Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Children of the Mist

Te Urewera National Park / Lake Waikaremoana

After gathering camping equipment for a while, we were finally ready to set out into the national parks. Large protected areas with minimal settlement where the nature is left mostly to itself. Thus very different from the endless green meadows hosting sheep and cattle.

Our national park of choice was Te Urewera National Park for two reasons. First it was the closest to our current harbour in Gisborne, and second it is also said to be one of the most beautiful with its gigantic lake, lake waikaremoana, in the center. It also hosts one of New Zealand's Great Walks, which your foolhearted authors decided to tackle. A Great Walk is a hiking track covering several days. For the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk 3-4 days are estimated. With the labour weekend (a long weekend covering 3 days, Monday is labour day) coming up, we gave each other confidence that we would be able to walk it in 3 days. In the days when European settlement was still sparse, Te Urewera was home to a fabled Maori tribe called "Children of the Mist". Indeed the whole area is usually clad in fog, which gives it an magical aura. Also it is so seculded by mountains from the rest of New Zealand, that the children of the mist rarely had contact to other tribes.

The Creation of Lake Waikaremoana

Maahu took Kau-Ariki to wife and had eight children. Daughter called "Hau-Mapuhia" was special.
One evening  Maahu asked Hau-Mapuhia to go to a spring to fetch some water.  Typical teenager even today there's no difference, Hau-Mapuhia politely refused.

This enraged Maahu so he went to the spring himself. So enraged was he that when he stayed there a long time, Hau-Mapuhia went after him. Now Maahu was really angry that he took Hau-Mapuhia and thrust her under the water and held her there.

The Gods taking pity on her turned her into a taniwha and endowed her with great and beautiful powers. Breaking away from her fathers grasp Hau-Mapuhia forced her way through the solid ground and formed the great hollow in which lie the waters of Waikare. In her quest to reach the ocean "Moana Nui a Kiwa" Hau-Mapuhia formed the many arms and inlets around the lake.

However when Hau-Mapuhia reached the Komore at the outlet of the lake where the waters rush and flow quickly, she became fixed and so lies to this day with her hair waving in the rushing waters in the form of Kohuwai, a green water plant.

Since the nature should be left as undisturbed as possible, freedom camping (camping whereever you want) is prohibited in National Parks. Instead camping grounds with minimal accomodation (toilets and a water from a rainwater tank) are provided. To avoid the park from being crowded a booking system was introduced, allowing only a limited number of visitors in the park at a time. We were lucky to book two of the camping grounds on short notice and were thus ready to start. On friday we went to the supermarket and bought food for three days and then went home and started packing.


Starting early when the sun was still down, we drove around 3 hours to the visitor center of Te Urewera National park. The last one and a half hours (70 km) was almost entirely made out of windy gravel road. But we managed to get there around 8 and got our tickets for the camping grounds. Next we head back to a motor camp that provides safe parking and paid for a water taxi to take us across the lake to the starting point of the Great Walk.
Just there at the beginning, we learned our first lesson: Don't laugh about fellow hikers. Just after the water taxi we were overtaken by a group of young girls pressing on with an enourmous speed. We said to each other: "They won't get far at this speed", and 5 minutes later, they already made halt at a little A-shaped hut. We laughed heartily and pressed on the way... only to find out that we were already lost, when we reached the little village of Onepoto and an entering woman told us: "Oh to get to the Great Walk, you have to cross an A-shaped hut". ......

To Panekiri (5 h)

So getting back to that hut, we had learned our lesson. We brought a little map that read the first part of the track leads up an 1100 m high mountain and should take around 5 hours. At least we were rested. Well actually I was still suffering from a cold, but we didn't want to loose the chance of finally getting into nature, so we went despite my condition. After climbing steadily upwards for over 5 hours, there was still no sign of the Panekiri hut promised in the map. Gradually we lost all hope and went on at snail speed. Our back and shoulders hurting from the weight of our luggage every new climb was another challenge. An hour later we lost all hope of ever finding that hut and were completely down. We now made short pauses almost after every climb. Just when we were about to give up, thinking we somehow must have missed the hut, there was one more steep climb and after that we heared voiced. On top was the hut. This first part already took us 2 hours more than estimated by the map. It was 17:00 o'clock when we reached the hut. And with us carrying all that weight up thos 1100 meters, we were already at the end of our stamina. However! we booked the Waiopaoa camping ground, not the hut. That means we had another 4 hours ahead of us to reach our goal for today. At least we rewarded ourselved with a yummy lunch. When we started climbing we intended to make a pause of about an hour. However with the day having progressed already so far, we had no time to spare, else we'd waste precious sunlight time. And the next four hours were steep downhill. A path you surely don't want to go with a flashlight. 

