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Across the lake

Across the lake
 
 
   
   
 
 

FROM WHAT I’ve read in the hut intentions books and heard from hikers and rangers along the track, the boat does normally arrive on time, but given the requirement to conduct any rescues as needed, it sometimes arrives quite late.

Settled in the boat

Settled in the boat

I was talking to someone about a week ago, getting some tips from them as they had hiked the trail last year. They mentioned their group had to wait a long time as their boat arrived four hours late due to a rescue they had to do at Waiopaoa, probably someone who didn’t want to hike over Panekire. Fortunately the company that runs the boat also runs the van picking us up at Onepoto, so we will be arriving back in Wairoa tonight even if the boat was late. Our bus from Gisbourne taking us to Wellington was picking us up at the Information Centre at around 10:00 tomorrow morning, so there had been no pressure to get back to Wairoa on time.

The safety briefing

The safety briefing

The boat was a large inflatable seating up to around ten people. It had a small cabin at the front where the young driver could operate it and stay dry in even the most inclement of weather. A roof extended along its length to shelter us from the sun today, or the rain of previous days. He gave us life jackets and helped us and our packs on board.

He gave us a quick safety drill before casting off. The lake is considered safe for most boats but the conditions here can change very rapidly. Recalling the sudden southerly front on the range three days ago, this is a very routine change in weather. Normally the change wouldn’t be as dramatic as on the range, but the lake still has a reputation of going from almost mirror flat to a raging tempest with almost no notice. Fortunately, the weather was clearing today with the southerly having blown itself out. The clouds that had still covered much of the sky early this morning had all but gone, with hardly a breath of wind remaining.

Casting off into the blue expanse

Casting off into the blue expanse

Two powerful outboard motors propelled the boat quickly through the almost completely flat water. It wasn’t rocking at all with any swell. The weather conditions were perfect with the clouds almost completely cleared. White water flowed off the sides and created a stream a long way behind the boat with a wake extending on either side behind us.

Heading off at great speed

Heading off at great speed

The track along the side of the inlet was almost completely invisible from the lake. The rocky clearing disappeared behind us very quickly. It was not long before we were passing Tapuaenui Bay and the saddle we had crossed the Puketukutuku Range behind it. From here the saddle looked very low, not at all looking like an hour and a half of effort.

From there we needed to get around the peninsula towards the main lake. We passed remote headland after headland, the triangular forested hills behind them the home of the kiwi population resembling what it would have been like during prehistoric times.

Passing the hills of Puketukutuku

Passing the hills of Puketukutuku

On the other side we were passing close to the road scarring its way across the hill quite high above us. There were a couple of landslides dropping from the road displaying the damage they do cause.

The lake began to widen now as we could see the last of the headlands in the kiwi reserve with the cliffs of the Panekire Range coming into view. The steep hills to the left suddenly eased off into low rolling forested hills towards the upcoming headland to the entrance towards Aniwaniwa. One of the headlands we passed close by had the Pukehuia Pa standing on it, in what is now a very remote part of the Puketukutuku Peninsula. Much of the history of this significant pa has been lost to the sands of time, or perhaps more accurately, concealed under the protection of the Tuhoe tribespeople.

Panekire Range comes into view

Panekire Range comes into view

I’m not sure whether it is still functioning, but the Tuhoe people are still very active in this area. So much so that in 2014 they successfully negotiated the Urewera National Park lose its national park status and be given back to them to manage. What used to be the Urewera National Park is now just called “Te Urewera” (the burnt manhood), as we saw on the track entrance sign at Onepoto.

As the Panekire Range continued to reveal itself, I could spot Bald Knob towards the end of the high cliffs, the hill distinguishable from the others along the range as it didn’t have any forest on top of it (hence its name).

Aniwaniwa and Onepoto

Aniwaniwa and Onepoto

Eventually I could see the dip above which the hill containing the Panekire Hut stood. From down here the hill was no more than a diminutive bump on the range. It had hardly felt that way when we had been climbing the long staircase up the bluff as the approaching night was darkening the misty southerly rain, at its top reaching the welcome clearing with the rustic hut on the exposed ridge. Looking to the left the hills were very low. A long bay stretched quite some distance, but still very small compared to Aniwaniwa coming up around the next headland.

Bald Knob

Bald Knob

We finally reached the two points separating the Whanganui Inlet from the main lake. By now we could see the whole of the Panekire Range, rising dramatically from Onepoto to the huge cliffs of Panekire Bluff to Bald Knob now facing directly towards us before sweeping back along the rest of the range with the ridges of the Whareama Range sweeping across, and a glimpse of the ridge we had followed a couple of days ago down to Waiopaoa. There was a small cloud over the far end of the range, but the range itself was completely clear of the cloud that had covered it earlier today. The conditions for viewing the range were perfect today with the sun now behind us clearly showing the forests rising from the lake up into the layered cliffs making the crown of the range, not giving any clues to the moderately dropping goblin forest on the other side.

