Tramp: Makakahi River and Kaiparoro to Roaring Stag

Kaiparoro to Roaring Stag from Makakahi River, Tararua Range 27/11/2021

A trip of pain and pleasure, our party of five take the little-traveled off-track hard route to Roaring Stag via Kaiaporo from the Makakahi River roadend. Do we regret it?

Leaving Wellington at a leisurely ~7:30am, four of us blat over the hill and meet our Masterton offshoot at the roadend. It’s 10am when we hit the trail, us five Bushcraft Wellingtonians don gaiters, cross the Makakahi River and get climbing into an unfamiliar area of the Tararua range. We manage to keep dry feet boulder-hopping. We are Mike, Louise, Adam, Blake and I.

The trail starts in a regenerating council forestry block. A large orange triangle beckons us up the correct ridge, but it’s obscured by regrowth. We follow this old logging road up into manuka and get to know each other. There’s an old shell casing on the road, and a bunch of possum leg-traps not in use, but not much else going on; just the sights of nice bush returning.

Makakahi River / Kaiparoro trailhead
Mike up the early forestry block

The road winds into nicer bush with rimu around; on maps from the 1950s this area was labelled ‘heavily bushed area, mostly rimu’. We see little rimu until the trail splits from the old road with fairly obvious sign-posting.

The orange-sprayed blind-slats that mark the trail also have night reflectors on them, and it’s easy enough for us to follow along. Just before the trail breaks out onto the open top of Kaiparoro (808m), a flapping tape marks a route south.

Not well-worn but well-marked, this trail leads us S and down 200m to the 1952 wreck of an RNZAF Airspeed Oxford and the remote gravesite of its unfortunate pilot, 27 year old David Leary.

There’s wreckage strewn through the bush at the site. It was only found a year later by hunters. We all have a moment here, life and death. He’d have have been 96 if alive today. This website says the flight was on official business, but this one is worth a read and says David was flying back after dropping a flight officer at a wedding; tragic either way. Now he rests in a quiet spot in the Tararuas, a special place that hasn’t been pilfered for souvenirs; keep it as such!

Some cockpit stuff?
One of the engines.

We consider starting our off-track adventure here and skipping Kaiparoro summit, but we have a peak-bagger among us and trails are always easier if they’re there! So we return and lunch at the top.

Kaiparoro trig

So begins our off-track to Roaring Stag. There’s a couple of other Meetup groups of friends heading out there too, and we mean to rendezvous.

It starts as it means to go on really. The ‘open bits’ on the map (835, 858) are a bit overdue an update; they’re more impassable scrub than clear tops. We seek the leeward side of the ridgeline, as the trees are less stunted. I swear the prevailing wind is 360degrees at times such are the trees, but there’s ground-trail here and there. We bless the deer for making it easier for us, but they do have a knack for routing under trees that snag full packs. It goes on and on, and on. You try to swing from a tree, and it comes away in your hand – some good off-track practice.

Tararualite‘s photo of this from his 2016 blog caught our eye, so here’s a 2021 update on the Totara lawn progress
I didn’t take any photos of the awful bits, but here’s a nice bit thanks Adam!
Relaxing on a little open spot

It’s really wind-blown stuff at times, with face-height leatherwood and so on. Eventually we battle over to the W of 858 and spot the three discs marking the trail to 713. There was one here in the 50s. We follow a few tattered bits of plastic bag and the odd old chopped stump, but soon lose those and it’s just on-arse sliding, dragging packs behind, legs and arms bleeding, top stuff, just hopping the bush will get taller and walkable. Eventually it does and we’re just broken. I’d eyeballed something like 6hrs, but we’re on the cusp of hour 11 when we see the light of Roaring Stag hut ahead. A year of COVID restrictions has my fitness not up to the challenge my eyes pick out for me from the comfort of my desk!

We are greeted with a huge warm welcome from those at the hut; there’s 25 people! We set up tents in the waning light, have dinner, and we’re in bed at 10:30pm for windless beaut evening by the river.

A big day. The crew don’t give me any jip, just say it was a character building trip!

Tarp and bivvy tonight

In the AM, Mike and I string up our hammocks and have half an hour of comfort or so before we pack up and hobble on.

The original plan was to have us climb up to the southern side of the Makakahi River catchment and head back via Tawhero, but given yesterday and the state of ourselves, we opt to head out with our pals to Putara roadend. Such is our state, Dermott, who is giving us a ride, waits a full two hours for us to get out there though we left at the same time! Absolute lifesaver.

An interesting exploration, not regretted now but I will admit, regretted at the time. Made enjoyable by a great combo of wonderful new and old company up for anything, thanks everyone. Once the injuries fade let’s visit Tawhero and start a bit earlier than 10am! But let’s give it a bit for the bush to grow eh, maybe 2050 or so.

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