To Waiopaoa (3-4 h)

So with only minimal rest, we pushed on. Luckily the meal filled us with new energy and we could manage quite a speed at the beginning. Also going downhill takes much less power that climbing up, so we managed to progress with quite some speed. Talking very little, making few pauses we tried our best to get as far as possible before sunset. We estimated the sun to set around 19:00 so we strangled to get down this damn mountain before the light would run out. In the end the light reached untill 20:00 and just then we managed to climb the last part down, only to find the camp minutes later. With the last rays of sunlight we built up our tent. With darkness surrounding us, we made a little soup, showed the ranger our ticket and quickly fell asleep in our tent. Wheew what a day!  

I must say though, that just as the guide said, the views towards the lake from the top of the mountain were most rewarding. I don't think we have ever seen such beautfiul nature before. The views were so stunning, that every time the lake came into view and pasued in awe.
Also the old trees along the path seemed magical. Their form resembled countless creatures from the realm of animals and fantast. See the pictures for some samples.
Finally the way down from Panekiri to Waiopaoa was one of the most rewarding of the whole walk. The atmosphere at this side of the mountain was simply mystical. There was a faint mist hanging around, beautiful and imposing rock walls and trees and plants that seemed out of this world. All that with the sound of exotic birds in the background singing a never ending variety of songs...


To Kokoro (1.5 h)

We tried to rise early to have a little more time for the second time. We snacked mi goreng, indonesian noodle snacks, packed our tent and stuff and got going. The second day seemed much easier and we already managed the hardest part of the track yesterday. Our first stop was Kokoro Campsite, only 1.5 hours away from Waiopaoa. However most of the trail was covered in mud and we felt like the hobbits crossing the dead marshes, just with a little more sunlight. Crossing a swamp takes a lot of balance, since you have to balance on logs and stones, or try to pass it on the sides. Despite that, well rested as we were, we managed to get to Kokoro in the estimated time and reached there around 10:30 am. Just before the campsite, there was a side trail reading: Kokoro Falls 30 min. Having a little more time this day and being here for the wonderful nature, we gave it a go. Also we could leave our heavy bags at the intersection, as we would return here later.

Kokoro Falls (30 min x2)

It felt so good not having to our heavy bags for a while, that we almost run there. Again the path there was filled with awe inspiring nature, brining up images from fairy worlds. But what made this track so great was, that at one point you actually had to cross a river. When we reached that point, we puzzeled how to get on, when bilge rat noticed a steel rope spun across the river. Yep. You had to cross the river jumping from stone to stone. Just like in Indiana Jones movies. However there was that little rope to help you a bit. It turned out to be a lot of fun. Not easy and just challenging enough for us.
On the other side continuing for a little longer we reached the water falls. Wow what a view. The water thundered down the rock wall sprinkling watery foam all over the place. For bilge rat it was the first real life water fall she had seen. Her nose also spotted a little pathway that lead even closed to the waterfalls. Really cool.

To Maraunui (2.5 h)

The trip to and fro the water falls took us a little more than 1.5 hours. So much for the extra spare time of the day. It was now already past midday, however we decided to get to the next station before eating our lunch. Because our final destination was even farer away, and we'd probably need the energy of the meal to manage the final track today. So on we went.
Alas to get to Maraunui we needed to climb another mountain, though much smaller than Panekiri. It took us quite a while, but we did not loose heart and pushed on. We often looked at our map judging our progress. After 2 hours we hoped to be at Marunui soon, but after 1 more hour we had to admit, that probably we barely made more than half the track. The map was just too small to really make out where we were, so we often made false asumptions just to be downhearted in the end for still having to far till the next station. Just when we were running low on energy still having a really long path ahead, we crossed a little house on some private land, where people were enjoying coffee and cake. Seeing us exhausted fellas, they offered us some cake. We gladly accepted and the cake gave us that missing power to manage it to Maraunui. Again instead of the 2.5 hours estimated by the guide/map, it took us more than twice the time to get there.

