Sunday, February 10, 2008

The next step in the journey

Saturday 8th February, I inflated my car inner tube and got Jill to drop me off at the Mount Bruce bridge as I continued my travels down the Ruamahanga River. My goal was to walk down the river to the area known as “Double Bridges.”
The river is much straighter now as it makes its way across the Wairarapa valley – more correctly, the Ruamahanga Valley. The boulders gradually got smaller as I moved away from the ranges, and the bird life increased. I had not thought about that, but there was a much larger number of birds on the river in the open that there had been in the bush. I saw herons, shags, black backed gulls, pied stilts, magpies, plovers, welcome swallows, mallards, paradise ducks, Canadian geese, hawks, goldfinches, and a pair of New Zealand pipits.

I came to the first landmark, the Ashleigh Gorge, after an hour. This is a very picturesque gorge, narrow and lined with native trees. I can imagine it would be ferocious in a fresh, but at the moment the river is very low and it was peaceful as I floated through.

I fell just before the gorge, and sprained a finger, but it was nothing more than a minor inconvenience during the journey, although it did swell overnight.
After the gorge I worked my way down the river for another two hours, before I reached the Hidden Lakes. I passed my first papa bed (soft sandstone) and a wonderfully picturesque bluff and pool.

There were patches of manuka bush on the riverbank, and the remains of river control schemes, with large strips of steel smashed into rust on the boulders. About halfway to the Hidden Lakes I found some dead Canadian Geese, with shotgun cartridges nearby, and some herons one the Dunvegan bridge, a small stock bridge that replaced the larger suspension bridge erected by the Upper Opaki Saw Mills when they were in operation a century ago..
I took a small break at the Hidden Lakes, and looking at the detritus of the huge landslide found a couple of fragile fossils of a kind of periwinkle.
I pushed on to Double Bridges, taking another two hours. At one stage I walked through a colony of black-billed gulls, and pied stilts, and at one spot, where the river skirted close to a broom-laden bank, there were many damselflies skirting over the water. I noticed both blue (Austrolestes colensonis) and red (Xanthocnemis zealandica) damselflies, flying united, so to speak. They frequently breed on the wing!

The first sign I saw of humans on the trip was when I stopped to photograph the damsels – a man was cutting down kanuka on the opposite bank, his chainsaw spluttering in the early afternoon air. He stopped for lunch as I passed.
I arrived at Double Bridges at just after 1.00 p.m., following a five and a half hour walk. There were children swimming in the river, and quite a few cars parked on the banks.
The first of the big walks in the journey is over. A couple of short ones beckon in the next few weekends, with a trip down to my hometown Masterton next on the agenda, with a walk to my childhood swimming hole at the Te Ore Ore bridge.

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