Spine of the Fish  Day 49: cruise control

A day when taking it easy and enjoying the scenery is the only thing to do

Te Rere-a-tukahia Hut to Waitawheta Hut

***(Warning: occasional use of the F word.)***

An army marches on its stomach…but a good marching tune helps too. Long distance walking is similar to invading a place on foot. Both activities involve endless days repetitively and rhythmically stomping over vast territories. It’s that constant and long exposure to the rhythm of footsteps that makes earworms inevitable. Armies realised long ago that dumb and easy to learn military-themed chants stopped the boys going insane.


Long distance hikers minds are just as vulnerable to mindless and endless repetition of simplistic and moronic ideologies that come in the form of pop songs. That’s why I’m always going on about earworms. They’re dangerous and mind-bending, and for some reason I’m really vulnerable to them.

As we left the hut Fiona started ad-libbing to the theme of The Wombles…

‘Overlog, underlog,
wombling free
The wombles of Wimbledon…’

You get the picture…and possibly the infection.

If ever there was a recipe for walking insanity that tune would be near the top of a massive list. It was too early to get out the headphones but I was in trouble.

Other than that the day was primo. We’d woken to cloudless skies and our early morning trips to the loo were met with a clear view of Ruapehu and Ngaruahoe in the distance. The bush we walked through was bright, and the trail was in good knick and relatively flat.

We were feeling fit too.

We didn’t take the upper, old North South route but took the new Kaimai Ridgeway track that scooped down, around and up to the Cashmore’s Clearing junction. The old route would’ve taken us up and over boggy and ecologically-sensitive ground so we were happy to go with the flow.

Because we were feeling so together we stopped often along the way. Either to sit in a clearing or beside the Wharawhara Stream. Just before we left the stream for a 200 metre but gentle climb we had a swim in the sun.

After that the music came out and the Wombles were kissed off. Our favourite tunes marched us up and over the hill.

Lou Reed’s moving and surreal ‘Last Great American Whale’ with its tale of ecocide, genocide and a bazooka was the perfect sendoff for my furry critters while Fiona’s only Adele song, ‘Hello’, did the same for her.

Kauri country


Talking of ecocide, at the top of the hill we came across our first Kauri. It was a bit of a special occasion that marked a northern border for us. We felt like we’d entered a new land that promised…a summery holiday.

We’d just been getting the same feelings as we were kicked out of the Whirinaki Forest by the cyclones a few days previously. Our walk up to Taupo had been through largely familiar terrain, flora and light. Like Whirinaki, the northern Kaimai felt new and exciting.

Kauri root on the track


However, Kauri trees are in a bit of trouble. Kauri Dieback Disease is slowly killing them off and it’s thought that humans and our tramping boots are a major vector.

The spores (or whatever the spermy germy looking things that kill the trees are called) get carried from tree root to tree root in infected mud on the souls of people’s shoes. Efforts are being made to get people to clean their boots as they walk through or into forests but as you can imagine humans and boots aren’t receptive to that kind of control.

Hedgehog rock at Kauri Dam


It’s yet another disaster unfolding in our backcountry that we’re ill-equipped and probably not really prepared to do enough to stop.

As we stomped over exposed Kauri roots we added Kauri Dieback to what we’re calling our ‘Fuckit List.’

Wilding pines. Fuckit.
Didymo. Fuckit.
Stoat infestation. Fuckit.
Kea decline. Fuckit.
Possum plague. Fuckit.

We did wash the mud off our boots in one of the many streams we crossed on our way to Whaitawheta Hut. But…

Other than finding another reason to get depressed the rest of the walk was pretty bloody good. Our music carried us through some great regenerating forest and streams that flowed through unusual, for us, rock formations.

The bass line in ‘LA Woman’ had me flying and ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ had Fiona jamming all the way to Waitawheta Hut.

The path to Waitawheta Hut


It was a great walk with a small “g”. Don’t tell anyone…they’ll crowd the place out.

As we pulled the buds from our ears our music was replaced by the gentle twang of a well played ukelele. As we walked up the path it was obvious that the word was already out. The hut was humming. School kids and family groups had got there before us.

Waitawheta Hut is a large modern bookable hut only a few kilometres up a flat track. It’s a family hut and we’d arrived in the school holidays.

The hut was booked out and several groups were tenting outside so we set up our mattresses and sleeping bags on the deck. We looked forward to a night of luxury. Sleeping in a crowded room isn’t my favourite activity…actually I hate it. Fiona on the other hand can sleep anywhere.

The biggest group at the hut were a bunch of school kids on a confidence-building expedition. They were 14 and 15 years from One Tree Hill School and their course was called Project K. The K stands for ‘Koru’ and refers to the unfurling that the expedition would encourage.

Project K Handbook


The 12 teens were nearing the end of a seventeen day journey of discovery. It’s hard to remember, but we think they’d spent nine nights under canvas…we’d only spent four nights doing the same thing.

We got the lowdown on the project from the two adults on the trip, Sarah and Brendan. It’s funded by an organisation called the Dingle Foundation and is aimed at teenagers with low self esteem. Not only did the kids seem confident, but their attitude was calm and relaxed…just like Sarah and Brendan’s.

I don’t want to sound like an old fuddy duddy but it was obvious that they were enjoying themselves without the accoutrements of modern life. Cellphones, Facebook and Snapchat were nowhere to be seen. It was a refreshing sight.

The whole hut went to bed not long after nightfall at six. We’d all been warned by Project K that they’d all be up at 4.30 in the morning to do what they called their ‘Circle Time’. The group had chosen the early start themselves because they wanted to get in to Waihi early. They were tough, but civilisation has its attractions.

Fiona slept well on the deck while I spent the night being worried by often imaginary possums, rats and mosquitoes.

Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Because there aren’t enough bikini shots on this website…

Wilderlife