Exhausted we were facing the same problem as the day before. With the sun setting in 3 hours, we still had 2.5 hours ahead of us. Sounds managable, but when you see how long we needed for the last 2.5 hour trail, it was disheartening. Still. We ate our lunch (Risotto) and after a tiny pause pushed on again.

To Maraunui Hut (30 min)

At Maraunui the hut was not at the campsite, but another 30 minutes further up a little hill. With the energy of the meal we managed the climb quite good and it took us only a few minutes longer than estimated to get there.

To Waiharuru (2 h)

So onwards to the final track for the day! According to the map/guide the track would simply lead along the lake, so we hoped for an easy path. However we had to cross a little hill yet again and the path seemed to be unending. Again we checked our map every so often and just when we thought to have reached the camp after 2 hours, again dishearted we found that we barley made more than half the way again having misinterpreted our little map. But we would not give up and went on and on. Exhausted we would talk little and just keep walking with our eyes focused on the trail. When the light grew dim we finally reached Waiharuru, our stop for the day. So again with the last 15 minutes of dim sunlight, before the pitch black night would take over, we managed to get our tent up. In the darkness I then prepared some pasta meal, which warmed us a little for the night. We then went to sleep. We slept like rocks....


The final day! Our bodies were wrecked, but the thought that we will be resting in our beds at the end of the day gave us the strength to face the last part of the walk. To get some energy for the start we consumated some Hokkien style noodles before packing our tent. Then we got going to our next destination.

To Tapuaenui (1.5 h)

The trip was only 1.5 hours so neither the distance, nor the time estimate frightend us. However after walking for a while we noticed on the map and track description that the track would lead straight across the back bone hills of a little peninsula. You know what that means, right? Yup, another steep climb. Damn. At least we were rested from the night and energized from our breakfast. Thus with vigor and speed we did not look back, but took the hill face on. Once we were on top of it, the path took us over the neck of the peninsula in something less than an hour after letting us go downhill again. We reached the lake and by that Tapuaenui in a bit more than 2 h. Not too bad regarding our experience with time estimates the previous day.

In the eraly morning the lake had a totally different quality

To Whaganui (1 h)

Another hour ahead of us till the next station. Although we were already getting hungry, we decided to wait a little longer, so lunch would give us the power for the last bit of the track. Again the track proofed much much longer than the time estimated and when the map deceived us another time we left it for good. It only brought us dismay anyhow. However... just when we were loosing heart Bilge Rat found that the final track still ahead of us (estimated time 2 h) does lead beyond the point, where the water taxi would pick us up and drive us back to our car. In fact that shortened the final part from 2 h to a mere 45 minutes. This news cheered us up to an extent that allowed us to finish the track to Whaganui in a not too bad time (~ 1.5 not bad for us).

With the knowledge that we had only 45 min more to go, we could actually take a real break at Whaganui. We sat down next to the lake and enjoyed our final meal: Turkish Pide (bread) and a can of baked beans. Then we just lay down in the grass and enjoyed the sunny weather.

To End of the Great Walk (2 h) / To Water Taxi Pick Up Point (45 min)

Alright! With a real pause for a change we had no worries for the final part of the Great Walk. Also knowing it would only take around 45 minutes even made us cheer. Thus we really enjoyed the last bit of walking reaching the pick up point one hour before the appointed pick up time.

Having a bit time on hour hands for a change, we tried swimming in the lake. But though the weather was really nice and warm, the lake was just too cold for us. And that 5 minutes we spent trying gave us some 50 mosquito bites.... that iched for weeks....

The End

Damn we really made it. In three days we walked 45 kilometeres. We walked for over 10 hours the first two days and 5 hours on the third. We climbed countless hills and mountains up and down, the highest one having 1100 meters. We camped outside in our tent, though the nights would get really chilly. We managed all that with a huge weight on our backs.

And... we are eager to tackle the next Great Walk :)
However: With better backpacks, more time (less hurry) and more snacks on the way (esp. musli bars and nuts).

In the end the walk was very strenous, but totally rewarding. My initial cold just passed away and we felt healthy and fit like never before. Also the lake is just so beautiful, the nature so magical and the weather so nice that we really are lucky to had the chance experiencing all that. We hope our pictures give you a little impression of what we saw.


P.S. another marvelous thing about this walk is the variations of the vegetation you will pass through. At some point you are in the midst of a rain forest, which is giving way to grass lands, turning into a swamp, again drying out until you reach dry highland bushland. There were so many distinct vegetations that we lost count of them. Truly magical.

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