Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hiking Mt. Pirongia (Hihikiwi track)

This track is part of the Te Araroa trail which covers the length of New Zealand, the trail goes over the summit of Mt Pirongia via the Tahanui track to the north and the Hihikiwi track to the south. Previously I have walked most of the other main tracks up to the summit, but not the Hihikiwi track so I wanted to check this track out sometime this summer.

The DoC website listed this hike as 4-6 hours, so I thought it would be a reasonably easy hike, nothing too strenuous. I was even more at ease when I saw the sign post for 3 and a half hours to the hut at the start of the track, little did I know what we were in for.

An easy start to the track

The track started off quite easy nice track; gentle climbing and then we hit the mud. Long, wide sections of up to knee deep mud. The elevation gain remained fairly stead, but easy but the really difficulty was the mud. As much as we could we kept to the outside, and just off track to get around the mud but eventually you give up and reside to the fact that you are now wading through mud. There were sections of board walk, but they were few and far between. I probably took 3 hours to reach the lookout, and at least half of that would have been in the mud. 
Thats a lot of mud
Knee deep.

On the way up we saw a goat control hunter and had a chat to him, the previous day the team had killed 65 goats and would kill about 1000 in the season. Goats are an introduced pest which destroy the habitat of native birds, and prevent the re growth of a lot of regenerating native bush so however you feel about the killing of animals something has to be done about the goats.

We also meet a solo woman walking the Te Araroa trail North to South, she seemed like she was having a hard time with the mud, and we didn’t know at the time she had just passed the worst of it, and we were heading into it.

After the lookout was very easy going, the whole way to the hut was board walked. I plan had been to head from the hut over to the Cone to take some photos. I though the Cone was 30 minutes away, but I realised that it was an hour. Knowing that I would be an hour there and an hour back in more mud, I decided to give it a miss. It had only taken us 3:45 to get up to the hut, but the mud had sapped my energy for any more hiking that day.

The cone from the Lookout

Not far to go now
Had a relaxing afternoon chatting to people as that came up, the hut ended up quite full and it was great talking to different people, which direction they had taken, plans for the rest of the summer etc. The hut is great, nice big kitchen and dining area to cook and hang out in. The one down side was there weren’t any of the usual National Geographic’s or Time magazines one normal finds to read in huts like this so it was a bit of a long afternoon since the hike was so short. There is also a really well set up area for tents, and a cooking area for campers so I like to set up there with some friends some time.

The walk back the next day was much easier. We knew what we were getting ourselves in for with the mud, and had better strategies for getting around it, and finding better foot placements in shallower sections of mud. It only took 3:30 to get back down the Mountain. 

Chain to climb up, on the way back

I like Mt Pirongia, it has a great hut set up and amazing views but all the mud makes it difficult, no doubt I’ll hike up again, but maybe not via the Hihikiwi track. As one person put it, Pirongia is ‘a vertical swamp’.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Hike to Crosbies Hut - Coromandel Forest Park

This is a hike and hut I’ve wanted to check out for awhile and it seemed like a good length to bring along some hiking newbie’s. Not so long as to be daunting, but not so short as to be too easy and boring. The hut is quite a new 10 bed hut, so it would make for a nice hut to hang out at and stay the night. This was also to be a training hike for me to build up to the Kaimai Range, so my pack weighted 16kg, with a bunch of stuff I really didn’t need but I wanted a reasonable weight for training with.

The hike is listed at 4-6 hours so I decided to hike the long way up and the shorted way down. This is my usual strategy for having the harder day first, and the easier day second. Being that this day was only listed as 6 hours, and we had pre booked the hut we had plenty of time for the hike. I parked the car at boom flat at 11.30, and walked along the gravel road to Wainora camp site to start the walk. The start of the track was very easy, a wide gravel tourists track, then we hit the stairs. The stairs seemed to go up for an hour, I think we gained half of the elevation here on the stairs. 

Easy start
So many stairs

After the stairs we were in standard hiking terrain, not rough, but certainly not a tourist track. We continued to gain elevation slowly over the next hour or two before coming to a high tops section with some great views. We got to orange peel corner in 3 hours 45 minutes of walking with multiple short breaks. After a 20 minute break to chill out the rest of the way was pretty easy going.

