10 October 2021
Sunday, October 10th, 2021 saw 17 Heretaunga Tramping Club members walking various sections of the Makairo Track east of Dannevirke in the Waewaepa Range. We had walked this track from the western end to the saddle in October 2019 and it was so lovely members told us we should do it more often. The track was once a road joining the Pahiatua and Coonoor areas but it fell into disrepair in the 1970s. It is currently being “upgraded” by the 4W Drive fraternity and is used by mountain bikers as well as trampers and deer hunters. The weather was windy and cool but dry as we made our way through the muddy tracks. Much of the bush had been cleared on the road side to allow the easier passage of vehicles. However, without this extra precipitation-catching material, walking involved trudging through the muddy quagmire at times. Luckily there were no vehicles using the road that day.
We regrouped at the saddle to discuss options after which one group headed across the tops towards high point 789 while three others decided to follow the road back westwards through the Waewaepa Reserve and the other end of the road agreeing to meet back at the saddle. Most of those who opted to trek to the high point gave up battling their way through a goblin forest and bush bashing through waist high divaricating coprosma and, after lunching back at the saddle, walked westwards to meet the road party. Three intrepid members carried on and eventually and got to the high point.
As part of the group that headed down the road, we soon came across three fully-equipped deer hunters. They had got a few shots off and thought they had hit a target but could not find anything in the thick bush. We had passed extensive areas of deer footprints in the mud along the trail, so it was a very active area. I almost stepped on a very clean three-point deer antler which had been shed. But we didn’t see any deer that day. The track from the saddle westwards is an utter mess, a result of the 4WD club doing the track “up”, and what was a lovely grassy tree lined track 2 years ago is now a quagmire with much of the vegetation severely slashed. We were not impressed and unfortunately the track up from the eastern side will no doubt become a similar state as there is a 4WD working bee in November to do further work (damage) to the track. We met up on the return trip with the three that came to join us and then made our way back to the saddle and the rest of the parties.
The High Point Party: The bush was actually really easy going compared to a lot of bush bashing I’ve done in the past, but it kept pushing us left as this was where the more open goblin forest was in the lee of the more exposed ridge. The top here was really quite flat with no defined ridge and we needed a compass to keep in the general direction that we wanted to go. The trick in this type of country is to follow the easiest routes that lead in the general direction of travel and then try to get back onto the ridge every now and then, this worked particularly well when only 10 minutes after we left the others we found that the easier path we were following was actually a cut track, this wasn’t marked but reasonably well cut with a trap line on it and we followed it with very little trouble until lunchtime.
There were some good views in places and very interesting vegetation. On the return trip we did wander onto a side track for a couple of minutes, but soon picked up that we were travelling at 90 degrees to our intended route. It turns out that the track from the saddle goes out to the west almost level with the saddle for some distance in the clear country and then climbs up through a grassy face to enter the bush, now that we know where the track is it would be well worth the effort to return and try to get all the way through.
Everyone thought it was tiger country but it turned out to only be a pussy with a bit of attitude.
Clambering back into the vehicles, we headed back towards Dannevirke. But the trip leaders, Peter and Glenda pulled yet another surprise out of the hat for us. They wanted to show us a special spot, 15 kms. from Dannevirke on the Weber Road. The well-worn reserve sign signalled the way into the circular track. Leaving our packs behind, we descended the track into the reserve.
It was as if we had hopped into the Tardis and travelled back to the 1870s. According to the NZ Places Website, the reserve is “An accessible area (8 hectares) of lowland mixed podocarp forest, fortunate to escape the heady timber milling days.” It is difficult to discover exactly why this area did not experience the fate of the rest of the Seventy Mile Bush which encompassed what are now the towns of Norsewood, Dannevirke , Pahiatua and Eketahuna in the Tararua District and reached right into Hawkes Bay to the outskirts of Takapau and Maraekakaho. There were many timber mills operating in and around Dannevirke during this period. So the pressure was on to clear the bush. (Rob McDonald, Dannevirke, The Early Years). But perhaps enlightened councillors or land owners set this area aside as they did the Anzac Reserve and others. “A remnant was saved in 1888, the Mount Bruce Forest Reserve, now the site of the Pukaha / Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre.” (Wikipedia).
We walked amongst these giants with every few metres eliciting exclamations or just silent admiration of these odes to Aotearoa’s past. “A giant Totara, said to be one of the largest in New Zealand is a feature.” (Parks and reserves, Tararua District Council). This claim is supported by NZ Places, “Claims of a Totara tree rivalling the largest ever found are disputed, but indisputably there is an impressively large Totara on the loop track near the entrance to the reserve.” Two people started a circle with outstretched arms to surround it but we missed our chance to join in. It would have taken quite a few of us to encircle this impressive specimen. The importance and sheer magnitude of this treasure trove reserve and its 1 kilometre loop track was underpinned by Mike Thorsen (2003) who catalogued the 214 plant species in the area with 159 being native.
One of our new HTC members and native plant expert, Marie, was able to further highlight this little gem of a reserve for us. “Mangatoro Reserve is a gorgeous remnant of podocarp forest tucked into a terrace of the Mangatoro River south of Dannevirke. The bush is in stunningly good condition, with an impressive understorey of regenerating tawa. All the podocarps are present: matai, totara, miro, rimu and kahikatea. One way to tell the podocarps apart is to pick up leaves from the base of the trees and study their leaf shapes. Rimu has weeping branchlets, miro feathery leaves which come to a sharp point, matai rounded leaves with a little tiny tip, totara with sharp prickly leaves, and kahikatea, scale like leaves. Marie laid a small specimen on the bonnet of a vehicle and gave us a fact-finding demonstration of how to name the various podocarp specimens before heading home. A perfect end to another amazing Heretaunga Tramping Club excursion.
Party: Peter B Alan P, Susan L, Murry A, David M, Christine S, Anthea C, Paula K, Daniel H, Janice L, Anne D, Jude H, Marie T, Derek B, Vivian X, Simon W, and Glenda H.