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March 2012 Issue
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Beyond the Pakihi Stock Route

Pakihi road-end to Pakihi hut 2-3hr; Pakihi Hut to Stag Flat 6-7hr; Stag Flat to Te Waiti Hut, 1.5-2hr; Te Waiti Hut to road-end, 2hr
Southern access from the end of Pakihi Road (via Otara Road). Turn right at the Te Waiti bridge for access to the Te Waiti track end
Topo50 BF41
Te Waiti Hut, Urutawa Conservation Area, Opotiki

The Pakihi-Te Waiti Valley Circuit is a demanding tramp which exerts but excites in equal measures.

The Pakihi Track section has recently been added to the New Zealand cycleways system and, with funding previously denied to the Department of Conservation, has metamorphosed from a slip-ridden path, precariously narrow in places, to a well-benched mountain-bike-standard track with more than a dozen new bridges crossing the many side-streams and the Pakihi Stream itself.

Our tramp commenced at the Pakihi road-end, with the first night at Pakihi hut – now sporting a new verandah.

Initial concerns about stream depth and discolouration were allayed after inspection the next morning; the crossing back to the true-left bank was safely accomplished, the large orange triangle indicating the way to the ridge was located and we proceeded to climb. And climb, until just under four hours later, after pushing along through often waist-high vegetation and clambering over wind fallen trees on the overgrown but well-marked track, we reached Pt605m. Our reward was glimpses of equally high surrounding ridges and deep dark valleys.

And, of course, having come up, we now had to go down. Just on three hours of tentative knee-crunching descent, clutching tree trunks and any other vegetation available, with an occasional backside slide being more effective than feet. Fortunately, vegetation was usually to hand as the track has not seen much work of late and we suspected it might not see much work in the future. However, the orange markers are well placed and easy to follow.

The state of the track meant that the estimated 5-6hr to get to Te Waiti Hut should be treated with caution – seven hours saw us at Stag Flat, still an hour or so short of the hut. The option of a pleasant night’s camping on the banks of the Wahaatua Stream was very acceptable. Tents were pitched, the fire was lit, the billy was boiled and all was well with the world.

The crossing of the Wahaatua presented no problems and we were happily swinging along a well-benched and relatively clear track when, upon rounding a corner, our leader skidded to an abrupt halt – an essential few metres of track had disappeared down the steep bank, some 70m into the stream. The unwelcome prospect of retracing our steps back up Hill 605 gave strength to our limbs as we clawed our way up a mini-bluff, with a few roots for handholds, traversed cautiously across the missing piece of dirt and slithered back to the track again.

This was the only sticky bit of the day, and a couple of hours found us crossing the Te Waiti and heading up to the hut – not your average backcountry design but a flat-roofed structure incorporating a plastic-walled add-on at the front, looking like a 1950s seaside shanty.

A huge grassy area provides plenty of camping space. The pack-it-in, pack-it-out message obviously hasn’t reached these parts – a large plastic drum was overflowing with rubbish.

The vegetation throughout the trip was a delight – apart from having to push our way through or climb over much of it. Tawa is the dominant species and the dry leaves crackled under our feet, making for easy and pleasant walking on the tracks, where punga and mamaku waved their majestic fronds above us. Young rimu were in abundance, as were tanekaha, and totara. The eradication of the goat population has meant a resurgence in plant growth; particularly noticeable were the large groves of nikau palms along the banks of the Te Waiti, many showing off their beautiful pink flowers.

The track from the Te Waiti Hut to the road-end is well maintained, providing a couple of hours’ delightful walking high above the river, and well within the capabilities of the family tramper. Mountain biking is also allowed on this track.

Our shuttle vehicle was parked at Bushaven, an accommodation complex sited on the riverbank – vehicle security at a small price. Whilst our drivers set off to fetch the other vehicles from the Pakihi road-end, we lunched in the sunshine, reflecting on and savouring what had been a mixed bag of tramping – easy, tiring, heart-stopping, but supremely satisfying for those keen enough to get out there.

– Barbara Morris