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|Taranaki Walks and the Forgotten World Highway|
For many years we were very set in our ways and one of our regular stops is at Mountain House which is in the centre of a magnificent area for walking on Mount Egmont otherwise known as Mount Taranaki. We often drove straight to Mountain House from another favourite area Wanganui and the Whanganui river where we have an interest in the riverboat and leave on the SH43, the Forgotten World Highway, which is fascinating drive across the grain of a countryside which hardly changes with time. There is a link to Mountain House in the fact that it is an area that features in many of Keith Anderson's paintings which hung at Mountain House.
Mountain House is sited at 845 metres not far below Stratford Plateau (1171 metres), on one of the only three road entry points to Mt Egmont. Mountain House was run during most of our visits by Berta, and her recently deceased husband Keith. In their days it serves some of the best food we knew in New Zealand. Berta, a skilled chef trained in her native Switzerland, takes great pride in the service provided. She and her recently deceased husband Keith have run hotels in the area for thirty years. The rooms were simple but adequate and the price is moderate at circa $125 for a chalet with full kitchen facilities, and slightly less for a double hotel room and although behond our normal budget were affordable and we stayed most years for three days to allow some serious walk - every time we booked for two it seemed to get extended when we ate the first evenings meal!
Keith, who was local, was killed in an unfortunate car accident involving tourists driving on the wrong side of the road, just before we came three years ago. Keith was also an artist and there were many of his pictures on the walls. Two years ago Berta held an exhibition of his work and launched a book which contains many of his paintings. The set up was very much a family affair and one very much felt a guest in their home - the lounge had their photo albums on the tables and their scrap books going back twenty years. Berta has now sold Mountain House.
We now stay in the Stratford Motor Camp. The first time was in 2009 - we booked in for a single night and stayed two which is a good recommendation. It is run by Doreen and one of the most memorable features is the flowers. We had a simple cabin which had a sink with cold water and a fridge - we had a huge Strelitzia outside which reached to the top of our window level and was covered in flowers, I have never seen one doing more than surviving before in New Zealand and every other flower bed was a similar riot of colour. There are also some much newer and more comprehensivley fitted out cabins and some reasonable tent sites and some very sheltered looking camper van slots. Kitchens were on the basic side for a 4* and we got the impression she had to be a bit careful to avoid equipment evaporating which is rare in NZ but many of her visitors are likely to be younger foreigners seeking the challenge of climbing Egmont - the kitchens are locked overnight and pots and pans are available from the front desk. The site is only 600 meters from the main drag and the Carrington Walkway which offers walks up to several hours long runs alongside. The main walks on Egmont start from Dawson falls and Mountain House which are circa 20 kms away which is a shame but it a good solid friendly site we are sure we will return to - Doreen has been running it for over 30 years and like Berta is an icon in the area.
Mountain House is right in the middle of the walking areas in the Taranaki National Park and the walks from Mountain House cover a variety of different forests as one works up through the tree line. Perhaps the most interesting is the Goblin forest which is primarily Kamahi which began life perched on the trunks of other trees, developing distinctive gnarled, intertwined trunks as they grew around the branches of existing trees which have now been stifled. The Kamahi trunks and branches are covered in mosses, liverworts and ferns while other trees and shrubs grow perched on the Kamahi forming compound trees.
It is difficult to give a proper impression of these walks through these spectacular rain forest which surrounds Mountain House, hopefully the pictures will convey something of the extra-ordinary atmosphere. The 15 minute circular Kamahi walk enables one to sample the goblin forests. The Patea Loop Track is a good introductory walk which takes one through the Goblin Forest past incredible moss draped fuchsias as you walk across the deeply dissected flanks of the volcanic cone. It takes a little over an hour. The Enchanted Track is a third round trip walk but one that involves considerable height gain unless you can get a lift to the Plateau and just walk down it. It drops 300 metres with spectacular views of the mountain terrain and The Dawson Falls area as well as the sea and the Tongariro mountains on a clear day. It also gives an excellent opportunity to observe how the sub-alpine scrub changes into the goblin forest as one descends. We normally do it as part of our round trip walks to Dawson Falls.
