A Mangatoetoe Travel Guide, With a climb of Mangatoetoe Peak (M/F)
Wednesday 9 November 2011
Mangatoetoe is the 855m peak that stands sentinel directly behind Cape Palliser. After a dozen years of desultory exploration, what I thought must be the best route to the top finally got us there. My attempts began one weekend in winter 1999 when Andreas Kubisch and I called off a climb from behind Mangatoetoe Hut because of cold, steady rain. Even from the hut, we could see it was likely to be scrubby, and I thought getting on to the high western ridge from further up the stream might work.
So in 2000, looking for new M trips to add to the monthly Sunday Medium outings I had just introduced to the Fixture Card, I went up the stream as far as the first obvious TL side stream (see no. 1 on the map) and climbed, at first for an hour through dry easy bush, and then as I reached the flattish top of the spur, through awful half-dead scratchy two to three metre scrub for a further one and a half hours, when I got into blessed beech forest and to my surprise found a well worn track to the top. In 1993, Franz Hubmann, with some useful tips from his father, had taken me from the head of the TL branch of the Otakaha Stream across the ‘main divide’ and on to Mt Barton and the Frog Tarn. On the main divide we had found a four bunk hut and I assumed the track near the top of Mangatoetoe came from there. Keeping that in mind for later, I started down the SW spur to the Little Mangatoetoe Stream forks, but a serious tussle with koromiko and worse scrub ahead turned me down to the left through easier bush to the stream. This was no worse than most steep Rimutaka side streams, but had two waterfalls, one sidled by animals on crumbling rock high over a precipitous drop. Further down near the coast was a slow section of huge boulders, West Coast-like.
The head of the Mangatoetoe Stream seemed the best option now, and I put a M/F trip on the Fixture Card for September. Four of us went to the top forks (no. 2 on map) and took to the spur that leads directly to the top. Soon we were on a knife edge between the two branches, with a vertical drop on one side and tangled scrub hanging off the other, and made very slow progress, so that once on to better going we had to call off the climb for lack of time. Dropping back into the TL branch through easy bush, we found a cairn in the creek bed which, despite three waterfalls below us, easily enough sidled, seemed suggestive. Sure enough, an appeal to Franz’s father elicited the advice to go for a couple of hundred yards up this TL branch before gaining the spur – and moreover that the track I had found near the top went up that way.
It wasn’t till the end of 2009 that I returned, with Neil Challands amongst others. He had a newer map which named the spur beyond the hut to .812 ‘Jackatoo Spur’, and on the assumption that it wouldn’t have a name if it wasn’t used, we tried it (no. 3 on map). Animals had so eaten out the undergrowth that there were no problems, but old saw cuts showed the ridge had had human use too. From .812 to .850, a slasher had recently been used – possibly on the way to Mt Barton. The ridge south to Mangatoetoe we could tell had been cleared once but was overgrown. Again, the lateness of the hour made us turn back. At .812, Neil suggested that the slashed route might come up from the saddle (and hut) to the NW, and we successfully followed pink ribbons down an otherwise featureless face to the hut – which had a metalled road leading to it! Presumably that comes over from the Otakaha. And the route we’d come down indicates that some serious hunting still goes on.
The scene was set for a final venture. On 9 November this year, another M/F trip was scheduled. Weather was uncertain. It rained hard driving down towards Lake Ferry, but was looking up at the Mangatoetoe car park. (In fact it rained only briefly later on, but the undergrowth was very wet.) The stream above the hut has been seriously washed out (by the February 2004 downpour especially but more recently too), and the large fresh boulders make for harder going, but it is still quite manageable. At the same time, scrub has grown significantly in the last ten years. In the TL branch above the top forks (no. 4 on map) we soon came to the first cascading waterfall, and rather than push through scrub on its TL to get round it, we decided to head for the spur we wanted on the other side – and found that animals had got there first, for we were soon on a well worn trail. Bending silver fern leaves over to help if we had to come back the same way, we reached the crest of the spur and found a large old blaze painted red – a clear sign to get off the spur and avoid the trouble I’d earlier had further down.
And from there on up, travel was good, a route cleared once by man and maintained by animals. Only near the top, where ribs of bare rock emerged from the bush, did it falter, but we were soon back on a track coming south along the main divide, the one I’d been on with Neil two years ago. Beware: we saw no indication of a track junction. Coming back down, it would be very easy to continue unawares along the main divide. After a small saddle, and a patch of Celmisias Lynne Pomare had told us to watch for under the trees, the last 30 metres or so is out in the open. There is a small telecommunication post and a scarily small helicopter pad on top. It was 2 pm: we had taken nearly five hours including lunch, and the brisk breeze was chilling in our damp gear. The mist made it impossible to check out other routes off the top. Franz and his brother had over twenty years earlier been down the south spur some way before they dropped into the Little Mangatoetoe, but I suspect the scrub is much taller and thicker now: that certainly seemed the case even eleven years back. More promising is access from the Waitetuna Valley in the east, for good beech forest starts off down that slope at the top. Another time. Meanwhile, we returned the way we’d come, knocking half an hour off our time to make a nine hour day. And as I turned on the ignition, the first fat drops of the promised southerly change hit the windscreen. JT
- Party members
- Colin Cook, Ken Fraser, John Thomson (leader and scribe), Bill Wheeler.