A visit to Lake Colenso had long been on our lists of “things that must be done”. We inspected the spectacular bungy jump over the Rangitikei River and arrived at Mokai Station at 11am. With provisions for three days, our packs were reasonably light. A poled route led steeply up over farmland. As we gained height we got grandstand views of Ruapehu (covered in a white coat) and Taranaki (not seen by one of the party). A sidle across farmland was followed by a steep climb to the flat top of the Mokai Patea Range at 1240m. The top of this range is all private land and we chased a herd of cattle south until we reached the poled route leading east to Otukota Hut. Further down we reached the Ruahine Park boundary at 1095m. A good path led down a spur through groves of impressive kaikawakas. At the bottom of the spur it got very steep with a big slip on our right. We slid down the last bit on backsides and ended up in a tributary of the Maropea River. The marked route lay up the stream for 50m, then a reverse in direction and a sidle down the true right bank of the stream for 300m to Otukota Hut. We made ourselves comfortable in the six bunk hut. Three quarters of an hour later we noticed Dave had not arrived and the sun was beginning to set. Ken retraced the route back to the stream and a shout located Dave on the opposite bank of the stream trying to climb back up the hill. He had missed the sharp change in direction despite the place being plastered with orange DOC triangles. Contemplating an uncomfortable night out on the steep scree slope, he was mightily relieved to be rescued. Back at the hut Dave joked about his adventure but was a bit worried about future embellishments of the tale. As it was he was not allowed to forget it for the rest of the trip.
Next morning we had an early start at 7.30am for the long trip to Lake Colenso via Puketaramea. After a steep drop down to the Maropea there was nothing for it but wet feet crossing the stream. Dave located the path a bit further downstream on the true right, and a steep haul up a spur took us to the junction of a path to Iron Bark Hut. A good path continued through bush to Point 949. We reached the open top of Puketaramea 1338m in time for morning tea. The view from here was stupendous – a full 360 degrees of peaks in the northern Ruahines. The sky was blue and occasional white patches on the tops glistened in the sun. We identified the peaks and spotted some huts. But there was still a long way to go, so we started down the long spur leading to the Unknown Campsite. The path was somewhat overgrown. We did not see anything of note at the Unknown Campsite, but stopped for lunch at the forks in the stream shortly after. Then wet feet again in the stream leading to the north-east. A steep climb up a bank took us out of the stream back into partial sun. The path continued through a saddle and climbed I interminably. Eventually we reached a ridge top and got a stunning view looking down to Lake Colenso. A very steep drop down a sharp spur led almost to the bank of the Mangatera River. A path led through bush south of the lake until we reached the hut at 5pm approx. The hut does not have a view of the lake, but looks out onto open flats of the upper Mangatera River. We had another first class fire here, lit by Dave with his bits of rubber.
There was another big day ahead to reach the roadend, so Colin got us up at some obscene hour into the freezing cold hut. We left shortly after dawn and visited the lake to look at the ducks, of which there were several dozen. Then a long tramp through bush and up towards Bump 970. We coasted down the ridge going west until it suddenly dropped steeply, and a long steep descent took us down to the bank of the Maropea River. It was still cold in the shade and heavy dew covered the vegetation. Across the river we had morning tea at Iron Bark Hut with the sun just reaching the hut. We were not looking forward to the long climb to the saddle, and we were right – it was steep and never ending. At the saddle we left the path, climbing up a spur to the south west. The path which is marked on the map continues to Mokai Hut but passes through private land. Extensive patches of kanuka at the saddle had been sprayed and were now a lifeless grey colour. Colin raced ahead to the 1050m contour with Dave and Ken struggling and cursing in the rear. We had lunch in the sun, then a sidle round Mokai Patea followed by a steep drop to join the poled route back to the carpark at 3.30pm approx.
An unforgettable trip with three days of sun and brilliantly clear views.