The Potaema bog walk starts five minutes drive down the road to Stratford from Mountain House. It is interesting as it takes one through a wide variety of different scenery as one approaches the edge. Swamps are areas where the normal sequence of vegetation is interrupted. The Taranaki swamps are, in effect, huge frost hollows, trapping cold air and creating completely different micro-climates in the acidic conditions created by the high nutrient concentrations with abnormally cold temperatures for the height. The Potaema bog is surrounded by a forest of Rimu, rata and Kamahi with kahikatea, New Zealand's highest growing tree growing at the edge. The forest quickly gives way manuka, lancewood, flax and large sedges with sharp cutting edges. The walk ends over the swamp on a boardwalk so one can see the rushes, sedges and blue flowered orchids.
One does need very sturdy walking shoes or preferably tramping boots for all but the Kamahi and Potaema walks even if the weather is good and it seems dry underfoot when you leave. This is an appropriate point to state, for the record, that DOC who laid out the various walks and tracks have defined most of those in Taranaki as Tramping Tracks. DOC's definition of a Tramping Track strictly means "limited formation, often with steep grades, generally marked. Suitable for the moderately fit, experienced and properly equipped people wearing tramping boots" On the longer walks one should remember that the weather on Mt Egmont is well known for rapid changes and appalling conditions can quickly develop even in summer.
The Taranaki forests have less bird life than many forests - this is largely because of the height and low temperatures which dramatically reduces the insect population and hence reduces the number of birds. There are however plenty of Tui and Bellbirds which contribute to the outstanding dawn chorus, Tomtits, the Rifleman which is the almost as small as a Wren, the almost as small Silvereye and the Plump New Zealand Pigeons. The lack of insects does however mean that birds tend to follow one in the hope you disturb the insects.
We generally book a chalet for 3 nights so that we had two full days to enjoy tramping the area. We know that there was a pleasant walk across to Dawson Falls for one day and we still have aspirations for a summit climb.
We have repeated several times the excellent round trip tramp along the Waingongoro Track to Dawson Falls, up to Wilkies Pools then returning on the High Level Round the Mountain Track then dropping down the Enchanted Walk back to Mountain House and returning on the Kamahi track. The first part of the Waingongoro Track is common to several of the walks from Mountain House but after 25 minutes one passes the turn off for the Enchanted walk. After that the stretch to Dawson Falls involves several river crossings which need some care as they can be slippery. We usually divert to look at the Waingongoro hut. It is one of a series of huts spaced along the Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC) each hut taking 16 - 24 people on communal sleeping platforms and bunks. DOC have about 900 such basic huts for Trampers in New Zealand.
The most memorable part of the Waingongoro Track is crossing the swing bridge, a flimsy contraption of wires holding up a series of cross bars forming a walkway with only a bit of wire mesh to add confidence. You look straight down to a rocky stream bed far below as you careful inch your way across. Fortunately there was little wind otherwise they do not so much swing but sway and writhe like two drunken snakes hung across the river. This swing bridge is certainly not the longest at 26.5m but supposed to one of the highest at 29m. It certainly looked a long way down as one carefully placed ones boots on the 8 inch wide strips and clutched the two waist high suspension wires and inched across. Not surprisingly there is a faded notice suggesting only one person crosses at a time. After that the remaining river crossings were tame and we seemed to soon be back on familiar tracks from Dawson Falls.
There are sevaral routes to when on reaches the Dawson Falls area as there is a network of paths starting from the Visitor Centre. We usually take the direct route which is signed and then do some short walks and alternatives on the way back. It is worth a look round the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre which is memorable for having some of the worst presentation of information I have ever seen - some examples are white print on a background of tussock grass and other low contrast combinations and information displayed at 45 degree angles to the horizontal so you have turn your head on its side to read it. The maps are without scales and in random orientations so the two maps of the local walks bear no obvious relation two each other. The original information, probably written by the staff, is fine but it is almost impossible to interpret. It was probably some misguided attempt to employ contractors to Jazz Up the displays at vast cost. I took pictures one time as example for my customers of what not do when preparing web sites and presentation material! Perhaps the point of most concern is that there is no information, such as times or distances or difficulty, in the area which would allow visitors to plan even local walks when the desk is closed, presumably there is a policy that you have buy the information. At least they have added a good display case of stuffed birds - the girl from DOC was very helpful and understood our comments on the other displays fully and we noted last time that they now have a lot of additional and legible information and a display case of some the more common animals and birds.
