Thursday, 4 February 2016

Solo Misadventure: Part Two – River deep, Mountain high

Getting from the Waiohine to the Tauherenikau river isn't usually difficult where I live, unless you do it via a mountain.

Accommodation for one - bring your own matches.
The view of the Tauherenikau river in summer, glimpsed from the train at the start and end of our daily commute, scarcely does it justice.  From the railway bridge it tends to look like a large dusty quarry with some despondent rivulets of water winding their way across the gravel.

But only a little way further into the hills it becomes a poster girl for New Zealand tourism. 
The banks nestle in on either side, and native bush begins to proliferate, palms shading, and ferns fringing sparkling clear pools. I’d swear you can smell the oxygen in the water, it fizzes near the sun-warmed surface as you pass through this beautiful river.  An author I was privileged to interview a couple of years ago coined the expression ‘the weight of nature’ in one of his books, and you can certainly feel it here.

I reach these parts of the Tauherenikau by wading up the river in high summer, able to cover a fair distance due to the low water level.  But I can only get so far, and only recently I realised that the answer had been staring me n the face every time I visited my favourite swimming hole at the other nearby river, the Waiohine. At the end of the road is a sign indicating the beginning of the track to 899m Mt Reeves, but when I finally read it properly, saw that the track continues down to Tutuwai hut, perched near a part of the Tauherenikau river I hadn’t seen before. the sign indicated the 11km distance would take 4.5hrs.

My legs still feeling the effects of the previous day’s return from Riversdale, I pedalled the familiar journey to the start of the track. 
I had originally intended to make the return trip to Tutuwai hut in a day, but Rose had convinced me to turn it into an overnight stay.  Her motivation might have been to get me out of the house but she also probably saved my life.  I had almost made the classic mistake of not respecting the mountain - it might only have been 11km, but it was STEEP!
The track ascended sharply through pine, then bush and eventually beech forest.  Assuming that the summit would be the halfway point of the journey, I hoped to reach it in 2hrs 15 minutes.  Nearing the top a wind picked up.  I passed a small party of mature trampers heading the other way, and as I write this they are still the last human beings I’ve seen in 30 hours.  Because, as it turned out, they had been the last people to stay at the hut and I had it entirely to myself.  

View from the top of Mt Reeves
But back to the present, with thigh muscles whimpering, I managed to make the top exactly when I hoped I would.  The Wairarapa spread out far below me and I got my first view of the Eastern Tararua range, glowering beneath some ominous clouds and reminding me again that this wasn’t just a stroll - people have died in these mountains.

If I’d thought the climb was steep the descent was insane, and I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to make it down in a single hour - seeing the pink straight angles of the hut roof through the trees was jarring after the constant green and brown of the track, but a huge relief.

The company I enjoyed at Tutuwai hut.
Tutuwai appeared to have enough sleeping space for a couple of rugby teams, but presently there was just me, and it stayed that way.  As much as I enjoyed the solitude, another party might have had matches with them. This was a crucial oversight which lead to some embarrassing attempts to ‘MacGyver’ my way out of forsaking a hot dinner.  I tried to focus the sun through an empty wine bottle onto some dry leaves, but discovery of my plight had come too late in the day … I even tried rubbing sticks together and finally banging rocks.  A discarded lighter flared briefly then died once and for all.  I was stuffed, or rather not stuffed after a modest dinner of dry food and not the nourishing 'Kaweka' meal I had packed.  It was having to take the coffee, which I’d carried here, off the menu which really hurt, though.
I swam and read until the light finally disappeared - the sun appearing to roll along the ridge of the mountains, rather than dipping behind them.

The view from Tutuwai hut veranda.
I spent a surprisingly unnerving night in that huge hut all by myself.  Every creak of the cooling building seemed magnified, as did the distant scream of some still-unidentified wildlife.  What most concerned me though was the possibility that I could be invaded at any minute by a drunk party of pig hunters.  The sound of the nearby river fooled me several times by mimicking distant human voices, but despite all this I eventually fell into a deep, long sleep.

Despite the forecast, the next morning was sunny and hot, so I hit the trail early, prepared for the slope back to the top.  I say prepared, but it still hurt.  Weirdly, on summiting and coming back into cellphone range at last, I received a text from my manager, asking me if I wanted Waitangi day off.  I now see that dark things have happened to New Zealand while I was gone, but my first news was the opportunity to extend my holiday by another day - and I grabbed it.

My last view of the Tauherenikau valley as I head for home.
Like my Riversdale trip, I also finished this one with a swim in the Waiohine when I reached the end of the trail.  Tramping is supposed to be a social activity, and as much as I enjoyed myself I did feel very isolated and maybe a tiny bit lonely, (I even caught me talking to myself over breakfast).  I’ve had great, if exhausting experiences over the past week, but it’s time to call a halt to the solo misadventures for a little while.

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