Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hiking the Kaimai Range – 82km in 5 days

For part two click here

For Part three, Gear, Click here

In my search (in 2016) for multi day hikes in the upper North Island I came across the North South track in the Kaimai Range. It was listed as 7 days, but some of those days were as short at 2 and a half hours. With a quick look over the track times I surmised it could be done in five days with one or two days of camping. The only time I had to do a hike of this length was in the Christmas and New Year holidays. This was in early 2016 so I would have to wait almost a year to have the time for such a long hike. The plan then was to do the hike the first week of the year, with whoever would join me. I ended up with two friends who were willing. We started at the southern end, as I prefer to be walking towards home.

There are a number of huts in the park ranging from 3 beds, to 26 beds; however most of these huts are at the northern end of the park, while the southern end requires camping. I found some good suggesting for track times, and day lengths on both the Doc website and NZ tramper website however the track times did not quite match up. Due to this we would be doing the hike with only ‘guidelines’ for how long each section would take us.

Day 1

Hurunui hut, stop for lunch
The plan for the first day was to hike the last two days suggested via the Doc website (they list the track as North to South, hence the track name). This should have taken us 8.5 hours starting at the entrance to the Kaimai Summit off State Highway 29. We meet at my house at 6:30am, and started the 2 hour drive down, finally starting the hike at 8:40. The first section started with a bit of a climb in altitude before an easy section to the Hurunui hut. The track time was 2.5 hours to this hut which we pretty much matched, then took an early lunch until 12. We made good time walking to the next stop the Ngamuwahine shelter where we stopped for some more food. We made it to the turn off for the Wairere falls by about 6pm. Most of the days walking was fairly easy and covered in the bush the whole way. I don’t remember seeing anyone else on this day.

Ngamuwahine shelter, stop for afternoon tea
The difficulty of the day was that it rained all day long. Walking in the rain isn’t so bad in and of its self, but it seems that all roads lead to wet shorts. Water from you rain coat ends up there, so does the water off you pack. It just ends up being 8-10 hours of walking around in wet shorts.

Lots of mud
And rough tracks
About 5 minutes after the turn off for the Wairere falls was a medium sized clearing, with a slightly larger clearing just behind it. This is the area suggested for the second to last night of the North South track, and the final destination for our first day or walking.
We set up camp here with some tarps we had carried and some tarps we found in the clearing (more on our equipment will follow in another post). It rained lightly throughout the night but we were able to set up a semi comfortable area for cooking and sleeping.

Camp for night one
Our little cooking area with tarps we found

Day 2

Day two was to be possibly the hardest day of the trip. It was set for 9 hours of some fairly rough terrain, and to top it all off, it continued raining until lunch time.

We got up at 7am, and started packing up while cooking breakfast (I’ll talk more about food in another post). We saw two hunters who were up and about early and would see several more that day. We were able to get everything packed away and we walking by 8:40. We ended up with about 8 hours of walking, which was faster than the DoC times, but slightly slower than the NZ tramper times. The track was fairly rough, with a lot of wind fall trees, however is was easy enough to find our way so the track was easier going than the Bell Track up Mt Pirongia. By the time we got to the turn off for a hut we were all quite worn out so the prospect of an hour and a half of climbing was not enticing. So, as much as we wanted to get dry and have a bed to sleep in we chose to camp.

Very muddy
Nice river crossings
Still quite rough

For most of the day all I wanted to do was to get dry, everything was wet, and it was day two of walking in wet shorts, but it had stopped raining after about lunch time, so by the time we set up camp things weren’t so bad.

The clearing for camping was 10 minutes north of the turn off for the hut. There was a large clearing then a much smaller clearing just south of that (1 minute really). We chose the smaller clearing since it was very windy and the smaller area was more sheltered, it also worked out well that I discovered the long drop just off this clearing in the morning. The only down side was there was no water to be found, I ended up taking a 30 minute round trip in my jandals to get water (about 5 minutes south of the hut turn off). We were able to set up quite a nice campsite for the night, but didn’t really have anywhere comfortable to sit.

The night was quite cold, and I was probably at the limit of my sleeping bag (summer weight) so clearly anything further south or later in the season may require a warmer sleeping bag.

Camp for night two

This day was physically much harder than the first day, but I found it so much easier psychologically. On the first day I wondered what I was doing and why (I could be at home, comfortable on my couch) but the second day I could tell myself that this was the hard day, it would be followed by two easy days, then the last day I would be walking home. This helped immensely.