Bald Knob

Bald Knob

Aniwaniwa was now visible in the distance along the long arm extending back in front of the range that had collapsed to create the lake. From here the range seemed very small and perhaps unstable holding back the lake, but it has successfully held it back without bursting for 2200 years, and with the help of the reinforced intake at Onepoto, there was little chance of it bursting now.

The middle of the lake here would have been a broad valley of a gently flowing meandering stream anticipating its leap down the gorge. Here the lake was around 250 metres deep. The river would have dropped about a hundred and fifty metres elevation as it dramatically cascaded down the narrow gorge. The collapse of the ranges on either side would have been a very dramatic event to watch.

Panekire Range

Panekire Range

There was a bit of a swell here in the middle of the lake, with the Panekire  Range hardly reflecting at all. Fortunately the swell hardly rocked the boat at all, just sending lots of spray off on either side of the boat, but none came into the boat itself.

Looking behind us, the Whanganui Inlet was still directly behind us with part of the main dividing range now visible in the distance. There were some clouds still hovering to the right of the inlet but the sky was otherwise clear now.

Aniwaniwa

Aniwaniwa

The far end of the Panekire Range was now sweeping back soon to go out of view behind Bald Knob. We were getting quite close to the range now seeing the distinctive bands of the layers of sandstone deposited at different times over the past ten to fifteen million years when New Zealand was rather flat, being the final remnants of the Zealandia Continent before the new fault line opened up splitting the almost dead continent to bring it back to life to the new islands we now know as New Zealand.

Panekire Bluff

Panekire Bluff

Bald Knob now stood dominant as the rest of the range continued to sweep back. Looking ahead the range dropped off dramatically from the first trig we had passed a few days ago. The edge of the range dropping into Onepoto was still hidden from view even though we could clearly see the bays of Onepoto now.

I could just see through The Narrows getting a final glimpse into Wairaumoana to the bays we had walked past this morning. The flooded valleys we had followed the past two days were to become concealed from us forever as the sides of the gap closed.  The hills from the Panekire Range seemed to sweep upwards indicating there had been more uplift inland than there had been towards the coast.

Aniwaniwa

Aniwaniwa

We were the only boat on the entire lake (although the other boat picking up the other couple couldn’t be too far behind). Few people bring boats up the long winding gravel road to this lake. Jet skis, houseboats and float planes aren’t allowed here. If it were not for the roar of the large twin outboard motors of this boat, the lake would be completely silent out here.

Panekire Range

Panekire Range

Bald Knob disappeared behind Panekire Bluff now showing only this end of the range, and the ascent from Onepoto now just visible. The round hill Raekahu at the constabulary at the start of the track was now visible standing clear above the skyline. The hills around Onepoto were very low, not giving away the enormous drop of almost six hundred metres on the other side.

Panekire Range

Panekire Range

Aniwaniwa had disappeared by now as we approached our landing point at Onepoto Bay. The water was a lot smoother now, though still ruffled, but enough to create a reflection of the range. The ascent up the range was now clearly visible with the goblin forest above the top of the rising cliff lining the top of the range.

Looking behind, the kiwi refuge of the Puketukutuku Peninsula was disappearing into the distance, now only marginally rising above the main dividing range in the distance. The channel leading to the narrows had almost completely disappeared.

Towering bluff

Towering bluff

In front of us the collapsed part of the range appeared very jagged, showing a channel along which the lake once drained during floods, but the water escaped mainly through the seepage through the natural dam. Next to the old channel the collapsed range had dramatic rock formations from the broken range. These were the Onepoto Caves. I could see the layered strata in the rock appearing at different angles showing the enormous fracturing that happened here as the range collapsed into the gorge.

Onepoto Caves

Onepoto Caves

The boat slowed as we cruised into the calm waters of Onepoto Bay, with the caves on one side and more broken rubble on the other side from the collapsed range.

The driver pulled the boat up against the rocks, tied it up securely, then helped us out onto the rocks, from where there was a short walk across to the beach of Onepoto Bay.

Beached at our destination

Beached at our destination

The beach had a boat ramp in the middle of it going down into the crystal clear water of the lake with the bottom covered in huge boulders. The white overhanging rock faces of the Onepoto Caves were quite dramatic across the back of the bay.

Onepoto boat ramp

Onepoto boat ramp

From the low ridge between Onepoto and Sandy Bays, I had a dramatic view across to the start of the Panekire Range from the bottom up to the first trig. The rest of the range swept around behind these first cliffs. The next land we could see was the kiwi refuge of the now distant triangular forested hills of the Puketukutuku Peninsula on the other side of the lake. The turquoise water was crystal clear allowing us to see quite deep into it.

Onepoto Bay

Onepoto Bay

We only had a few minutes to appreciate the view before the van that had taken us from Wairoa to here just a few days ago (though it seemed a lot longer with the climb over the range and the rain from the southerly now a distant memory) came to take us back to the coast, back to civilisation.

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03 March 2016

 

Te Urewera

New Zealand

 

38°50'S
177°00'E

587m ASL

 

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