Friday, 4 October
Wairoa River to the Wairoa Dam (14 km)
Because we’d had a break since last carrying packs, we’d got soft again. Both of us woke up feeling sensitive; Hannah’s shoulders and my hips were bruised from the weight of yesterday’s pack straps. The day was thickly overcast, gloomy and the morning was smeared with mist. The trail notes told us the Wairoa River Track would not have trail signs, but that information is outdated. The section is well marked with triangles and we were in no danger of losing our way. The path was muddy but we were relieved to see shod horse tracks. If horses have been ridden along a track, you can be sure it won’t be a path that forces you onto hands and knees and simplifies your vocabulary.
We then entered the Cossey Gorge Track, which took us through more bush and ended at Cossey Dam. Here, we noticed that the track triangles were different: they had a reflector section in the middle. Is this a special Hunua Ranges characteristic? Surely not even a prize muppet would walk these particular tracks at night with a headlamp? There must be a good reason for the reflectors, but we don’t know what it is.
About a kilometre in, we found the track blocked by a fallen tree. You can’t simply go around such an obstacle when there is a steep uphill on your left and a sharp drop on your right. We removed our packs, I climbed over first, Hannah passed me the packs and then she climbed over. When we emerged from the path section at Cossey Dam, we discovered the exit of the stretch we had just walked was screened off with two orange cones, a bar and a sign saying “Dangerous Area. No Access”. Well, OK. We had just done something for which the Department of Conservation was going to smack our little botties. “But what about the other end of that track?” I asked.
“Why didn’t they block that off?” Hannah replied that she remembered seeing a piece of orange tape lying to one side, on the ground. Maybe that had originally been strung across the path.
The weather remained dull, with occasional light mizzle as we went further into the Hunua Ranges, heading for the Wairoa Dam. We saw no other DOC warning signs or tape.
There was a persistent odour in the air; it was somewhat herbal and unpleasant. I think the source might have been the spring flowers of a particular indigenous tree found throughout the area. Interesting, though, was a bird call we had not heard anywhere before. It went “Ooon”, in a three-note, glissando descent, something like a sigh.
There was no view from the path, apart from at the lookout platform, because the vegetation is very thick. It was at this point that the steep trail became most unpleasant. As we discovered afterwards, the ranges had been mugged by the big storm of 24 September, which had inflicted some GBH on the area. Ah, so that accounted for the trail being littered with debris. There were also about six more fallen trees to get over, usually with our pack-passing manoeuvre. One tree we could not manage and so had to go around. That was difficult because of the vine-like growth which was everywhere. A machete would have been welcome. There was a lot of mud, and we both fell several times. It was not in the least bit fun, and our self-pity soared to merit level.
We also struggled to synchronise the trail notes and the trail signage. Orange triangles are no help when they point in three directions at a T-junction of paths. But we eventually arrived at the Wairoa dam despite our Will To Live having subsided to 50%. We were looking forward to the toilets promised by the trail notes at the dam’s picnic site. This ablutionary excitement was because you’re prohibited from approaching the dam shore or water, so if you want to replenish your water packs, the toilets’ hand basin taps are the only place to do so, unless you find a suitable stream en route. What the notes do not say is that there are two picnic sites, one above the dam wall and one below. It is the one below that includes the toilets and taps. The one above has only benches and tables. We arrived exhausted at the upper site, from which we could not see the lower one. Our WTL level dropped another 10%.
Luckily, cell signal here was good. Marius phoned to say he’d spoken to someone at the DOC and that we were advised to bypass the next section of the Hunua Ranges trail. More parts of the ranges than simply the Cossey Track were closed because of the fallen trees, and the Mangatawhiri section is very tough even without storm debris. According to the trail notes, there are markers here but no formed path, so “very good navigation skills” are required. You can probably hear me whimpering. I desire strongly to travel in a helicopter, but not ignominiously, after being rescued from stumbling stupidly around in the mountains. It has to be graciously, after being picked up by Prince William, who would fly me to an elegant soirée, where, wearing my purple leopardskin body stocking and a blinding amount of bling, I would sip creamy cocktails served with weeny little umbrellas.