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Through goblin forest on top of the range

Through goblin forest on top of the range
 
 
   
   
 
 

THE MOST mysterious woods are the cloud forests growing at high altitude, exposed to the worst of weather conditions. The higher altitudes of these forests also had the advantage of affording the most spectacular views at their clearings where the terrain was too steep for the trees to grow. I knew this hike along the top of the Panekire Range wasn’t going to disappoint even if the sky overhead was overcast.

The lake far below us

The lake far below us

Following the steepest part of the ascent, we reached a small clearing at the edge of the cliff where the forest gave way to low bushy scrub and flax hanging over the edge of the cliff. The lake was hundreds of metres below us with neither Sandy Bay nor Onepoto where we had started visible anymore. I could see across to the low Ngamoko Range. We were close in altitude to its highest summit at 1099 metres above sea level. From here it was obvious the entire range in front of this peak had collapsed a couple of kilometres in this direction to create the enormous dam blocking the gorge.

Near the trig station

Near the trig station

The range was covered in forest sweeping away gently to the east towards the coast. It dropped steeper on this side towards the lake where I could now see the long arm of Whanganuioparua Inlet sweeping back along the front of the range to the east. This is the flooded valley of the Aniwaniwa Stream, flowing in from the north east. Not yet visible were the small settlements of Waikaremoana and Aniwaniwa Villages tucked away under the range. I had visited Aniwaniwa at the head of the arm in late 1994 and spent time in the visitor centre. This building was demolished a few months ago having had problems with foundation stability and weather tightness for a number of years and closed in 2008. A new visitor centre was currently under construction.

The trig station

The trig station

On the other side of the arm were low rounded mudstone hills covered in forest concealing the Ruapani Five Lakes and the larger Lake Waikareiti. These lakes were all blocked by the complex array of fault lines that have broken this easternmost extreme of the Indo-Australian plate. Low cloud hovered over the squat hills.

I had stayed at the Aniwaniwa campsite for a couple of overcast days in late 1994 discovering just how beautiful this area was. The other side of the lake has the road and villages, but despite the civilisation, the lake was equally as tranquil as it is over here.

View along the range from trig

View along the range from trig

I recalled the forest and the lake being etched into my memory as being one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, and wanted to do this track at the time. I was only here for two days though needing to head down towards Wairoa and further south always wanting to return. Finally after 22 years I was experiencing this stunningly beautiful trail.

Being so high above the lake now, we didn’t get to appreciate the turquoise water’s tranquillity as I had done in my previous visit, but we will start getting the opportunity from tomorrow afternoon when we reach the southern end of Wairaumoana having completed the descent from the range.

Looking towards Aniwaniwa

Looking towards Aniwaniwa

Looking ahead to the left from the view, Te Rahui Point extended a little out from the cliff about a kilometre away. Looking beyond the end of the headland the broad lake split into three arms. A broad arm extended to the left around the headland. Although obscured from view, it was going to be the main arm we will be exploring over the next few days. A third arm continued going straight ahead before turning left around the distant headlands of the Puketukutuku Range now visible in the distance. This was the Whanganui Inlet which we will be hiking to the end of on our final day before catching the boat across the lake back to Onepoto.

Dense fern undergrowth

Dense fern undergrowth

The track went around a small knob rising to an orange sandstone platform. The rock was almost in pancake layers arranged in several very large boulders we could stand on. We continued around the next small knob to where the trig was standing in amongst the flax and scrub which concealed most of the view.

The A51J trig was 964 metres above sea level and 380 metres above the surface of the lake. There was still nearly two hundred metres ahead of us to the top of the range, but the steep section of the track was behind us. A low wooden fence surrounded the trig station to protect it. It had obviously been there for quite a long time being quite heavily weathered with the paint starting to peel off, but otherwise it stood upright in very good condition.

Resting

Resting

Passing the little gap between the fence and a large clump of flax, we reached a large slab of sandstone completely free of any vegetation. From here I could see better along the face of the range. We could now see around the coast out to Ohiringa Bluff about two kilometres away, and further around to as far as the Papaotewhakau Point another half a kilometre before the lake edge swept back.

From the lake the forest rose steeply to the base of the cliff towering the final few hundred metres to a succession of small rounded hilltops sweeping off to the left. The most dramatic of these was Panekire  Bluff standing at 1125 metres high. The track will follow the range to the top of this peak, making for the northernmost point of the trek before it heads in a south westerly direction to traverse several higher peaks now hidden behind it. The hut was still a long way off hidden behind one of these peaks.

The lake looking northward

The lake looking northward

Behind the edge of the cliff the slope continued to drop moderately through more of the same thick goblin forest we had been hiking through. Small hazy pieces of cloud obscured the tops. A very fine mist made the low hills rising from the other end of the lake difficult to see now. Whilst the air felt quite cool and very damp, it was not raining here.

We returned to the track and continued heading towards the hut. The steep section was behind us now, but there was still a long way to go. A few spots of rain began falling but there was still little wind, just the gentlest of breezes still blowing in from the north west.

