I had my sights set on the Karapoti Rata for a while. The largest rata tree in New Zealand, and even the world? Just 30 minutes drive and a short scramble away from Wellington? I had to see it.
Five of us were meeting at 7.50am at the train station, and when I pulled in at 7.49am everyone was lined up and ready to go. It would set the tone for the rest of the trip: speedy and efficient.
After a short drive up the Hutt Valley, we followed the signs to Staglands and quickly found the Karapoti Road carpark. As we got out to put our shoes on, Murray arrived and parked alongside us. Timing on point.
My vision for the trip was simple: find the tree. Online reports stated it would take 2 to 3 hours, on sometimes rough terrain and some bushbashing. I was expecting it to be a 4 to 6 hours round trip and had asked the group to come prepared with a map, compass and head torches – just in case…
Little did I know how familiar Murray was with the area!
As we started heading up the gravel road chatting, about 50 meters in, Murray called us out: the track is here! We had walked right past it. Murray took the lead – where he stayed for the rest of the trip. We walked at a steady pace on a fairly good track, with the occasional branch or tree that we had to go under or over. And there was a short scramble down assisted by a rope. The track is not marked, but is fairly easy to follow. A bit further up we got to a stream and got our feet wet criss-crossing it, despite the relatively low flow. Chatting and walking, the time flew by and when I finally looked up, there was the tree! Only 1h 10 mins after leaving the road end.
While there isn’t really a way to see the top of it, it’s possible to walk around the tree and appreciate how large and tall it stands. We spent about half an hour at its feet, joking that we would be back at the car before lunch.
To keep things interesting, our newly appointed leader, Murray, suggested we take another track back – so we could complete a loop rather than doing an “in-and-out” trip. Still suffering from brain fog after a busy week at work, I was delighted not to have to make any decisions. Before we knew it, Murray was expertly navigating the maze of unmarked tracks, making sure we were staying on the spur and not heading back down towards Little Akatarawa River.
Again, the tracks were easy to walk on, although fairly muddy and slippery. There was a mix of pink permolat and the bottoms of beer cans nailed on trees along the track to indicate the general direction in a more or less consistent way. There were many opportunities to take the wrong turn if you don’t know the area as well as Murray does. We thought this was an interesting way to mark out the track – drink a beer every 100m or so, so you can nail the bottom of it to a tree? A relaxing but lengthy process! There was no drinking or faffing on this trip though – and within 1h 30 mins we were back at the road end.
All up the loop and breaks took us 3 hours and 12 minutes! Talk about efficiency!
A short drive back to Wellington and we had the afternoon to spare.
Pro tip: Make sure Murray is on your trip, or allow additional time for route finding.