A Mini Adventure…
One thing I love about living in New Zealand is that you are never far from adventure. This could be said for many places, or maybe anywhere, but in my little corner of the world, this is definitely the case. We have just been through a ‘Polar Blast’ and the snow on Mount Taranaki was low. So what better way to have a micro adventure than to get some great photos from up at Pouakai Hut?
Pouakai Hut sits on top of the Pouakai Ranges just to the side of Mount Taranaki. There are a few ways to get there, but I chose the most direct, the Mangorei Track, for a few reasons. Firstly, it started at the top of Mangorei Road, which was a 10-minute drive from my house (see what I mean by adventures being just around the corner?). Secondly, I knew that, although there was only roadside parking for free, there was the last house on the left that let you park on the property for a small fee; $5 a day or $10 overnight, a bargain to ensure your vehicle was safe.
It’s worth mentioning that, in general, your vehicle is safe on the road too, but on the odd occasion, there have been instances of damage and theft. Like everywhere, a few bad apples spoil the whole barrel. So Mike offers an alternative, which is more than just parking. He locks the gate at night with a combination lock that he changes frequently. Mike also notes your name and contact details and notes your plan and estimated time of return. This is invaluable, as Mike can then raise the alarm if you go missing.
With my pack loaded and boots on, I was off to find me some snow. I had used this track a few years ago in the summer, so I had an idea of what to expect. This time the biggest difference was that being winter it was a lot more slippery. The Mangorei Track has been well maintained. To stop the erosion, and damage from visitors, the Department Of Conservation (DOC) has put a boardwalk in through most of it. This essentially means you are walking up stairs for 2 hours.
My Little Bird Friend…
At these lower levels, a Tui kept me company for a while. I could hear the wings as it flew from tree to tree and every now and then it would call out. The Tui is a native New Zealand bird, most notable for the 2 white tufts at its throat and the call it gives. Here is a Maori Legend explaining how the Tui got its song. This was reported in the Otago Witness newspaper on the 28th December 1899 and was reportedly told to the author by a Maori New Zealander.
Just a note for Non-New Zealanders, you can imagine the Maori words when spoken correctly are roughly how the Tui actually sounds.
THE LEGEND OF THE TUI. AS TOLD TO THE WRITER BY A NATIVE
In the days of many wars, when tribe feasted on tribe and enemy on enemy, a certain band of warriors owned a tui. They had stolen it from its nest when scarcely feathered and taught it many things. It became so clever that from its vantage ground on the tops of the highest trees, it could warn its owners of approaching danger.
Now, these warriors belonged to a weak tribe which lay in hiding while two powerful chiefs, named Waiahu and Waieha marched through the country on the warpath, killing and eating all who came in their way. As food was scarce in the pa, the men of the hiding tribe, by early dawn or in the dusk, would steal out to gather fern roots, taking the tui with them. Once they worked longer than usual, and the dawn was breaking into day before they had gathered roots enough to last until night.
Suddenly the tui cried out these words:
“Koraki koka, kio, kio! Hohoro te paihere, hohoro te paihere, Atu ki tawhiti, ka kotia koe!”
“Tie up your bundles, quick, quick! for your enemies are coming, and you will be killed!” ‘
Now, the warriors said to each other: “We will .’work a little longer, for our enemies may be still a long way off.” So they hurried to -collect a few more roots. Then the tui called again:
“Koraki koka, kio, kio! E tarari ana kia Waiehu? E tatari ana kia Waieha? E tatari ana kia whai tekaki— Rou-rou-rou!”
which means again:
” Tie up your bundles, quick, quick! Are you waiting for Waiehu? or are you waiting for Waieha? or are you waiting for them all to come and put you down their throats?”
But still the men worked on, and the tui sang in vain.
Too late they heard the tramp, tramp, of the warriors, and the crackling of fern and brushwood being broken on their march. Too late they tied their bundles and tried to fly. The savage tribe overtook them and showed no mercy, for all were killed. Before night the tui’s words came true, for they were all down their enemy’s throats. They captured the bird and intended to take it home with them as a present for their chiefs favourite wife, but the terrified bird escaped and joined its mates in the forest. The only song he could sing was his warning to his dead masters, and this song he taught to all tuis in the forests. So from that day of long ages past to this day of 1899, they sing this curious song:
“Koraki koka, kio, kio! Hohoro te paihero, hohoro te paihere, Atu ki tawhiti, ka kotia koe! Koraki koka, kio, kio!. E tarari ana kia Waiehu? E tatari ana kia “Waieha? E tatari ana kia whai tekaki— Rou-rou-rou!”
Onward To Pouakai Hut…
Anyway, the going was ok but I found myself using the hiking pole to help balance on the slippery boards. About an hour in, I found the first signs there was snow ahead. It was only a small ice patch on the ground, but I knew there was more to come. A fact that later I would come to dread.
The first snow came on as pretty and added to the atmosphere, but the higher I went the more there was. Although there have been many people going this way before me today, it hadn’t made the going a lot easier. The steps were compacted snow or ice and there was only room for a single file which meant when facing oncoming hikers someone had to give way. For some reason even though I was the one with the heavy pack, somehow I was also the one to step off the boards. Sometimes my leg would sink up to my groin deep into the snow.
