How long has it been since you have been in to Waitewaewae?
30 odd years I suppose, says I, reflecting back on my younger days working for the then New Zealand Forest Service (now known as DOC).I haven’t even seen the new replacement hut built 20 years ago.
Right, says Tramper, Let’s get our backsides into gear and go and have a squizz, besides, it will be a good walk for us and a chance to get some miles under our boots in our build up for our summer adventures. Memories take me back to my last walk out of Waitewaewae one very hot Sunday in 1977. I was a young lad of 18 with legs the size of ski poles, I carried the back end and head of a large stag for 12 hours to get it back to the wagon That was one very long day.12 hours of agony, up Arapito stream and across the Plateau, then suffering from a severe case of shaky leg syndrome, down Saddle creek, out the sidle track between the old steel and log tram-lines, down to and across the Otaki and Waiotauru rivers and finally up the steep climb onto the road to arrive at the car park across the Roaring Meg totally knackered.
I took a swig on my cheap glass of Shiraz and stealing myself I says, let’s do it.
Arriving at the cark park beside the care takers house I felt very much at home. I was born in Otaki both naked and illiterate and so I had a pretty hard start in life. My Grandfather I believe secured the very first permit to catch Possums in the Tararua Forest Park or at least up the Gorge.
My earliest recollections of the Gorge started on my fifth birthday. My present was to be a weekend running behind my Dad clearing his trap line. Dad ran trap line up the Gorge for 20 years almost every weekend since he was a kid. Although I was mostly clothed at this stage my illiteracy was still very evident. I can remember vividly that first night, we were lying on a floor of an old worn out hut, darkness surrounding us, the night birds and sounds seeping through the holes and cracks of the broken down hovel. The glow of my Fathers cigarette as he lay beside me brought comfort and excitement of the next day kept me from sleeping. The reason we were up there that night instead of coming up in the morning was that tomorrow we were to have a crack at shooting a Deer, hence a very early start. At this stage of life my Dad knew little of Deer stalking he was a possum trapper, it paid the bills. The highlight of the hunt next morning was being made to stand on a waste high rock exposed out on a grassy flat in the dimness of early morning.I had to stay on the rock while Dad stalked a crackling sound in the gloomy, supple jack infested bush not 15 meters from my rock, Dad was soon swallowed up by the trees and the poor light but after a few tense minutes all hell broke loose, a huge black heaving mass of Bush Bull burst exploding out of the trees, broken branches flying through the air the beast charged up the flat passing so close to me I could smell him, Dad walked up to me and lifted me off my rock and said “that was exciting boy”, I was more than ready for home after that.
Years later my friends some of which I still have today and myself spent endless hours learning to hunt deer and to drive on gravel roads up the Gorge and dodge the massive Bush Bulls.
The Otaki forks gets its name because the Waiotauru, Otaki and Waitatapia rivers converge on each other all within a few hundred meters, the Otaki being the largest river maintains its name and flows on down to the Kapiti coast.
How things change, where once the old wooden walk bridge (a welcome sight for the returning tired and weary) spanned the Waiotauru river, a spanking new steel contraption now stands, all be it a little downstream and I’m not sure but the one across the Otaki seems pretty new to me too.
The new walk bridge across the Waiotauru.
Waiting always waiting
The weather was cool and once we had dropped down and crossed the Otaki we moved up the sidle track toward Saddle Creek, catching glimpses of the Waitatapia stream way below us.
The bridge across the Otaki seems new too.
We stopped every now and again to take pictures of the old tram lines. I am fascinated by the tram lines running the length of the sidle track up to the old steam powered log hauler just off Saddle creek, they hold a special interest for me, my Grandfather was a mill boss up here in in the old days and had he been alive when I was old enough to be inquisitive I would have had some stories to extract from him, but life was hard on men in those days and I grew up not ever having had a conversation with him.
From 1927-1930 D.Corrigan operated a mill towards the bottom of the Waitatapia stream, later in 1931 it was moved a mile upstream where it continued operating until around 1936.The main reason I wanted to do this trip was to get photos of the hauler and tram tracks that fed massive Rimu logs to the mill. The Otaki gorge was a different place 100 years ago, it was a hive of activity, with mills cutting down huge amounts of native hard woods such as Rimu, Matai and Totara.
Tramper checking out the past
the bush is slowly over taking the tracks.
In some places the wooden sleepers have survived.
training the ferocious Tussock, the wonder dog between the rails.
Eventually we made to the remains of the old steam powered log hauler. Things had changed, in my day you could walk past it without noticing the old relic was hidden away amongst the Punga ferns and thick supple jack, now it enjoys a place of prominence and rightly so, a wonderful photo opportunity and a wee insight to a time hopefully long past. After taking the required images we were off, knowing full well what was ahead of us immediately.
the lag hauler enjoys a place of prominence and rightly so.
Now let me tell you I’ve done some pretty boring walks in my day but Saddle Creek seems to me my second most miserable, the first prize goes to Marchant ridge the worst forced march on the face of the earth, anyway up Saddle creek we go, over slippery rocks and banks, in, out, around and over water dripping rotting trees. Time slows to a stand still, the boots fill with water and the lack of visual stimulus makes the mind hallucinate.
After about 3 years we make the top of the creek and amuse ourselves with lunch and a quick cuppa.
Nowadays life’s easy from this point onwards, years ago the Plateau was a bog from hell, now, even in early spring the place is easy to skip over, not that I was skipping being a long way from peak fitness, I was dragging the chain slowing Tramper down but still happy at the track improvements. Eventually some 5 hours from leaving the wagon I stumbled up to the hut door and marvell at the new hut, anyone who is acquainted with the old hut will know what I mean, it was a bit of a hovel to say the least. The new hut although seemingly in a bit of a strange place for a hut, attracts heaps on internal light, is roomy and allows 30 people at a pinch to sleep in dryness.
The gloomy sky had been whisked away and now the sun shone brightly on the Otaki River, in the 70s a bunch of bright sparks from the city decided just downstream was a great place to build a dam and create a power house.
The Otaki River is a very beautiful place both upstream and downstream from the hut looking at the sunlight filtering through the trees onto the river I’m so glad those idiots didn’t get their way.
For those who might be interested the trip downstream from here to the mouth of Penn creek may be the last you ever take, but in our day there were heaps of deer and gazillions of fat Trout, it was a wild adventure getting down the gorge, do it in late summer it really is a great adventure, don’t take a inflatable and cheat walk it. Upstream from the hut had good numbers of deer, the upper/mid Otaki always held very good numbers and one never really had to leave the river bed to score, going by the amount of sign in the creek things haven’t changed that much Tramper got photos of a mob of Goats just upstream just before the forks of the Otaki and Waitewaewae My favourite place for a deer was the clearings up the Waitewaewae stream, sometimes at night but mostly first light. It was fantastic just to reacquaint myself to one of the most well known hunting spots in the Tararuas.
The trip back out the next day was exactly the same as the coming in but in reverse and it rained….. hard….. and I got wet……….. as usual.