3 Jan. 2008, 5:30 a.m. Sunrise hut : I sit on the porch of Sunrise hut, alone with my cup of tea. And though the spreading illumination of the rising sun will soon rouse others from their sleep, this moment is mine alone. It has been far too long since I have interacted with the Ruahine ranges, and though they do not miss my presence, I have missed them terribly. The walk up in the early evening yesterday was a good way to reacquaint myself, as well as John, or in Jonathan's case be introduced to them, and two hours just enough to start with heavy packs. We sat up late into the evening, in our excitement, and yet I still found it easy to be up and ready to get to work. I already feel the magic. What will the next six days bring?
The Maropea river is as low as I have ever seen it, and this is my 13th venture down the river. The route, though always subtly changing, seems to instinctively guide me and pull me to all the right places to cross, or climb up to a benched bank for easy walking. Johnathan seems amazed, the crossing of the saddle was a windy one, John was knocked over once, and he soon realized the Ruahines beyond Sunrise is a different proposition. I keep an eye out near the familiar spots where in the past I have seen Whio, but none are around today, or I have just walked past them. Perhaps they are up in a cooler side stream, as it is hot and steamy even up here in the mountains.
5:30 p.m. 3 Jan. 2008 : Maropea Forks hut. This is my 14th visit to this lovely integral place, arriving here sometimes with other special people, other times alone. This place holds for me the memories of so many journeys into the mountains. In my mind, away from here, this is a place I often wander to escape the daily toils of the world. Yet, in my 14 visits here, my 14 plus years of traveling in these ranges, I have just now experienced the most disconcerting and disturbing incident in all that time. We arrived here after a 7 hour day on the ridge and river from Sunrise, settled in and sat on the porch with a cup of tea, when we heard the god awful thumping and muttering of a helicopter flying up the valley and landing outside the hut. It sat there as the pilot obviously saw us on the porch, I suspect debating whether to fly to another hut, then disembarked and came over stating he had 4 hunters aboard in for 5 days and that was that. They unloaded and he took off. The 4 hunters stood there amongst the coolers, suitcases, and gun bags, then trudged over to the hut, no doubt as disappointed to see us, as we were them. It was very awkward as only one hunter, the leader, tried to make any conversation, and that mainly around where there might be any deer about. So we went from complete seclusion to 7 people in a 6 bunk hut - they had no provisions for camping, merely assumed the hut would be theirs for 4 nights. I have spent many more than 14 nights here, and suspect I was long due for a meeting with other trampers, or even walk in hunters, but I found the intrusion of a helicopter very disturbing. It took them 7 minutes to fly in, us 7 hours to walk, and the differences in which we viewed the Ruahines were astounding. They had no interest in any intrinsic value to the mountains, merely saw them as a game range for potential hunting, the helicopter simply a time saving device. 7 minutes and 7 hours and never the twain shall meet. Do they hear the breezes blowing through the beech, the music of the side creeks joining the symphony of the river, or even simply appreciate the view? I think this is a huge issue, and as I write in my notebook, and feel tears well in my eyes, I feel in my heart the time has come to be a voice outside here for the Ruahines as best I can. How can I protect the mana heke iho of this place?
We were going to stay here for two days but will instead head over Puketaramea ridge and Otukota hut in the morning. The one advantage of their landing here and not flying off to another hut, is that we would then have known there would have been chopper hunters at either Otukota or Wakelings, and would have run into them at sometime. Might as well be now. I lost some of my naive Ruahine innocence today.
4 Jan. 2008 5:19p.m. : Otukota hut. Sitting in the shade outside the hut, the sun has been blasting at us all day long. Except for our initial grey sky, and in my case mood, ascent up to Puketaramea ridge from Maropea Forks. It drizzled on us and was very windy and cool as we worked our way up the spur, and once on the ridge we even were forced to don warmer gear and rain jackets for a bit. But after a wee bit of trouble finding the route through the open tops of Puketaramea, again as in 2000, the skies cleared, the sun shone, and my mind slowly gave itself to the beauty and energy of the forest ridge. I am forced to walk at a much slower pace due to my hip, yet this, aside from some pain, does not trouble me, the energy here is intense and I feel it flowing through me. The mosses and lichens literally glow in the sunlight, the ferns brush our legs with a gentle swhish, and the big beeches seem to pulsate in the sunlight. This is just what I need. Yesterday seems like a lifetime ago.
Taunga no te mauri (Inner Calm)
as if in my own life
the search for inner calm always a battle
the words choke inside me
and I fight for air
the pain inside me which I own
the hurt inflicted upon me
the ups and downs of my own existence
mimic my thoughts on this ridge
Then there is the beauty
of seeing through enlightened eyes
if only briefly
moss and lichen illuminated by the sunlight
filtering through the forest
my sons being born
Yet always I will wonder
in my dark moments
Are you through with me?
