Written by Lorna

Waipakihi revisited

January 26-28 2019

The names Urchin Umakarikari and Waipakihi have always resonated with me so I was keen to visit this area. I first took the opportunity with the club in Feb 2017 where I experienced a hard and sometimes off-track experience, I think my trip report of the time even put some people off but not me - I was keen to return to the Kaimanawa.

The C group of 6 were dropped off on Saturday am at the bottom of the Umakarikari ridge and faced two hours hard slog with full packs thru humid hot bush – we all shed a few litres of sweat and were happy to get beyond the bushline and benefit from the breeze. Then we started to get the views – expansive across to the central mountains of the Tongariro National Park, traffic on the Desert Rd, Turangi and Tokaanu at the lake edge and Taupo, Tuahara and Wairakei steaming in the distance.

We had a few more rest spots on the high points of Sharp Cone which is distinctive as the name suggests and Umakarikari which could be overlooked – though there is a rock pile cairn to mark it. A bit more ridge walking and we knew we weren’t alone on this sunny day, there was at least one group behind us (the Waikato TC we suspected) and two hunters overtook us. It was a steep and rather ugly rocky rubbly scratchy scrub track down to cross a tributary of the Waipakihi river – and a lovely pool some of us returned to later for our wash, then only 10 minutes to the hut. We had made good time, the suggested Doc time had been 6-8 hrs so I was delighted to do it in 6.35. Fortuitously we got a bunk room just for us, awesome no wet packs to carry tomorrow, our packs would be heavy enough as we needed to carry extra water – there was none where we were going on the tops and we didn’t know if we would get down to the river to camp.

The late afternoon was spend talking to the diversity of trampers (some whom we already knew) and hunters who were making the most of good weather and a long weekend. In the evening thermals there were Three large birds (we assumed kaka) entertained us soaring in the evening thermals) – quite majestic. People keep arriving there were at least 40 people in and around the hut but it never seemed crowded as many were tenting and some arrived after we had headed to a restless sleep on the squeaky bunk mattresses. It seemed all routes to and from the hut were being utilized although we were the only ones going up into Middle Range the next day.

We were up early as were others and away in good time. We had to cross the Waipakihi straight away – most of us keep dry feet, and easily found the track into the bush and up the ridge – thanks to Kevin asking the hunters the night before. The day started rather cool and once we got to about 1500 mts we were in a mist – we couldn’t see the ridges and peaks we wanted so paused to check maps against the gps at least twice– in no way is it a straight forward track along the ridge towards Thunderbolt – there are at many side ridges that have tracks leading off – there are no poles or rock cairns. It would be easy to take a wrong spur and waste time on what was to be a long day. The mist wasn’t wet but with the strong breeze it cooled us all down and coats were needed.

Kevin keep us on track – but I foolishly thought I saw good ground trail to the right – how wrong I was, I lead the others into a hillside of hebes and long grasses, maybe I was reminiscing the trip of 2 years ago where we fought the vegetation for ages. We quickly corrected my mistake and summitted Thunderbolt for lunch at about 1240 – No mist now but still the strong breeze. Then it was the long undulating ridge towards Motutere, all along this ridge we had expansive 360 deg views including deep into the Kaweka and Ruahine ranges and the head waters of the Rangitekei River. Each time we stopped we discussed which peaks we were looking at – and then Kevin would share a story of when he had walked in that area.

With tiring legs, it seemed like the afternoon was going on for ever – but we made the collective decision to get off the tops and down to the cool of the river for a night camp spot. These seriously big hills have very steep downs and the trail was almost vertical in parts – we all enjoyed the cooling waters seeping into our boots and as we crossed the river, I told Kevin he had 7 minutes to find a campsite to come in under an 11-hr day – he did it - 10hrs 58.

In the late evening sun, we pitched tents, washed in the river, cooked dinner all the while swatting sand-flies who favoured Michaël over all of us. Then a welcome good sleep, deconstruct our camp site and splash down the river for about 20 mins to the start of climb to the Urchin passing what turned out to be the campsite of the B group. The climb up Urchin is unrelenting steep for tired legs but eventually eases – after a couple of breaks we rounded a corner to see Urchin and some trampers in the distance soon identified as our B group. Delighted to see them (they had the van key) we exchanged a few stories of the weekend and then all made our own pace down to the carpark – some faster than others – maybe too fast as Michaël hit a low branch and sustained a bloody head injury.

A welcome change of clothes- lunch in the carpark and off to Turangi for ice-creams or coffee – and of course some slept on the way home – deservedly so.

It was a great weekend – trip organisers did a great job with driving, planning the pick-ups, accommodation, dinner in the friendly Turangi RSA and organising two trips which resulted in eleven tired sun-weary trampers.

Lorna the slowest – but hey someone has to be.