It was then time for the next stage, the climb up to Wilkie's pools where the water has sculptured the rock into marvellous shapes. After scrambling up past the pools and taking a few more pictures of the smoothly sculptured rocks forming the falls from pool to pool it is a good place to stop for a muesli bar before returning to join the Upper Around the Mountain Circuit following signs for the Stratford Plateau. This section ends with some excellent views out over the valley. We do not go as far as the Plateau as that means a road walk to get back to Mountain House - instead we go down the Enchanted Track to rejoin the Waingongoro Track about half an hour away from Mountain house. The Enchanted Track had some excellent views from the Trig point before dropping steeply down what seemed like thousands of steps back to the Waingongoro Track. In actual fact the descent is 300 metres. The total time was just over 6 hours including the time for short and long stops.
We tried an alternative walk to Dawson Falls in 2009 which started off from Mountain House by first climbing to the Plateau either using the road (boring) or on the Patea loop track. We took the Patea 'anticlockwise' up to the cross with the road then straight on up the road - actually a series of zig zags. This gets most of the hard climb out of the way at the start. From the plateau one sets out on the higher AMT (Around the Mountain Track) towards Dawson Falls. We had initially only intended a short walk and our next option was to return to MH using the 'Enchanted' but we had made such good time we thought we were on for a bit further. The next shortening would have been to descend from the high level AMT using the Ridge Track which drops one down to the Waingonoro Track just beyond the branch off to the Waingororo Hut. We were still making good progress so we decided to continue to use a section of the many tracks round Dawson Falls that we thought correctly we had missed in the past. We took the Wilkies Pools loop track clockwise but did not take the spur to the pools then continued past Twin Falls and the Bubbling springs before climbing back up a part of the Ridge Loop Track then joined the Waingongoro Track back to Mountain House.
We have discussed with Berta what was involved in climbing up to the Summit. It is a day trip, but a long day involving an early start and considerable fitness. Estimates are 5 hours up and 3 hours down with a height gain from the Stratford Plateau Car-park of nearly 1500 metres, more from Mountain House. We had already seen her photos from when the family did the walk, and it was later in the year, with snow. We had a trial run on the first section in 2006. The first step is to get to the Plateau, and we decided to drive there. It is a long day to climb to the summit, and the time saved in driving to the Plateau seemed worthwhile. The weather forecast was not promising for a serious summit attempt but we decided to reconnoitre the first stretch round the mountain and up the first section, the fabled 1000 steps.
The walk uses the Upper Round The Mountain track and is well signposted. The first part goes up past a flying fox which is used to get supplies across to the Manganui private Hut on the other side of the valley. On foot, we walked through an avalanche tunnel, and then carefully walked up to the end of the valley and turned back along the other side to reach the Hut. It is an area where there have been avalanches, hence the tunnel, and the advice is to keep walking not loiter. Certainly in the winter it would be much more dangerous. To our surprise, we found a public shelter and toilets next to the Hut. This is the area of the Manganui ski-field, and while it was deserted in summer it must be a very different sight in the ski season. We walked under the cable for a ski T-bar lift which went up the mountain. Higher up there is a ski tow. Neither were in use.
Our path then continued around the mountain, heading north. Although narrow it is a well formed path and gave good views until we reached the Tahurangi Lodge. Here we saw other walkers; we had joined the recommended track to the Summit which starts from the DOC office at North Egmont. The stretch up from North Egmont is called the Puffer because it is a steep and relentless climb. We were overtaken by young people wearing walking sandals and trainers, and rushing upwards.
The next stage towards the summit involves a serious climb up the steps - these were built in the 1980s to prevent erosion of the sensitive surface. There are said to be 1000 steps and we completed over 700 before halting at about 2100 metres, not because we could go no further but because we could see there was weather approaching, as the forecast had indicated the cloud base already falling and the rain was starting. We knew that the next part of the ascent involved a long tramp across the scoria and is unmarked, not a very good idea when there is reduced visibility. Then you reach the crater which often has ice, followed by a rock scramble to the summit. We turned and retraced our steps, looking over our shoulder as the cloud level reduced, and the rain started, fortunately it tailed off as we worked our way back round the mountain.
