Having scheduled a couple of trips to the Kaimanawas only to see them founder from a lack of interest I was getting pretty desperate to explore this unknown Forest Park. It was fortunate therefore that it now appeared on the schedule as both medium and easy medium trips, so I keenly signed up.
Following the disastrous weather that hit Wellington on the Thursday before the trip it was touch and go whether the Kaimanawa curse would continue. I was therefore relieved to receive a final confirmation at midday on Friday that the trip was a go despite SH1 still being closed by a slip.
We met as normal at the train station on Friday night and were soon on our way taking a detour over Paekakariki hill to avoid the slip affected section of SH1. After the panic of the last few days the forecast looked do-able (it was easy to look at it negatively) although a last minute check before leaving work brought up a snow alert for the Desert Road early Saturday morning.
After a long drive we arrived a rather soggy Kaimanawa campsite around midnight. The others pitched their tents whilst I opted for a bivy bag and the concrete floor of the shelter. We were soon all turned in for the night.
The morning dawn fine although there did seem to be some clag in the distance and me and Andre set off at about 8 am leaving the Easy Mediums to a leisurely breakfast. The first section of the trip was a bit of a road bash until the start of the Urchin track which then climbed steadily for 600+ metres through pleasant open forest. It was similar vegetation to the Kawekas with large trees and a bush line that I noticed extended fairly high to about 1,200 m.
On reaching the bush edge we were confronted by a stiff breeze and looking at the snow on some of the surrounding peaks we took the opportunity to don some extra clothing as it would be pretty exposed for most of the day.
It was another 100 m to the summit of Urchin where we hovered to take a few pictures with good views of the tops and Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu to the West. We were lucky that the breeze was coming from behind and to the side of us so it helped us along our way.
From here we followed the ridge-line in a westerly direction dipping back into the bush line after a couple of Kilometres where the track zig-zagged among the stunted bush which slowed our progress somewhat.
By lunchtime we were still below the bush line, tracking along the narrow ridge occasionally glimpsing the Waipakihi River on our right.
After a short lunch break we began climbing again eventually leaving the bush behind and reaching the Umukarikari Track junction at about 1,500 m. With the odd splodge of snow lying around we could see from the fresh prints that the easy medium group must now be ahead of us and so we headed off in pursuit.
From here we had good views of lake Taupo on one side and the river valley on the other; behind us snow covered Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (if you’re looking for views this place is real value for money).
At this time however the wind started to pick up a bit and we had the of shower of sleet/hail, the little ball bearings of snow beginning to sting our faces as our direction turned slightly more southerly towards Waipakahi hut.
As we crested a final peak the hut came into view down at the head of the valley perched in a prime position looking out over a large area of river flats. Having heard that the hut was stocked with wood and coal we could not as yet see any smoke.
The descent to the hut as a long gentle gradient and as if on cue smoke began to rise from the chimney when we were about 20 minutes away. On reaching the valley floor we had one small tributary to cross before reaching our destination. Tempting as it would be to take the boots off, we ploughed on through wetting our feet for the first time. We arrived at the hut to find the easy medium group in the kitchen, sitting in front of the stove having already settled in.
The layout of the hut was somewhat unusual with a central kitchen and bunk rooms on either side – not internally linked. This meant the benefit of the fire would not be felt in our bunks but after working out the potential snorers I managed to snaffle a bed rather than camp down in the kitchen.
We then went about hanging items up to dry and huddling around the fire with hot drinks. Being only two of us mine and Andrei’s meal was not the usual mission of gathering varying quantities of food and working around the usual miscalculated ingredients, although we had ample quantities to consume. Andre insisted on doing all of the cooking (top man!) and we managed to dirty only our two eating containers which required no washing up after drinks (The perfect meal!)
After eating some of us turned in early whilst others lingered in the kitchen area putting the world to rights. We all woke bright and early at 6 am the next day in order to get away for 7 am.
The morning was clear although a chill breeze persisted (on the tops at least). Both groups began to walk out together, but while boots were removed to cross the stream, me and Andre decided to keep going to save cooling down. We climbed for a while until we reached the band of sunshine descending down towards us. Here we took a break in the last of the open but sheltered bush but as the other group reached us we decided to move on, keeping slightly ahead for the rest of the morning.
Despite a chill breeze the weather was clear and the views were pretty consistent and amazing. We could see a multitude of volcanic vents emitting plumes of white cloud on the far side of Taupo lake (No wind down there!) and a similar large cloud to the right of Ngauruhoe which was surprising as I hadn’t realised that anything significant was still happening over there. We followed the Umukarikari track along the ridge all the way back to the van arriving together with the other group at about midday.
It was great trip into a spectacular area and such a shame that it had taken me so long to get there. For a bit of a climb the route gives you a variety of superb views most of the way and I’d recommend it to others, particularly in summer.