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January 2014 Issue
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A farewell trip to Central Whirinaki Forest Park

Central Whirinaki Hut. Photo: Josh Gale
2 days
Central Whirinaki Hut, 24 bunks
From Old Te Whaiti Road end, south of Minginui

Central Whirinaki Hut, Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park

Light rain was falling as we tramped on sodden earth through Whirinaki Forest.

The track cuts close to Whirinaki River which was flowing brown and swollen. I breathed in the crisp, pure forest air and felt sorrow well up inside of me.

This was my last tramp in New Zealand before moving to Germany. A month before leaving, I decided my wife Juliana and I should do a final tramp to bid farewell to the land of my birth and, particularly, its enviable forests.

Tim Marwick, a Kiwi friend living in Melbourne, googled Whirinaki after I shared our plans and was so impressed he flew over to join us.

We agreed on a three night trip; the first night at Mangamate Hut, the second at Upper Whirinaki Hut and the last at Central Whirinaki Hut – but it wasn’t to be.

We didn’t arrive at the Old Te Whaiti Road end until after 3pm, where Whirinaki Waterfall Loop Track begins.

We were anxious about making it to Mangamate Hut before nightfall, so chose a quick pace and came to a track junction with signs that stated Mangamate Hut was further away than Central Whirinaki Hut. Given the dwindling light we decided to change plans and take the shorter option.

We weren’t even half way to our destination when night fell. Just as I was beginning to worry about our venture, we came out of the bush and stumbled on Vern’s Camp. The former track cutters’ camp includes an open A-frame structure with two beds and mattresses, a fireplace, sinks and plenty of cooking space.

Rather than ambling through the dark, we decided to stay the night. Tim pulled out fire starters and we soon had a roaring fire going. Juliana and I shared a single bed, which was uncomfortable, but warm.

The next morning when we started walking we began to revel in the majesty of the forest around us. Tim called it “tame” because it has no deadly creatures to worry about, like in Australia. The word tame isn’t right, but there are few places in the world with such untouched, ancient forest where you can just wander in and all you need to worry about is staying on track and crossing rivers safely.

But, if it wasn’t for conservationist David Bellamy and a group of environmentalists campaigning to save the forest from being logged in the 1980s,Whirinaki would likely have been turned into a pine forest.

At the time of the campaign, the locals were concerned that without logging they’d have no income, but were told that eco-tourism would make up for it. It didn’t.

Like Te Urewera, Whirinaki Forest Park is underutilised. While used by local hunters and keen trampers, it has hardly become an international eco-tourism destination.

We arrived at 24-bunk Central Whirinaki Hut in the early afternoon. Staying the night at Vern’s Camp turned out to be the right decision as the track has a couple of sections that would have been unsafe to negotiate in the dark.

Tim stoked the fire as we chatted to Adam, a young guy fresh out of the New Zealand Army who was celebrating his newfound freedom with a solo tramp.

That night it rained heavily. I woke up early and went down to the river and spotted a pair of whio surfing the fast flowing water.

Over breakfast we decided to tramp to Mangamate Hut and then back to the car the day after. Adam decided to join us. We only made it as far as the Taumatu Stream Track junction before we had to turn back; Mangamate Stream was in flood and the track had disappeared. We tried sidling around through the bush, but eventually gave up because we were concerned about getting stuck half way around.

We walked back to Central Whirinaki Hut for a final night and then made the easy walk back to the car park.