Sunday, 21 February 2010

Tramp: Pirongia Mountain Loop


After the prizegiving from The Rev 120 (I still haven’t won the bike. The law of averages must be on my side soon?) I drove around to Pirongia and left the Grey Road-end just after 7pm. It was a beautiful clear evening so I started strolling quickly to maximise use of the limited light. On a clear evening under the stars there really wasn’t anything better to do.


Trip Statistics:
Distance: 20.05km  
Time: 9:07:51 2.2km/h
Elevation: Ascent: 1576m Descent: 1576m
Trip Data: Garmin Connect Player
Location: Waikato, NZ 20-21 February 2010

The track was good and climbed steadily until Mahaukura (899m). Following this it become muddy, with the odd-patch of juicy knee-deep mud. This wasn’t too pleasant in the dark as it was getting quite late. From Mahaukura, the steady rise changed to undulating terrain with many “false climbs” prior to finally reaching the climb to Pirongia (959m). There was a large steel viewing platform at the top, but the starry night had clouded over shortly before I reached it. It seemed to take an age to get here from Mahaukura late at night, having already ridden in a 120km cycle race earlier in the morning. Starting fresh, this section may well have been faster?


5h36m after leaving the road-end I reached Pahautea Hut covered in mud which I needed to rinse off before bed. Around the hut there were a number of well drained bark-filled platforms for camping, all of which were in use. I quietly pulled out my sleeping mat and sleeping bag and made myself at home under the porch of the Pahautea Hut to ensure I did not disturb the occupants who were sleeping.





On Sunday morning I had a lazy 10am start and 15 minutes after leaving Pahautea Hut I was back up to the clouded over steel lookout on top of Pirongia Mountain. Regardless of the fact it was now light did not enable any photography because of a flat camera battery. It was on charge before I left so obviously needs replacing. The camera had become un-useful dead-weight to drag along on the trip.


The track to the Ruapane Lookout (723m) from Pirongia Mountain summit was much drier than the Mahukara Track/swamp I had walked through the night before. The track was very good on the whole and I passed a lot of day walkers who were making the walk as far as the Ruapane Lookout from either of the Corcoran Rd or Grey Rd entrance points to the Pirongia Forest Park.


The last half-hour of the walk joined onto the pleasant and well graded Mangakara Nature Walk. This was approximately the point where my SPOT Messenger found a satellite dead spot and stopped reporting my position. This was also true when left in sending “I am OK”  with it placed on my car roof as I got changed and loading my things in the car.


It was a seven-hour drive home and my cell-phone had also failed due to the keyboard not working because of sweat in my pocket, and with the SPOT turned off now I was driving there were no messages getting through to my parents. About half an hour before I made it home my parents had called search and rescue to report me as late out. I of course was terribly embarrassed about this when I spoke to the search and rescue co-ordinator. All technology has its failings but the main lesson I learnt from this is to more clear with instructions to those acting as contact persons about how late out you should be before they raise the alarm.


With all the tramping I have done over the years, while not obvious from Google maps I did find a certain amount in humour for being reported missing on a family accessible nature walk that was virtually next to the car-park.


Track times:
Grey Rd -> Wharauroa: 1h52m
Grey Rd -> Mangakura: 2h22m
Grey Rd -> Pirongia Summit: 5h08m
Summit -> Pahautea Hut: 28 mins
Pahautea Hut –> Pirongia Summit:

15 mins

Pirongia Summit –> Ruapane Lookout


Ruapane Lookout –> Grey Rd


Times shown in this table and inline blog text above are indicative only. Travel times in the backcountry are variable depending on fitness, terrain, the size of your party, weather conditions and stopping times for snacks, photography, your interest in botany and such like.
You can find more information on the Pirongia's Tramping Tracks at DOC's website.


  1. It's a shame about that, but it happens I guess. Short of being woken late at night and possibly calling a person or two, you'd hope they wouldn't actually do anything at least until someone had located your car, or verified that your car couldn't be located, in which case it'd be increasingly likely you'd reached it and driven away into the jurisdiction of someone else's problem.

    Out of interest do you know off-hand how much of the SAR process was actually triggered by a report of you being overdue, and did the coordinator have direct access to the data from your SPOT beacon?

  2. Hi Mike,

    I think it only went as far as the Waikato SAR co-ordinator evaluating whether I would need rescuing. Possibly the local SAR team may have received a message to be ready standby for a possible rescue.

    My parents told SAR the friendly URL where I keep my trip intentions and the live SPOT mapping data. They did comment how useful it would be if everyone had one one of these.

    From the last tracking point on the SPOT the SAR co-ordinator probably worked out my position and established that I was near the nature trail and almost back to the carpark in the same timeframe that my intentions stated.

    They were sending a patrol car around to see if my car was there. From the tracking points it would have been obvious which road-end to look at.

    SAR called me at home shortly after I got back and I apologised for causing them so much bother.. I felt very embarrassed. In hindsight I could have asked more about how useful my intentions webpage was and what would be helpful to improve in the future.

    In future I will make it clear to my parents not to report me as overdue unless it is already the following day as I always carry shelter of some form. So if I am immobilised by injury, weather, flooded waterways, missing bridges etc I am safe for at least an extra night.


  3. You can find some interesting a fun use of Spot Trackers from the Kiwi Brevet at