It was a lovely fresh Saturday morning, having had weather warnings during the week for torrential rain, we were lucky enough to be hopping on our trusty bus in fine, clear weather with the rain already behind us.
With 16 of us on the trip to Waitomo, doing the maths to break us into two groups was an easy as Bernard putting names on two lists and bingo! You’re in the Appletree Road party and you’re on the Speedies Road party. Right you are then.
With Helen driving, we stopped for morning tea and a loo break at Pirongia. The pies and pastries looked very good and I make a mental note to self, to indulge next time… It was great to see some faces we hadn’t seen for a while, and to catch up on where they’d been and what they’d been up to over the last few weeks and months. Monika, busy as always is already working out how she can get to her special concert at 6.30 in town, on Sunday, after our walk out and trip home! We of course have many suggestions, most of which are not helpful (we’ll drop you off grubby gear and all being quite a popular choice), but the general consensus is that she will “give it a go”, in good old fashioned Kiwi style.
We had a steady drive down, and at Appletree Road, we said goodbye to half the party for their adventures, we would see them later in the day.
With Bernard now driving, he needed a co-pilot and I was lucky enough to sit up in the cab for the first time; wow, what a great view you get. Bernard takes the opportunity to suggest I might like to consider becoming a bus driver, but I quickly persuade him that is not in the best interests of the bus or the club! We stop just past the Waitomo Caves to look at the wonderful natural Mangapuhoue Natural Bridge, a leg stretch walk from the parking area, and you can do about a 1km loop. Definitely worth stopping and seeing; it’s truly lovely with old fossils of sealife in the rock formation. With shades of things to come there were blackberries on the bushes to be snacked on as we did the loop walk. As this coincided with almost lunch time, we decided to eat lunch there, making the most of an almost-dry picnic table, and then head on to our walking start point.
Once at Speedie’s Road we park the bus and head off through private farm land. It’s incredibly dry underfoot, what little grass there is like straw and we have two sheep escaped from their paddock busily trotting up the road ahead of us until they head off in another direction. We know it’s rained during the week, but you couldn’t tell so far. It’s a wonderfully sunny day, the path underfoot is good and there’s not much in the way of shade. The rock formations and geology are amazing, and we catch a glimpse of the inviting Taraweru river below us. Trekking over the pastureland we head down, up and across a very steep climb to a stile and fence. Over this and we start heading into the bushline for some well-earned shade. The terrain starts getting a little lumpier underfoot and there’s the odd fallen tree to climb over or under; going under more of a challenge with big packs having to crawl on hands and knees; the extra weight on your back when getting back to your feet is noticeable. Perhaps I packed too many goodies – nah. Many thanks to John for all his help hauling and pushing some of us shorter ones over and up the steep, slippery bits.
After only a couple of hours we come to a surprisingly large clearing which is flattish, and positively festooned with blackberry bushes. Jo and I wonder quietly to ourselves is this our camping area; but no, there’s nothing to say it is so, it can’t be…. can it? We keep on walking crossing a very nice little stream and after a couple of hundred or metres so find Mark and Chris coming back from being just a little ahead of us. Turns out the lovely little blackberry infested clearing IS our camping ground so we turn around and head back. We look at it through different eyes, scouting out for patches that are less blackberry laden than others and the edges of the clearing nearer the trees look to be the best option. Mary diligently tramps down an area for herself and John, it ain’t called blackberry flat for nothing. It’s also lumpier underfoot than you would think and you just know that lump/hole under your mattress is going to find you in the middle of the night. An hour later and we have our little grove of tents, beds are made, billies are boiled and snacks are eaten as we wait for the Appletree Road party to arrive. We’ve had a nice day, not too strenuous and are feeling pretty good and relaxed enjoying the great outdoors, fresh air and good company. The blackberries make a great snack and Jo and I pick a generous handful each to put in our muesli for tomorrow’s breakfast. A lone wood pigeon cruises back and forth overhead clear against the blue sky and backdrop of the gorge walls – beautiful.
Soon enough the first of the next party arrive. Phil, Peter, Roger, Helen and Paul trundle in and we help fill up their water containers from the nearby river while they make camp. Phil tucks himself under the trees and although he is only a few metres away, you wouldn’t even know his tent was there. The Appletree party have walked a bit further today than we have. It’s late afternoon and we’re wondering where the final 3, Mon, Karen B and Colin are. They come in just at the right time and set up camp while there’s still good light and conversation time to be had. Turns out they have had a right old adventure seeing all the waterfalls their walk had to offer; it’s good to see all our party back together again all safe and well. A quick head count of tents shows that the Hubbas just outnumber the Macpacs with a few assorted others filling the rest of the placings.
We tuck ourselves in early to bed, listening to the night sounds, there’s fewer moreporks calling than I thought there would be and either no possums or I am asleep and don’t hear them.
It rains gently during the night and early hours, but nothing too serious. I lie awake in my tent watching a VERY LARGE SPIDER on the outside. It’s close to 5cm across and surprisingly sturdy; Jo had one the day before near her tent, so I wonder if we have disturbed a family of them.
While we all eat breakfast, we confirm the plan for the day being that we will all head back to the bus the same way, first doing a walk further into the Gorge. As Peter and Phil heroically offer to look after the tents and bags for us (also known as having a second cuppa/lie in), we take up the offer of walking without the big bags and take off into the Gorge. The rain overnight has made it a little boggy underfoot in parts, but everything has been newly washed and smells fresh, green and alive. After about an hours walking we see a wonderful clearing on the other side of the river and unanimously agree this would be a wonderful camping spot for next time we head down this way. It’s flat and clear and close to a good fresh water source. Turning and heading back, right at the top of the cliff on our right you can see fencing right to the edge; to stop errant cattle or trampers I wonder. We get back to camp and pack tents away, and of course it starts raining just as we start but it doesn’t last long. It’s just enough to make sure though that tents will be put away wet and will all need drying out when we get home.
The sun comes out and we find a lunch stop on dry plateau on the tussocky farmland; it’s a good choice as from this point onwards it’s walking parallel on a very steep slope for a while. What a wonderful view and spot to stop. The geology and rock formations are amazing and we take a few minutes as we pass by to check them out. They are humbling in their size and stature; their presence on the land is that of sentinels, heralding back to our past but knowing they will still be there long into the future.
It’s getting quite warm as we walk the last km or so to the bus, stopping to say hello to the friendly miniature horse on the way.
A quick refresh and change of clothes then it’s on the bus back home.
We stop again at Mangapuhoue so the rest of the group can see the rock arch, and then take another quick stop to see the beautiful 35m Marokopa Falls which Chris mentioned as being on the trip home. They are only a short walk through tawa and nikau from the bus and certainly worth stopping for. Helen is driving again with a change of driver, refreshments and leg stretch. Sadly, the bakery is closed, so it’s a dash to the supermarket for cold drink and snacks. The canny ones find a proper coffee at the pub. An uneventful drive into Auckland sees us wondering how Monika is going to get on for time, but the usual traffic jam at Takanini slows things up, but all in all a good run home.
It’s been a fantastic, fun filled couple of days away. I love these short breaks away, they are so good for your soul. The friendship and great spirit you get from the rest of the group are amazing and added to the incredible scenery we are privileged enough to be able to enjoy, make these weekends truly memorable.
Special thanks to Bernard for organising the trip – it’s a beautiful spot – plus we have a great new option for next time, and to Helen and Bernard for safely driving us there and back. Thanks to everyone on the trip for your friendship and help over the sticky bits.