Every tramper has their inevitable turning-point away from the relative simplicity and safety of the day-hike, and towards the more logistically and physically challenging multi-day experience.
I’ve literally just had mine.
I’d been eyeing-up the ‘Pouākai Circuit’ for a while (since Easter Weekend’s summit climb to the top of mighty Mount Taranaki), and I’m grateful for the low-level/s of gentle persuasion involved in convincing my best home-girl that we should send 2016 off with this particular hike as our final, concluding salute.
Essentially, as long as we can still have our morning coffee/s, we’re up for anything.
So then, portable-cooker-cum-coffee machine in-tow, we set-off for “The ‘Naki” to finally complete our first-ever multi-day hike…
On New Year’s Eve, no less…
We arrived with enough time to seek-out some much-treasured local advice from the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre (’twas New Year’s Eve-Eve), and received an invaluable piece of unfiltered kōrero regarding the Ram Track portion of the Circuit:
“Basically, taking this route turns a half-hour walk [along Egmont Road] into a two-hour torture session [through the forest, on steep, undulating terrain].”
Thus, this comprising the day’s official ‘chestnut’, we knew that all going well, and assuming we could find our way, we’d be disembarking the trail at Kaiauai Carpark on our final day.
I tend to research a fair bit before our treks, and something else that was near-impossible to miss was the capacity to complete this one in either direction – the kupu “circuit” clearly lends and leans towards that. And, whichever way you choose to travel, my suggestion is simply to consider the ‘lay of the land’ in light of your own personal capabilities (and those of your peers – talk with them, suss things out as a team).
We moved clockwise around the track, starting on the higher landscape and descending naturally and organically with the mountain. Sure, we were thereby choosing a long day as our last day out there, but we surmised that our 65+ litre packs would also be at their lightest – certainly, we had every intention of consuming our New Year’s ‘treats’ and wine by then (*grins*).
– Day 1: North Egmont Visitor Centre to Holly Hut –
Mave and I lingered in the carpark, absorbing a sunrise over the mounga that was just magnificent; the kind that provides hope, and strength, and makes you feel like your trip is divinely supported and blessed (*I’m a Leo, buoyed and inspired by the Sun (my ruling planet) – I trust Tamanuiterā).
We were soon in the confines of the bush-line, and both of us recognised the surrounding sub-alpine scrub from a previous, pleasant little excursion around the ‘Veronica Loop Track’.
Eventually, we popped-out to something of an alpine zone, and I pondered the features of the whenua around me – were those the ‘Dieffenbach Cliffs(?)’, and was that obvious boulder-slip the ‘Boomerang Slip(?)’ (*nope, and nope).
My mind was working overtime, trying to suss-out exactly where I was (as-per for me, especially if this is my first crack at a trail). Then, finally I saw “The Slip” and realised we actually weren’t very far along the Circuit at all (I’d had us further along, and had even dismissed the landmark features as fairly unimpressive before actually sighting them – they were awesome).
The Boomerang Slip’s a highlight, a real doozy – you cross one at a time, mainly because the path is so fragile and precarious. We were warned not to linger or rest there, and truthfully, there’s nothing about this particular spot that evokes a resting-response anyway. The guy approaching from behind me had done the ‘Summit Climb’ the day before, and with blisters galore he had no desire to go before me. I battled a momentary need to procrastinate, then went, assuming that with an audience at either end (Mave had already gone and crossed), I’d be okay.
Not long after that we found ourselves above the Ahukawakawa wetlands admiring the view/s (and gasping over how utterly decimated the pāhautea groves were – well, I was), before descending steadily into the gorge of the Minarapa Stream and approaching Holly Hut.
After a quick coffee and a breather, we ventured down the side-track to see ‘Te Rere o Tahurangi’ (“Bell Falls”). I found these to be underwhelming, and a significant effort for small reward. Mind you, we had come straight from Tongariro National Park, and the glacier-blue/s of Tawhai Falls were still very present for me.
Kei a koe – s’your call.
