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Panekire Hut

Panekire Hut
 
 
   
   
 
 

THE SOUTHERLY wind was still blowing outside when I awoke at first light. Thick cloud bringing steady misty rain still enveloped the range on which we were atop. Fortunately, the hut was warm and dry thanks to the heat from the embers still glowing orange from last night’s fire in the wood burner.

Peeking out of the hut

Peeking out of the hut

I wanted to stay in the cosy confines of the hut but needed to use the toilet, so I headed outside putting on my boots, cold and very damp from yesterday’s hike up the range. An elevated board walk led around the hut verandah to some steps down to another board walk heading a short distance down the hill in the beech trees to the toilet block. The misty rain falling from the thick cloud had quite a chill to it. This morning's walk along the top of the range was going to be a bit miserable.

Looking back to the right the old wooden trig station was standing sturdy against the strong wind in front of a grove of mountain beech trees down the steep slope where we had climbed the stairs yesterday. The trig station had most of its paint stripped off the heavily weathered framework, but still stood solid. I notice trig stations have been getting removed in recent years due to modern GPS technology. They have quite a character about them so it was good to see one up here beside the hut at the top of the range.

The trig station outside the hut

The trig station outside the hut

In front of the trig was a small heli pad, for helicopters to deliver supplies or perhaps to pick up hikers in cases of medical emergency. The thick cloud would make any landing up here impossible this morning.

The hut was made from corrugated iron and painted a cheap green colour, little information is available on its history, but given its rustic character, it would have been built when the track through here was cleared in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The sloping roof was bent over the top perhaps to prevent an apex where rain could leak through. Very old mountain beech trees grew on the other side of the hut near the toilets. I could see through some of the trees down the slope where the thick cloud powering over the ridge obscured them.

Woodshed and toilets

Woodshed and toilets

The covered board walk verandah provided good shelter from the misty rain. The roof was held up by large poles. A single wire washing line hung between the posts. They were of not use at all though. The windows were all modern aluminium framed, but otherwise it was a very rustic old style.

Around the back of the hut was a separate ranger's quarters with a sky blue door leading from the verandah into it. There was no ranger staying here overnight, so I looked through the window. This part of the building was private and cut off from the rest of the hut. It had its own small bunk room and cheap plastic dining furniture. This was quite a good self-contained unit but wouldn't provide much sound proofing should there be a noisy group staying here. At least the bunkrooms were through the wall, a noisy group would keep their rowdiness in the dining area around the fireplace at the far end of the hut.

Ranger's entrance

Ranger's entrance

From the verandah the long boardwalk stepped down to the gravel path splitting into three short track. Two lead to small long drop toilet cubicles and the other leading to the wood shed on the uphill side.

After using the long drop I quickly returned to the hut. Short wet grass extended out from the hut for three or four metres to a thin row of low shrubs at the edge of the cliff. The thick cloud prevented any view down into the valley and lake below where I would have been able to see across much of Wairaumoana where we will be walking beside over the next two and a half days, and back into much of the main part of Lake Waikaremoana. In front of the cliff was a low sign pointing in either direction. To the right Onepoto Car Park was 4.5 hours away and to the left Waiopaoa Hut where we were heading today was 7.6 kilometres and four hours away.

Back of the hut

Back of the hut

I took off my boots and returned into the hut. The light was dim, but helped by a large skylight along the top of the roof. It was very dusty and a few people had written things in the dust. Obviously it doesn't get cleaned very often, being so hard to reach.

Inside the roof was held up by two very large wooden poles. It was a very rustic hut with a lot of character. Stainless steel dining tables and sinks occupied the middle of the room and dining tables were around the outside. The fireplace was at the far end to the bunk rooms. There was a small painting of the Panekire Range above the noticeboard between the bunk rooms, each with 18 bunks with mattresses on them.

Bunkroom

Bunkroom

One by one the others in the hut got up. I met Roger, a rough looking bloke who seemed to be living a rough life, based in Napier. He was hiking the trail alone getting away from it all. He would have been aged in his mid-fifties getting bits and pieces of work where he could. With a grey eighties style mullet and wearing a thick woolly hat with a sky blue short sleeved top over a dark green long sleeved thermal top covering a rather large beer gut. He was already up preparing his breakfast, wanting to have an early start heading down the range to the next hut beside the lake.

There was a retired couple from Whangarei staying in the other bunk room. Jan and Ken had done the track before but quite a long time ago, with regularly heading out to hike different tracks all over the North Island. She had short hair and he had almost no hair at all. They often do tracks around New Zealand. They too were preparing breakfast ready for an early start, but everyone agreed to wait for a break in the weather before we start. From here it was all downhill to the next hut and only three to four hours today, so we definitely didn’t have the rush of yesterday late start and not reaching the hut until darkness had started to fall.

Main room in hut

Main room in hut

The two young ladies who were originally sleeping in the top bunk in the other room had their mattresses beside the fire and were fast asleep. I recalled Mum had been talking with them overnight. Thinking they just couldn't sleep I didn't think anything of it at the time.

