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Waiopaoa

Waiopaoa
 
 
   
   
 
 

FOLLOWING the traverse along the range through ancient mist enshrouded goblin forest and the descent of the very remote spur down to the lake, the Waiopaoa Hut was a most welcome sight.

Inside the hut

Inside the hut

The first thing I noticed upon entering the hut was the strumming of a guitar. Almost immediately afterwards I could feel the heat from the small wood burner fireplace in the middle of the large open plan kitchen dining area. The walls, ceiling and floor were lined with semi-polished stained timber panels, overdoing the wooden construction. It was more modern than the rustic Panekire Hut, but not as upmarket as the new huts I had seen on the Heaphy last year – perhaps this was of a similar standard to the Saxon Hut in the middle of the Heaphy Track.

Relaxing in the hut

Relaxing in the hut

Along the far side of the main room of the hut were a couple of kitchens with stainless steel benches and taps. The first one was clearly visible but the second was obscured by wet clothes hanging from several washing lines strung near the fireplace.

On this side of the room were three large solid timber tables with pew seating. The others we had met at Panekire were sitting around the table with Matt, a large Maori guy who was the hut ranger. He had his own room at the track end of the hut, but he had lit the fire for us and was playing guitar. It was a very relaxed environment.

One of the bunkrooms

One of the bunkrooms

To the right were the two bunkrooms officially sleeping 30 people. This was quite a bit less than the 36 bunks in the Panekire Hut, but probably because of the complete lack of campsites as camping wasn’t encouraged on the exposed ridge. We put our packs in the far room and set up our beds on the lower of two level benches covered in mattresses. None of the mattresses on this level had been occupied yet. I took the mattress nearest the far window.

Misty drizzle fell outside as we relaxed for our lunch in the shelter of the warm dining hall. It was going to be a quiet afternoon with having completed our hiking for the day.

Waiopaoa Hut

Waiopaoa Hut

Matt was picking the guitar telling us how wonderful it would be to have a piano in the hut. I thought that would be a fantastic idea. I’ve never seen a hiking hut with a piano in it before, but the harsh conditions with the weather, the heat from the fireplace and the dampness from drying wet clothes and cooking would quickly wreak havoc on any piano here causing it to quickly go out of tune and deteriorate. Still an old honky-tonk would make for a great atmosphere, and would save Matt having to bring his guitar. He told us he comes here by boat with the same company that took us up to the start of the track. They are one of two companies that run passenger services on the lake. They are also contracted to drop rangers at the huts (except Panekire, where the ranger normally there just walks up from Onepoto). They are also contracted to do rescues on the lake. Matt mentioned he has to call the boat out quite often for people who have hiked from the other direction and claim they have ankle injuries and are unable to climb the range. Matt has no choice but to call in the boat to “rescue” them. He suspected many of these cases were people who weren’t used to hiking and after two days of walking didn’t want to climb the range. Taking the boat out from here was the easy way out.

Inside the shelter

Inside the shelter

Aside from Panekire, every hut and campsite along the track is right on the coast, easily facilitating evacuation by boat. Panekire hut has the helipad for helicopter rescues, weather permitting.

Once rested I left the hut heading back out onto the large verandah covering the width of the hut and around the sides. I put on my wet boots and headed down the grassy flat towards the lake. Before the power station was built the water would have been lapping at the edge of the hut. The new water intakes and sealing of the edge of the lake had caused it to drop for five metres, creating flat sections of land that had been lake edge shelves created over about two thousand years. The hut conveniently sat at the top of one of these shelves a good five metres above the lake. This has encouraged the revegetation of the forest, but with the lake dropping only a few decades ago, the forest has only regenerated thick manuka and kanuka scrub. It will be many centuries before the forest will have fully regenerated to the lake edge.

Track to the lake

Track to the lake

A whole new shelf is being created below the waterline, with the edge of the old shelf being eroded into a definite shoreline and deposits creating the new shelf.

The grass was clear apart from a burnt patch where bonfires had been lit and also a picnic table. It was very wet but fortunately the rain had stopped falling by now. Manuka trees, toi toi and a few broadleaf shrub varieties blocked the view from the hut. The hut could have been built closer to the lake, but one of the main hazards advertised here was that of earthquakes.

