Spine of the Fish  Day 9: a Brave New World

The ups and ups and downs and downs of making your own trail through the New Zealand bush…

Arete to Mangahao Hut

Leaving Arete for Dundas

A friend suggested the route we took on Day 9. The idea was instantly appealing but took us out of our comfort zone when we first contemplated it.

It posed a few problems…the first being there was no map to show us how to get from Arete down to Mangahao Hut. Of course there’s a Topo 50 map of the area that can be bought at Bivouac, but it doesn’t show a route.

We asked around a bit and the answer wasn’t long in coming. Mapspast is like a time machine for trampers and other map nuts. It contains layers upon layers of digitised New Zealand topo maps that go back decades. Moving from decade to decade is just a case of applying a simple filter.

Want to see if there was ever an official track from Mount Dundas down to Mangahao Hut? Easy. Zoom in to the area and shuffle down the years. We found our answer sitting in 1999.

The next problem was getting the route into our GPS. I could bore you with the details…actually I couldn’t because that’s Fiona’s department…I wouldn’t have a clue how to do it.

Walking Te Araroa is a relatively straightforward process because someone has made all the maps and trail notes. Finding an alternative route up the island has been an all-together more complex undertaking. Fiona has spent hours poring over old maps, talking to other trampers, reading blogs and even driving around the countryside using Google Earth to find long abandoned trackheads. I won’t even tell you about Strava heat maps.

But she did it, and there we were making our way from Arete Peak and along the range to Dundas on a freezing and windy morning. It felt fantastic. We were finally doing Our Trail.Not that we weren’t slightly nervous.

The hills are alive…

…with Edelweiss

Fiona had local tramping legend Tony Gates’ description of how to find the track down off the side of Dundas, as we sat where we thought it should be.

“This looks right, but it says here that there should be a small tarn,” she said.

We didn’t know how long ago Tony had written the description, so perhaps the tarn had dried up.

I wandered around. And found it behind a rock. We filled our drink bottles, christened the tarn Tony’s Tarn, then headed down the ridge happy in the knowledge we were on the right track.

The trip from Dundas to Triangle Knob then onto Little Triangle was a mixture of lovely with a hint of thrilling. We had the occasional small cliff to climb around and down just to remind us we were mortal.

Climbing Dundas from the south

The path down from Dundas to Triangle Knob.

View of Levin from Triangle Knob

The route was pretty obvious and is clearly still being used by hunters, trampers and deer. It dropped pretty fast and before long we were actually warm for the first time in 24 hours. Not long after that we were hot.

Leaving tussock for an unmarked bush track can be tricky, but we were helped by some likely looking saw cut branches. Then some pink ribbon. We were in.

Five minutes later we were lost.

I’ve been lost (a little bit) in similar country before and it wasn’t pretty. It was with a group of five ill-equipped and pretty loose guys. We made it out -obviously- but it was quite unnerving.

This time, although things kept going (a little bit) wrong, we didn’t panic. The weather was good. We had water, food, good gear and plenty of time.

At one stage our GPS jammed without us knowing and we wandered further from our route. Ridges became dead end bluffs, gullies became cliffs. Tree trunks broke as we swung off them and rockfalls followed us down banks.

Cliff off Triangle Knob. Not very big…but big enough for us..

The path down from Dundas to Triangle Knob.

We got nervy, but still didn’t panic. Eventually Fiona got the GPS working in-sync with her map and compass and we got our bearings. We never made it back to our intended route but things finally took a turn for the better when we slid off a steep drop and found ourselves in a dried creek bed.

Following it down as it became a stream meant that we knew exactly where we were. A slight relief tinged with the knowledge that mountain creeks often have impassable waterfalls. We were tired and no better geographical features were on offer so we charged down what soon became a proper stream.

Worry was replaced by enjoyment. Our experience doing Whio work in the Oroua River makes any rocky stream travel easy and it was nice to get our feet wet.

Fallen and rotten trees often blocked our way but Fiona found that a good karate kick would smash most of them. I was impressed.

After a good hour of downhill fun the navigator suggested that we should keep an eye out for the intersecting track…the track to the hut.

A few minutes later I arrived in a particularly good looking clearing. The stream caught the sun as it meandered through lime green bush. As I waited for my model to pass into frame she informed me that we’d found the track! On each side of me a triangle sat nailed to a tree.

We’d made it.

Whether we were ‘lost’ or not is now a bone of contention between the two of us. I felt lost, but knew that the navigator would see us right. As she did.

Tree Route, Mangahao Flat.

An hour later we arrived at Mangahao Hut and found we had company. A team of DoC biodiversity surveyors were waiting for their chopper. They said that Joel, who we’d met at Nichols Hut, had stayed with one of them on his way through Palmy. Some of them are lodging at Pohangina Base on the west side of the Ruahine Ranges. We were planning to do the same about a week later.

Yet again the world we were travelling in shrunk.

We were desperate for a good wash in the river but their chopper was late. Not wanting to frighten the nice and mainly-young civil servants, we hovered awkwardly in the hut waiting for our chance. At 7.30, just before night fall, they’d gone and we were in.

DoC staff get a lift out

Soap is such a wonderful thing.

 

Wilderlife