Po Base to Ngamoko Hut

Pohangina River Gorge

We woke to another perfect Manawatu autumn day. We’d both had good sleep but one of the possum hunters hadn’t.

‘There are no bloody curtains and the moon was so bright I kept waking up thinking it was morning’, he complained with a smile.

We polished off the fruit crumble leftovers with a strong coffee before we hit the road…or the last kilometer of road we’d be traveling until we hit the Napier-Taupo highway in about 18 days.

The morning and early afternoon proved to be a grunt. The Pohangina River is too narrow, deep and fast for a gentle meander along its banks so the track from Po Base quickly makes its way up the steep side of the valley. For most of that part of the day we negotiated rough, steep and unkempt track with the Pohangina River aorund two hundred metres below.

The track is quite overgrown and as I was starting to think that the painful Hookgrass torture being inflicted on my not-that-hairy legs could be mistaken for the much worse torture of Ongaonga I got a full earful from Fiona…(Please excuse the swearing.)

‘Faaaark! I’ve faaarken walked right through some Ongaonga!’

I remarked at the coincidence I’d just witnessed and the swearing increased.

Ongaonga, native stinging nettle

The Department of Conservation have recently suggested that they would quite like to cut track maintenance by half in the Ruahine Forest Park. We assume that the money saved will go to putting flash new toilets into some South Island tourist mecca. This could be a good idea for all I know but it means tracks that already struggle may end up totally unviable. Clearing tracks only every four years creates enough problems in places. Cutting on a six year rotation as is being suggested could have dire consequences.

It’s very easy to get lost on an overgrown track. But it also doesn’t make much economic sense either (unless the real goal is to close some tracks altogether). Trees and grasses grow exponentially which means that a 5cm clump of grass could more than double in diameter over a two year period. A fifty percent decrease in budgeted weedeating could easily result in a doubling of work later. That extra work will cost someone sometime.

Unless we all just stay at home and watch TV.

Getting our bearings

Poorly maintained tracks also mean that biodiversity projects are harder to manage. Ironically such projects are mostly being done by volunteers in the Ruahines…another great cost saving for DoC’s budget planners.

As we made our way to the first hut for the day Fiona put her hand into another Ongaonga bush. It’s a native stinging nettle that really should be developed into a nerve agent by the CIA. It hurts like hell and should never be infused as a herbal tea.  

It also just so happens to be the name of the nearby town where DoC, in an effort to save money, had recently shut down its workbase. The irony was totally lost on Fiona as she, for the second time that day, cursed like a pirate.

Although hard work the track is beautiful. Kapokapowai, the giant bush dragonfly visited is whenever we stopped for a rest. Birds sung and the sky was blue.

At about 2.30 we got to Mid Pohangina Hut. It’s a little sweety that the Palmerston North Tramping and Mountaineering Club maintain – something they started to do when Wellington threatened to start pulling huts out of the Forest Park…you guessed it…to save money.  

A24 stoat trap near Mid Pohangina Hut.

Inside mid-Po Hut

There used to be a bridge across the river to the hut, but to save money it’s been removed and the Mid Po Hut, as it’s called, isn’t accessible in heavy rain anymore.

We enjoyed reading the hut book as usual and noted that Joel, who we’d stayed with in the Tararua Ranges had been through.

After polishing off a couple of OSM bars we headed upriver. Although it’s only a few kilometers south of the Oroua River it’s quite different. It’s more closed in and its rocks are much bigger. The valley is strewn with huge car, van and sometimes even bus sized boulders.

The day we went through it was also quite high. More than once we had to turn back to find more reasonable routes across its powerful rapids. Four or five times we had to link arms to cross. We weren’t in any danger but it would’ve been messy if one or both of us took a fall.

Po River crossing

River crossing, Pohangina

At one stage we disturbed a male Whio who made a great show of flying downstream – we like to think it did this to disract us from its mate and young ducklings, but we didn’t see any others.

After two and a half hours of pretty tiring work we made it to Ngamoko Hut. The last hut may have been a sweety…this one was an absolute gem. Again it’s being looked after by the PNTMC, but this one is a stunning example of what a club can achieve with a little help from DoC. It’s been lined, has a nice new paint job and boasts a lovely little woodburner.

Ngamoko Hut

As we ate our meal in the twilight as Whio called from the river. In the past we would’ve rushed down to watch or photograph it. But the more time we spend in these parts the more normal the Whio’s existence is. And that’s the way it should be.

For tea we had:
A starter of Miso Soup and Pams Bhuja, followed by Macaroni with cheese and black olives garnished with chilli sauce and black pepper. For dessert we had chocolate Instant Pudding with shavings of Lindt Chilli Chocolate  (on special at Pak n Save for a dollar!) and slices of nashi pear from the Kereru gardens. Yum.

Bedtime, torches off at 8.30pm.