So lucky with the traffic on Friday night! We got to the Urchin campsite at the end of Kaimanawa Road at around 10.15pm. Urchin campsite has ample grassy sites (compared with gravelly Waitaha Valley/Waikoko campsite); it’s about a 10-minute drive between the two.

So lucky with the weather, too – a clear sky and no wind. The clear sky was great because we got a good view of the lunar eclipse that night. And no wind is always a good thing when you’re putting up tents on a Friday night. In fact, I really appreciated the still conditions on Friday night because I wasn’t that familiar with my new hiking tent, let alone putting it up in the dark, and with my head torch malfunctioning despite fresh batteries, I thought there was a good chance I’d be plunged into permanent darkness at any moment. So I hadn’t done a particularly good job of it and if the wind had gotten up, I’d likely have woken with the tent collapsed on top of me.

On Saturday morning, we had a quick side trip to the intriguingly named Pillars of Hercules – rather underwhelming – and drove on to the start of the Umukarikari track. The first two hours were largely uphill but at a reasonably comfortable gradient, rising from 700m to about 1250m as we got to the start of the open tops. We reached the track’s highest point close to the hill named Umukarikari (1591m).

Into the open, Saturday AM
View toward Rotoaria with flat-topped Hikurangi on the horizon (R)
Ruapehu, Ngaruhoe, Tongariro

So lucky with the weather all day on Saturday! It could not have been more perfect: pleasantly warm, a brilliant blue sky with distant cloud only beyond Taupō, and the lightest of cooling breezes. We spent about 3 hours walking along the poled route on top of the Umukarikari Range, including an hour’s worth of breaks, and then descended toward Waipakihi hut (at about 1100m). All up, we tramped it in 6.5 hours (DOC suggests 6-8 hours for the 14km trip).

Lunch stop, Saturday
Destination in sight!
Descending to Waipakihi

It was good to arrive at the hut before 3pm, knowing we had hours left to enjoy the warm day. Waipakihi has two six-person bunkrooms, with a kitchen/dining room in between. We took over one of the bunkrooms and three of our group set up tents. No one else had yet arrived but by the end of the day, 24 were sleeping in the hut or camping outside. Some relaxed on the deck or the grass at the front, others went down to the river to cool off, or chatted with later arrivals. The hut had been upgraded only the day before with a new toilet and wooden slats replacing the old (saggy) spring bases on the bunks.

Waipakihi hut
Relaxing in front of the hut

Dinner was macaroni with a tomato and vegetable sauce (plus mushrooms or bacon as preferred) with grated cheese. Charlotte, who had to pull out the day before the trip, contributed her delicious home-made ginger crunch, which was very much enjoyed (also by some lucky hunters who were offered the last few pieces).

On Sunday morning the weather was cool and misty and by the time we reached the tops, we were keen to move onward and out of the mist as efficiently as possible. The DOC sign said 5-7 hours for the return journey and our keenness proved pretty efficient, taking us 5 hours, including a few short breaks.

Heading for the tops, Sunday
Into the mist, Sunday

Now for some concluding comments from the team:

Annabelle: I loved hearing and seeing the kākā playing together on Saturday morning as we packed up our tents. I was in awe of how clear the Waipakihi River was, and how some people braved a refreshing dip after the tramp.

Tom: I’m really glad that for my first club trip I had a great bunch of people and a great track to walk.

Howard: I enjoyed the company and the banter, and also people taking time to appreciate the interesting natural history (botany, geology, etc)!

Sara: I enjoyed the challenge and the varied landscape as we climbed up and over the tops, from native bush to volcanic views to then endless mountain ranges and the track stretching as far as the eye could see.

Monique: I liked that we got to use the large deck sited to enjoy the afternoon sun.

Cindy: It was just so nice doing an overnight trip again after a year of rehab on my ankle. It felt so great to be away. Getting to the hut nice and early and having time to relax in the sun and swim in the river was fantastic.

Karen: What I enjoyed the most was that after almost a year of not going on any tramps that I didn’t collapse in exhaustion, and I loved the little swim I had in the river.

A very enjoyable trip, and one I’d be happy to repeat.

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