Pukeatua Stream Traverse
December 2 – 3, 2005 (Map S26 Carterton)
It is the unknown and unforeseen aspects that we encounter during a planned trip to new territory that add challenging dimensions to any back country activity. I had long held a desire to traverse Pukeatua Stream [Roaring Meg] – an area I had not heard fellow trampers speak of knowledgeably. So, it was a late Friday afternoon start in to new territory from the Pukeatua Stream bridge. The weather had been warm and mainly dry for the previous weeks and low water levels were a feature of all regional water courses.
The lower reaches of the stream bed are narrow and were well scoured, with a few pools and a continuous supply of greasy rocks in the water. The flood line on the banks was two to three metres above the stream bed. Below the remnants of the dam constructed by the Arcus family in the 1990s there are two compulsory steep scrambles up and around severe narrowings with deep pools and water falls. These were the first of numerous situations during the trip that bush mountaineering skills were put to effective use.
Not too far below the dam I found a terrace to spend the night, with only a minimum of landscaping needed to get a level sleeping pad under a grove of punga ferns.
Those ferns kept the slight drizzle of the early hours of Saturday from dampening me and I did not need to hastily set up my fl y. However, as the morning rolled on, the drizzle intensified and every surface was greasy, so progress was slow.
Upstream of the dam, the stream course narrowed to virtually a continuous gorge. There were numerous sections of shingle underfoot, the result of slips on steep faces and in contributing side streams. There were also very narrow sections with pools and small waterfalls: which gave rise to two choices of travel – short bursts of bush mountaineering on the steep slopes above the pools, or sanitizing the jockies by shuffling through the water.
About three quarters of the way up the stream’s catchment, the valley walls open and there is pleasant travel for about half a kilometre, with a few potentially comfortable camping sites.
At the junction of the two significant headwaters (grid ref: 934335) the traveller has a choice of two similar water courses (I explored the lower reaches of both options) and both present a shambolic mix of slips, fallen trees and steep slopes. I chose to work my way up the true left branch, for the only reason that it looked like the natural through-route of the stream as seen on the map.
Somewhere south of spot height 535 my idealism for a full traverse gave way to pragmatism at a severely entangled waterfall and I scrambled up steep slopes on to the ridge on the true left of the watercourse. On the top of that ridge I came upon the route I knew to be there, and within fifteen minutes was at the junction with the Henderson Shelter sidle route.
From there it was only a matter of a few hours comfortable travel, following the route via Pukeatua and the ridge that runs north east from it, back to the Otaki Forks car park. The rain had stopped but most of the ridge was shrouded in wind-driven cloud. It was an eleven hour day.
My travel on Saturday had been slow – necessitated by ensuring secure footing; location confirmations with the map and compass; decision-making about safe travel around or through gorges; and a brew-up at lunch to expunge some of the damp from the body. For the adventurous stream traveller, I believe this trip could be completed in a day of extended daylight if the water levels were very low and the weather was dry.