Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ruahine Summer Tour 2018

16 December 2018
Top Maropea hut
Late afternoon.

I write these words sitting upon one of the benches we hauled up here in June to replace the ones which were burnt. I think back on that sleet filled, windy and cold weekend and packing these seats up to here and glad that I am now enjoying the benefits of them and that they are all in fine condition. It gives me a real connection to not only the tinana, or physical place but the wairua, spirit as well. It makes that hard journey bringing them here worthwhile in so many ways.

It is the first day of our annual summer tramp in the Ruahine. John and I hoisting our swags for around two decades now and this year joined for the second time by Pohangina Pete, whom I met in these ranges almost as long ago. Very appropriate company indeed. Three people bonded by the adhesive love of these mountains.

We changed our plans and reversed our six day loop when we reached the turnoff on Sunrise track to the Waipawa river. Rather than head down to the river, up the valley and over the saddle to Waikamaka hut we decided instead to head to Sunrise and over Armstrong saddle to here. The debate was mainly around the long gruelling river walk and nature of the terrain going down the other side of saddle, versus quickly getting to the tops and enjoying the fine weather on the way here, a relatively rare occurrence. We all concurred in the decision and here we are. (Completing our trip 6 days later on the Waipawa river validated the voracity of the decision made.)

It is very comforting and soul nourishing to be here after a lovely day on the tops enjoying the weather and the stillness that enables us to walk slowly and not only see the view but get a lesson in botany, bird life and entomological life John and I simply do not see. Dr. Pete is in his element. So are John and I in our own ways, but it is humbling to see how much we don’t see.

Pete and John heading up towards Top Maropea.

A rest before the drop to the hut. A rare occurence to get such a day.

On Camel Back spur near Top Maropea

Top Maropea. Benches in good shape. A pleasure to sit upon after a long day.

Sunrise over the Maropea valey. Ataahua!
17 December
Top Maropea

The sun is still searching for it’s way over the peaks at the head of the Maropea valley. Te Atua Mahuru, Remutupo, Orupu, Waikamaka, Puketaramea, and Maroparea all stretch and come to life. The emerging dawn sky is a flawless blue with just a breath of chilly wind. The river awaits!

I feel excited by the prospect of being on the Maropea river on a day such as this. To just let go of my thoughts and be on the river, to be with the river. And find that in letting go will come many reflections, questions, and maybe even a few revelations along the twists and turns of her shimmering beauty. What has changed in the river? What has changed in me? And where will the whio be?

Tupare (Leatherwood) in flower. Friend and foe.

The Maropea river

Morning tea must be soon!

The old tawhairaunui log. Still there amongst much change. Great place on a good day.

The waterfall. Not too far from Maropea Forks now!

John and Pete approaching from below the fall.

Time for a swim. Beautiful pool and highly refreshing/

Maropea Forks hut

17 December
Late Afternoon
Maropea Forks hut

We did indeed walk with the river under the flawless blue sky today. When a day like this shared, when the sunlight sparkles and shines on the clear water and illuminates the stones and pebbles like jewels, when the day is fine enough to go slowly and stop by the old tawhairanui log for lunch and to boil the billy, when we can stop and observe the whio, and when the day allows a leisurely swim in the pool of waterfall we have enjoyed a special day on the river. Such experiences become engrained within my very soul. The symphony of the river’s music changing with its ebb and flow.

And the river, as I have, has changed since I last was here almost exactly two years ago. So change was my common bond with the river today. A huge boulder, the size of a small truck, I used to linger at prior to a small rapid is now gone! Another near it tipped on its side. What must that have looked and sounded like? The river is far fuller of shingle and rock, other areas that used to be grassy toi-toi covered flats now gone. Dramatic changes synchronistic to the large boulders I have shifted within my own life.

We saw one whio higher up in the river. I know two years ago a pair was on this stretch of river near the hut and forks so hoping we see them. One fat trout was spotted in a deep green pool lazily lurking.

