Trains Hut, Waitotara Conservation Area, Wanganui
August 24 to 26, 2007
Eight happy Tararuas set off to tramp a rarely visited area by the club. For the warm up and group bonding, a jolly Friday night was spent at the Braemar House Backpackers in Wanganui. A prompt start the next morning saw us in Waitotara in good time to commence the 57km country road drive up the Waitotara Valley Road to the start of the track. Because we did not see the right road going under SH3, we made a false start up the wrong road for half an hour. A trap for first timers - read the signs on the left near the Waitara pub, not the right side of the road.
The parking area at the end of Taumatatahi Rd is large and looks safe enough for cars overnight. The track begins by following a four wheeled benched farm track alongside the Waitotara River. We all commented on how the river looks like a mini Whanganui River. As cows use the track for access and easy grazing, it was extremely boggy and similar to Stewart Island mud on a bad day.
Our first historical site was the remains of a once attractive bridge similar to the Bridge to Nowhere. All that is now left is a pile of wood. By lunch time we reached the second site, an old derelict homestead at Kapara. It is a sad reminder of the struggle the early settler William Van Asch had to farm at the turn of the 20th century. He felled trees and built a sawmill and sold it in 1912. Today there is a pile of beautiful wood lying around unused and a once beautiful homestead, sporting a tennis court which now grows a few daffodils. At least it gave us shelter from the drizzle while we ate our lunch. As we were finishing lunch, over the horizon came nine New Plymouth Tramping Club members. How were we all going to fit into an eight bunk hut (?) was on all our minds. There was some debate about the wisdom of leaving a tent behind in the car. Similarly the New Plymouth folk were not thrilled to see us. They told us afterwards that they debated whether to tell us we were on the wrong track and that our cars had been damaged in the hope that we would change our plans! After the homestead, the track continues to follow the river (take the low road). The mud continued but it was easier going. Within half an hour we were in the real Taranaki bush, including heaps of nikau, rimu, tawa, orchids and a range of ferns. There was not a lot of bird life, though fantails followed us from time to time. Goats were seen grazing on the other side of the river and one dead possum by the track. Glimpses of the river and shafts of occasional sunlight made for a pleasant afternoon tramp.
However, the pace was on to be first to the hut to claim the real estate before the New Plymouth crowd arrived. Passing the Terereohaupa Falls told us we were only 15 minutes away from the hut. (Yes, they are pretty falls and it is worth the five minutes down the side track to view them, which we did the next day.
The well maintained eight bunker is parked in the middle of a large clearing. There is plenty of room for tents and, in an emergency, good dry shelter under the trees. When the New Plymouth crowd arrived, there was some negotiation for sleeping space. In the end, 19 people had a dry spot for the night helped by three tents and some people sleeping under the hut and one on the floor. The NP crowd were a lot of fun and were extremely friendly considering their earlier thoughts about us. They cooked outside on a camp fire and later sang into the night just like the old days. Even a cheeky possum hung around to watch proceedings. During dinner there was much discussion about whether the cooking was up to gourmet tramping standard, inspired by the previous Tuesday club night speaker on gourmet cooking. Mary’s dessert definitely failed the test as nobody in the food group finished the pudding, which was named Arabian perfume. Mary anxiously checked her group’s health the next morning for any after effects - fortunately everyone was well.
Next morning Jenny rallied us out of our sleeping bags at dawn with a welcome brew. It did not take us long to be organised in spite of a small space and a large crowd using one toilet. The weather was fine and the track much drier for our trip out. Back at the homestead at lunch time we joined in a talk by a local guy who explained about the attempts in the early days to set up a mini hydro scheme for the homestead. We saw where the tunnels had been dug to inset a turbine and create a fall in the river. Some of the group explored the tunnel. It would be easy to miss the entrance if you did not know where to look.
It was a reminder of the hardships of the early settlers and made us wonder why they wanted to farm in such a remote steep heavily bushed area. A hundred years later people have come to realise that this area of New Zealand is to be left in bush for us all to enjoy. Shaun Barnett’s book, North Island Weekend Tramps, is a good reference for anyone wanting to visit the area. The walk in and out takes about 5 hours each way, depending on stops and starts and time spent exploring the old farming sites.
It was a great trip with a mix of history and pleasant tramping thoroughly enjoyed by us all.
- Party members
- Jude Willis (leader), Phil Harris, Jenny Lewis, Diane Hill, Syd Moore, Bev Middleton, Sheena Hudson and Mary Inglis (scribe).