Friday, February 29, 2008

Go there! .... or got there....

Wednesday 27 February
There at last!
I left Tuhitarata about 10.30, walking along the eastern stopbank. The river looked sparkling – there was next to no wind and the day was not too warm yet.

The first real problem was the Turanganui River – it was not too wide but it was chest deep- and muddy bottomed. I had to cross it, so I did but I wasn’t too happy about it.

I was even less happy when I came across a herd of cows on the stopbank, protected by an electric fence across the stopbank, and wires along the edge of the bank. I had to choose between the electricity and the cows. The electricity won out, and I crawled under the hot wires on the side of the stopbank, past the cows. They watched me, then moved away – of course.

The view to the west is stunning – the Rimutaka Ranges look fabulous – better and better the further south you go. At one stage a cloud conveniently parked itself for me to take a photograph.

It was great to get to the end of the river and move around the beach at Lake Onoke. There are some huge driftwood logs stranded like whales on the beach.

I walked down to the point where the river rushes through the Onoke Spit to meet the sea.
It was about 4.30 when I made it to the Lake Ferry Hotel, to sit and marvel at the view, and have a very cold Heineken.

Tuhitarata Bridge

Tuesday 26 February
Today’s trip was the best – the scenery on this section of the river is amazing. Not as many dramatic cliffs, but a wonderfully meandering river.
I started early – at seven – when the light was brilliant – the river was almost autumnal for a short while at Martinborough.

Bird scarers abound in this area – their thump rebounding from the banks, in a strange staccato effect.
The soil is better and the trees look great on the banks.

I walked for four hours, down to Kahutara, before taking one of John McCosh’s canoes down to the Tuhitarata Bridge. It has been many years since I was in a kayak, but it all came back quickly and it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down the river using arm power not leg power!

The weather got worse as I paddled along the river - the wind got up and there were even waves on the river. But the view of the Aorangis was marvellous.

John came down to pick me up, and took me back to his house for a cup of tea and a look through his taxidermy museum. This is a lion, not John!

To Martinborough

Sunday 24 February
I rejoined the river early in the morning, for a trot down to the bridge at Martinborough. I got Jill to take a pic of me at the start of the day – maybe not a bright idea!

The river starts to meander through this section. I could see that I was backtracking at times, circling around and around, but as I went I could see a series of wonderful cliffs.
I also saw my first campers, as a couple of parties were settled in caravans at Morison’s Bush. They both had children and dogs, those essential prerequisites of camping.
I was happy to get through Moiki, where I spent some summers camping, when Jill and I were first married.
Just past Moiki, I saw some great wind-blown trees on a large lean, near the confluence of the totally dry Huangarua River, nearly at Martinborough.

Before that I finally got to the bridge, I met my first vessel. Not a jet boat, not a speedboat, not a yacht, but Wave Phillips on a wind surfer without a sail!

All along the river I had noticed that a bulldozer had been along the river – there were tracks along all the beaches, and it seemed that some of the beaches had been ripped. When I got to the bridge I saw why!

Wardells Bridge south

Saturday 23 February
Today I walked through the waters from just south of the Masterton sewage treatment ponds – and did I know it. The stench as I walked down to the river had me worried, but I soon walked through it.
I found the mythical colony of back-billed gulls that my ornithological friends were asking about, on a backwater at Te Whiti o Tu. They were not pleased to seem me, dive bombing me as I walked through their shit-splattered boulders.
I walked underneath the Hurunuiorangi Bridge as a bush of motor scooter fanatics made their way over the bridge. Slightly disconcerting.
One of the highlights of the walk was this fabulous cliff, with layers of colour displayed.

As I walked down further I could hear the bird scarers working at the various vineyards, and suddenly realised that the birds had disappeared from the bed of the river. This lasted for a quite a while, but as I ventured further south the birds returned.
It was great to reach the confluence of the Waiohine, which had a surprising amount of water considering the drouhgt - much mkore than the Waingawa earlier in the day.

I had no lunch with me, and when I stopped to pick some blackberries, a pair of quail whirred out of the large bramble patch I chose. I suspect I got more of as fright than they did!
I hauled out of the river at Healy's property in Fabians Road, near Greytown, after a seven hour day rockhopping. I was hot, and tired, but pleased to have made such good progress.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Double Bridges to Wardell's

Sunday 17 Feburay.
The weather broke this week, and a series of fronts dropped a fair bit of rain in the northern parts of Wairarapa, where the Ruamahanga rises. Masterton missed most of the rain, although the air did turn quite a bit cooler.
On Saturday, the weather was not too bad, and I thought it might have been possible to go down the river on the next stage, but the river was up quite a bit, and also looked very dirty. I decided to take a break and wait for the better weather and improved river conditions of Sunday.
Sunday started cloudy, but the river had subsided a lot from the day before, so I packed up and went north – in order to trek south.
The first crossing of the river – and there were many crossings – convinced me that there was a lot more water in the river as the force of the flow had my trekking stick vibrating!
The journey was a slow one, as the river moved into more inhabited territory. I saw my first car wreck on the banks, and found much more litter on, and in, the river as I moved down towards the Te Ore Ore Road bridge.