Now I am sitting on the porch of Maropea Forks hut with another cuppa full of sweet tea. Pete and John discuss green hooded orchids and the differences between butterflies and moths. Other conversations of my past visits seem to float amongst the fluttering of the tawhairuriki leaves.

The hut book here goes back to 2010. My first visit here was 20 years ago which certainly feels like a milestone. This is my 7th trip here since 2010. The first being with Taylor, or should write without Taylor, when he was lost on the river. The ghost of that old hut and that lonely night I spent there without my son lingers. After that I did two solo trips searching for some sort of relief or answers to that experience with Taylor. None have been forthcoming, aside from the realization that places we love can hold more than just happy memories, and perhaps should for that is true life. I feel a sense of clarity scribbling these words now, my wairua, my whanau both feel soothed.

John and I then came to the old hut for the last time in 2013 for a few nights and on the way out we met Pete at Top Maropea. Another circle completed.

In 2015 I came to the then brand new hut with my other son Charlie. So to have the memories and echoes of both my sons here swirling about with the river’s song is a moving and real experience.

John and I then visited two years ago this very day for 2 more nights which brings me to today. I’m not quite sure how many that makes in total going back over 20 years but certainly enough to indicate I find this a very special spot in the Ruahine. And realize that here now I am less concerned about how many times in the past but rather simply enjoying the moments here right now. Another smile radiates through my entire being.

18 December
After sunrise
Maropea Forks hut

Another beautiful day comes to life. The birds have begun their rounds and the air seems fuller of birdsong than I recall in many years. The piwaiwaka, the titi pounamu, the miromiro are all here today. And as if on cue a lone whio landed in the pool by the little waterfall just across the river. There is again a slight chill to the morning air, and though much more of a wind it appears we are in for another hot mountain summer day.

Today we are heading over a connecting spur and ridge between the Maropea and Waikamaka valleys to Wakelings hut. I am going to head over there soon on my own. Though I have lost a lot of weight and feel very fit my pace is far slower than that of either John or Pete. And truth be written I look forward to the solitary walk and time immersed amongst the forest.

I woke up this morning thinking of Tara, feeling very refreshed. Usually when I am in the mountains, I have very vivid dreams of her. Of not being able to find her, or seeing her across a crowded room but unable to get to her, or she can’t see me. I’m sure there is a lot of meaning tangled in there but right now it feels like mountain therapy, along with work I have done out there, is revealing the truth that lies deep within. Moving my feet, breathing the mountain air, and being part of this environment has brought a certain degree of clarity. I hunger for more.

Early morning light and the symmetry of the trees.

18 December
Mid morning
Hidden in the forest

I am somewhere on the ridge connecting the Maropea valley to the Waikamaka. I'm hoping somewhere near the point where it drops to the river. My altimeter tells me I am still at 1257 metres and the hut on the river somewhere over 900 metres. So, there is a very steep drop ahead. However right now I sit in a sunny moss-covered spot on the forest floor. The accrued sweat dries. Though warm the wind whips over and in the shelter of the forest it is actually cold so this sunny wee spot beckoned strongly. Flies buzz lazily. I munch contentedly on a salami stick and drink my water. I am in no hurry. This ridge is longer than I recall and undulates from gentle to steep. Very synchronistic to my own life this year so I simply accept my toils.

Somewhere behind me Pete and John are catching up to me, their pace much faster than mine. I can wait here or go. In the mountains it boils down to simple choices.

The Waikamaka river below. Much steep work yet to be done.

In Waikamaka hut on a summer day. What to do?

Just the thing!

Pete and Robb

John and Robb. Ten years since our last visit here.

18 December
Wakelings hut

I am preparing our tea for the evening meal. Soaking shiitake mushrooms and shucking fresh peas. Pete is inside the hut writing and John has gone to meander by the river and stretch his legs. I sit here and smile at being in the company of friends who can go for a wander, do their own thing, then come together and enjoy that equally as well. I am relishing that in particular this year when the true value of friendship and what that really means to me has evolved. Quality far exceeds quantity.