The lake

The lake

There are several fault lines running through the lake, and the main plate boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates runs about a hundred kilometres beneath the lake. Warning signs in the hut and the shelter we had passed just before arriving advised earthquakes could easily create tsunamis in the lake and should we feel a strong earthquake, we need to get at least five metres above the lake level to escape the tsunami waves and stay there until at least fifteen minutes after the last shaking. Hence the reason the hut is up at the back of the clearing.

Black swan relaxing

Black swan relaxing

The scrub blocked off access to the lake except through two narrow openings, one of which I passed through, firstly through the thick scrub, then past the toi toi with its distinctive cream coloured fluffy seed heads.

The beach was only a couple of metres from the long grass to the water’s edge. Much of the beach was covered in short grass, some of which was submerged with the stiff blades of grass poking above the surface indicating the water level was a bit higher than usual. Some areas had pale golden sand where people usually swim. Ken and Jan, the older couple we had met at Panekire were to the right exploring the beach.

Calm waters and overcast sky

Calm waters and overcast sky

I was on a small peninsula between the crystal clear inlets of the Waiopaoa Stream to the left and Te Punaataupara Stream to the left. The track coming down from the top of the range had followed a ridge between these streams, so I gathered it was constructed from here along the spur until reaching the top of the range.

The small beach

The small beach

The vegetation was quite different here. The native manuka and kanuka gave way to the also native toi toi, but also various grasses that would have easily been introduced by the wading birds on their annual migration from other parts of the world. The birds living in the forest tend to stay there all year round. Those sensitive to the cold of winter sometimes migrate to the coast, but no further. Many species living in wetlands migrate enormous distances from the northern hemisphere, sometimes bringing seeds or parts of plants with them. These sometimes establish at the wetlands. This includes the grasses and other plants I could see here.

The small beach

The small beach

The toi toi (or raupo in the local Maori language) is a New Zealand form of bulrush growing in wetlands.

The water was gently ruffled by the slight wind, hardly noticeable compared to the strong gusty breeze we had battled against on the range. The wind here was just enough to gently ruffle the water. About thirty metres offshore were several black swan scattered across the surface no doubt looking for small fish.

Black swan

Black swan

This is a swan that is entirely charcoal grey apart from a bright red bill. It is the Cygnus atratus native to the southern parts of Australia. It was introduced to New Zealand by early European settlers in the 1860s.

The shelf of the lake dropped very gradually out towards the depths where the oxygen-starved water has preserved the eerie remains of a dead forest flooded 2200 years ago.

Calm waters of the inlet

Calm waters of the inlet

Occasionally paradise ducks and grey mallard are found here, along with the New Zealand scaup, kingfisher and white faced heron.

The lake also has a good population of introduced rainbow and brown trout.  Both shoreline and boat fishing is supposed to be very good here.

The cove was completely surrounded by dark forested hills. It extended quite some distance through Wairaumoana directly ahead of us. The left hand side was where we were going to be hiking tomorrow. The cloud had lifted above most of the hills except the highest ones. The low clouds were quite puffy and clear indicating no rain was falling from them, even though they were still moving reasonably quickly from the south.

Calm waters of the inlet

Calm waters of the inlet

Panekire Range wasn’t visible behind me, but it the top was obviously still covered in thick cloud and drizzle was continuing to fall. I wondered about how the young ladies were faring up there. They didn’t have much food with them, so staying there another night or two would get problematic for them.

These hills are (like much of the North Island), amongst the youngest rock formations in the country. The vegetation we had been exploring was very ancient dating back into the times of Pangaea, but the land itself around here was very recently formed.

The entire bay

The entire bay

The hills around the lake were formed by river sediments depositing mud, silt and sand in the middle of a huge plain in the middle of Zealandia between 10 and 15 million years ago, at the times when the Zealandia continent was being stretched from all directions causing nearly all of the land to sink under water.

The thick layers of sand and mud solidified into sandstone, siltstone and mudstone under the sea floor as the continent gradually sank.

The beach

The beach

A new fault line splitting the Zealandia continent off what is now the coast passing here about two million years ago started the uplift of the sea bed to what is now the North Island as the Pacific Plate subducted beneath the Australian Plate.

As the North Island lifted out of the sea, the rock has been weathered. The softer mudstone has eroded a lot faster than the sandstone. The highest hills in the area, including the Panekire Range, is made from the harder sandstone. The other hills around the lake, including these ones, are made from softer mudstone which has eroded more easily into the low rounded hills we see today.

