Late one night many months ago as I scrolled about the topomap in search of tramps I spotted the Papatahi Crossing, the Orongorongo valley’s longest DOC trail. It’s a long tramp and needs a break in the middle. I investigate the sole-occupancy Papatahi Hut and find it free on a Saturday many months in the future so pounce on it. This blog is a record of that trip (no Papatahi Crossing though; weather sucked).
Claire and I leave at 11 from the Catchpool carpark. It’s set to hose down later and through a variety of plans falling apart none of the folks coming along are going in together, we’re three different groups.
The walk in is fast and beautiful. “Funny how you enjoy the beauty of this trail on the way in but don’t notice it at all on the way back” says Claire, as we stroll along enjoying the beautiful bush.
DOC have recently installed some fun signs about bridge capacity. They do leave one wondering what to do if there’s 15 of you:
Out at the Orongorongo bridge I am amazed by the view – the creek is entirely different now, scoured out in a flood. It must have been a rager!
We stop for lunch, and I point out the Onga Onga under the bridge. It’s the only one I know of in the orongorongo valley and I’m happy to see it’s still alive to point out to people. Do not touch!
We head up the Big Bend track, enjoying spotting the hidden private huts that dot the route. It’s easier today; the weekend is a 4×4 access weekend where all the utes come in to tidy up their huts and enjoy the weekend. The peace is cut by the roar of chainsaws and the river view dotted with utes parked alongside the bush, telltale signs of neat huts hidden away.
At the Whakanui Track intersection we spot brother Dave and Mel who are joining us at Papatahi. They must have darted by as we stopped at Turere. They’re deciding how to carry on from here as Mel isn’t hot on river crossings and one is required, if they are to avoid a lengthly and challenging ridge climb up the East Whakanui Track.
We do the river crossing thing together and push up river as the rain behinds in earnest. We pass the great shingle fan of Matthews stream and push further north than I’ve ever gone; much further than I expected.
Papatahi hut is not low down the banks of the river, it is on a little patch directly north of a big riverside plateau. Fortunately the others didn’t take my spot-finding to heart when I wanted to cross the river and clamber directly up the steep cliffs; around the other side of the flat riverside bit is a blue pole and some DOC signage hiding in the shade of the trees, hard to spot in the darkening gloom. We cross the river, much lower in these higher reaches.
Clare is maybe coming out too, a seasoned South Island Te Araroa Survivor; we tie my bright orange packcover to a tree to help her spot the track up and head on up to the hut.
DOC rangers have passed through the hut a couple of days ago, they’ve cleared the tracks and tidied everything up for the long weekend I suppose; we’re lucky to have had them through! Dave and Claire get on the fire which proves resistant to starting on the damp wood, but they get it roaring eventually.
Not ten minutes behind us Clare knocks on the door; she was dashing out and, asking directions of a ute grandad, got a ride up to the base of the track. Good score! She did meet some other camo-creeps earlier on the Orongo track though, so not all sunshine for lone women in the bush so close to the city unfortunately.
We spend a grand night with flash dinners, candles, wine, spicy hot chocolate and games. Pots, pans, a kettle, cooking utensils, mugs and bowls all make the evening even more comfortable. There’s something so relaxing about a sole occupancy hut, the knowledge no grungy wet bums are going to come in at 5, 10 or 2, the knowledge you can explode everywhere because it’s going to be your space to explode all night.
In the morn we have a decadent relaxed breakfast.
We eventually depart north, up the spur 250 vertical metres to the East Whakanui Track. The rain was heavy overnight and looking down on the river from here we’re not keen on crossing.
The trail is a well-marked trapping route, but it’d be hard to spot on the way down from the top. Here are some pics of the ‘intersection’; if I head this way again I might make a little sign.
The East Whakanui Track is my favourite so far in the Orongorongos – beautiful grand trees, enough of a ground trail but not a well-travelled one.
We drop the steep final moments to the Whakanui Creek and are very careful; there’s a drop into the raging brown river if we’re not careful. We drop into the relatively peaceful creek, its clear water as high as the river but resisting the backflow and sitting stationary. It’s a deep (top-of-knee) but safe crossing.
Clare bombs it and we stop at Turere Lodge for lunch again. There’s a very welcoming group here – I poke my head in and many are lying on each others’ stomachs on the floor while another dances about in a onesie. We ask if it’s OK to hang around on the deck a bit and have a cuppa before heading off.
Heading the opposite way are some young lads, carrying boxes of beer in both hands infront of them, just school backpacks on their backs. They’ll be having a cold night where-ever they’re headed!
Claire isn’t wrong about the Orongorongo track, it’s so easy and quick, we bomb it back just thinking about pies and warmth. We stop for cream donuts and pies in Wainui; it’s grand. Having Monday off feels so decadent too. When you go tramping in the weekend, that’s it – to go tramping AND have a day off, that’s Christmas.
Much love for the Orongorongos, so handily close to Wellington and beautiful. There’s nowhere quite like it. Thanks everyone for such a fun winter trip!