Hands were a bit cold along the ridge line
Table mountain, not sure if there is an easy way to the top
This is all there is at orange peel corner
The last section of track before the hut meets up with a track coming in from Thames. I think this is the old track to Crosbies Settlement, now it appears to be a quad bike track at best. There are several tracks like this than converge onto the Crosbies hut area. I’d love to try them all out but I’d either have to organise transport from the different start and end points, or walk in and out on the same track. The total elevation gain for the track we took was approximately 600m, which is a fair bit considering the shorter distance of hike. I suspect on my own I could have made it up in 5 hours.

Last section of hike on an easy track

We arrived at the hut at about 5:30 (6 hours total including breaks) to a really cool hut and an amazing view. The hut is quite new, all one room with bucks for 10 people at one end, a coal fire place, bench and tables at the other end.

Very nice hut

My standard meal for an overnighter like this is a can of baked beans, cheese and sausages. This went down a treat, and was followed up with some very good red wine. I had carried the wine up for the four of us each to have a glass, little did I know that two others of the group had bought a bottle each as well, and only two of us felt like having a drink. I ended up drinking a bottle on my own which isn’t too much, but I don’t normally drink so it hit me pretty hard and made me a little slower the next day. It wasn’t too bad, but in future I’ll only ever share a bottle on a hike, never all on my own.

The view from the hut in the morning

The next day was quite an easy walk down via a different track back to booms campground. We left at 9AM and got back to the car just before 1pm with less than 4 hours for total hiking. So the track times for 4-6 hours are pretty much spot on.

Large kauri on the way down.

I really enjoyed this hike, the climb was slightly difficult but not too hard and it paid off with some great views both along the way and at the hut. The track was well marked and maintained. The hut itself was great and had everything you could want out of a hut. I’d definitely be happy to hike this track again. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Hiking the Kaimai Range – Gear

For part one click here, and part two click here

My gear for this hike was very similar to the set up I had for Around Mt Ruapehu so this will be a bit of a comparison post. My pack started off at 20kg (including 3 litres of water), but finished at 13kg when I got home so it started quite heavy, but got much more manageable as time went on.

Looking a little worn on day three

My pack was the same 50 litre pack as I always use, which is a little small for this length of hike. To get around this, I strap my sleeping mat and other small bits to the outside of my pack, to give myself a little extra valuable pack space, this seems to work out very well. The sleeping bag I took on this trip was a 12°C which I paid $20 for (really good bargain). This bag was pretty much at its comfort limit, but I have a liner and thermals if I really needed them. The mat I have is short and thin, I’d love to upgrade to a thicker one, but this one does its job and I don’t really want to pay $300-$400 for a good light weight mat.

Sleeping mat in red on the outside of my pack

My clothes were much the same as a normal hike, light sports shirt and shorts, Gortex rain coat, and injinji compression socks. The only difference here was the amount, two full sets of clothes, new socks each day (5 pairs of long socks adds up to a lot) and a thermal top. The injini socks were great, the only negative I found was that during the day if I was in regular socks I could take them off to dry when we stopped to eat, however the injinji socks are such a pain to get on, taking them off for 15 minutes wasn’t really a viable option. The only major difference was the gloves I bought. I found some simple neoprene type material gloves. If wet they don’t hold a lot of water, so there worked out great for me.

Day one was spent in the gortex jacket
From another hike, but those are the gloves I use

Food and cooker was the same set up as usual. The only changes were note that I bought a block of chocolate, and a chocolate bar for after dinner each night (4 chocolate bars). This really helped as a nice treat and something to look forward too. However I did notice after eating at about 7pm I was hungry again at 9pm. I lost about 2kg on the hike, which I didn’t mind since I wanted to get leaner, but if you’re at your desired leanness I would suggest bringing even more food, possibly some dehydrated mashed potatoes and/or coconut oil to add to everything. This is something I may have to play with in future. Also to note I bought 5 apples with me, one for each day. It was nice to have something fresh to eat, but it did mean starting with a kilo of apples.

My standard cooking set up (wine on shorter hikes).

This trip I didn’t want to bring a tent, so I bought myself a bivi sack. I bought the terra nova moonlite, which is a small, light weight bag. It worked really well for me. I also bought a tarp so that I could set up my own shelter if the rain was pouring down. However it ended up easier to lay down my tarp as a ground sheet (3x3m tarp would have been better than my 2x3) and use a friend’s 3x3 light weight trap as the cover. This let all three of us fit in the one shelter. We were each in a bivi sack to stop any rain that happened to blow in, which it did, while trap blocked the worst of the rain. This set up worked really well since my bivi is really only for the lightest of rain, since it doesn’t have a water proof face cover.

