18 trampers set off at 7pm on the Thursday evening for an adventure in the Urewera’s. First stop was at the Murupara Motor Camp where we arrived close to midnight. 6 had decided to stay in cabins prior to the adventure into the Urewera’s while the others slept on the bus. It was a good decision to stay in a cabin as it was comfortable and quiet whilst outside it was quite cold. Come the morning we were able to use the kitchens available for our breakfast.
8.30am and we are off to start our tramp at Ruatahuna with one tramper having forgotten to pay for their cabin. We first stopped at a new village development at Ruatahuna before proceeding to the end of the Mataatua Road where we were to meet our driver who was to transfer the bus to Ruatoki (the end of the tramp on the Whakatane river). Tommy the driver arrived soon after we met resistance with a locked gate – this was the start of the tramp.
Having met Tommy he introduced us to the local Kaumatua, Tai, who invited us to the Maree a hundred or so metres away. Tai gave us explanation of the arrival of the Maori in the Urewera’s and invited us inside to view the many intricate carved panels and memorability. This was a very interesting and unexpected visit which was met with appreciation by the members of the party.
We were on the tramp by 10.50am having split into 2 groups, heading up a road through farmland before entering the bush. Several less able trampers hitched a ride on a Ute to the start of the bush – a couple of kilometres.
Not long after entering the bush it was realized that the PLB’s had been left behind. But never mind there were 2 personal PLB’s amongst us.
The first nights stop was at the Ngahiramai hut a distance of approximately 15 km from the start. 4 hunters occupied the hut which left only another 4 bunks so most of the team camped for the night. Entertainment for the night was provided by the hunters while we stood around the campfire. The cold temperature had us all early to bed with barely anyone feeling overly warm during the night. Throughout the night we experienced the ‘roar’ of a number of stags something most had not heard before – it was quite spectacular.
In the morning we were off at approximately 8am for a long day as we had another approximately 15 km to go. What we did not know was how difficult it was going to be. The first obstacle of note was a slip with a loose narrow path to cross. Then there was a 3 wire bridge, a first for a number of trampers – this really slowed our progress.
Several times progress was hindered as the track was not obvious and of course we took the wrong course. Then there was those bluffs to navigate and a steep hill to climb. We came across a party of Maori with 4 horses loaded with venison heading back up river.
By 4pm it was obvious that we would not reach our destination as we had not even reached the Hanamahihi hut which we were bypassing. A decision was made with the lead party that we would camp by the river at the first suitable spot we could find. The lead party went ahead and crossed the river a little further on. By the time the second party saw the lead party across the river one of the second parties members fell and broke their fibula (as we found out later). Being close to dark a debate was held on when we should activate the PLB. So the PLB was activated and as darkness fell the Rescue helicopter arrived – in less than 45 minutes. The helicopter landed on the river bed with all lights blazing. With the help of the paramedic our injured tramper was loaded into the helicopter and off they went to the Rotorua Hospital.
Well, what a lot of excitement for the evening. The lead party on the other side of the river, and further down, had no idea what had happened but in their confusion had turned on their headlamps as the helicopter arrived which cause the pilot to be confused on what side of the river to land.
What a great device a PLB is and what a great service that Search and Rescue provide at no cost.
So we camped out for the night which was fortunately a lot warmer and no stag roar.
An early start for the morning as it was now obvious that we had no idea what the track was going to throw at us. First thing was to catch up with the lead party and discuss the excitement of the previous evening. A couple of hundred yards on lo and behold there was a great clearing with buildings where we could have camped had not disaster struck and the lead party would not have needed to cross the river. As we had not reached the Waikere Junction hut the previous evening it was necessary to reach the Ohura hut for the 3rd evening prior to walking out the next day. We had about 18km to go.
We were correct. The track to the Ohura hut via the Hanamahihi and Waikere Junction huts had its challenges. There had been a major slip at a bluff several years previous which was now over grown and no signs to indicate which direction to take. Eventually a path was found by climbing up high amongst the trees and then descending onto the track further along. What with this obstacle, fallen trees etc we eventually reached the Ohura hut at approximately 5pm to the relief of some of the team.
The hut provided suitable accommodation although it could do with maintenance and replacement of missing mattresses. 4 trampers opted to camp for the night. A decision was made to leave by 7.30am the following morning to walk out as we had 13km to tramp to the Ruatoki Roads end. A few mumblings but we were only ready to go by 7.30am the next morning.
A little rain had fallen overnight. This would have been of concern if there had been heavy rain as we first had a side river to cross as the swing bridge was closed off due to damage to the suspension ropes and secondly another river downstream. All was going well through the bush although it was slow so we dropped down to the river and crossed it quite a number of times following the path that utility vehicles were using.
This made progress good until it decided to rain with lightning and thunder with one crossing to go. And did it rain with spectacular lightning flashes and crashes of thunder. And along came our saviour to rescue those who had not crossed the river. Robert who was storing our bus arrived in his Ute and picked up the second party, drove across the river and back to his home approximately 1km away. There we changed into more suitable clothing, climbed into the bus and headed for home arriving early evening.