I arrived here after finding that gruelling steep drop very shortly after my rest in the sunshine, and John and Pete arrived not long after. It was a very lazy afternoon, with a brief nap, a refreshing swim in a lovely pool near the hut, cups of tea or soup, conversation and making plans for our day tomorrow. We will be staying here so have the day to do whatever we wish. That is a very liberating feeling.

Right now, I have set down my peas and merely sit here writing and listening to the wind breeze through other tawhairaunui leaves in another mountain valley, as the river mutters by close below the slight rise the hut is built upon. Perhaps the music is the same as the Maropea, yet there are differences that bring a freshness and newness to what was familiar. Or maybe it is my own perception. What I do know is that right here, right now, my Te Whare Tapa Wha is okay. I’m okay.

Climbing through the forest to the Mokai Patea tops.
19 December
Early morning
Wakelings hut

I awoke this morning and had to lie there sleepily and work out what day it was and how long we have been in the mountains. I considered this a very good development. For it indicates I have moved into true Ruahine Time. That being the essential moment is the present one, and the only important measurement is lightness and dark. Which also means I have let go of outside distractions around stress or worry. That might be the greatest gift of being here. Thoughts I do have of home and my whanau are of love. I have no room right now for anything else. The river beckons.

According to the hut book no one has visited here since October, and only 7 other parties have been here this year. Four of those were flown in by helicopter. It's location and distance provide a natural barrier. So, it is a place that adds to these feelings of timelessness and solitude. I set my pen down and listen to the winds rustling through the tawhairanui leaves, the river muttering past in harmonic symphony. I take a drink of my rich dark coffee and smile at thoughts of the day ahead.

Waikamaka valley and Ruahine tops

A happy man. A ways to go yet.

At Rongotea. Warmer gear required.

John with main Ruahine range behind. Pretty cool.

19 December
Wakelings hut

Pete left after breakfast and headed downriver towards Otukota to try and spot whio, which makes sense as we head up river in the morning. After another cup of strong coffee John and I decided to climb up to the open tops high above and the Mokai Patea ranges. The highest point in the Mokai, which are part of the Ruahine, is Rongotea at 1568 metres. That was our goal. It was quite warm and muggy by the river but by the time we had climbed through the forest into the tupare and tussock the wind had picked up and it was cold. We donned some warmer gear and continued onto the tops. The views of the Ruahine were spectacular, with nearly the whole range exposed in the distant blues and closer peaks and ridges of the tussock with its golden hues and greens’ leading to slips and spurs down the valleys far below. It was truly worth the sweaty climb and effort on a supposed “rest day”. We lingered at Rongotea until the chill of the wind had us heading back down. Even now here at the river I can close my eyes and see that view. I can sense the change in the river’s song as we climb away from it, steeply, and though with great exertion always surprised at how quickly the river drops away and the music of the water fades to hushed whisper. Or the excitement of seeing the big trees gives way to the stunted tawhairaunui and finally the tupare and tussock. The hard work of the climb brings the rewards of our efforts. John Muir was absolutely spot on…

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
  John Muir

Early morning on the Waikamaka

Misty morning with Te Atuaoparapara at head of the valley.

20 December
Waikamaka hut

The day begins to fade into our final evening of this summer roam in the Ruahine. I can’t help but wish we had a few more days here to linger in the mountains, yet one mixed with how much I look forward to seeing Tara and my whanau. After 6 days I notice myself feeling fitter and coming to settled terms with my ever-lightening pack, though also notice the blisters and other bumps and bruises gathered along the way. There is nothing for it but to just enjoy this last evening, these last moments of camaraderie with fine friends, and appreciate the long walk out tomorrow and our lives out there.