Our ‘hut whānau’ were awesome. We conversed the day (and night) away, Mave and I discreetly drank our wine, and at one stage a pair of broken boots received a serious repair-job from an in-house expert who happened to have medical tape, and (later) duct tape, after we discovered another of our ‘camping clique’ had some stashed-away in his pack.
We even wrote on that tape, etching our names alongside messages of aroha and admiration for said boots, like you would on the cast of a broken limb.
Those of us who were there early-afternoon were perfectly positioned to receive The Right Honourable Helen Clark and her entourage, and all the surreality that came-with. They were lovely – kept to themselves, largely, and their Department of Conservation ‘tour guide’ ensured they were away from us all, and suitably well looked-after for the few minutes they were in the whare.
Having also watched the clouds roll-in over Henry Peak earlier in the piece, I fell asleep wondering how we’d fare on our second day, and hoping we’d only have to contend with drizzle over the wetlands…
No torrential rain, please.
– Day 2: Holly Hut to Pouākai Hut –
The boardwalk through Ahukawakawa Swamp was squishy and unstable, and on a drizzly ol’ day the wetlands really do exemplify and embody their apt-asf moniker.
Also, within a relatively short space of time you’re climbing, slogging your way up to the junction of the ‘Pouākai Track’ where you either turn left for the trig, or right for some assured shelter (*tick*).
We traipsed our way there through ankle-deep mud, and gale-force winds that were at-times stronger than we were.
I can’t possibly describe the relief of arriving at Pouākai Hut, and the gratitude that came-with around an hour-and-a-half later when the sideways, torrential rain finally did ensue. Knowing we’d missed all that through due diligence, and could therefore simply slow down, snuggle-in to our surrounds (fire, *hello*), recover, and reflect on the year was pretty much a moment sent straight from on-high.
– Day 3: Pouākai Hut to North Egmont Visitor Centre –
We woke to a completely different day – substantially calmer, and with the surrounding cloud-cover gradually burning-off before our eyes.
This was still very much a feature approaching the tarn, with zero view/s of Mount Taranaki to be had during our brief time there.
We made do with Maude Peak, instead.
The track appeared almost easy as we passed alongside Maude, and that same omnipresent cloud remained with us to the very bottom edges of Henry Peak where we discovered the “wooden rafts” we’d shortly be ascending (just admit that they’re steps, ‘kay Ranger(?) – oh, and feel free to bang-in a few extra segments of wood around the place for us shorties, too (fuck my life)).
2,000+ metres of rākau and some fairly continual plodding soon had us on-summit, and with a view that would swiftly steal away any last puff we had.
This was deemed a fabulous time to kick-back and snack, with a few moments spent chatting with a couple of our hut whānau who were also up there, and others utilised enthusiastically tracking the progress of those we knew were following along behind us.
Henry then dropped us rather swiftly back down into the bush-line, via the same mud, water, and gravity (steep angles, and heavy hiking boots) that had by now become spectacularly familiar…
The return-trip is “undulating” in a ‘mildly traumatic’ sense, but I’d still rather be descending than anything else. I totally underestimated my fluid intake for this leg of the Circuit, incorrectly assuming that things would simply tie-in to what had eventuated during the two previous, where I hadn’t consumed a lot, really. So, after drinking my 2 litres of electrolyte-laden ‘juice’ alarmingly quickly, I tapped-in to my surrounds and retrieved more wai from Papatūānuku so I could continue to sagaciously sup-away.
Crossing and traversing the myriad of streams and gullies that are characteristic of this final leg may have you thinking you’ve inadvertently found some way on to the ‘Ram Track’.
You haven’t – the exit route really is that leggy and lengthy, is all.
So. Many. Streams (^) …
A single-width/person swing-bridge marks the near-end of the course, and once you reach the carpark my suggestion is that you stash your packs there with one (or more) of your hiking party, and someone else strolls weight-free up the road to fetch the car.
Thanks Mave, for doing that.
Finally, our Department of Conservation provides a list of ‘essential gear’ for the Circuit, and while these are all incredibly useful, I’d also suggest some ‘hut shoes’ or jandals strategically find their way into your tramping pack…
Save you having to dodge food remnants and water puddles in your socks, or your bare feet (*eww*).
‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’ (“Go well, and return safely”) – always;