We always plan that 'Next Year' we will do some work-ups and have a shot at the full ascent if the weather is suitable, perhaps with an overnight in the hut to give a head start. The Stratford?? Mountain Club occasionally organise supported trips to the summit which could be a excellent way the first time. We were too late to book in 2007 but heard hundreds of cars go past Mountain House heading for the Plateau car-park at six in the morning.
The York Loop Track is an easy walk which provides an opportunity to explore the old Egmont branch line which brought ballast down from the Manganui River. The York Road Loop Track follows part of the old Egmont Branch Railway Line - access is from the end of York Road which turns off SH3 between Stratford and Tariki and the small car park is right on the boundary of the national Park. The line was first proposed in 1901 to provide a source of metal for Taranaki roads, rocks for Port Taranaki and ballast for the railways. The quarries, crushers and railway were in full operation by 1908. Typically 25,000 tons per year were extracted over the next twenty years. The number of crushers was reduced in 1928 and operations steadily ran down until the quarries and line were finally closed by 1951. The original York Track was created to access the various sections of the railway, crushers and quarries during the construction phase. The current track is in the form of a loop and we passed about 10 sites of interest which had information boards. It is marked on the notice boards as taking 3 hours and our notes showed we were a bit quicker last time when it took us a little under 3 hours with a lot of time investigating and taking pictures. This time we did less exploration and kept up a fast pace to work off the ice-cream and get back for supper and completed the 7 kms in 1 hour 20 mins with one ten minute side track missed out.
One starts in the car park where there is an exhibit of one of the side tipping railway wagons. We followed the track and came to the Bunk House and Cottages Site, now just a green area with some foundations. The Bunk House was also known as the Barracks and housed 20 men and had a large kitchen and living rooms. The barracks sold for 15 pounds and moved to provide a hall at the New Plymouth Railway Settlement in 1930. Six small cottages were also on this site to accommodate the married men. The main artifacts remaining are at the Crusher Site where there is still a massive retaining wall, 100m long and 7m high which was part of the building that housed the crushing machine and other works. Side-tipping rail wagons brought rock to the two crushers via an upper siding. The crushed and screened metal was then fed into wagons below for transport to Waipuku junction. The crushers were operated by water turbines. Although heavily overgrown one can still identify many of the remains.
We walked up the old line of the water supply which was over 1km long and in a 500mm diameter pipe made of rolled steel pipes. It was used to carry water to the sandtrap and crushers. Some of the rusting pipeline was still visible from the track. The Sandtrap is still intact and the valves look operational. It was used to filter any sediment from the water before use in the crusher turbines. We walked across to the River Quarry where the railway lines gave access to the river where rock could be easily found. A few remnants of the line can still be seen. We continued to the Middle Quarry Station - a site on the Manganui River which provided poor quality rock which crushed easily although it had the advantages of being plentiful and readily available. As we continued we could see of the flumes and culverts that diverted water away from the Foot Station into a man-made river. We reached the site of the Foot Station located at the end of the rail line from Waipuku. Only a large clearing remains where the rail yard was located. This was also the site of the proposed Rope Way Station which was never built as the Upper Quarry development ceased in 1916 from here on the original track is heavily overgrown and now closed. We then returned on the York Road Track which was constructed to allow access for work at both ends of the railway line.
By the time we got back in 2014 we felt we had had a good days walking - the total must have been about ten miles and a lot of it over rough ground and with lots of climbs and descents. Fortunately the next day would be mostly driving over the SH 43.
