Friday, April 10, 2009

Meandering in the Makaroro

There is always, for me, a slight sense of forboding and unease when I undertake solo journeys into the mountains. A recent run of comments on my last post addressed solo travel, and the book by Aat Vervoorn, Mountain Solitudes, a book I read at least once a year. Don from over at Like Minds - New Zealand Landscape and Thoughts - , I thought summed it up pretty well writing he has recognized when on solo trips that "this is not the day, nor the time to continue Donald", and that as Aat alludes to about traveling alone in rugged country that "we need to have all our ducks in a row emotionally and mentally". And physically as well.

So for a few reasons I felt somewhat reluctant to take on my planned trip to the Ruahines, in spite of having the time to do so, a rare enough occurrence these days. The arthritis in my hip has been acting up, it is the roar or deer mating season meaning the mountains will be filled with hunters so the chances of a completely solitude filled journey I thought fairly remote, the weather which had been lovely was meant to turn while I planned being away. All easy enough reasons to postpone, yet I also had reason to celebrate. The wind mill farm proposed for the Puketoi ranges has been defeated, a battle won in a big war. And as always in the fall I want to roam in the mountains and feel and taste the change in the seasons. They seem more wild and more moody for some reason. And so, after changing my route 3-4 times, I simply chose a route that would let me move in any weather, packed my swag and left early in the morning. When the sun rose is was a most beautiful day.

Beech forest at the bottom of Parks Peak ridge after climbing the connecting spur.

Looking across Makaroro valley to the main Ruahine range, Maroparea and Te Atua Mahuru are the high points.

South from the ridge looking back at the main range and Te Atuaoparapara and the Three Johns.

Looking back south on Parks Peak ridge. A lot of climbing, and a ways to go yet!

6 April
Parks Peak

Sitting out on the ridge looking across to the Totara spur and main range, wee dram in hand. I am not, as I thought, to be alone in the hut. Back in 2004, on a similar fall excursion I met two hunters in the old hut and spent some time with them. And here was one of them again, and he recognized me straight off - though there probably are very few big Yanks running around these hills to be fair. His mate Adam, had a 9 point stag head he had shot after a grueling stalk. I also ran into a guy fly camping way back on the ridge and a nice chat with him as well. So instead of being miffed my solitude is impacted, I am just going to enjoy the company and my time here. It seems pretty clear in my formerly doubtful head up here. I have my bivvy bag but it is pretty chilly already and that hut fire seems to be calling me.

It was a long walk, it always is. This is the 10th time I have done it, Nigel, John, Taylor, Gyro, Jeremy, Jacob, all have done the hard yards. And now 5 times on my own. Another reason for celebration, and each one of those people would acknowledge it has never been easy. On a day like today, all my doubts faded when I finally got up that spur and I just toughed it out and made sure I stopped to smell the roses.

Pete, left, and Adam with the 9 point stag head.

North west from the ridge, in the distance is Ngauruhoe, one of the active volcano's in the north island.

6 April
Parks Peak hut

I got back in the hut and was handed a cup of tea by Adam. We all sat down by the fire, and pretty much the first thing Pete asks me is "How do I feel about all this wind mill stuff going on?". Pretty amazing really, and after he, Adam and I thrashed that one around, we also got into talking about 1080 poison, conservation, and loving Wild Places. Not religion, or politics. Pete has hunted here at Parks Peak for 9 years now, Adam for 4 - today was his first well earned stag. These guys have history here, they have things to say, as do I. The interesting aspect I think I just observed here was that being amongst a wild place, becoming immersed in it, almost part of it, doesn't make it less wild, it makes us love it more, and thus make us more aware, and more sensitive to how easily it is to impact that, to change it forever and irrevocably. I am moved to find these guys who care as much as I do. I have found that from far away, and it is so beautiful to find it within.

We feasted on fresh venison back steaks and tenderloins that Pete and Adam most generously shared with me, and toasted our astute observations a few times as well. It is after all, a Celebration, and any moments in these mountains are ones to enjoy. The tough ones make the easy ones better.

Almost a full moon at Parks Peak hut.

