Friday, 21 October 2011

From Pinnacles to Sea with the “has beens"

I briefly came out of tramping retirement last weekend, and went for a tramp with WTMC in the Aorangi Forest Park (also known as the Haurangis), between Martinborough and Cape Palliser. Alistair wrote a trip report for the WTMC newsletter, and has kindly allowed me to re-publish it here.

Medium Tramp, October 14-16, Haurangi Forest Park

by Alistair Young

I was down to lead the medium traverse of the Haurangis – one of my favourite set of hills, but with no punters signed up things looked grim until Craig McGregor, an ex-Chief Guide signed up. It’s been a few years since our glory days at the Tongue & Meats, and with no other punters signed up, we were obviously so quickly forgotten! We were a pair of “has been” trampers on this trip with Craig having spent so much time ultra-cycling with his feet cleated to his pedals that he had forgotten how to walk, while child rearing is proving the ultimate endurance event of all for me.

The Pinnacles.
The Pinnacles.
Camping at the Pinnacles on Friday night, we were barely tucked away under the fly when the light, but persistent rain started coming tumbling down for the night.

At daybreak, a brisk 800m ascent quickly reminded us that the Haurangis although small in stature, are a nuggety and physical place to tramp. We caught the odd glimpse of the sea as the weather alternated between sunny and drizzly as we shared a robust conversation on the subjects of tramping, politics and rugby. Lunch followed the descent to Washpool Hut with a brew cooked on Craig’s DIY beer-can stove,  which this tramp proved to be a roaring success.

With our tummys fully laden, another sharp ascent and descent led us to Pararaki Hut where we had originally intended to stay the night. There was enthusiasm for an early Sunday departure among other trips with which we shared transport. There was some rugby game on apparently, thus limiting us “has beens” to a only a day and a half to relive the glory days. Over yet another brew, we hatched a cunning plan to push on toward Kawakawa Hut, thus allowing us to complete the originally intended route, with no shortcuts and finish by lunchtime Sunday. This would mean tramping to sunset but as veterans of many a fit trip that was par for the course.

The saddle and watershed area between the Pararaki and Kawakawa valleys is a lovely place, great stream travel, marvellous stands of mature native trees and a spectacular descent into the Kawakawa stream over a well marked but not manicured route makes the Haurangi traverse one of the best Wellington based medium tramps on offer.

We found the perfect campsite just above the Kawakawa Stream where we dined on chilli con-carne and pasta before pitting down as the drizzle returned, it had been a long 12-hour day, from start to finish but well worth the effort. We were both buzzing.

Camp cooking over a beer-can meths stove
Camp cooking over a beer-can meths stove

The next day brought clearing drizzle, we were at Kawakawa Hut within 30 minutes and breakfasted with the easy-medium group before heading up south up the other branch of the valley towards Mangatoetoe. Travel was fast, the stream was low, its banks clear, in spite of this the unimaginable happened - I lost my punter in broad daylight. The drama unfolded thus:

I got ahead of Craig and stopped to brush my teeth, five minutes passed and a little concerned I left my pack where it could easily be seen and headed back down the stream to find Craig to no avail. I had lost my punter in broad daylight in a 10 meter wide stream with a marked route up it!

Punters don't just vanish  - having thoroughly searched down stream I continued slowly up it looking for tracks, and soon found a single fresh footprint the manhunt was over, Craig had walked passed me while I brushed my teeth, a large boulder separating us and the noise of the stream had rendered me invisible. He had passed 5 meters from me without either of us noticing - as likely as tossing a coin which lands on its edge, we had done the impossible.

The mouth of the Mangatoetoe Stream and the Sea
The mouth of the Mangatoetoe Stream and the Sea
The next hour was spent catching up to Craig – who all the while was cursing his miserable leader for charging ahead and not bothering to wait or grant him a break, he could not believe it when he saw me approaching from behind – we soon found the funny side of it and returned to a steady pleasant plod over the next saddle to Mangatoetoe Hut for a quick bite before the final trudge  to the sea  with the sun finally coming out in earnest.

Approximate Track times:
Road end - Washpool Hut: 5hrs10.5km
Washpool Hut - Pararaki Hut 4hrs6.8km
Pararaki Hut - Kawakawa Valley 2hrs10m5.2km
... Kawakawa Hut: 16 mins
Kawakawa Hut - Mangatoetoe Hut:
Mangatoetoe Hut - Carpark 1hr5.3km
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 about Aorangi Forest Park on DOC's website.


  1. Gee, thanks for showing me what I'm up against when I try to formulate something for the WTMC newsletter. Maybe I should hold off for another month.

    I must find an excuse to use the word 'thus', or even better 'thusly'.