We then set out on one of our favourite scenic roads from Stratford to Taumarunui, the SH43. This is a superb scenic road which was the subject of the first of the Heritage trails in 1990. It has more recently been labelled the 'The Forgotten Highway' on many of the boards. We have the original Heritage Trail booklet 'Taranaki and SH43' covering the SH43 and a few other less memorable trails. They should be available at Information Offices but have often been in short supply possibly due to the renaming. There are however big introductory boards at either end and signs to further comprehensive boards at most of the main points of interest. It was a fascinating trip on one of the early roads and cut across the grain of the countryside over a number of saddles giving commanding views. It is a road which is only 150 kms from end to end, some of it still unsealed, which merits (and takes) plenty of time. We have previously done the journey a couple of times from both ends but we never tire of it. This time we mainly looked for things we had missed last time round and have written them up to augment the existing information on the web site from previous trips.
The first suggested stop is at an old Douglas Brick Kiln which is listed by he New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It is situated a couple of hundred metres off the main road then down a gated farmers track. It is in poor condition and protected by an external roof.
One next passes over the series of saddles. The first Saddle, the Strathmore Saddle can give superb views and on a clear day like we had it gives a vantage of the four main North Island mountains, Taranaki (Egmont), Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. It was a favourite site for Keith's paintings.
Te Wera has a Forest and Recreational Camp which does not seem to be available for normal camping but there is an Arboretum which we have walked round a couple of times. When we passed by in 2007 the camp was closed for renovation and it ws not clear if the Arboretum was still open.
The Pohokura Saddle is named after a Maori chief from when it was settled first in 1880 - in those days the road was so bad it took three days to pack in supplies. As with many other points on the trip there are interpretation boards at the viewpoints. The Whangamomona Saddle has a walk leading off from the viewpoint which looks sufficiently interesting we will schedule it for a future trip.
Next comes a highlight of the trip, Whangamomona Village. We had first been recommended the trip and the village whilst in the Catlins by some people we met (Anne and Mike) and it had been reinforced by another suggestion from a chance meeting in Auckland with someone whose father had worked in the village. Whangamomona, the Valley of Plenty, was first settled in 1885 and quickly reached its full size of about 200. It has always been controversial and had difficult access - in 1903 the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon was tipped into a pothole by the inhabitants as a protest at the road conditions and eventually improvements came.
The community spirit still survives, although to some it now looks little more than a ghost town. In 1989 the village declared itself an independent state in protest at changes in the regional boundaries which removed it from its home in Taranaki. Independence Day celebrations are held every year on the Saturday closest to November 1st. One year as we passed there was a big sign saying the President was holding court in the Hotel. We were tempted to stop and seek an audience. Another year we found we had been standing next to him in the pub at lunch time but had not recognised him. There is a signposted walking trail round the village which we followed part of - much of the village is like a time warp which has led to it being used for several films.
We went into the hotel and had a look at the boards on the walls and saw they were serving some very sensible value food and we had their fish and chips - being Taranaki day and a bank holiday they added a 15% surcharge to the food and the local beer Pauline tried. There is a camp site sign posted in the village and we went down to have a look and it turned out to be based round the old school - now a communal village building - and is kept up by volunteers in the village. The costs were very reasonable and they had some basic PWD style cabins at $20 a night (2009) - the same price as pitching a tent, so next time through we may make it an overnight stop and do some of the side trips off the highway.
The next high point is the Tahora Saddle where the Kaieto café used to be. It has has now closed but they still seem to have the"camp site" perched on the peak - a wooden platform on the peak doubles as a view point and helipad.
On a couple of occasions, (the last in 2009) we have taken a side trip to the ghost village Tangarakau, 6 km from the main road. The village was set up in 1925 for railway workers and their families. It quickly grew to a population of 1200 with a full street of shops. It's life was extended for a few years by work on power lines but then it quickly declined and now there is nothing left to show - the current population in the area is 8 probably the owners of the adjacent and very deserted camp-site and a farm which looked busier than last visit.
Next came Morgan's grave. Joshua Morgan was a well known surveyor who died in this remote area at 35 from peritonitis and is taken as a memorial to all the men who played a part in opening up this difficult country. The grave is well preserved and only about 700 metres from a small car park.
The Tangarakua Gorge, carved by the river into sedimentary sandstone is very spectacular and redolent with luxuriant native bush but beware when driving through as this 15 km stretch of slippery gravel surface has led to State Highway 43 being ranked as one of the 10 worst highways in New Zealand by the Police.