I seemed to be accompanied by pied stilts all day today, wheeling and yapping above me. There were often family groups – four or five birds flying together. As I arrived at the Te Ore Ore Road bridge I came across a group of young people playing on a motor cycle, graffiti, and a pile of rubbish.

The river is slowing down all the time – getting wider and deeper as other rivers and stream join in. I walked around the perimeter of Henley Lake and stopped at the confluence of the Waipoua to have a cup of tea. There is virtually no water in the Waipoua at all, and there is an toxic algae in the river. Needless to say I brought my own drinking water.

The walk down to Wardell’s Bridge was saddening really, as this stretch of the river has two major features – Masterton’s rubbish dup, and it’s sewage works.
The Canada Geese, that had been missing from the morning’s walk, were back in evidence in the afternoon, with three or four flocks on the wing. The birds are very cautious, as will take flight whenever I get within three hundred metres. Once, I saw a family of spur-winged plovers flying with the geese. Looked a little odd.
There were a few black swan on the river near the end of the walk, and a number of black-fronted dotterels scattered along the walk. There was also a confident young pied stilt, pecking away at the edge of the river.

The most unusual thing today? There appears to be a teepee on the hills above the Black Rock Road. Something to look into, so to speak.

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.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Second steps

Today has been Waitangi Day, New Zealander’s day to celebrate our foundation document, and the creation of our state. It is also a day for New Zealanders to think about how we all get on together, and what we can do to make our society better.
I started the day walking back over some of the farmland I traveled on Sunday, then I dropped back into the bed of the Ruamahanga River, to continue my downstream journey.
It was an appropriate day, because this journey took me from the margins of the world of the forest, Te Ao of Tane, into the world of the transformed landscape. I was thinking about these matters as I picked my way backward and forward across the river and along the boulder banks that make up most of the journey.
At one pint I noticed the native mauve-flowered brooms (Carmichaelia spp) had disappeared, their place taken by the yellow introduced broom, Cytisus scoparius. The kereru, the native wood pigeon, had also gone, but there were introduced wood pigeons. And the spectacular beech forest was replaced by rows of pines on the hills ahead.
As I was meditating on this, crossing the river again, I noticed a movement on the bank opposite.
I could not believe my eyes – there were three goats about ten meters away, blissfully unconcerned about my splashing through their domain.

After a two and a half hour journey I came to the SH2 bridge – an beautifully arched structure spanning a small gorge – and found a wonderful clump of the pest plant, montbretia.

The afternoon I spent at the Origins Festival in the local park, where groups of all parts of the community – I saw various Maori hapu (sub-tribes), Phillipines, Samoans, Dutch, German, Scottish and Welsh stalls, but I am sure there were more. There was a fabulous vibe to the day, and it was an uplifting thing to be part of.
The local community station, Access Radio, of which I am a board member, spent the day there, broadcasting, so I could up with the staff, as well as many of my friends from the Maori community.
I hope to speak to various members of the river hapu as part of my journey down the river, possibly starting this weekend, when I will be a part of a party visiting the Te Ore Ore marae, where I will be speaking about some aspects of our history.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

First steps down the river

I have had a long-held dream to travel the Ruamahanga River, the river that defines our region. When local Maori talk about their identity they talk about their mountain, the river and their iwi (tribe). For me, I belong to Taratahi (Mount Holdsworth), my river is the Ruamahanga and I am proudly Ngati Pakeha ki Wairarapa – a white person of Wairarapa.

Today I took the firsts steps towards realizing that goal when I joined six members of the Masterton Tramping Club(seven if you include Jess the dog) in a trip down the river from Cleft Creek.
To achieve this we set off at 8.00, to walk in from the road end at Mount Bruce, just off the main highway. We walked across farmland and then through beautiful bush, for about three hours before we reach Cleft Creek.
We then tramped/clambered/rock-hopped/rubber-tubed our way back down the river for about five hours. It was stunning day and a great way to start the challenge that will, hopefully, result in a book on the river.