We were up and off early. Last evening it began to drizzle and during the night it rained in earnest for a long while. In the morning it had stopped but it remained overcast and smelling of rain at any moment. By the time it did start raining we were several hours up river. As there was little wind in the valley the rain didn’t bother us aside from making it a wee bit harder to decide which rocks to step upon for footing. The river was fairly low and few gorges I recall nearly swimming through years ago were perhaps hip deep at best. It is a beautiful river with a lot of deep clear pools but easily walked around in most cases. It is a fairly long walk which took me about 6 hours all up. We saw one lone whio again and spent a bit of time watching as Pete took a lot of photos and worked his way as close as he could. Eventually the whio tired of us and floated off with typical whio unerring grace and dignity.

And so here we are at Wakeling for our final afternoon. John reads, as I sit in the now emerged sun and write, as Pete is off pursuing other interesting things. In the background we can here thunder and see bruised clouds rolling in. It won’t worry us much either way.

I felt a twinge of anxiety start to well up inside me as I was walking up the river. It was raining fairly hard at the time and with adjusting to the footing on wet rocks the dull ache in my hip began to come to my present mind. I have battled anxiety this year, and have for my whole life without knowing it until recently. When I first came to the Ruahine I can recall getting worried about what might happen, particularly when lying in my sleeping bag at night, what if rivers flooded, or too much wind and cloud on the tops, what gear I had and so on. Eventually I think it was the mountains themselves that began to bring clarity to something I didn’t even know was occurring. That was by simply being in a place I loved, the Ruahine. It brought an inner peace and contentment – even if a thin layer – and soothed my jangled nerves and running thoughts. Only this year when developing recognition and strategies in dealing with it did I see that in the past. So today I simply focused on my breathing, on looking at the strengths I possess rather than my faults and weakness. I thought of the company of the friends I was with on the river and how they adapted themselves to my pace and my presence. And then I felt peaceful and calm totally cognizant of the moment and place and of the tears in my eyes, as they are now. These are the rare moments when mind, body, spirit, and those we love become supportive equally of each other. Te Whare Tapa Wha. Today on the river was one. Kia kaha!

One of many falls on the Waikamaka

Green pool and tawhairanui leaves shining. 

John and Pete walking up river


Pete photographing the whio. 

21 December 2018
Waikamaka hut

The dawn is a pallid dull grey and mist swirls about the ridges and higher peaks. Though it isn’t raining it feels as if the skies will burst forth with showers with the slightest provocation. Our task is fairly straight forward. Climb up the side creek below the hut, find the route leading out of it and climb up to Waipawa saddle, then climb down the other side to the Waipawa river and up it to re-join eventually with Sunrise track and complete our 6 day loop.

My mood feels somewhat the same as the weather, a sense of melancholia envelopes me. It is not depression or even great sadness, but rather a lingering loneliness that will not be satiated until I again appear at the entrance to the Ruahine bearing a load on my back.

It has been a full six days of open tops, forested spurs and ridges, battling down and up side creeks and wandering along 3 different mountain rivers. We have had a full adult portion of the Ruahine. We have said Kia Ora to the whio, miro miro, piwaikwaka, titi pounamu, kereru, kareara, the trout, deer, and a myriad of insects, butterflies and moths I never had considered before.

Kia ora to Pete and John for their knowledge, experience, company and friendship.

Kia ora, most of all to the Ruahine…I’m not done here yet!

Unuhia, unuhia
 Unuhia ki te uru tapu nui
 Kia wātea, kia māmā, te ngākau, te tinana, te wairua i te ara takatā
Koia rā e Rongo, whakairia ake ki runga
 Kia tina! TINA! Hui e! TĀIKI E!

Draw on, draw on,
 Draw on the supreme sacredness
 To clear, to free the heart, the body and the spirit of mankind
 Rongo, suspended high above us (i.e. in ‘heaven’)
Draw together! Affirm!

Kia ora!

30 December 2018


Beth said...

Robb, this is the first thing IveI read on this last day of the year, and I appreciated every word you've written. Thank you for this moving account of your days in the Ruahine, with the places and people I've come to care about a lot. Happy New Year, and may these memories sustain you during "ordinary time" out in the non-natural world. Sending love from the other side of it!

Unknown said...

Great trip Robb such beautiful country, it just melts and centers your heart and soul we wish you and your family all the best for the new year.