I was down to lead the medium traverse of the Haurangis, one of my favorite tramping haunts, 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 one else signed up, we were obviously forgotten; mere “has beens”. Craig, having spent so much time ultra-cycling with his feet cleated to his pedals, had all but forgotten how to walk, while child rearing is proving the ultimate endurance event of all for me.
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 on this tramp proved to be a roaring success.
With tummies 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 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, marvelous stands of mature native trees and a spectacular descent into the Kawakawa stream over a well marked but not overly 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.
The next day brought clearing drizzle. We were at Kawakawa Hut within 30 minutes and breakfasted with the easy-medium group before heading south up the other branch of the valley towards the Kawakawa Saddle.
Travel was fast: the stream was low and its banks clear; yet in spite of this, the unimaginable happened: we became separated. The drama unfolded thus: I got ahead of Craig and stopped to brush my teeth. Five minutes passed. A little concerned I left my pack where it could easily be seen and headed back down stream to find Craig – to no avail. I had lost my punter in broad daylight in a narrow stream on a well marked route!
Punters don’t just vanish. Having thoroughly searched downstream 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 waited. A man sized boulder in the stream between us combined with river noise had rendered me invisible as he walked up the other side a mere 5 meters from me. It was as likely as tossing a coin which lands on its edge, but we had done it achieving the impossible.
The next hour was spent catching up to Craig who 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. I was, he alleged, playing tricks and telling fibs; no way was it possible to lose each other in such a benign place. After a brief but intense discussion we found the funny side of it and resumed the steady pleasant plod over the saddle to Mangatoetoe Hut for a quick bite before the final trudge to the sea with the sun finally coming out in earnest.