This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in August 1998
12-14 June 1998
A river, a ridge and a stream in the Ruahines - and the stream was the toughest.
We set off from Wellington Railway Station at 4.45pm. Friday night accommodation was in the comfortable bunk-houses of a YMCA camp beside the Pohangina, about 20km north of Ashhurst, which we reached around 9pm. Jenny Gates' party also stayed at this camp.
The next morning we started off about 8.30, walking up the Pohangina River track. After an hour we reached the turn-off to Centre Creek Hut, and a sign which promised 'Mid-Pohangina Hut 5 hours'. It took us 3 hours in fact, with some stinging nettle encounters and a 10-minute detour, when I charged right past the (non-obvious) turn down to the Pohangina swing-bridge and carried on until the absence of markers sank in. After the bridge, we tried three routes for the remaining short way to the hut: Alastair and John followed the track about 50 metres over a spur, Andrew and I crossed the stream (and I had a refreshing dip), and Pasi and Anthony stayed on the true left of the Po and arrived with dry feet.
We had lunch and a brew at Mid-Po and then continued up the river. This was a really enjoyable afternoon of boulder-hopping and stream-crossing. John showed good style with a long staff, and Pasi almost managed to keep dry feet - at the cost of some rock climbing. Not long before we reached the Ngamoko Hut, we came to a quiet pool just as a pair of blue ducks bombed into it. They gave us an amazing show, one whistling and pouncing on the other, who bobbed under the water and popped up again making a `tch-tch-tch' noise.
We had a good dinner - including steamed pudding! and a snug night at this pleasant six-bunk hut, while it rained steadily. The next morning, in occasional drizzle, we set off about 8.45 up the spur behind the hut to the Ngamoko ridge. Towards the top the track was cut through tall leatherwood, a formidable sight in cross-section. We reached the ridge top before 11 and stopped for scroggin. From here we had views to the Wairarapa and the Manawatu plains, while rain showers from the NW passed to north and south of us. A falcon stunted overhead.
Expecting that it would take about 5 hours to walk out to the roadend, we dropped the packs and walked north to the next high point, from which we might get a look at Toka (1526m). Unfortunately, as we got there, a rain shower closed in, so we returned to the packs and continued south along the ridge.
The rain stopped about half an hour after we headed south, but it continued claggy with visibility of maybe 200 metres. Following warratahs, we turned south-east and descended off the main ridge. The route varied between a distinct trail, and worn patches in the leatherwood with the occasional warratah. About 2 kilometres after we had turned and descended, the route seemed to peter out in a leatherwood thicket; a largish tarn at this point, on the true left below the ridge crest, was not marked on the map. We retraced our steps, looking for a route down on the true right into the valley of the Piripiri stream - no luck. We turned back down the ridge, considering the prospect of leatherwood bashing.
Pasi prospected down by the tarn and picked up a continuation of the ridge track. At 2.30 we reached the top of the descent to the Piripiri. Since it was getting late, we decided to postpone lunch. A cut track plunged down through the leatherwood, and then the route followed a steep eroded side stream.
At this point we seemed to fall into some kind of time warp. The going was difficult but not horrendous - you certainly wouldn't have thought we were doing less than 1 km per hour. The distance that we still had to cover before reaching a farm track, when you look at it on the map, is not that far: maybe 4k at most. But it was maybe 3.30 before we got down to the Piripiri, and by dark at 5.30 we were still bouldering down the stream. There was a brief discussion of camping out. But it was depressingly soggy and the stream, though bouldery and slippery, was not deep. We fired up the headlamp torches and forged on, hoping that the farm track would be easy to spot when we reached it.
After a time of wonder, I came round a bend to find a welcome sight - Andre standing by the beginning of the farm track. Cries of 'Yesss!' and 'Thank God!' were heard. From here it was about 30 minutes to the farmhouse - by which time it was 7.45pm, the end of an 11-hour walk. Andre introduced himself to the farmer who very kindly gave us all a lift on his Landrover the 2km or so back to the cars.
It's still a mystery to me why it took us so long to come down that stream. The day before, we had gone a long way further up the Pohangina in less than three hours. I guess the Po has some flat gravelly stretches, whereas the Piripiri was boulders all the way. Oddly enough, that day definitely ranks with my top tramping memories. And now that the bruises have healed, I'd almost go back to have another look at the time warp zone.
The group was: Andre Visser (leader), John Henry, Alastair Betts, Anthony McNamara, Pasi Hyvonen, Sue Jensen (scribe).