Spine of the Fish  Day 29: we love the roar!

Fi and Anthony finally admit to themselves that they’ve become hut rats.

Ballard Hut to Pukeohikarua Hut

We woke to a dawn chorus of sorts. Swarms of overexcited blowflies buzzed the place as we extracted our aching limbs, toes, necks, backs and shoulders from our odorous and sticky sleeping bags. The noise of the attack was so loud that Fiona was too scared to use the toilet. Her logic was that the flies were being aroused by the festering stench that no doubt came from within the long drop that sits below the hut.

My trip to the toilet was inevitable and a complete surprise. There wasn’t a fly to be seen. I sat in possibly the best and daintiest long drop that had ever been blessed with my presence. Its insides were clean and painted a glowing white. It was so good in fact I reckon you could cook and eat a meal in it. (Not such a ridiculous idea…in fact we know someone who…no…sorry…here’s not the place.)

The country’s best bog, Ballard hut

We packed, said our goodbyes to our little slice of heaven and dragged ourselves back up the slip to the track. After about half an hour of tops travel we sunk down to beech forest. As we were about to enter the cool dark interior a familiar figure came out.

Fiona resting as we leave Ballard Hut

Julia is in the Napier Tramping Club and had the honour of being the first tramper (who was actually in the process of tramping) that we’d met since we’d left Wellington. Like me, Julia is a member if the Ruahine Users Group (RUG), a liaison group of hunters, trampers, DoC and other agencies, who have a shared interest in the management of the Ruahine Ranges. We had crossed paths before.

Julia from the Napier Tramping Club

On this Saturday morning she was doing what trampers like to do…getting out and about. We complimented her on the fine state of ‘her’ local backcountry infrastructure and she gave us some handy track tips, weather updates and comfort that the world hadn’t ended since our last brush with civilisation almost three weeks before.

The beech forest that we walked into as we farewelled Julia was slightly different than the forest we’d been in the previous day. There was no sign of Contorta. But it was far from virgin beech forest. The area was milled, burnt off and run with Merino sheep up until about a hundred years ago so most of the trees were immature and of the same size. Occasionally we came across trees with 60 cm trunks, but most were well below that. Sadly the forest floor was largely devoid of undergrowth other than moss and a sprinkling of spindly native shrubs and young celery pine or Tanekaha trees.

Beech monoculture

Historic forest research

The only tree of any real size other than beech were Kapuka (Griselinia). These bright green broadleafs usually grow as large bushes but had been browsed underneath to head height. They are usually quite fertile plants and should’ve been popping up everywhere. Tiny seedlings were bursting out of the ground under the parent plants, but we never saw any higher than a few centimetres.

Kapuka

The forest we walked through looked great from above but is actually a monoculture that is clearly under stress. We did see small populations of insect eating birds but larger birds were absent.

Except for clearing snow- and windfall, track maintenance must be easy around the Kaweka…because not much grows. Perhaps that’s why the huts are in such good nick.

Our first programmed break for the day was at Kelvinator Hut (official name Tira Lodge). It’s also known as Venison Tops (AKA V.T.).

Filling the book at Tira Lodge

It comes from the same drawing board as Waipawa Forks Hut but is clearly loved and used a lot more than The Murder House where we holed up in in the Ruahine. It also had beer…four cans of the stuff. We thanked The Roar and bunged it all in our packs before buggering off down the track.

We had left alpine level for what we assume would be the last time on this trip, but the day had a few open top treats for us.

While most of the Kaweka tops are raw rock with a smattering of alpine plants, the lower down open areas are almost completely covered in a delightful array of healthy and interesting shrubs, mosses, tussocks and flowers. We have no idea what they’re all called but as we walked through these bright gardens we didn’t care…the contrast between them and the dull beech forest was so extreme.

We stopped at Mangaturutu Hut for lunch and a sit in the sun. Need I say it? The hut was immaculately presented in a fresh coat of rescue orange and the toilet was another possible dining facility.

We’re from the Ruahine – ‘our’ huts, unless they’re managed by a club NEVER look like this. It was like we were walking through another country. After Mangaturutu we got out our music. The day was becoming long and our muscles were tiring…we needed something to lift us.

As Fiona danced along the track in front of me I banged my head behind her. It was like having a shot of adrenaline and made a change from the earworm I’d infected us with as we left Ballard Hut at 8.30. Five hours of ‘Lucille’ by Kenny Rogers wasn’t the best way to spend a day in the Kaweka. We had been pretty frugal with our music until now. Our batteries were low but we only had three or four days to Taupo so we splashed out.

Open and beautiful tussock tops near day end

The first view of Pukeohikarua Hut

As we looked across a dauntingly complex track to our orange palace for the night Fiona sang Four Non Blonds ‘What’s Going On’ to the skies. Luckily I had the volume turned up on the greatest walking song ever written, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner.

Late afternoon and time for music


At fivish we were sitting down with Terry on the deck of Te Pukeohikarua Hut. We talked as we watched his son pace back and forth on the hill in front of us. At first we thought it was some elaborate ritual to confuse a nearby Sika, but eventually Terry figured that Klint must’ve lost something.

Terry and Fiona

Eventually he found his camera then headed down for a feed. We drank our booze, learnt all about the local deer, talked 1080 and local hunting legend Greg Duley. We all agreed that his programme NZ Hunter Adventures is a cracker. As we talked one of Greg’s guns sat in the corner. Terry and Klint had borrowed the high powered rifle, but had yet to use it. The Kaweka Sika weren’t playing ball.

We think we may know why the local undergrowth is stuffed. Apparently Sika are really heavy browsers and aren’t fussy what they chow down on. One of the reasons Red Deer don’t really live in the Kaweka is because there isn’t enough food for them…the Sika have eaten it all. What this means for native birdlife we can only imagine.

It’d been a pretty good day. We were exhausted, but the company, the beer and the bed for the night made it all worthwhile.

 

Wilderlife