Spine of the Fish  Day 27: making a run for it

A desperate situation requires a desperate solution.

 

Komata Hut to Kiwi Saddle Hut

We didn’t have to set the alarm for four in the morning, but it just felt like the best thing to do.
The idea was to walk the easy four wheel drive track to the main road in time for dawn. But we were a bit early. Looking back I think we just wanted to get the hell out of Komata Hut…or ‘Comet Hut’ as it’s become known because apparently Maori is hard.

An early start

We arrived at the Gentle Annie on the Napier-Taihape Road about half an hour before it was safe enough to venture on to a state Highway without lights. So we waited for a bit in the dark. Once we could see the colour of our ‘Wilderlife Orange’ raincoats we knew we’d be alright.

Warning Walkers: Gentle Annie



It took us about two hours to make the trip to Robson’s Lodge at Kuripapango and in that time we met less than ten cars and trucks. It’s quite a steep bit of track but the tarseal made it heaps easier than most of the Ruahine Ranges.

We arrived at the lodge at 9am then dug up our last box of goodies. As we divied it up, a van towing a trailer arrived and out got a Corrections Service crew. At first we were treated with a bit of ‘WTF?’ from a solemn bunch but as Shane, the Corrections Officer dragged our story out of us (it’s not very hard) most of the group warmed to us.

We ate a ‘proper’ breakfast of Spinach and Paneer curry as the gang fried up a feed of sausages and onions. There was even white bread! Tomato sauce! Instant coffee! With sugar! And REAL milk!

I’ve mentioned Trail-o-rexia before. Amongst its worse symptoms is the inability to accept AMAZING food when it’s offered to you. That’s how I found myself standing in the kitchen of Robson’s Lodge explaining to a really nice guy with a tattoo of a fist on his face the delusional reasons why I didn’t want a perfectly good feed…but the third time someone offered me a sausage, onion and tomato sauce butty I came to my senses…and made Fiona come to hers too.

We inhaled them…and they were just as good as they should have been.

Actually…Fiona struggled to finish hers but was too polite to say so. She’s got the disease bad and will probably need to seek professional advice when we return to civilization.

Shane comes to ‘Kuri’ quite a bit and will be bringing his family back to stay at the slightly fancier accommodation of the old DoC base down the hill from the lodge. He likes to watch the falcons hunting while he’s there. He piled half his team into the van and took them out to do some campsite clearing while he left a few others to get into the painting of the kitchen.

DoC Manawatu have a notice up at Sunrise Hut asking for volunteers to do general maintenance jobs around the Central Hawkes Bay area. Jobs like lawn mowing, …perhaps Shane and his van will be working down at Onga Onga next?

We left for Kiwi Saddle Hut at 10.30 and started up the hill at 11.00. Our packs were groaning under the weight of our rations. Soon we were too. It’s a steep climb but only four hours to the Hut.  We could see the van below doing its rounds and across the valley a huge logging operation was taking place. It’s amazing how fast a hill can be cleared of pine if that pine is worth something.

As we rose Contorta came down to meet us. The regenerating bush and alpine flora is good but is about to get strangled. Up we climbed through manuka, beech, Contorta, beech, Contorta, beech, Contorta…you get the picture. Once we got to the top we followed a ridgeline that divides itself between the two species. Beech on one side, Contorta on the other and occasionally a mix. It isn’t as bad as the invasion we walked through on our way to Komata Hut, but it’s not far off. I plucked hopelessly at a few seedlings as we neared the hut and felt like a loser.

Clearing commercial pine across the valley

Beech and Contorta Forest 

Contorta

Contorta Trail



By the time we got to Kiwi Hut we were ready for a rest. We’d done 22kms of road walking plus a steep four hour climb.

 

Going up to Kiwi Saddle

 

Waiting for us at the hut was Matt, his dog Jack and some more editions of the Otago University Tramping Club journal, Antics. We were set for the night and my chances of victory on Mastermind doubled.

Matt was up for a hunt. He’s an orchardist and his busy season had just ended. He’d shot a stag on the way up from the carpark and had only arrived ten minutes before us. Jack was two years old and still a bit too keen. He has his bush ticket, but likes to take a mile when given an inch. Matt keeps a tight rein on him. Jack will smell a deer long before Matt can spot one, but his sense of smell is too good. Matt’s trying to teach him the right time to signal a target.

Jack and Matt: Kiwi Saddle



Matt also had some good news for us. Apparently the hideous contorta hell we experienced on our way to Komata Hut had just been recently sprayed.

When we’d buried our stash at Robson’s a few weeks earlier we’d seen the chopper being loaded with spray. It uses a wide boom to spray large areas of pine but also uses a long wand to spot spray stragglers.

It takes a while for the poison to take hold so we wouldn’t have seen any evidence as we passed through. Apparently there is a budget of 400,000 bucks a year being spent on control in the Kaweka Forest Park. The next area to get sprayed will be the mountain we’d climbed that day. Matt’s only concern – and ours – is that it gets done properly. He reckons Spray and Walk Away won’t do the trick…repeat visits will be required over the years. Seeds sit dormant for a long time and the thick canopy of dead trees will act as an impenetrable nursery for the next generation of seedlings unless it’s cut. I don’t even want to think about the fire risk such an enterprise will create.

As it gets dark and our early start and big day catch up with us, Matt and Jack left to go out hunting again. It seemed like a pretty good way to spend a Thursday night to me.

Our bedtime story for the night was a ripping yarn from 45 Years of Antics…a kind of greatest OUTC hits compilation. The story, The Otira Tunnel Traverse, tells the 1967 tale of two club members crossing of the Southern Alps from Arthurs Pass to Otira through the 5 mile, 25 chain and 18 link rail tunnel. Three trains passed them on their journey and it took them two and a half hours.

We went to sleep impressed.

At about 10pm, Gavin, a hunter from Havelock North arrived and cooked himself a feed.

Wilderlife