5 Jan. 2008 Otukota hut, 7:20 a.m. : I sit with my strong early morning coffee trying to drive the sleep from my eyes. I am sore and body is tired and I am very happy today will be a rest day. I can hear the Waikamaka river below the hut some 50 meters, and I suspect, as does the barometer, these few early morning clouds will burn away leaving us with another brilliant day. I can feel myself sinking into the connection I seek with this place, or myself?, and I want to remember this moment vividly so I can drink deeply from the memory of it later on. I feel like a child with the whole day ahead to do nothing but play.
5:50 p.m : What an incredible day this has been. I walked up river a few hours on my own and returned. It is a very big and lush river and will be much more of a challenge in the morning with a big pack. John and I spent hours in the afternoon roaming from pool to pool diving into the chilling embrace of the river. I have never experienced swimming like this in the Ruahines, when even in summer a quick and cold dive normally suffices. Today we were embraced by the river, swimming for hours, then drying in the hot sun, only to swim again. The bush around this valley is in very good shape, the spurs and ridges thick with trees and absent of the common feature slips for the most part. Even around the hut lie an abundance of flowers, mosses and lichens, perhaps the finest display of Lancewood, both juvenile and adult, I have seen, and even the cabbage trees are in flower, which I have never seen. I think we have all lost the sense of time and urgency pressed upon us in the world after 4 days here. We should all have the time to look at a flower in great detail.
I frolicked in the river today
the emerald pools
embraced my soul
tingling and soothing
to enjoy her touch
to our more frequent
and brief icy dances
I lay upon her
sun warmed rocks
and I listened
it was good to know
I can still reach
the child within
6 Jan. 2008 11:50 a.m. : Along the Waikamaka river : Time for a cup of tea in Nigel's old billy. Those billies have done some traveling in these ranges and for all the new fangled contraptions and devices they still work as good as any, and there is something very comforting about pulling them from my pack to boil a brew, dented and dinged but still up to the job. The Waikamaka, at least down lower by Otukota hut, is a big river, and technically a harder river to negotiate with a big pack. It is very gorgy, with huge boulders and log jams to be climbed over, and must be crossed carefully. We are fortunate the day is lovely once again and the river is low. I suspect it would be a real brute with even normal flow and certainly not negotiable if it was high. In addition to the river is the fact we are also climbing, from around 560 meters at Otukota, to around 850 up at Wakelings. I am ready for a cup of tea.
6 Jan. 2008 4:50 p.m. : Wakelings hut : I must focus on the here and now as already the end of this experience draws ever closer. Jonathan has walked up river to try and spot the Whio family nearby. I see Pete's name in the hut book and no doubt close by is where he took those wonderful shots of the Whios and chicks. I think I would burst into tears if I saw them right now. John is cleaning up the hut, all the bits and pieces of food and rubbish left behind. I rather think John's pack ends up heavier coming out than going in as he collects debris from our stops without fail or hesitation. This is the third time I have been here, but the first time I have had time to relax and enjoy the area. Back in 2003 John and I called in for a cuppa and to get out of the rain before heading up river to camp, and 2001 with Rick and Steve it was pissing down with rain and we simply curled up in the hut with a fire. It is a beautiful area, a lovely river straight runs down from the back of the hut with Te Atuaoparapara looming over the valley, some excellent swimming holes lie about, and this is our reward for a long river bash.
7 Jan. 2008 6:30 p.m. Top Maropea hut : It has finally begun to rain, and the sound of rain beating on the tin roof of Top Maropea is one I know well. This will be my 24th night spent here. My 25th will have to be a special occasion, though aren't they all here in this first place I stayed in the Ruahine ranges? It is somewhat melancholic to be here ending a trip, rather than beginning one, and though there is a fine line between melancholy and darkness it is a feeling I am riding with and I am fine.
It has been a long day, 4 hours from Wakelings to Maropea Forks, then another 4.5 hours from the forks to here. I have been toting along a small amount of Jameson's 12 year old Irish whiskey, a slightly sweet and nutty nectar, and will surprise the boys with a final little treat soon. As I suspected, the helicopter hunters left no entry in the hut book, the hut was clean but smelled like a greasy meat factory. We found a smelly deer haunch turfed into the bush near the hut, and a dead carcass, minus said haunch lie further up the river. The helicopter still seemed to echoe for me there.
John prepares the fire, always a challenge here at Top Maropea. Yet it soon crackles and roars under his expert tutelage We have lived simply and honestly for the past week. These are things I always strive to take back out into the world with me, but somewhere amongst all the responsibilities, requirements, and consumerism, it always seems to get harder to apply these lessons elsewhere. Yet simplicity and honesty are the very things Tara and I are striving for out there so I need to keep focused on what I feel here. Perhaps I need to, much like arriving at a spot like this at the end of a long day, just appreciate each day for the small things, or at least try to.