A side trip we like to carry out is down a gravel road to see the Mt Damper Falls, which are one of the highest inland falls in New Zealand at 76 meters. It is well worth the 20 minute walk to see the falls are a narrow stream cut deeply into the side of a huge "bowl" eroded into the mudstone - quite unlike anything we have seen before. Part way down the road is a large picnic and parking area for the Moki forest tracks with a few old steam boilers from the logging days. There is also a small caravan site just down the road - there seems to be no good place for a tent but there are three or four slots for caravans or campers. The Moki forest is the home of the endangered Kokako bird but we have never had the time to go in search.
A new side trip we made in 2009 was down the Waro road which used to lead to the Tatu mines. The guide said it was a track not suitable for normal vehicles but the road had been upgraded and we made it to a kilometer or so of where the old Tatu Coal mine used to be sited and eventually had to turn back when we got to major earth moving equipment and a working area we did not even feel it would be possible to safely walk through. We found some pictures of the Tatu coal mine at the Tawhiti Museum.
It is worth a walk up to Nevin's Lookout, about five minutes, to a magnificent 360 degree view even with relatively low cloud base. With good visibility it is spectacular.
There is another side trip off the SH43 was to the Maraekowhai reserve. The site has been of interest to us for several reasons. Historically it was a stronghold for the rebellious Hauhau warriors who in 1864 built a "rongo niu" with arms radiating in four directions to call the warriors to the cause. They danced round it chanting to make themselves invincible to musket fire. It and the later rere kore (peace pole) are still preserved in the reserve. We have been told the area has a considerably wider history also involving a flour mill, a pakeha who was shot, missionaries, notional roads and inter-tribal fighting. At the time of our first visit we knew little of this and our main interest was that it was the site of the Houseboat which was provided the second overnight stop for the Whanganui river boats on their way to Taumarunui. The site is about 18 kms off the main road down a mostly a slow and narrow gravel track. When we eventually arrived the first time we found we could not reach the poles or the site of the Houseboat mooring as a swing bridge was down but in exchange discovered there were a super set of waterfalls, the Ohura Falls which are worth a trip in their own right
We tried again in 2007 and found we had to stop short of the car park as it was said to be too muddy for access and we found the whole track is now under threat of closure by DOC as it is not to modern standards and they say nobody visits it - the visitors book tells a very different story. We could still get to the falls but the walkway section was in a terrible state with many broken boards and we could still not get to where the poles were or to the site of the houseboat - there is no evidence now there ever was a swing bridge and most of the information boards have disappeared. We explored down some of the farmers tracks but could not find our way to the river and eventually gave up. We have since been told that the bridge into the Maraekowhai reserve was pulled down by DOC sometime in 2004. After a local disaster when a man was killed falling through an unmaintained bridge DOC got all cautious and advertised for some group of volunteers to look after the bridge but no one would take it on so they pulled it down. See below for how we got down the Tawata road on the opposite side of the river and at least got a good view across of the nui poles and the houseboat mooring.We looked for the Aukopae River boat landing down a side road first in 2003. There was no obvious sign at the roadside as promised and it was difficult to locate the location as everything is overgrown. We proceeded another 5 kms down the road (more a farmers track) to where the book said the Nukunuku Museum was located but all we could find was a cut down heritage trail sign and a few rusty relics in a field with nobody around. We have since discovered that Joch Erceg had a farm and museum in that area but his son took over and now it is somewhat run down but visits can sometimes be arranged. The only thing of interest we saw was a bit of old Waka upright above an old tomb stone which we thought read the revered Richard Taylor. A few days latter we were reading one of the books on the Whanganui and realised it was probably a memorial to the famous Reverend Richard Taylor who did so much with Maori including helping them name all the Kainga (villages) with Anglicised names such as Ranana (London) and Koriniti (Corinth). His mediation and influence was largely instrumental in allowing the Whanganui to be opened up. We wish we had taken a picture. We returned in 2007 to have another look and we managed to clean up the stone a bit better this time and confirmed it read Richard Taylor but we think it is inscribed "Richard Taylor camped near here on 8th?? August 1862". This time we have a couple of pictures but they will need some enhancement to read the inscription. We have since been told that Taylor was at Tawhitinui around the 8 August 1862, on the river but below Pipiriki, according to his biographer Mead - we have not checked that and if that is true it means the memorial has been moved. We also understand that Taylor's grave is in Wanganui and that the Historic Places Trust tidied it up last year but have not seen it
There is an unpublicised DOC camp site just off the SH43 at Ohinepane that forms part of the Whanganui Journey - although a river journey the Whanganui Journey is of New Zealand's network of "Great Walks", perhaps because of the huge number of shallows and rapids! The Whanganui Journey is a 145 km journey by Canoe from Taumarunui to Pipiriki taking about 5 days. Ohinepane is one of the few camp sites on the journey accessible by land and about one day into the trip to Pipiriki. It had a big plaque say it was on land donated as a camp site for all New Zealanders. Normally the charges for a week for the journey are $25 for use of the huts and camps sites or $8 for a single night at those accessible by land as entry points. Ohinepane seemed to be free as there were none of the usual honesty boxes and registration forms, presumably as it was donated land.