About an hour and a half in and the boardwalk steps were not as constant. This meant the original trail was all there was to navigate. It was slightly harder going and I was very thankful for the hiking pole. My boots were wet and my toes were a little cold, but other than that, I was still happy in shorts with a thermal shirt and sleeveless T-Shirt. I wasn’t even wearing a hat as I was that warm. The only other thing I noticed, was that the hand not holding the pole was tight like it was swollen. I just started flexing it and it went back to normal after a few minutes.
Finally coming out of the scrub and coming into the clearings the wind started to bite. By this time Pouakai Hut was in sight and there were only another 10 mins left to go. Tugging my hat on, I clambered the last of the way. I was VERY ready to stop walking now. The last series of icy steps to Pouakai Hut seemed to take forever to climb.
Ahh, Pouakai Hut…
Walking into Pouakai Hut I was expecting much the same as Maketawa Hut and Waingongoro Hut. What I wasn’t expecting was the leaking roof. The hut was busy and had many visitors, each one had tramped snow in that eventually melted on the floor. A leaking roof added to these puddles from about 5 different places. There were puddles growing on the tables and benches from the drips in the ceiling and there were others that hit the floor or window sills. This, I found disappointing. I claimed a bunk by unrolling my sleeping bag and leaving it in place. This is the accepted practice and I wasn’t sure who was staying and who was going back down. There was no way I was going back down that night. I needed a mattress so that my back didn’t seize up overnight and make it impossible to get home the next day.
Time to relax a little, I sat down and talked to people already here. It turns out there is a new age tramper/hiker. Once upon a time, it was the scout groups or hiking enthusiasts. I soon found out the new type of hiker is the photographer. There were about 10 people (myself included) that had brought up good camera gear, hoping to get some interesting photos. After a rest, I headed out with a few others to find the ‘tarn’ (pool of water). This tarn is a well-known spot for photography as you can get a great reflection of the mountain in it. Not so much today as it was frozen over.
I snapped a few shots on my Fujifilm X-T10 and moved on down to the tarn. The wind was freezing and I had changed into my waterproof gear to keep the worst of it off me. The trail was more snow and ice and for some reason, my right foot always sank into holes. Every foot sinking wore me down, but the photos would be worth it.
Or they would have been. I set the camera up to play around with angles around the tarn and turned it on. When I read the message on the screen that I had missed earlier: “No memory card”. I could have cried! My whole reason of hiking up here for 2 hours was to take photos, and now in one small message, my purpose was stripped from me. All I felt was anger and embarrassment at myself. What a stupid rookie mistake. Snapping a few half-hearted photos on my phone I trudged back to Pouakai Hut.
I caught up with another photographer who asked how my photos were going and I reluctantly told him of my Faux Pas. Peter was great as he dug out an 8 GB memory card for me to borrow. My mood was foul and there was no way I was going back to the tarn, I was simply too tired. I snapped some sunset shots and a few of the mountain and went back to Pouakai Hut. If you are reading this, thank you Peter, and everyone else, please check out his photography if you get a chance.
Overnight In Pouakai Hut…
Pouakai Hut sleeps 16 people, in saying that, it has 16 mattresses, but you can sleep more if others don’t want a mattress. There were 18 people sleeping overnight. We all grouped together, cooking on the gas stoves each of us brought with us. The wood burner was fired up; sadly, with the amount of water in the hut, it couldn’t cope. Usually, the huts are toasty warm from the fire at night. So there were people huddled close to keep warm, which in turn blocked the heat from everyone else. Most people were using headlamps to see by. I always take a gas lantern, which makes things a lot easier and adds a warm glow to wherever I sit.
One thing I enjoy about travelling anywhere is joining the many conversations from around a room. Photography dominated this room’s conversation. As I am a novice and I have lots to learn, this was actually a really good opportunity to learn more about the trade from everyone. So we sat and talked, while I ate my sirloin steak, home made chips and drank my red wine.
Hey! Don’t judge me! Just because I was hiking up a mountain and staying in a hut, that doesn’t mean I had to eat dehydrated camp food like everyone else. If it’s only a one night stay, I always take real food, usually steak and I always have bacon and eggs for breakfast. You could see the others drooling!
Sleeping In The Hut…
My sleep was a little restless, and I don’t like sleeping on a top bunk, but I had a really good sleeping bag so I was warm all night. Although, getting up to pee was horrible, having to put cold wet boots on and walk out into freezing air. I woke around 7:30 am and decided I didn’t want to sleep any longer. There wasn’t much point in hanging around any longer than I had to either. The trail would be icy, but the alternative would be to wait well into the afternoon. So I ate my bacon and eggs, packed my things and took to the downward trail.
Once I was in the open, the wind had turned it all to an icy crust and the going was slow, but as soon as the scrub closed in I warmed up and the snow wasn’t much different from the day before. More sinking knee deep, a few small falls, but all in all it was a steady trudge downward. I really was thankful for the pole was well used and the muscles being used were very different from the uphill climb. I was really happy to get down an hour and forty-five minutes later; to unlock the gate, shove my gear in the car and drive home for a hot shower!
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