Spine of the Fish  Day 22: we get a surprise visit

You never know what is around the corner…or down the hill.

Sparrowhawk Biv to Parks Peak Hut

We’d planned to walk along the tops from Sparrowhawk to Kylie Biv for the night before taking the track down to Upper Makaroro Hut and on up to Parks Peak Hut the next day…but the weather was crappy. There’s no point being up top if you can’t see anything and besides, the route was longer.

So we detoured. This was the track where the young hunter had been killed during the roar the year before. Apparently the police tape at the scene had still been there until recently.

As we stepped along and down another well-maintained Central Hawkes Bay track we could hear another stag roaring. Or was it a hunter calling us in?

It was misty and hard to see much through the bush. The sombre and slightly threatening walk called for some noise and some humour so out came our slim repertoire of religious songs. Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz song was sung loudly and repeatedly in strong southern American accents. The deer, or the hunter, shut up.

We were miserably wet but happy at the same time…if that’s possible.

The spur down to the Gold Creek-Makaroro confluence is steep and long but in good nick. We didn’t see any police tape but came across an area marked with fluoro paint. Unusually for the Ruahine Ranges much of the forest was totara. Kowhai started showing up as we got down to the river.

At the confluence we stopped in heavy rain and got out the phone GPS. There was no sign of any track across the river and the raindrops kept activating functions on Fiona’s phone. We were a little bamboozled so decided to just wander down the river for a look-see.

‘There’s a Whio!’ I called back to Fiona.

It’s unusual to find them so close to farmland and there was something wrong with it. It limped under a log and meekly whistled at us. It looked bedraggled, held its wings awkwardly and had a wound above its eye.

Injured Whio

We could have caught it.

Shit. What now?

We are Ruahine Whio Protectors and this Whio needed protecting! We put on our superhero capes and pulled our undies up over our tights.

Then we walked down river to find a phone…a vet…a…? …some kind of plan would’ve been good.

By the time we got to the road end we were torn. The duck had probably gone. If we did manage to find one of Waipukarau’s Whio Protectors what would happen next? We’d walk off and leave them with the headache.

It was depressing.

At the road end an old signless DoC shelter sat. We were right in the middle of the proposed Ruataniwha Dam site and rumour -always a dangerous thing- had it that the local farmers weren’t too happy with the national attention the controversial project has brought to their little piece of paradise. Some access issues are starting to develop so we weren’t sure what sort of reception we’d get when we knocked on their door and asked to use the phone. We made our way down the ‘road’ with a little trepidation.

The car that met us didn’t look like a farmer’s car. As it stopped the window rolled down and a friendly but unfamiliar face said ‘gidday Anthony.’

Huh?

As I peered into the car two other familiar faces looked back. Dan Elderkamp, from Forest and Bird, and a fellow Whio Protector from Waipukarau sat in the backseat. In the front seat sat Green Party Conservation spokesperson Mojo Mathers.

‘Howdy Dan! …Mojo! My daughter named her cat after you!’ I blurted.

I was caught in the flashlights of ‘fame’ and as usual performed inappropriately. Oh well.

The driver of the car was Paul Bailey, an anti-dam regional councilor. They were there to show Mojo around. She’d been told to wear her walking shoes but she hadn’t put two and two together so was wearing skinny jeans as well. Fiona, who deals with famous people better than me, helped her across the knee-deep river and we made our way to the abandoned Makaroro Forest Service Field Base where we’d stored our packs.

Fi, Mojo, Dan, Paul, Me

We didn’t know much about the dam, but soon had a pretty good understanding of the geography of it. We’d read a lot about its supposed benefits in the farming newspapers we’d come across, so our chance meeting filled in a lot of gaps.

Let’s just say we were able to take away some new information on the issue. We also got to dump the duck dilemma on poor Dan and I got to add another snap to my politician photobombing collection. Mojo will sit nicely next to the one of me and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry I scored recently. Perhaps I’ll soon be able to say I’ve got photos of me with two Ministers of Conservation?

Cheese!

We said our goodbyes and powered up the long Ridge to Parks Peak Hut.

‘Did you apologise to them for our stench? I forgot to…I hope it wasn’t too bad…’ I asked Fiona.

‘Yep…I sorted that one straight away,’ said Fiona who never gets fazed by fame.

It was drizzly but warm. We didn’t bother wearing our coats…a) because we’d sweat more moisture than the rain, and b) because, like all modern raincoats, they’re not really waterproof.

We’d got a text from Janet on our way down from Sparrowhawk saying that she, Graham and Richard, from the Palmerston North Tramping and Mountaineering Club, would be at Parks Peak with a bottle of wine. They were doing yet another stoat-trap re-bait and they were happy to take our rubbish out.

We knew the hut would be warm so were quite happy wandering in the rain but the track seemed to go on forever. As my morale started to ebb we got some more good news.

Paul emerged out of the mist. He was the kind of hunter you like meeting on the track during the roar. Well equipped, and obviously experienced, he was off to get the deer we’d heard going off a few hundred metres back.

‘You’ve only got about fifteen minutes to go’, he reassured us as he headed off for the kill.

The hut was warm, and our makeshift support crew were there. Sadly they’d drunk most of the wine, but we’ll forgive them …eventually.

More track tips were shared, and we got our stash from the ceiling, along with some protein bars from our Trail Angel.

Just before bed Paul arrived back with his yield. He was right…he did get that stag. An eleven pointer.

 

 

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