Twelve members of the club took part in a trip to Mt Hikurangi over the Anniversary Day weekend. This was apparently the club’s first visit in our fifty year history.
Hikurangi is situated in the Raukumara Range in East Cape, inland from Ruatoria and about 130 km north of Gisborne. At 1752 meters it is the North Island’s highest non-volcanic mountain. Thanks to the dateline it is also the first place in New Zealand and the world to greet the morning sun of a new day.
The drive was a long one – leaving from Auckland at 10 am, we arrived at the Te Araroa Motor Camp near 8 pm. The route was very scenic, especially along the coast east of Opotiki, but was a challenging one for the driver with all the hills and corners. Next morning we had a further 90 minutes along Highway 35 and then along Tapuaeroa Road to the Pakihiroa Station, where we parked the bus and began our walk.
For the first 10 km we headed southwards following a four-wheel drive track which climbed steadily upwards through farmland. The route was clearly marked by yellow posts. The weather was fine and warm but the upper part of the mountain was entirely covered by cloud. We passed several horses, cattle and noisy flocks of sheep. We encountered a young couple coming down who told us that, above the hut, the mist was so dense that they could not see from one post to the other.
After ten km there was a road junction; the posts followed the right track, but the left led to the Maui whakairo, a series of large Maori carvings. This mountain is a sacred site for the Ngati Porou iwi. These impressive carvings, representing tribal ancestors, were specially commissioned for a ceremony held here on New Year’s Day 2000 as the first place in the world to see in the new millennium.
From there it was only a few hundred meters on to the hut. The walk took five and a half hours, including about an hour for lunch and rests. The hut sleeps ten and was booked through an iwi office, Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou ($15 per head). With the special permission of this office, the other two members of the group slept in tents (camping on the mountain is usually not permitted). The main difficulty for these two was finding a flat area of sufficient size for a tent that was not covered in cowpats.
We had originally planned to walk up to the summit on the following morning but, by 3 pm, the weather had cleared and it seemed better to seize the opportunity while we could – who knew what the next morning would be like? The track above the hut led through a small area of forest, then across an area of scrub and long grass. The marker posts led us to the bottom of a very steep scree slope for the final 400 meters or so.
From the bottom, the right-hand side seemed to offer the best going but, as we later found, the left was slightly easier, though there was not much in it. For much of the way we were hauling ourselves upwards by clutching at clumps of grass. We finally reached the summit ridge where a sudden gust of wind seized Roger’s hat, last seen gliding towards Ruatoria. The summit trig beckoned from less than a hundred meters away.
However, there were murmurs that time was marching on and that we should not risk having to complete the return journey in the dark. Sensible prudence or excessive caution? At any rate, the majority verdict was respected and we turned back.
The walk from the hut to the summit was described on the noticeboard as taking about two hours, and another source gave an estimate of only 1½ hours. Our walk to the summit ridge took 2½ hours, with perhaps a further quarter-hour to the summit itself. Apparently many people carry out this climb in the dark, so that they can experience dawn on the summit. We were all of the opinion that this would be an extremely challenging walk, for very experienced trampers equipped with powerful and reliable head-torches.
Next morning the walk down to the bus took only about three hours and we had the rest of the day to explore this beautiful and interesting area. We visited St Mary’s church at Tikitiki, built shortly after the First World War to commemorate the Ngati Porou soldiers who died in that conflict (the roll of honour inside was dismayingly long). The carvings and tukutuku (woven panels) are very fine. We also admired the pohutukawa at Te Araroa – 600 years old and 22 meters high, it is believed to be the largest in the country. It must be a wonderful sight in December when the flowers are in bloom.
We had lunch at the Manuka Café at Te Araroa. The place was already busy when twelve hungry trampers arrived and the friendly lady behind the counter was struggling to cope. Keith and Kate then offered to help, having run a café themselves, and served up some excellent coffee.
From Te Araroa there was a 22 km road (unsealed) out to East Cape, then a short walk up some 700 steps to the lighthouse. Having (nearly) climbed Hikurangi we hardly noticed them. No one was much in the mood for camping food that night, and we dined at the Hicks Bay restaurant.
On the last day we had another ten hours’ drive back to Auckland. All told, we covered more than 1200 km on this trip and we are all grateful to our two drivers, Pierre and Keith.