Last July, whilst visiting the area for a job interview, I completed a two-day tramp from the River road car park to the Central Whirinaki Hut and back. The original plan had been to stay at the Mangamate Hut but due to high river levels, I had to change my plans. Ever since then I had promised myself a return visit ....
So, making the most of the generous Christmas holiday provided by my new employer, my partner and tramping buddy Taiana and I took off into the Whirinaki Forest Park for a four-day hike including a return to the Mangamate Stream.
The plan was to complete a circuit of the Whirinaki Forest Park by tramping to the Central Hut, continuing on to the Upper Whirinaki. Then retrace our steps a bit and branch off to the recently moved Mangamate Hut, with a final tramp back out to the River Road car park. This last day would take us along the Mangamate Stream, the very stream that had defeated me last July - time for revenge!
As we left the River Road car park, we met four trampers at a small shelter who had just completed a very similar route to the one we were about to attempt. They told us that the Mangamate Stream wasn't that deep and was easy to hike down - yay!
Leaving the shelter, we quickly reached Te Whaiti-Nui-A-Toi Canyon and took the 'return' route to the Whirinaki Waterfall. This route follows the true left of the river and not far along it we came across a beautiful waterfall at the side of the track. The canyon is also a spectacular spot to stop for a while and gaze at the Whirinaki river cutting through an ancient lava flow.
An hour and a half from the start we stopped for lunch at the Whirinaki Waterfall. A lovely spot with great views from above the waterfall.
We carried on from the waterfall, joining the main track, passing through Vern's Camp. I'm always amused to find a picnic table and long drop halfway along a track, at the start may be, but halfway along?? Yep Vern has his camp well set up! It looks like a great place to stay for the night as well. But our accommodation was still further along the Whirinaki track.
It took us about five hours in all to reach the hut - not including stops. And in terms of the usual DOC huts, the Central Whirinaki is of a really good standard. A very spacious hut with running water inside and two large bunk rooms, although vertigo sufferers are recommended to get there early as the top bunks seem to be an awful long way from the floor!
We were joined later by two young American lads, who were on their first tramp in New Zealand, but judging by the gear they had brought with them, had done plenty of hiking back home as they seemed well-equipped for tramping in NZ.
That night the heavens had opened up and the rain carried on through the morning, although we sensed the rain was slowly easing as we tucked into breakfast. We decided to wait as long as we could before venturing out, consequently we had a bit of late start for the next section of the tramp.
40 minutes from the hut we reached what looked like a brand new footbridge (thank you DOC) where the track forked. To the right was the rest of the Whirinaki track leading out to Plateau car park. The left fork led along Taumutu stream and this was our chosen route. The Taumutu stream was the first real wet-feet experience of the tramp, and judging by accounts from other trampers the route to the Plateau Car Park is very good, so soggy boots can be avoided along the whole length of the Whirinaki Track.
However we had planned to take the Taumutu stream route and indeed soggy feet were experienced. Now in my many tramps over the years I have not yet seen a deer, but according to Taiana, I just missed spotting one on a ridge above the stream - bugger! We decided to remember the spot and do a bit of bush-bashing the next day to try and get my first sighting of wild venison!
Having passed the track to Managamate hut, we climbed up a saddle and noted how on the other side of this saddle the vegetation changed completely. There were much less fern and more beech trees, we guessed this must be something to do with this side of the saddle experiencing less rainfall?
Three and a half hours of hiking from Central and we reached the Upper Whirinaki Hut. There we met a young couple, Scott and Amy, from Hamilton and their lovely dog, Runt. The hut was more what we were used to, an 8 bunk hut with a wee log burner and table with benches. Outside was a lovely deck, on which we all spent the afternoon relaxing and chatting. By now the rain had long gone and thoughts turned more towards sun-block and insect repellant than wet weather gear!
The next day we were all up bright and early, especially Scott who had gone off looking for deer. After crumpets for breakfast we packed up our gear and headed back along the track towards Central Hut.
We crossed the saddle again and reached the point where the deer had been spotted the previous day. So with thoughts of tasty venison steaks, we decided to go off-track and do a spot of bush-bashing. Quite how we were going to convert any deer into steaks for my BBQ was a bit of a mystery as neither of us had any hunting gear!
After half an hour of climbing over tree stumps and pulling ourselves through dense bush, we had spotted nothing so we gave up the 'chase' and returned to the track.
We followed the Taumutu stream back to the junction with the Kakaiti stream, and took the right branch up the Kakaiti stream towards Mangamate Hut. The hut has recently been moved and there are DOC signs indicating a change in the location and track to reach the hut. However these signs can be a bit confusing, hopefully DOC will sort this out soon. Having said that, you soon reach the 'new' track to the hut from the signs. Again hats off to DOC for a great track up to the saddle where the Mangamate Hut now lives, and well done for picking a great spot for the hut too.
At the hut we met a family of trampers, parents with two boys, crashed out on the bunks! We spent a lovely evening sat outside on the verandah watching and listening to the local bird life.
I must confess that I found the Mangamate Hut location to be one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. At the time I thought I would never get bored of sitting on the deck for dinner with a glass of red wine, listening to the tuis and trying to spot kaka.
Day four was to be the last leg of our trip and usually on the fourth day of a hike I'm feeling quite tired, but today was different, none of my usual 'can't wait to get home' feeling, just a quiet contentment out here in the bush. I would have loved to have stayed longer but unfortunately we'd run out of food and more importantly wine!
Well today was the day we were going to hike along the Mangamate stream and I was keeping my fingers crossed that the stream level was lower than the last time I had attempted it! In a cunning move we had let the family go ahead (they had raised concerns about the river level too) and see how they faired in the stream.
The track from the hut starts out benched, but abruptly comes to an end and the markers lead down into a stream and on to the old site of the Mangamate Hut. We stopped here for a while and tried to figure out where the old hut site was - there were plenty of possibilities but nothing leapt out and said 'Hut wuz here!'
From the old hut site the track continued on, crossing the Mangamate Stream many times. In fact in several places the stream was the track. The track/stream passes through beautiful forest scenery, an awesome hike on the last day.
Almost without realising we had reached the point in the stream at which I had turned back last July when trying to reach Mangamate Hut. And suddenly it was 'oh yeah, that's where I turned back'. Fortunately the stream level was a lot lower and although it was a soggy tramp, I never felt out of my depth (forgive the pun!)
We eventually reached the footbridge across the stream on the Whirinaki track and I knew we were close to the end of our wonderful four days in the bush. Along the last stretch of the trip we discussed future tramps in the forest, including a marathon seven-day hike along the Te Hoe track - watch this space!
This tramp was probably one of the best I have ever been on, no one reason why, just a number of factors, beautiful forest scenery, lovely huts, wonderful bird life and of course great company, cheers Taiana! I would recommend this tramp to anyone, especially people who love the forest, great tramp, enjoy!.