Camp half way set up
The bivi bag I bought

All the other small things are pretty much as per my lastbig trip.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Hiking the Kaimai Range – 82km in 5 days, Part two

For Part one, click here.

This post is some extra thoughts on hiking the Kaimai Range, that didn’t quite fit into my first post.

Training – The hike around Ruapehu had been really tough, and I knew this hike was likely to be even harder so I really wanted to get some good training in. The plan was to load up my pack to 20kg (I hoped to start the hike lighter than this, but that didn’t work out) and to do about an 8 hour hike each weekend starting in November at the latest. This didn’t happen at all. I managed 4 training hikes in-between Christmas and New Years and that was it. Despite the small training volume, I’m sure this little bit of training helped a lot. My shoulders were a little more acclimatised to the weight of the pack, and my legs as well. I think it’s important to build up to a large multi day hike like this because the less it hurts you physically the more you can just enjoy the experience and opposed to survive it.

About an hours walk to the trig as training

The first day – I found this day mentally quite hard. It didn’t help that it was raining the whole day, and trapped in the bush, but that wasn’t really it. I just kept thinking “why am I doing this?”. The best I could come up with at the time to keep me going was the stoic idea of putting yourself thought difficult situations so that when they are over come you are much stronger and more resilient for it. The next days were so much easier; mentally it was all downhill, towards home. It helped that the tracks and, views and scenery improved as we moved along too.

"What have I got myself into?"

Wet shorts – Since it was raining all day long the first day, I ended up moving around in wet shorts for over 10 hours, then starting the next day it was still raining so again wet shorts. This lead to some quite painful chaffing. Luckily someone else had some Vaseline to sooth the chaffing, so now I have some packed into my first aid kit. This is definitely worth preparing for.

Clearly it rained a lot

Possibly the coolest thing I saw the whole trip came on day one. I saw some movement just off the track, then a huge Red Hind (Female Red Deer bolted across the track. I felt so fortunate to see something so amazing.

The two places we camped at aren’t listed camp sites, so aren’t on any of the maps, and don’t have sign posts at them. So if you don’t know what you’re looking for then it’s hard to know if the clearing you’re at is the one mentioned in the track description, or if there is a better spot around the corner. The Wairere falls camp site was a large clearing with another larger clearing further back off the track, there was water but no long drop toilet. This site was only 10 minutes past the Wairere falls turn off. The Thompsons track camp site was 10 minutes north of the turn off for the hut and the smaller (very small) clearing had a long drop in the bush (needs some work though). There were also a number of good camp sites about 30 minutes north right at Thompsons track, but again, no water and I didn’t see a long drop at all.

This is most of the larger clearning

Speaking of camp sites with no toilets, be considerate and walk a good distance into the bush (don’t get lost) then dig a hole for you business. Don’t go straight on the ground then drop toilet paper everywhere, it’s just plain gross.

The long drop near night two's camp

Another negative about rough camping is that there often isn’t anything to sit on. Given our modern lives with so much chair sitting, it can be hard to get comfortable floor sitting, and this is all that is available when camping. Maybe if we had more time or energy at the end of the day we could have organised some logs to sit on, but we were so worn out we just huddled under the tarp to cook. One tip for long term would be to get more comfortable with floor sitting (Maybe read and listen to Dr. Katy Bowman’s work)

By the end of the second day we were all pretty worn out and felt beat up, it was two days of 8+ hours which isn’t a massive amount, but the tracks were pretty rough and the packs were heavy so we all agreed not to climb an hour and a half uphill to the hut. It apparently has the best view of the Ranges, but it’s a long climb and to reverse it the next day is a big ask. I’d like to check the hut out one day, but if you’re hiking the North South, I’d advise planning to skip it, and camp.

This was camp on the second night

There were a number of really cool spots (almost like hidden secrets) with beautiful pools of water. There was also one or two camp sites set up quite close to some of these places. Clearly people in the know spend a bit of time there. Sadly I didn’t make these on my map; it would be great to have them marked as alternative camp sites for a multi day hikes. As I’m still fairly new to hiking a don’t know a lot of these local spots, but the more tracks you check out, the more cool hidden spots you can find for a second visit.