Day 3

It was a bit of a cold start to the morning as the weather had cleared up overnight to clear blue sky. We were up again at 7am, and moving by 8:35. We saw a few more hunters this day. This day was some fairly hard going again with quite a lot of up and down however the track was pretty good all things considered. This day offered a lot more in the way of views that the first two days. The first two days we trapped inside the bush, by day three had several sections up high on a ridge where you could see out either side of the range; however we had to pay for these views with plenty of walking up hill. But this stage my knee was starting to get worn down, particularly with eccentric loading, I suspect it comes from missing some range of motion in that side ankle (broke it many years ago). I think I will invest in a walking pole for longer hikes to take a little bit of the strain off that knee.

Great views
We're heading over that

We stopped at a nice little hunters hut with a great view for lunch and it was great to take my shoes and socks off to get everything dry after days spent in wet shoes. Not far from the hut we would stay the night at we meet a large group who were walking the North South track in day walk sections. Due to having to walk in and out of the range each time this would take them 9 day trips, it would be a lot of doubling up for them, but a great way to spend the summer. This is something that’s great about this track; there are so many entry and exit points it makes the area so accessible, and increases the safety level since help is so close by.

Motutapere Hut, stop for lunch
The view from the hut
Cool big steel ladder
Tracks are getting easier

We made pretty good time to the hut; however it was still quite a hard day. There were enough people there to fill the hut, but a big family group slept in tents outside. This section of the Ranges was still quite rough, but had nicer tracks and huts, so while there were hunters further south, we meet more seasoned hikers in this middle area. The next two days were much more tourist friendly areas (with an overlap in the middle apparently suited to nudists).

The Te Rereatukahai hut was quite a well maintained hut and it was cool to hang out with other hikers and talk about the Range, what we had coming up, as well as other hikes they had done.

Te Rereatukahai hut for the night
Day 4

It was great to have a warm and comfortable night in a hut (despite all the snoring), and an awesome start to that day that we could pack up and eat our breakfast inside at a real table, it felt like luxury after two nights of camping.

This was defiantly the easiest day with only about 6 hours of hiking, it was the shortest distance to walk, had the least climbing and the track quality was way up. The only hard section was just after half way (heading north) where there was about an hour of uphill climb. According to my fitbit it was 70 flights of stairs in that section alone.

This day had some more varied terrain with some stuck in the bush, some ridgeline sections, some along the river side, and some really beautiful spots passing small water holes. It was great getting more variation compared to the first two days.

Well maintained tracks
Often following the river
We got to the Waitawheta Hut at 3:30 and there was already a number of families there and more showed up not long after to give us an almost full hut. This section of the range was much more accessible with easier and more maintained tracks so there were more touristy people than the hikers for the last hut.

Despite this having been an easy day we were all starting to get worn down so it was great to just relax in the hut. Bags were getting much lighter too so that helped.

Waitawheta Hut for the night
Day 5

We had to get up at 6 and got moving just after 7am as there was a possibility of 10 hours of hiking ahead of us. Both Doc and NZ tramper had the walk to the next hut listed at 4.5 hours, then Karangahake Gorge as 5.5 hours from there, however the sign at the Waitawheta Hut had the walk listed as 3 hours to Dalys Hut. I find these signs are generally right on time when hiking with a heavy pack so I was fairly confident we would get to the Gorge before 5pm.
Easy going
Great views
There are about 10 of these bridges

The walk to Dalys hut was really easy, with most of it being old tramway, there was only a short stretch of hut hill 20-30 flights of stairs (according to fitbit). We made it to the hut in 2.5 hours so well ahead of the track times and feeling pretty good. The hut was really cool, quite old with a new funky paint job but had everything a hut needs inside; I will try to make a trip back to stay here at some point.

Dalys Hut
Regrowth of Kauri trees
The next section to Dickies flat were well maintained tracks, easy going with some nice views, particularly alongside the river. However things got a bit tricky when we got to Dickies Flat. The map wasn’t quite large enough for a good indication of which direction to go, and there didn’t appear to be a sign post for the Gorge, but after a few false starts we found out way. This section was very well maintained (almost wheel chair friendly) and went along side the river to a tunnel which was quite cool and even included some glow worms. The easy track continued past the tunnel which a short section of stairs up to the windows walk. This is a short walk in tunnels with beautiful views out the windows (cut as exit points for the material removed when tunnelling) only 20 minute from the Gorge. 

Looking out one of the windows
This was truly the final stretch, to civilisation, or a car park full of people that is.

From the look out.

Final thoughts

While I enjoyed this walk and would certainly come back to hike different sections, I don’t think I would hike the north south again. For me it was too much time stuck under the canopy without views, and not enough varied terrain for me. I’m happy to have done it, and would suggest it to others, but maybe not a round 2.

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