7 April, 2009
Upper Makaroro hut

Even on the longest of summer days the sun never lasts long on this narrow part of Upper Makaroro valley. In the fall and winter the afternoons grow short. Here I linger by the river, I am free to relish and roam this remote flat. The Makaroro rolls by gently, its song muted by the recent lack of rain. She starts to reveal her symphony, steady and beat keeping up on the calmer straighter end of the flat, then gathering into a higher string section gathering into the small rapid below, and releasing into a final crescendo below. From above an ominous wind reaches down from the high tops, out of sight far above, and rolls through the beeches and river grasses. I get to sit here the rest of this day and just Listen.

Makaroro river and pool across from the hut

The view down river from the flat in front of the hut

The Makaroro quietly rolls by.

Upper Makaroro
Late Afternoon

My son Charlie, 6, asked me a few days ago if I could "understand" birds because I whistle a lot, and in particular to the tui's which live amongst our little patch of unruly bush we call a yard. Charlie has learned to whistle and so has a lot of questions and observations about whistling. So I was sitting down here by the river thinking about that and I decided to practice my very bad imitation of a Whio call.

As if by fate, within 30 seconds a Whio came whistling around the corner of the above black and white photo, and flew directly over my head and landed at the upper end of the flat. I was stunned, I was shaking, it is the first Whio I have seen in over 2 years and I have missed their presence enormously. They, to me, represent the Heart and Soul of these mountains. They are reason enough for me to wander these mountains, to care for them, to love them. With tears in my eyes I crept quietly up the flat and just watched him, perfectly in sync and in tune with his mountain home. He flew off up river in that marvelous unerring flight, and even more to my delight flew back a few minutes later, followed by another pair! A few moments with the Whio. All the doubt and fear and worry I may have felt in my solo journey is now gone, these few moments have validated the other side of those emotions, and I am filled beyond words with Joy and Love for these mountains.

Whio above photographed by Pohangina Pete. More of Pete's outstanding photos can be viewed at , or his equally outstanding writing and photos at: .

The start of the track from the Makaroro river to the top of Parks peak ridge. In almost dead center on the dark beech is the next marker. A very steep climb of over 2 hours awaits. Through one of the most beautiful forest walks in the Ruahines.

It climbs.......

And climbs......

And climbs........

And then climbs some more.....

And finally there! The Makaroro now lies below and Parks Peak hut only a few minutes away. Time to boil the billy for a well earned cup of tea.

"Makaroro Climb"

I roamed high above the pristine waters
the whio's domain still within
as up hard and relentlessly I am pulled
till the river is but a gentle murmur far below
and the forest emerges and encompasses my soul
Shafts of sunlight paint colours
beyond my words
Stunted beech hold their weary appendages to the sky
beseeching but never yielding
to the familiar brutal gales
even now whistling high above
Cold, snow, and sleet greet my presence here
and I meet the rough and beautiful leatherwood
the most resilient of all
I roam amongst this place and smile
These last few moments mine alone
and I look down upon this intimate Journey

Pete and Adam getting stuck into chopping and sawing firewood. A hut bound day for hunters with gale like nor'west winds, and a storm about to blow in.

Moss and lichen covered stunted beech, a stunning feature of this damp and wind blown ridge.

Stunted beech forest and track on Parks Peak ridge near the hut.

The storm rolls in over the main Ruahine range.

This guy accompanied me the whole time. He didn't say much but was a pretty good guy. I liked him!

8 April Parks

Parks Peak

The sun sets on this day, on this trip. I have been wandering around outside all through this stormy day just being amongst the mountain paradise and this magical place. It is easy enough to retreat back to the hut for hot cup of tea or soup, then head out again. The wild weather just adds to the ambience. I have had moments of doubt and moments of unequaled joy. Moments to reflect upon already as I sit here writing by candle light gazing out the window of Parks peak hut and upon this place I love so much. She whispers gently in my ear.


p.s. - To those whom may read here and took the time to read and sign our petition against the Puketoi wind farm project I offer my humble thanks and gratitude. The project has been defeated and I firmly believe we helped create awareness. As Abbey wrote, "We stand for what we stand on". Kia kaha!