake McKerrow and further out to the Tasman Sea.

At the other end of the valley I could see a lake, but with so many lakes in Fiordland, I couldn’t tell which it was. I hung about for 10 minutes before heading down. As I got to the shelter, I discovered I was out of water with 3-4 hours of today’s walking still to go. I stopped for a few minutes before heading off south along the upper slopes of the Hollyford River Valley.

I’d heard much of the water in the streams, huts and campsites were good to drink without treating. So at the first stream I filled up. The taste was crisp, clean and refreshing. I continued along as the trail slowly undulated around the small peaks. I again passed the trio from before the saddle, they too had run out of water, but were more nervous about drinking from the streams.

I continued and eventually rounded a peak to see Lake Mackenzie below, the hut (the white block on the right), and the camp (near the largest of the visible beaches. After rounding the peak, it was all downhill to the lake.

The trail hit a couples of switchbacks before diving back into forest. Over the past couple of hours, I had begun to notice more and more that my pack wasn’t quite right. It was hanging to one side all the time, and the straps kept slipping. It felt more like a travel pack meant to sit on the back for an hour at a time, not a 9 hour slog over mountains. I stopped and repacked it, but while the balance felt a little better, but it still wasn’t quite right. I followed a girl down the hill and came out at the hut. Nearby people swam in the lake as I continued the the 10 minute walk to the campsite. Finding a spot, I pitched the tent, had a wetwipe ‘shower’ and zipped myself in for the evening.

Day 3 – Lake MacKenzie Campsite to The Divide 12km – 5 hours + Side Trip: Key Summit

Most of today would be in the forest, so after a late breakfast I headed out. I climbed the first of today’s two short climbs, barely noticing the 100m over the 1.5km distance. It was then fairly flat over the next few kilometres, the only views were in places where there had been slips although signs advised to hurry through and not stop.

At one point, I ran into the older lady and her daughter and stopped for a chat. Then a kilometre on I came out at the Earland Falls and met the husband with a family I’d met on the transport to the hike on the first day. It seemed we would all be on the transport out of the hike later that day. Earland Falls is a 179m tall with a large pool at the base. The water levels were low, but it can apparently flood during the winter.

From here it was a descent of 300m over 2.5km, but as it was through the forest, it was hard to tell. I passed several people going the other way in the early hours of their hikes before eventually coming out at lake Howden where I stopped for a 15 minute break. There was once a hut at this location, but it burned down a couple of years ago. After my break, I headed up the last 100m climb of the trail, still in the forest and stopped after a kilometer, when the trail led up to the Key Summit. I dropped my pack and headed up without it. The side trail climbed above the forest line giving wonderful views back north along the Hollyford River Valley from whence I’d come. At the top, it also gave a view of Lake Marian.

I stopped only briefly before heading down again. I donned my pack and continued for the last 3 kilometers of the trek, all downhill and all within the forest. I emerged at the Divide Shelter, took my pack off and rested. Not long after, others began emerging too, many of whom would be on the 4 hours bus ride back to Queenstown.

Overall
The Routeburn trail is a classic three day hike centred around crossing Harris saddle, with much time spent above the forest line. It was a busy and popular hike that I’d rate as having a moderate difficulty. I’d recommend for beginners and and those fairly new to hiking, although advanced and experienced hikers would enjoy too, although there are other more challenging hikes around.

It was good to get out on the track after 18 months away from hiking due to COVID and moving countries. I was troubled by my new pack, so set a task for myself to buy a new one on returning to Auckland.

Next week, I head to Nelson to start the Abel Tasman Coastal Great Walk.

Until then,

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Travers Sabine Angelus Circuit, Nelson Lakes – New Zealand – Part 2

Eighty-six kilometres south of Nelson in the Nelson Lakes regions, I walked the Travers Sabine Angelus Circuit. Click for Travers Sabine Angelus Circuit, Nelson Lakes – New Zealand – Part 1

Day 4 – West Sabine Hut to Sabine Hut – 14.2km – 6 hours

After making the decision to skip the day walk to Blue Lake, I headed out this morning and made for Lake Rotoroa and the Sabine Hut. A hundred metres from the West Sabine hut I cross the wide river on a suspension bridge and followed it into the mossy forest.

Today’s walk is six or so hours through the forest, but thankfully, unlike the previous day, there is no major climbs or descents, just a gentle downhill for most of the day.

And yes, with the exception of the 2 hours I spent crossing the saddle yesterday, this is my fourth full day in the forest. But even the forest itself seemed to feel my frustration and came out to remind me all was fine.

There were plenty of opportunity views back along the river…

And the occasional open grassy areas to cross, to break up the constant forest. This one led onto the only real climb of the day, passing over a knoll to get the heart pumping a little. At the end of the knoll, I met an exhausted looking couple who were carrying far too much. They’d only started an hour earlier after getting a water taxi across the lake.