These two spots are not next to each other
These two spots are not next to each other

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hiking the Kaimai Range – 82km in 5 days

For part two click here

In my search (in 2016) for multi day hikes in the upper North Island I came across the North South track in the Kaimai Range. It was listed as 7 days, but some of those days were as short at 2 and a half hours. With a quick look over the track times I surmised it could be done in five days with one or two days of camping. The only time I had to do a hike of this length was in the Christmas and New Year holidays. This was in early 2016 so I would have to wait almost a year to have the time for such a long hike. The plan then was to do the hike the first week of the year, with whoever would join me. I ended up with two friends who were willing. We started at the southern end, as I prefer to be walking towards home.

There are a number of huts in the park ranging from 3 beds, to 26 beds; however most of these huts are at the northern end of the park, while the southern end requires camping. I found some good suggesting for track times, and day lengths on both the Doc website and NZ tramper website however the track times did not quite match up. Due to this we would be doing the hike with only ‘guidelines’ for how long each section would take us.

Day 1

Hurunui hut, stop for lunch
The plan for the first day was to hike the last two days suggested via the Doc website (they list the track as North to South, hence the track name). This should have taken us 8.5 hours starting at the entrance to the Kaimai Summit off State Highway 29. We meet at my house at 6:30am, and started the 2 hour drive down, finally starting the hike at 8:40. The first section started with a bit of a climb in altitude before an easy section to the Hurunui hut. The track time was 2.5 hours to this hut which we pretty much matched, then took an early lunch until 12. We made good time walking to the next stop the Ngamuwahine shelter where we stopped for some more food. We made it to the turn off for the Wairere falls by about 6pm. Most of the days walking was fairly easy and covered in the bush the whole way. I don’t remember seeing anyone else on this day.

Ngamuwahine shelter, stop for afternoon tea
The difficulty of the day was that it rained all day long. Walking in the rain isn’t so bad in and of its self, but it seems that all roads lead to wet shorts. Water from you rain coat ends up there, so does the water off you pack. It just ends up being 8-10 hours of walking around in wet shorts.

Lots of mud
And rough tracks
About 5 minutes after the turn off for the Wairere falls was a medium sized clearing, with a slightly larger clearing just behind it. This is the area suggested for the second to last night of the North South track, and the final destination for our first day or walking.
We set up camp here with some tarps we had carried and some tarps we found in the clearing (more on our equipment will follow in another post). It rained lightly throughout the night but we were able to set up a semi comfortable area for cooking and sleeping.

Camp for night one
Our little cooking area with tarps we found

Day 2

Day two was to be possibly the hardest day of the trip. It was set for 9 hours of some fairly rough terrain, and to top it all off, it continued raining until lunch time.

We got up at 7am, and started packing up while cooking breakfast (I’ll talk more about food in another post). We saw two hunters who were up and about early and would see several more that day. We were able to get everything packed away and we walking by 8:40. We ended up with about 8 hours of walking, which was faster than the DoC times, but slightly slower than the NZ tramper times. The track was fairly rough, with a lot of wind fall trees, however is was easy enough to find our way so the track was easier going than the Bell Track up Mt Pirongia. By the time we got to the turn off for a hut we were all quite worn out so the prospect of an hour and a half of climbing was not enticing. So, as much as we wanted to get dry and have a bed to sleep in we chose to camp.

Very muddy
Nice river crossings
Still quite rough

For most of the day all I wanted to do was to get dry, everything was wet, and it was day two of walking in wet shorts, but it had stopped raining after about lunch time, so by the time we set up camp things weren’t so bad.

The clearing for camping was 10 minutes north of the turn off for the hut. There was a large clearing then a much smaller clearing just south of that (1 minute really). We chose the smaller clearing since it was very windy and the smaller area was more sheltered, it also worked out well that I discovered the long drop just off this clearing in the morning. The only down side was there was no water to be found, I ended up taking a 30 minute round trip in my jandals to get water (about 5 minutes south of the hut turn off). We were able to set up quite a nice campsite for the night, but didn’t really have anywhere comfortable to sit.

The night was quite cold, and I was probably at the limit of my sleeping bag (summer weight) so clearly anything further south or later in the season may require a warmer sleeping bag.

Camp for night two

This day was physically much harder than the first day, but I found it so much easier psychologically. On the first day I wondered what I was doing and why (I could be at home, comfortable on my couch) but the second day I could tell myself that this was the hard day, it would be followed by two easy days, then the last day I would be walking home. This helped immensely.