As it happened the two young ladies were visiting from somewhere in Europe. We had met them in Wairoa outside one of the supermarkets the day before yesterday. They had mentioned they were doing the track and we'd look out for them. It had been quite warm in Wairoa with the north westerly having escaped from the West Coast where it had been raining. Obviously us locals were perfectly aware of the climate here. Even when it is warm, a southerly could come through without warning and the temperature could plummet. Here we have to be ready for any weather. Even at this time of year it can snow along these mountaintops.

Dining area beside fireplace

Dining area beside fireplace

They were sleeping in very thin sleeping bags with a survival blanket around them beside the fire which the others had provided. The rest of us left them alone as we cooked breakfast. The water was from the small brass pumps from and outdoor water tank. Fortunately the water here is pure enough to not need boiling.

The young ladies were clearly unprepared for this track. If the weather had remained fine they would have been okay, but they didn't have the warm clothing needed to survive in this weather. A lot of tourists get caught out like this, with some dying on the tracks and many others needing to be rescued.

Inside the hut

Inside the hut

After quite some discussion we convinced them to wait here until the weather starts to clear, and to head back to the start of the track where their car was parked. It will be too dangerous for them to go on, especially along the top of this ridge.

The weather wasn't showing any signs of clearing, so we decided to hang around the hut for a while. We decided if it doesn't clear soon then we'll just leave anyway. I knew that once we are off the exposed ridge it will quickly warm up even if rain is still falling.

The hut from trig station

The hut from trig station

Whilst waiting I discovered some laminated topographic maps on one of the tables. I passed the time memorising a few of them. There was about an hour and a half to two hours walk along the top of the ridge before dropping down quite steeply into the sheltered valley below. This will be followed by a moderate descent along a ridge to the Waiopaoa Hut in about four hours.

There were several maps and posters hanging up on a noticeboard between the doorways into the bunk rooms.

I entered our details into the intentions book. Normally there is a ranger at the hut, but he was off work for a few days, so we had the hut to ourselves. There were comments in the intentions book about how friendly the rangers were in the huts. Most hikers on this track were local New Zealanders, with a few from Australia and Europe. Although this was a great walk, it isn't as popular or accessible as most of the others, so it has a higher portion of New Zealanders than other great walks. There had been people staying here most nights, with six the night before last and a few more the previous night.

The view - or lack thereof

The view - or lack thereof

As with other intentions books, this one provided good documentation on the weather, which changes a lot. Looking back into last winter few people came through, and sometimes reported snow along the ridge. When the weather was clear the view from here was sensational. Unfortunately we weren't in any such luck today.

One entry from three days ago said “This is Ana who walked the great walk in one day, the 27th day of Feb 2016. Te Mana Motuhake O Tuhoe! Ate a snickers bar and a roll. Kia Kaha Koutou 3:25 PM (from Hopuruahine end). She had walked the entire track from the far end and was making great timing to complete it at Onepoto in the late afternoon to early evening. I think every track I’ve been on has a few people who have completed it end to end in a single day. 46 kilometres in rugged terrain was an impressive effort, and on what had been our final day on the Whanganui River.

Actually there is one exception, the massive 11 day North West Circuit on Stewart Island is impossibly difficult to complete in a single day. Even eleven days is pushing it. I recall on my first trip doing the three day circuit (which would later become the Rakiura Great Walk) I met a bearded guy coming the other way on his final day of completing the entire north east circuit in three days, having started hiking at 2:00 each morning and hiked up till dark at about 10:00.

The hut and trig from boardwalk

The hut and trig from boardwalk

With breakfast finished, we started packing up. None of us were in a hurry. The girls were still in bed and I suspected they will be staying put there until we have left them. I don't think they liked being ordered around by all these crazy kiwis even though they knew they were totally unprepared for the hike. They had resigned to the fact they were heading back, perhaps if for no other reason to avoid us. After all Jan had told them she was going to be their mother today. Although a lot of New Zealanders seem to accept that, people in most European countries don't.

Hut skylight

Hut skylight

With everything packed we realised the rain wasn't going to ease off any time soon. After all this was a southerly, and in my bitter experience I know these often bring drizzle falling relentlessly for up to and over a week at a time. The further south you head, the worse. We were into Autumn now and the weather was just going to get worse. I remembered this happening in my final few days before heading to Australia for the first time 19 years ago a similar southerly had come through and created drizzle for several days before I headed across. That had been at this exact time of year.

Accepting the weather just wasn't going to clear anytime soon, we decided to put on our rain gear and brave the elements. Once equipped up, our packs on and our rain capes over our packs we were ready to trudge off along the ridge.

Getting ready to go

Getting ready to go

Mum and I left first, heading outside and putting on our boots before we set off into the goblin forest. Jan and Ken were just behind us so we let them go first. Although they were getting old, they were both very fit, and marched off along the track. Roger was staying for a bit longer, and the girls were still wrapped up in their sleeping bags having given us back their survival blankets.

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01 March 2016

 

Te Urewera

New Zealand

 

38°48'44"S
177°03'06"E

1189m ASL

 

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