With only a couple of kilometres left, I crossed the river and made my way through the flat forest waiting for the lake to appear. Then, for the first time this hike, the weather turned and a very light rain began. It continued until I finally arrived at the lake and then shortly after to the hut. On arrival, the sky opened up and bucketed down with lighting and thunder for much of the evening. About midway, a rather wet walker arrived, no doubt thankful to be out of the rain.

Day 5 – Sabine Hut to Angelus Hut 7.2km – 6 hours

After the rain of the previous evening, I was concerned that the steep first route that left from beside the hut would be overly wet and slippery, but I went anyway. The initial climb was very steep and foot placement was pertinent, carefully placed on dirt with a slight covering, no rocks or roots unless I could get a good foot holding.

It was slow work, and I used the trees where I could. After the first hour, the steepness eased with easier paths, but I remained fastidious, ever watching my steps. The climb grew easier, but the forest must have held a fairly low temperature, as I neither felt tired nor even broke a sweat as I climbed. This is odd, as I am an easy sweater while walking under weight. The trail grew steeper in hour three, only to round off and become flatter once again.

The Sabine hut is at 467m and at 1335m I emerged into a sunny Tussock covered rolling hilltop. I stopped just inside the forest to prepare for the open trail.

I climbed a further 200m in the glorious open sky to the summit of Mount Cedric and stopped for lunch. Below me lake Rotoroa stretched away while to the side mountains stood tall. Out of the shade of the trees the wind at this height was icy, so I put on my wind breaker.

A crown of mountains headed off to the right, and I saw that the Mount Cedric Track followed it, so after eating, I continued walking.

My climb, now in the open air, was glorious, and under the direct sunlight I began to sweat. The climb grew higher as I skirted around the rocky top of the crown and followed the ridge line off to the left, climbing even higher.

After being in the forest for four days, just being atop an open mountain ridge gave me a sense of enjoyment. The direct sun, the slight breeze, the rocky bliss and the sense of smallness among giants…

While there was a defined path, there was some rock hopping and thin somewhat precarious paths, but I always walk with caution on these paths. I got past and rounded the ridge line to look down onto the valley where Lake Angelus was supposed to be, but there was another smaller ridge in the way. Below me I could see the Hinapouri tarns instead.

I descended towards their smaller ridge with much rock hopping, which took some time, before I finally climbed down the slope to stand before Lake Angelus.

I climbed down to a flat tussock path, then around the lake to the Hut where, in the blissful sunshine, dropped my pack and chatted to some ladies on the front deck. Angelus hut turned out to be a very social hut with more people arriving through the afternoon.

Day 6 – Angelus Hut to St Arnaud – 18km – 5 hours

After my usual breakfast and packing regime, I set out across the tussock towards the ridge line behind the smaller two lakes in the basin, to the trail called the Robert Ridge Route. The climb affording good views back down the Lake Angelus basin as I climbed. The lake soon disappeared as I walked along the top of the ridge away from the hut.

As I climbed towards the Mt Julius Summit at near 1800m, I got a view down the valley to where I had crossed on the 2nd day of this adventure.

At Mt Julius Summit, I found a wide area where I could stop – wide in this case being 1.5 – 2m. I also found good 4G reception, so thought I would video call my parents at home in Auckland, to show them the view.

Afterwards, the trail cut across the side of the rocky ridges as it continued, before changing to the rounded hilltops with wide paths. There were some climbs, but nothing major, but all the time glorious views in all directions with the weather warm and minimally cloudy.

The route continued and I began to see walkers coming towards me, I climbed the last of the large round hilltops and stopped on some flat rocks for lunch.

After chatting with a couple of passersby, I headed off again along the ridge, this time slowly descending. The route continued down past a rest shelter likely build for day walkers, to the summit of Mount Robert, the final peak before my big descent out of the National Park.

I took a break at the top to chat to another climber and admire the view down on Lake Rotoiti.

The descent to the carpark was partially through the forest, but mostly in the open, growing steadily warmer as I got closer to the bottom. There are more than 22 switchbacks on the way down, and I find it handy to count then down. In my mind it helps as fast descents are not my knee’s favourites.

At the bottom, I set out along the road towards St Arnaud, a further 90 minutes along a dirt road which turned to a major highway. I had intended to camp 45 minutes from the end of the hike, but it was still early with plenty of daylight left, so I decided to crack out onto the road and thumb a lift back to Nelson, some 86km away. I made it getting two lifts and not having to walk too much.

Overall,
I should have taken more care in selecting a hike, as I found this circuit to be particularly frustrating. If I had walked the entire length as planned, but added the side trip to Blue Lake, it would have been six days in the forest, with only 2 hours in the alpine region crossing the Travers Sabine saddle. As I particularly dislike walking in the forest for anything longer than a day, I was thankful for the girl I walked partially with on day 2 and her suggestion to go to Lake Angelus instead. As these are my first long hikes in the NZ mountains, I will be more careful with my planning in the future.

Next, after a week or so giving my legs a break, I have a couple of walks in the North Island.
Until then,
The Lone Trail Wanderer