Ancient beech forest

Ancient beech forest

The track sidled around a small hill on the gentle side before starting another steep rise. Clambering over roots we headed uphill before stopping for a rest. Whilst resting here a couple of German guys passed us coming the other way. They were on a day trip heading up from Onepoto to the hut and back, and were now heading back down. There weren't any cars parked at the start of the track, but they may have been parked closer to the lake in Sandy Bay.

Small flowers in bloom

Small flowers in bloom

They couldn’t remember how far away the hut was, but didn’t think it was too far away. They mentioned there were people staying there tonight and they already had a fire lit, something for us to look forward to when we do eventually reach today’s destination.

Looking towards Aniwaniwa

Looking towards Aniwaniwa

We reached the top of the hill and had another view through the gnarled goblin trees out over the lake. The cloud was now very close overhead, indicating a change in weather was imminent. We continued through the forest of silver and mountain beech trees. The trunks and branches of these trees were mostly covered in moss, as was the ground on either side of the track. It is very humid up here most of the time allowing the moss to grow so well.

A think bank of cloud enveloped us as gentle rain began to fall. The trees in the shelter away from the cliff edge were looking very green and healthy. Some of the shrubs were flowering, making the most of the short New Zealand summer before the cold of winter sets in.

Misty forest

Misty forest

We passed around the left of Panekire Bluff, passing far enough below it to cross small wooden bridges over flat gullies with some sort of grass growing in them. The ground here would be rather swampy, especially following heavy rainfall. This grassy patch marked the start of the headwaters of the stream heading into Lake Kiriopukae back near the start of the track.

Grassy gully

Grassy gully

Once around the hill we had another view through rather scraggy scrub out over the lake at the northernmost part of the track, this time looking up towards the Whanganui Inlet. Small wisps of cloud were hovering over the dark grey forested mudstone hills of the Puketukutuku Range, already appearing a little closer than it had earlier at the trig even though we won’t be crossing it for another three days towards the end of the trek.

Hiking along the range

Hiking along the range

To the left of the Puketukutuku Range I could see the gaping inlet of The Narrows (Te Kauangaomanaia) leading into Wairaumoana, the Wairau Arm of the lake, which we will be reaching tomorrow afternoon. The following day and a half will be spent walking up the length of Wairaumoana until we cross a saddle over the neck of the Puketukutuku Range on our final day. To the left of The Narrows extended the Whareama Range, a low group of forested hills behind which I could just see into the inlets of Maraunui and Marauiti, where we will be staying on our final night.

Bracket fungi

Bracket fungi

From the lookout the track was wide and level making for easy walking. A quad bike could very easily be ridden along there (thank goodness though they aren't allowed here). The forest here was taller and more magnificent, and one fallen log had hundreds of small bracket fungi growing on it to aid its decomposition. The moss and filmy fern covered forest here was a mysterious contender for Fangorn Forest, and felt just as creepy as well with the misty rain silently falling. The moss enveloping the tree trunks and branches were now soaking up the moisture.

Ancient trees on grass slope

Ancient trees on grass slope

The track rose around another hill – Puke Nui, the third hill along from Panekire  Bluff, with the occasional gully filled with the swampy grass. At one stage the forest thinned with long clumpy grass growing on the gentle slope. The leaves of the grass were far to board to qualify as tussock, but the clumps from a distance did look very much like the clumps of tussock.

Sheer drop to the lake

Sheer drop to the lake

The track continued around the top of the range until we finally had another view out from the edge of the cliff. Looking below us the lake was in a small arm with a low range crossing between it and The Narrows. The hut we were staying in tomorrow night is somewhere along the coast on the far side of the range, though tucked in a little left of what we could see. The cliffs dropping into the forest below were quite dramatic with layers parallel to the slope dropping on the left hand side of the range. It seemed a particularly hard sloping layer of rock was defining the shape of the range, and to the lake side the cliff consisted of softer layers dropping precariously down to the forest containing the rubble of what has eroded from the cliffs above.

Dense primeval forest

Dense primeval forest

We trekked around the next point through gentle sloping track to the next lookout where the cliff to our right was overhanging and the cliff to the left was near vertical. No wonder the track had to follow the top of the range to a few kilometres on the other side of the hut. In the gap in between the cliffs much of the view was obscured by toi toi with its creamy white soft seed heads.  Normally a swamp plant I was a bit surprised to see them all the way up here. Perhaps this was a testament of the high rainfall here on top of the range.

The Narrows to Wairaumoana

The Narrows to Wairaumoana

The track once more left the edge of the cliff heading around the back of the next hill which was called Bald Knob. It gradually ascended until we reached a white sign with handwritten instructions that the hut was about another hour away, and the side track to the right was about three minutes to the Bald Knob lookout.

Spooky forest near Bald Knob

Spooky forest near Bald Knob

Deciding we still had plenty of time (around two hours before sunset), we decided to take the short diversion up to Bald Knob anticipating what could be the most spectacular view along the entire trek.

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29 February 2016

 

Te Urewera

New Zealand

 

38°47'S
177°05'E

910 - 1170m ASL

 

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