Spine of the Fish  Day 54: eye witness account of the recent cyclone damage to Te Urewera

The walkers are vindicated in their decision to avoid Te Urewera after Cyclone Debbie

Wentworth Conservation Camp to Whangamata

As we dried the dew off our gear Terry walked past on his way to explore one of the area’s many abandoned mineshafts. We figured that made him a speleologist, but have our doubts.

Leaving wentworth campground for Whangamata…


(The New Zealand Society of Speleologists probably haven’t talked to the Man-made Cave Explorers (mineralogists) since an attempted takeover of society accounts in 1974. This is probably a good thing – you have to be careful when letting other interest groups in on your scene. Things can get tricky and ideologies can get watered down.)

We weren’t in too much of a hurry to leave as we were only walking eight kilometres into town and we weren’t sure of our hosts’ plans for the day. It was a very pleasant and relaxed road walk. Blue skies and an eventual light sea breeze made the half gravel/half tarseal trek to the main road into town easy.

We came out at the golf course and were impressed to find a shared pathway that took us the rest of the way into town. We weren’t sure what we were sharing the path with but resisted the temptation to think that it may have been mobility scooters.

We’d never been to Whangamata so had no idea what we were walking in to. As we sauntered up the main shopping centre we were keen on some decent food and coffee – another risky undertaking. Not having local knowledge can make entering a coffee shop a bit of a lottery that often ends in devastating disappointment.

Whangamata is a modern place so doesn’t have any architectural clues as to the whereabouts of a Bohemian Quarter (where good caffeine often lurks). At one of the first arcades we came across Fiona stopped and read the sign of the local organic shop and yoga studio, Inspire.

I was doubtful. However when you’re carrying a pack and have sore feet, a quick drive around town for a looksee is never an option. The decision was made to go in and I was happy as I could blame the Mrs if it all turned pear-shaped.

The food cabinet was kind of limited in choices so I started to prepare myself for the disappointment I’d predicted. But…we both had one of the best, most filling AND healthy lunches we’d paid for on the trip. The two guys running the place were full of conversation as they served a steady flow of lunchtime customers and I was tempted to come back in the evening for a Mens’ Only yoga session. Well, half tempted.


The coffee and salads were just right, but the real standout were the cheesecakes. The chocolate one was rich, dark and creamy. The turmeric and pear one tasted as good as it looked.

Lunch at Whangamata


Perhaps we were over our trail-o-rexia? Or perhaps the food was just bloody good?

With full bellies we went off to the supermarket and bought another week’s food before giving our host Lynne a ring.

Resupply at Whangamata


Walking into a town is very different from driving into a town. For a start if we’d driven in to Whangamata we probably would’ve driven out again quite rapidly. Decisions get made and acted on quickly when you have a car and it’s easy to drive through any place with a mere thought about distant relatives.

Walkers, on the other hand, have a lot of time to add up the benefits of tracking down long lost friends and family. Of course doing this has huge benefits for us, but it can have questionable benefits for intended hosts.

If visiting walkers aren’t suffering Trail-o-rexia, unsuspecting hosts can find themselves eaten out of house and home. Many hosts also find themselves having to fumigate the bedrooms of walkers after a visit.

Lynne and John (a distant cousin of mine) kindly opened their home to us and fed us. None of us knew for sure but we reckoned we’d never met before, although we’d stayed with their daughter and her family in Hawea when we walked the South Island.


John is a hunter and it just so happened that he had been deep in Te Urewera when we’d hoped to be there. He and his mates had been choppered into a hut that had been inaccessible by foot. In Whangamata we met the first person who could give us eyewitness confirmation that we’d been right to abandon our trip through Tuhoe country. It seemed a bizarre coincidence.

He described the chaos of the flooding caused by Cyclone Debbie. The huge volumes of water had washed massive amounts of debris down normally quiet forest streams. The resulting logjams and rock build-up had caused many streams to completely change course. The change was so profound he reckons maps will need to be redrawn.

John was only in one small part of Te Urewera…who knows what else has changed in one of Aotearoa’s largest and most difficult to access wild places.

Our day in Whangamata ended well. We were well fed and went to bed with only one worry – our plans for the Kaueranga Valley were in doubt because of reported track damage from heavy rains in February that were exasperated by the recent cyclones.

We weren’t sure whether track closures were to stop family groups using the uber-popular Pinnacles area tracks, or were because the tracks were actually munted. Several calls to DoC got us nowhere, so we decided to take a gamble ¬†and head in anyway.

But first we had a roadwalk to the Youth Hostel at the lovely Opoutere Bay.

 

Wilderlife