Author’s note: Here are boring track details for those that look for this sort of thing first. Overall my impressions are that it’s a relatively wide, well formed track along a scenic range overlooking the volcanic plateau. Approximately 5-7 hours from roadend to the hut via the ridge. Generally quite good track with only a few muddy rutted patches along the tops. The tops are well marked and well poled with blue poles with orange DOC triangles every 20-30m. The tops would be quite exposed in bad weather and comments in the hut intentions book confirmed that it is not pleasant. Elevation change from approximately to 700m at the roadend to 1590m at the top of Umukarikari back down to 1000m to the hut. The walk down from the ridge to the hut is quite steep and can be quite icy in colder weather as the mauve coloured stone, which forms some of the steps leading down, seems to absorb water and become more icy than its surroundings. Taking the river would add 2-3 hours to the trip and would be best done in the summer walking up river. The hut is quite popular with hunters so during the Roar and other busy hunting periods the hut might be crowded. And now, back to the show…
We arrived at the campsite in the dark. What campsite depends who you ask for, but it was a nice sheltered spot by a stream. It even had a concrete fireplace where one could attempt to burn some damp beech if one felt like it. It was going to be my first night sleeping under a fly. Generally I am a civilised outdoorsman and bring a tent, but with six of us on this trip I thought well let’s try this out, otherwise where is the sense of community?! From my recent trip to Tongariro I knew that it would get cold in the morning, so I was prepared. Down jacket and balaclava on, I went to bed and slept soundly. Too soundly as it turns out, as my (alleged) snoring was quite impressive.
The destination was Waipakihi hut in the Kaimanawas, and we were going via the Umukarikari range. The hut it is also accessible by walking up the Waipakihi river, but this necessitates a bit of a detour over the Urchin and takes about 2-3 hours longer. Because this was an Easy-Medium trip (and I hope because it was going to be so cold!) our trip leader Megan wisely decided that we would take the Umukarikari range there and back.
I was particularly interested in this tramp as I flagged it as one of the tramps I should do in a book I own – North Island Weekend Tramps (2nd ed) by Shaun Barnett, which notes that “Altogether this tramp marks the ideal introduction to Kaimanawa tramping”.
After getting ready and loading our gear in the van we set out for the nearby roadend. Passing a very comfortable campsite, which we all decided was too nice for our liking and maybe a little too exposed to frost, we started our climb through some nice looking bush and the sun was peeking through the numerous beech trees and other greenery. On our walk up we saw and heard a lot of bird life, such as Tui, fantails, robins and Kereru. The more tramping I do around New Zealand the more I am amazed by the noticeable differences in the plants, birds and even rocks between different places. The volcanic nature of the nearby area was confirmed by a large piece of pumice in the track which served as a footstep.
After approximately 3 hours steadily uphill we reached the end of the treeline. Debbie was a ahead of me and yelling something, I couldn’t understand what until I got closer and saw a bit of ice in the shadows above the treeline. Winter is coming, I guess. As we got higher we saw a great view of the volcanic plateau and the three volcanoes with Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe wearing a bit of dusting of snow on top. What a difference two weeks makes, as only two weeks ago there was absolutely no snow on Ngauruhoe and only a little bit on the top of Ruapehu.
Going higher along the ridge we also got a good view of Lake Taupo and Lake Rotoaira. With some clouds gathering around us somebody enquired if there was a chance of rain. “Nah” said Katy, “If all these guys started getting jiggy together, it will be a rain cloud”. Boom, there it is, the quote of the trip.
After lunch just past Umukarikari we caught the first glimpse of the hut, it was on a little shelf just by the river in amongst all the tussock. The walk down was quite steep, down and along a sharp ridge with mauve rock and chiseled steps. Despite it being about 3-4 in the afternoon the mauve rocks had a coating of ice, which made them particularly slippery. Avoiding major dramas we got to the bottom of the valley. After passing a signpost with a pelt of some formerly living thing on it, we forded a small creek and reached the hut. We were the only party there. Splendid isolation.
After a minor skirmish about the proper way to cook rice on an MSR stove, the troop got stuck into making dinner. The recipe called for a vegeterian goulash, which was spruced up with some canned chicken (chop chop chicken, mmmm) for extra protein and precious calories. The vegetarian goulash recipe from the club recipe book can be modified thusly, – replace 1 potato with 1 can of chop chop chicken, or smoked chicken if the funds allow. And add salt. A little bag of salt goes a long way!
After dinner I had my first go at Bananagrams! For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a combination of scrabble and crossword and it really tests the more erudite members of the group. For those that want their own version of the game, apparently a cheap scrabble set from the Warehouse works wonders. I was having no luck, I mean come on Jamonadez is totally a word! (Which I define it to be an alcoholic concoction with booze (probably vodka) and (probably raspberry) jam).
Because of my alleged snoring, I was segregated to the other sleeping room of the hut, and Garth decided to come along for solidarity. The moon was out in the night and a little morning frost made the valley quite nippy in the morning. Winter is coming, I suppose. The group quickly finished breakfast and faffing about and we were off.
A quick walk up the ridge and the mauve steps was mercifully quick. Feeling a little bit stiff from yesterday’s effort my legs and lower back were quite sore, but were completely fine after a quick break and once the blood was pumping.
We travelled relatively fast across the tops. The weather was even better than the previous day! Warm and sunny with pretty much no breeze. On the way back we saw some hunters who were camping on the ridge. Apparently they escaped most of the frost and had quite a pleasant night, saw a deer but otherwise had no luck. We bid them goodbye and then came across two Whanganui tramping club members where we discussed the economics of club vans and who has the better lodge on Ruapehu (WTMC by far I think).
After keeping the party on track at a couple of junctions we dropped down towards the treeline for lunch. Where it turns out we all heard rumbling of sorts, now there was a lot of steam coming off the Northern side of Tongariro, so who knows, the giant may have been rumbling. After lunch we meandered through the bush and saw some friendly robins and passed a cooing Kereru, before finally reaching our van (which was safe and sound) at the roadend.
Overall it was a very worthwhile trip. The detour via the river could be quite fun, maybe best in the summer when it is warmer and the river level would generally be lower. I think it would be better to go to the hut via the river and come back via the ridge to get the best of both worlds in terms of views and ease of track. At the train station, Garth said it was the best trip yet, and I concur, it really was.