Prout Stream Island Forks West Waitewaewae River
9 to 10 February 2019
Leaving the car at the second gate up the Waikawa on a sunny weekend, we strolled up to the Waikawa – Panatewaewae Stream forks, then headed directly up the leading spur over .590 and .708 to Waitewaewae 939.
There is a good footpad all the way up this spur and permolat markers on the uphill sides of the trees. It starts just inside the Waikawa bush edge of the grassy clearing above the forks, though the first bit isn’t marked.
From Waitewaewae 939 I decided to head straight down into Prout Stream. This was a fairly basic mistake as it was straight into a headwater stream, and sure enough it soon got fairly choked up and had some awkward waterfalls to sidle. Ninety minutes later we reached the headwater forks of Prout Stream. I would instead recommend finding a spur east or south of 939 to drop from.
From the head forks the stream was pleasant travel for the first 7-800 metres. The next kilometre was a bit rougher with some small waterfalls to sidle, until around the main TL side-creek. The rest of the stream was again good travel all the way to Island Forks, where Prout Stream joins the West Waitewaewae River. It had taken us five hours from 939.
Our next step was to find Island Forks Hut, a 2-bunk biodiversity biv that doesn’t appear on maps. There was no sign of it at Island Forks, which resulted in some headscratching. It turns out that Island Forks has moved around a bit on the maps. It is named after a prominent rock in the riverbed with trees on it, right at the Prout – West Waitewaewae confluence, and the name arose during the Prout rescue. The current map shows it in its correct position, however, my (older) S25 Levin map showed Island Forks 500 metres downstream, at what should be called Waitewaewae Forks. These forks are not named on the maps but are the confluence of the East and West Waitewaewae Rivers. So we headed on down, but found no immediate sign there either. Hmm. We split up and after a short search found the hut a few minutes up the East Waitewaewae. It’s in a lovely spot, in the bush behind a riverside lawn, with room for camping under the trees and even a wooden picnic table. The log book calls it “Island Forks Hut” and says it’s been there since 2008. Interestingly there is now arguably an island in the East Waitewaewae just above the hut, a bush terrace in the riverbed with a nearly-dry boulder channel around behind it. This is not at the forks, but could still help to confuse matters.
After a calm starry night here we headed up the West Waitewaewae on Sunday morning. This gives easy travel in a delightful small river, it is well worth a visit. There was only one pool that needed either a sidle or a chest-deep wade, we used both techniques.
After about three hours we reached the bend in the river under the low saddle to the Waikawa. Permolat markers lead up from the riverbank to the saddle. Turning west we then followed the unmarked ridge crest till the old logging road at .730. We followed it west to just under Thompson. Turning north we continued to a junction near .595 then headed straight down towards the Waikawa- Panatewaewae forks. The logging track later turns into a foot track, and when it comes out onto areas of long grass it becomes a lot less distinct. Near the forks it re-enters the bush and becomes a proper track again. Where it hits the Waikawa Stream, just below the forks, there is a track up to the old road where there are old wooden signs for Mt Thompson.
Tong Young led the TTC group of six up the Panatewaewae on a Saturday morning in May 1957. They intended to drop over into the West Waitewaewae River. Instead they landed in a very rough stream between the two Waitewaewae branches not shown on their map. ‘Inching our way along a narrow ledge, Ron slipped and fell’ recalls Tong. ‘It was clear he was very badly injured and couldn’t be moved. I made Ron as comfortable as possible before sending Graeme Claridge out to raise the alarm’.
Barry Durrant was returning to Otaki Forks with a Fields Track work party. Asked to help with the rescue, they camped the night before heading into Waitewaewae Hut. A day later they headed upstream and met the stretcher team in the Waitewaewae River. ‘It was in flood and very cold - it was tough going for a skinny 17 year old’. Next morning, Barry was so buggered he volunteered to go ahead and cut down trees allowing the stretcher party to move more freely. When they finally got to Otaki Forks the army had a field kitchen up and running with beer and a case of whiskey provided by Ron’s employer. Afterwards everyone was transported home by police car or army truck. ‘It would have to rate as one of the hardest rescues in the Tararuas’.
Ron Prout recalls ‘fortunately my pack took most of the impact. I was in an awful lot of pain and Tong fed me AP Codeine tablets, four at a time. On the carry out, I was having difficulty peeing so Dr Jenner radioed out for a catheter. Keith Woods and Alan Stevens ran the needed medical supplies in in under 1 1/2 hours. X rays later revealed I had a crushed vertebra and my pelvis was broken in two places. I was in hospital for three months but it didn’t put me off tramping, continuing with the TTC up until about 1980’.
- Party members
- Franz Hubmann (leader and scribe), Paul McCredie, Sarah White.