It is quite large camp site surrounded by bush and with views down onto the river. The first time we found it there was only one other tent with three people with canoes and a supporting car and driver. It is a real shame that these marvellous sites seem to hardly be used. We had not intended to camp but it was just too good to miss and we quickly set up the tent and the Red Devil. We spent some time in the morning talking to the lady in the party who turned out be a farmer and we were introduced to the concept of WWOOFing - Willing Workers On Organic Farms. This is an informal network which allows people to work for a few hours a day on an Organic Farm in exchange for food and accommodation - in most cases they become part of the family and gain insight into farming etc. It is not very well publicised as it is barely tolerated by the authorities - no money changes hands making it almost impossible to regulate. We understand information can be obtained from local backpacker accommodation. The lady we spoke to said three of their WWOOFers had subsequently emigrated and they kept in touch with many of them.
The Otunui River Boat Landing is also on the Whanganui and has a new canoe landing below the picnic area. The old landing can not be seen any more although you there is a new board which shows with an arrow on a picture exactly where it was. One can still get to the original location via a derelict style and a walk through the field - The last time I tried I could see no trace other than possible signs of an old track down.
A recommended exploration off the main route is the Te Maire Reserve - we took a 10 minute walk on our first visit, with a nice river crossing on a small suspension bridge, to reach a loop walk which takes a further one hour forty minutes to complete. The initial section is in very good condition and makes an excellent forest walk through Podocarps but with so much undergrowth growing on and up all the trees it is reminiscent of the 'goblin forest' round Mountain House at Mt Egmont (Taranaki). We have made a note to allow time for the full walk on a future visit - we returned in 2007 and did the loop track which took us through some lovely stands of mature trees, some stretching 200 feet upwards with clean straight trunks, probably the tallest were kahikatea (white pine) along with rimu, totara and matai. The lookout was higher than we expected and the climb gave us some good exercise but the views were minimal as it was overgrown round the picnic table. We did it in sandals but got damp feet and boots would have better on the climbs and descents.
In 2007 we took the Paparoa road on past the turn of to the Te Marie Reserve following signs to Tawata. This took us about 28 kms (about 11 unsealed) to reach the bark opposite to Maraekowhai where we could get a view across the river to the Nui Poles and the join of the Ohura river and the Whanganui River where the houseboat Makere was moored just below the lower falls. The two poles look well preserved and are in a well kept reserve with picnic tables and toilets - the only problem is that now DOC have removed the bridge and plan to close the track this important historic area can only be reached by canoe. The nui poles were erected by the Hau Hau followers of the Pai Marire religion and were local points for prayer, parades and chants. Spirits were said to radiate through the arms of the poles calling warriors to fight and giving them supernatural powers to resist musket fire. The Rongo nui (War pole) was erected first in 1864 and the Ririkore (Peace pole) was erected in 1869 when hostilities ended.
On the final stretch towards Taumarunui one passes Herlihy's Bluff which consists of alternating layers of course sandstone and fine mudstone laid down to a total thickness of about 1.3 kms when the region was below the sea about 15-25 million years ago.
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Most recent significant revision: Layout revised: 3rd February, 2015