Toi toi growing by the lake

Toi toi growing by the lake

These hills have all been covered in the rainforests of the species very much predating the terrain that supports it.

The overcast conditions were ideal for photography. I headed to the left towards the back of the cove where Waitehatere and Waiopaoa Streams silently drained into the lake. I didn’t get very far due to scrub growing right up to the water’s edge, but it was obvious the wide cove was gradually narrowing into a channel which would eventually morph into a cascading mountain stream.

Looking up the Waiopaoa Stream

Looking up the Waiopaoa Stream

A couple of black swan had been resting on the grass at the water’s edge. Their red beaks stood out as they quickly looked at me before heading off across the surface of the lake. Mist started appearing down the valley and a few spots of rain started falling. The channel was almost mirror smooth, reflecting the dark forest of the bluff on the other side, accentuating the toi toi growing near the water’s edge.

Matt chopping wood

Matt chopping wood

The misty rain was thickening, so I decided to return towards the hut. Matt was cutting wood in the large wood shed to the left of the hut. The toilets were in the bush beyond the hut. I headed back out to the shelter to explore it a bit. Then the rain stopped falling, so I returned to the lake down another entrance before returning to the grassy patch through the original entrance, noticing a little bird house hanging from one of the manuka trees. It had a nest inside it made of twigs and feathers. I couldn’t see or hear any chicks, but they had no doubt left the nest by now.

The bird's nest

The bird's nest

Returning inside the hut there was another group who I had not seen before. The group of five middle aged people were doing the track in the opposite direction to us, having come from Marauiti today – this is where we were heading tomorrow. They were sitting at the far end table and relaxing, contemplating a swim in the lake.

It was dinner time, so we prepared some packeted “Back Country Cuisine”. I had the Thai chicken curry. It was very good for reconstituted dry food, but like all dried food, a good appetite suppressant. There were a couple of magazines at our table. Ironically one was a surfing magazine – hardly useful here with the 1 centimetre swell breaking on the beach. Though big storms do often occur on the lake where large swells can happen, giving the lake its name “lake of the rippling waters”.

More people in the hut

More people in the hut

Another couple arrived having hiked all the way from Onepoto today, stopping at Panekire for lunch. We asked them about the two young ladies. They had seen them about half way along the steep ascent from Onepoto looking in very good spirits and happy to be nearing the end of the track. They would have left not long after we had departed, quickly packing up and starting the journey along the ridge and down to Onepoto. It was good to hear they had got out safely.
Another group arrived from Marauiti. The hut was going to be pretty busy tonight.

Camera set up

Camera set up

After clearing up from dinner, I headed back to the beach. The other group had by now returned from swimming in the lake. I headed out to the beach where the water was now almost mirror flat. Did this mean the weather was going to clear for tomorrow? I could see through the perfectly clear water to the little sand patterns made by the waves last time they were breaking, no doubt during the north westerly that had preceded this southerly. The submerged grass patches went quite some distance out from the water’s edge indicating the lake was running higher than usual.

Looking over calm waters

Looking over calm waters

The hills surrounding the lake were quite hazy with approaching rain. It will be a matter of minutes before the rain starts falling here. The black geese were just off the water’s edge preening themselves. I decided to return to the hut before the rain starts falling.

Calm waters

Calm waters

Upon my return it was quite busy with all the other groups eating dinner. Our group from last night were at the first table along with the new couple who had come from Onepoto. The other groups took up the other two tables with Matt in the middle one with his guitar again.

Distant hills

Distant hills

The sky grew dark outside and a few candles were lit as we all sat around the tables talking. One of the guys in a group going the other say had a satellite phone which he called the weather service. They said tomorrow was raining but clearing sometime in the afternoon and fine the following few days. That was cheating.

Outside the soft hooting of the morepork (New Zealand owl) could be heard. On rare occasions the kiwi could be heard here as well, but they are more plentiful further along the track. Also coming to life at night are the elusive long tailed and short tailed bats, New Zealand’s only native mammal species. They keep to the confines of the forests hunting insects.

Evening by candlelight

Evening by candlelight

Eventually we all turned in for the night heading into the rather crowded bunkrooms of the hut completely sheltered from the elements to sleep, ready for the long walk around the coast tomorrow.

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01 March 2016

 

Te Urewera

New Zealand

 

38°48'31"S
176°59'37"E

583 - 588m ASL

 

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