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March 2013 Issue
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Wrapped up in nature

Mangaohae Stream from the wire bridge leading to Double Falls. Photo: Siri Wilkening
6-7hr return
Camp at Blackberry Flats
Were Road end. Turn off SH37 Waitomo/Te Anga Road onto Waipuna Road, then onto Were Road

Blackberry Flats, Tawarau Forest, Waitomo

We left our dusty car at the end of Were Road, on the grass berm beside the farm gate. A large map at the gate shows the area and tracks. Our aim was to follow the Mangaohae Stream along Gorge Track to the turn-off towards Double Falls, have a look at the wire bridge that spans the stream, and then carry on to Blackberry Flats some 500m after the junction.

Starting off over farmland, the track prepares the uninitiated with shin deep mud. By the time we reached the forest proper, we were comparing who had muddier boots and whose legs were more artistically speckled.

Tawarau Forest starts off light and airy, with lovely clearings beside the stream below, insects buzzing through the heavily scented air and pongas framing the view to the magnificent limestone faces across the stream.

But soon the bush enveloped us – completely – with ferns reaching up to my son Wulf’s shoulder and dense cutty grass up to my hip. Gaiters are a definite advantage on this trip.

Wulf became the scout, looking for buried markers, deciding if the track was intended to lead around or over fallen trees, diving into the ferns to inspect the ground for signs of a path. Progress was slower than expected, but no less enjoyable, as we battled the vegetation and took photo stops to document our adventures.

We enjoyed the company of kereru and fantails, marvelled in the limestone cliffs peeking through the bush and explored the many little trickles along the way. Despite following Mangaohae Stream for its entirety, the track does not offer any easy opportunity to get to the water: the stream has cut into the limestone leaving a mix of sheer rock and rubble, much to the frustration of my adventurous son who wanted to have a swim.

At the track junction leading off to Double Falls and Apple Tree Road, we diverted some two minutes to the wire bridge crossing the stream. This is a worthwhile side trip: the view is superb, a definite photo opportunity as this is a rare, if not the only, occasion to have a decent view of the stream.

Back on Gorge Track, a short way on from the junction, and just under three hours after starting out, we reached Blackberry Flats. Passing most of the flats to their northern end, we came to the same camping spot we had used on this trip four years earlier: grassy and (mostly) clear of brambles. The track crosses a brook from which we got our water (we treated all water as there is a lot of farming in the area).

Lying in our tent later that evening, sipping hot chocolate and making sure all zips were fastened to avoid the constant onslaught of sandflies and mosquitoes, we listened to morepork and looked out over the flats as the sun descended behind the trees.

The next day would bring us back to civilisation the same way we had walked in, though my son was reluctant to leave, saying: “I wish we could just move out into the bush and live here.”

– Siiri Wilkening