Crossing the Akatarawa 'Plain' MF
13 May 2015
The 'high' points of the Akatarawa Forest are Titi 613 m and Maunganui, 703 m (both in the west) and Mt Barton, 627 m in the east. Little else rises above 500m but, consulting the topographic map, there are one or two extended regions encircled by the West Akatarawa River where sizeable swathes of country seem to form a plateau at about 500 m.1 Our aim was to traverse one of these swathes - perhaps a risky undertaking in May with only about ten hours of sun-up. The weather wasn't looking too good either as we drove up the Hutt valley; rain was forecast for the evening (in fact next day saw record flooding across the Wellington region). Robin had patiently dealt with WRC bureaucracy to organise a drive in from Totara Park: about 15-20 km along Valley View Road (also known as Three Skulls Road) over McGhies Bridge and up the river valley to our start point some 2 km north of the southern terminus of the Pram Track. Loggers were at work in the Valley View Road area and we used hand-held radio to repeatedly broadcast our position and direction of travel with the aim of avoiding any surprise encounters with a logging truck. At one point there was a collective drawing in of stomachs as drivers edged their vehicles between a slip remnant and a steep drop to the river.
We began with an easy crossing of the West Akatarawa River - boots still filled with water of course - and entered a narrow strip of pine forest, only to retreat almost immediately in the face of blackberry-strewn carnage typical of forestry perimeters. Skirting along the edge of the side stream got us into the bush and we climbed 200 m through typically steep Akatarawa hillside to about 400 m where the gradient eased and we passed a group of massive northern rata. Heading north towards Bump 565 we found a paint-marked route, occasionally difficult to follow, but persisting. Not far short of the bump we turned westward at a suggestive double paint spot on a sapling. Unfortunately the leader mis-set his compass and veered north; cries from the rear were heard and a reorientation occurred. It became evident we were not on a plain or plateau, with a surprisingly deeply incised valley head lying across our direction of travel. An attempt to circle south around the valley was defeated when we finally deduced the valley was 'flowing' south not north. And so we stumbled on, map and GPS unable to clearly indicate which way, north or south, a side stream was developing.
Our lunch stop was brief; the weather was deteriorating, and with difficult travel ahead a wet night out seemed a possibility. Fortunately, after one more blunder into a nascent side stream (this one heading north) and an initially faulty attempt to go around its head, we hit a well defined animal trail which we followed, with occasional casting about to recover it, all the way to .557. (In fact it is possible a good animal trail stretches all the way from .565 to .557 but our premature turn south of .565 meant we missed its eastern end. Where the red dots were leading we have no idea.)
We began to look for the logging road shown on the map but in the end followed the ridge line SW nearly all the way to .561 before landing on it. Now some good fortune. The original plan had been to follow the ridge off-track between .561 and .547 and so reach the Pram Track. It transpired this section of ridge is traversed by a well-used but un-mapped bike trail. So we covered in about 15 minutes what could otherwise have taken at least an hour. Reaching the Pram Track at 3:10 we stopped briefly for afternoon tea with no thought of executing the final off-track segment of the original plan (which had been to leave the road almost immediately and descend a spur leading directly back to the cars - certain to produce an overnighter!) Instead, as steady rain arrived, we hurried back along forestry roads, perhaps four kms further but certainly much shorter in time.
About 7.5 hours to go round. Four GPSs in the party, all frequently consulted. The alternative to carrying a GPS would probably be to take tent and sleeping bag.
The leader would like to record his gratitude to Robin for all his work arranging for vehicles to enter the restricted area including stumping up a deposit (refunds paid quarterly only!); and to Robin and Warwick for putting their 4-wheel drives at the party's disposal.
1Graeme Stevens in Rugged Landscape pp. 172 - 174 writes that ‘the growth of glaciers in the Tararua Range saw a massive build-up of coarse debris flanking the main range ... an extensive gravel plain probably fringed the Tararua Range …’
- Party members
- Joan Basher, Robin Chesterfield, Colin Cook (leader and scribe)), Howard Larsen, Bob Stephens, Warwick Wright