Verns Camp to Moerangi Hut
The Whirinaki Forest is an absolute jewel that almost didn’t exist. In 1979 the New Zealand Forest Service decided it would make good furniture…or chipboard…or toilet paper…or something. Five years of intense national debate ensued and it was saved.
Since then the local communities haven’t faired so well. Minginui, Murapara and Kaiangaroa Village are derelict shadows of what they once were. Not that the felling of one of New Zealand’s last lowland forests would’ve changed that. The wealth created by the felling of the forest would have long ago be traded for piles of things – like Phillips K9 TVs and Commodore 64 computers – that now sit in landfills.
As we sauntered through the easy tracks and sumptuous forest we were oblivious to the drama that was unfolding up the road in the greater Bay of Plenty area. Birds called out and the morning sun glowed luminous green through the rich canopy. The brimming Whirinaki River still rushed through the place but we could sense an easing in its flow.
We were really starting to get into some kind of tramping groove. Physically that is…not emotionally. There was something wrong and we were both a little tense and snappy.
As we approached the junction that was to take us to Moerangi Hut we met our first mountain bikers. Not an unusual thing for the area as the route we were about to take is a mountain bike track. But these guys were something else. Ritchie, Daryl, Ian, Joel and Rawiri were the first team of stoat trappers we’d met on two wheels. They were also some of the first professional stoat trappers we’d met. They serviced the boxes we’d walked past over the previous few days and many more. 6000 to be precise. We swapped notes before they gave us the bad news.
‘The road to Ruatahuna is blocked by slips and it could be cut off for a couple of months. You can’t go through there cos the tracks will be munted too,’ Ian, the boss, told us. His boys all nodded in agreement.
‘The road in here from Murapara has only just been opened and that’s got a massive detour on it,” he continued, “and there’s another cyclone on the way.’
As they cycled off our dilemma dawned on us. The cyclone that we’d missed while we were holed up in Taupo had brought the whole area to a standstill. Edgecumbe was flooded and Te Urewera, where we were headed, was cut off. Our friend Jamie was going to be biking in to Rodgers Hut, one hut past Moerangi, with supplies that would take us through to Whakatane. If the road from Murapara was out he probably hadn’t made it.
Now that we wouldn’t be going to Moerangi we’d need to let him know before he panicked or helicoptered our supplies in or…who knows? We had no cell coverage so couldn’t call.
All we could do was walk towards Minginui, a town without shops and probably cell coverage, and hope to catch a lift out to Murapara…civilization.
A tall order as the whole area was in a state of emergency and half the roads were cutoff…our only hope of a ride was…
As they came up behind us we jokingly put our thumbs out. Their twin-cab was chokka and the tray was holding five bikes. There was no room for us.
‘We’ll give you a lift !’
‘I’ll sit on the back,’ I offered.
‘No way! We’re dropping Rawiri and his bike off at Minginui and we’ll come back and get you.’
And they did.
In a highly illegal and uncomfortable move, Ritchie, the youngest, smallest and least senior of the crew sat ‘on the’ gear stick while Fiona and I sat in luxury in the back seat with Joel.
We weren’t going to turn down our only chance of a ride but we did feel guilty as Ritchie bravely sat where no man should sit as Ian careened through endless forestry roads on our detour to Murapara.
We were instantly glad we didn’t decide to walk it. It probably would’ve taken us two days to get there while the dust from logging and quarry trucks was constant and thick.
The ride was a good chance to get the goss on the local Whio scene and to find out what a bunch of professionals thought of the government’s Predator Free 2050 plans. The whio population had just exploded and Predator Free 2050 was a joke.
‘Predator Control 2050 perhaps,’ said Ian. ‘But there’s no way we’ll ever get rid of them all.’ The crew all nodded in agreement. We were inclined to agree.
We got dropped off at what used to be the local DoC office to ask about track conditions. The woman at the counter used to work for DoC but now works for the Ngati Whare Runanga. The organisation now shares the building with DoC who have gone from having a local workforce of 22 to six in recent times. Perhaps the Ngati Whare Runanga are now doing DoC’s conservation work…perhaps not. We didn’t get a chance to ask…but were given some valuable news on our chances of entering Tuhoe country.
We couldn’t. As Ian had said, the area was cut off.
We called Jamie to call off his resupply and found that he’d already tried to get in to Minginui but had been turned back by roadblocks. He didn’t try to hire a chopper but had called around to see if any were going into the area and could drop our food in. He was happy that he could stop worrying about us and get back to worrying about his Easter holiday.
Murapara doesn’t have much, but it does have a Four Square with Twistees, a bottle store with wine, and a campground.
We weren’t in a party mood, but we had enough supplies to mourn our possible failure.
As we watched the TV in our concrete-block room we learnt there was another cyclone on the way.
A nail was getting well and truly put into the coffin of our plans.
We were lost in Murapara.