Day 3

It was a bit of a cold start to the morning as the weather had cleared up overnight to clear blue sky. We were up again at 7am, and moving by 8:35. We saw a few more hunters this day. This day was some fairly hard going again with quite a lot of up and down however the track was pretty good all things considered. This day offered a lot more in the way of views that the first two days. The first two days we trapped inside the bush, by day three had several sections up high on a ridge where you could see out either side of the range; however we had to pay for these views with plenty of walking up hill. But this stage my knee was starting to get worn down, particularly with eccentric loading, I suspect it comes from missing some range of motion in that side ankle (broke it many years ago). I think I will invest in a walking pole for longer hikes to take a little bit of the strain off that knee.

Great views
We're heading over that

We stopped at a nice little hunters hut with a great view for lunch and it was great to take my shoes and socks off to get everything dry after days spent in wet shoes. Not far from the hut we would stay the night at we meet a large group who were walking the North South track in day walk sections. Due to having to walk in and out of the range each time this would take them 9 day trips, it would be a lot of doubling up for them, but a great way to spend the summer. This is something that’s great about this track; there are so many entry and exit points it makes the area so accessible, and increases the safety level since help is so close by.

Motutapere Hut, stop for lunch
The view from the hut
Cool big steel ladder
Tracks are getting easier

We made pretty good time to the hut; however it was still quite a hard day. There were enough people there to fill the hut, but a big family group slept in tents outside. This section of the Ranges was still quite rough, but had nicer tracks and huts, so while there were hunters further south, we meet more seasoned hikers in this middle area. The next two days were much more tourist friendly areas (with an overlap in the middle apparently suited to nudists).

The Te Rereatukahai hut was quite a well maintained hut and it was cool to hang out with other hikers and talk about the Range, what we had coming up, as well as other hikes they had done.

Te Rereatukahai hut for the night
Day 4

It was great to have a warm and comfortable night in a hut (despite all the snoring), and an awesome start to that day that we could pack up and eat our breakfast inside at a real table, it felt like luxury after two nights of camping.

This was defiantly the easiest day with only about 6 hours of hiking, it was the shortest distance to walk, had the least climbing and the track quality was way up. The only hard section was just after half way (heading north) where there was about an hour of uphill climb. According to my fitbit it was 70 flights of stairs in that section alone.

This day had some more varied terrain with some stuck in the bush, some ridgeline sections, some along the river side, and some really beautiful spots passing small water holes. It was great getting more variation compared to the first two days.

Well maintained tracks
Often following the river
We got to the Waitawheta Hut at 3:30 and there was already a number of families there and more showed up not long after to give us an almost full hut. This section of the range was much more accessible with easier and more maintained tracks so there were more touristy people than the hikers for the last hut.

Despite this having been an easy day we were all starting to get worn down so it was great to just relax in the hut. Bags were getting much lighter too so that helped.

Waitawheta Hut for the night
Day 5

We had to get up at 6 and got moving just after 7am as there was a possibility of 10 hours of hiking ahead of us. Both Doc and NZ tramper had the walk to the next hut listed at 4.5 hours, then Karangahake Gorge as 5.5 hours from there, however the sign at the Waitawheta Hut had the walk listed as 3 hours to Dalys Hut. I find these signs are generally right on time when hiking with a heavy pack so I was fairly confident we would get to the Gorge before 5pm.
Easy going
Great views
There are about 10 of these bridges

The walk to Dalys hut was really easy, with most of it being old tramway, there was only a short stretch of hut hill 20-30 flights of stairs (according to fitbit). We made it to the hut in 2.5 hours so well ahead of the track times and feeling pretty good. The hut was really cool, quite old with a new funky paint job but had everything a hut needs inside; I will try to make a trip back to stay here at some point.

Dalys Hut
Regrowth of Kauri trees
The next section to Dickies flat were well maintained tracks, easy going with some nice views, particularly alongside the river. However things got a bit tricky when we got to Dickies Flat. The map wasn’t quite large enough for a good indication of which direction to go, and there didn’t appear to be a sign post for the Gorge, but after a few false starts we found out way. This section was very well maintained (almost wheel chair friendly) and went along side the river to a tunnel which was quite cool and even included some glow worms. The easy track continued past the tunnel which a short section of stairs up to the windows walk. This is a short walk in tunnels with beautiful views out the windows (cut as exit points for the material removed when tunnelling) only 20 minute from the Gorge. 

Looking out one of the windows
This was truly the final stretch, to civilisation, or a car park full of people that is.

From the look out.

Final thoughts

While I enjoyed this walk and would certainly come back to hike different sections, I don’t think I would hike the north south again. For me it was too much time stuck under the canopy without views, and not enough varied terrain for me. I’m happy to have done it, and would suggest it to others, but maybe not a round 2.