Whirinaki Forest Park

18/19 May 2024.

It was a cold frosty morning in Taradale when 6 hardy souls departed for the weekend’s trip to the Whirinaki Forest Park. There was a lot of traffic on the Napier- Taupo road, so no danger of icy conditions. We turned off at the upper entrance of Pohokura road, crossing the bridge and a left turn onto Waipunga road. Initially a very bumpy ride due to the pumice, potholes and a couple of fords, arriving at the Plateau Road end just before 10.00am.  The group split into three; two  going to Central Whirinaki, two going to Upper Whirinaki Hut via Taumutu Stream, and two took the direct route to Upper Whirinaki. 

Upper Whirinaki Hut: The direct route to Upper Whirinaki  was initially  uphill, then an undulating track along the ridgeline with some very large beech trees, rimu’s and smaller totaras. As it was a coolish day there was not much birdlife – we saw a small flock of whiteheads, heard a couple of tui/bellbirds and saw a kereru.

There were lots of vantage points with views of the surrounding countryside and we took advantage of these to have snack stops. Began the descent down a steepish track to the upper reaches of the Whirinaki river which we crossed twice, then followed a cleared track for 15 minutes to the hut. DOC has been clearing tracks in this area, making travel very easy.  We arrived at Upper Whirinaki Hut about 1.00pm, had lunch and gathered wood for the fire and generally chilled out. The lads appeared about 5.00pm, appreciating that hot water was available.

Upper Whirinaki  hut is looked after by the Dept of Conservation and the Rotorua deerstalkers, who have painted a head of a red deer on the door. It is a 9 bunk hut, but unlike similar huts in this park, the top bunks have plenty of head room. We whiled away the hours having plenty of brews, dinner and talking about future hikes. 

Sunday morning we were away at 8.10am, all together until we reached the river, with one returning via the uphill track the ladies had descended yesterday. The other 3 crisscrossed the river, clambered over fallen logs, across slippery rocks. DOC had also been clearing along this track, placing new track markers and cutting steps into fallen logs. Two whio were seen along the way and one was heard in the small gorge section. There were a couple of incidents on the way out, one saw her pack bounce off the track into the river after taking it off to clamber over a large fallen tree and about half an hour later she trod on a slippery rock, totally soaking herself and her pack (oh for pack liners!), much to her companions amusement. It took 1.45 hours to reach the swingbridge on the Lower  Whirinaki track,then turned left, beginning the continuous uphill.

 Just past the turnoff to the cave, in a sunny spot they lazed for approx. 20mins. The track winds in and out of sunshine, into shade, then back into the sun, with lots of mountain cabbage trees lining the track.  The car park was reached just short of the four hour mark and it became a Chinese laundry as wet gear was draped over trees.

Central Whirinaki Hut:  Two groups went along the Lower Whirinaki Track, the tortoises catching up with the hares every now and then: once when they had stopped to do some map and compass training, once when they visited the cave and a third time as they were leaving Central Whirinaki hut on their way to Upper Whirinaki Hut.  In this amazing forest it couldn’t be anything other than an enjoyable trip in, while the cold seemed to have limited the bird life the variety of fungi certainly made up for it.  The traps along the track appeared to have  been recently maintained but we still found 2 rats and 1 stoat in them.

 It took just under 4 hours for the second pair to reach Central Whirinaki Hut and they were the only ones there.  The hut book showed relatively full huts in the previous weekends and given the brilliantly sunny weather it was surprising that no one else was there.  After a  rest they had a look around the river photographing tomtits and robins and then carried on up the track to where previously there had been a short tunnel which has now been daylighted.  They then collected firewood and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.  

 It is a largish hut (25 bunks) in a cold spot and there was only wet fire wood  so it took quite some time to get some warmth. After tea they had a game of cards then one went to bed while the other tried many times to win at Patience before too retiring.

The next morning more firewood was collected before starting the return to the van, about 8.20. Bird life was more evident on Sunday, presumably because it was warmer,  and Robins were singing the whole way along the track. Just before the Taumutu Stream they spied a couple of Blue Ducks in the river  and spent time photographing them. Then 2 more appeared and they spent the next 10 minutes arguing over whose spot it was flying backwards and forwards.    They caught up with two of the Upper Whirinaki party basking  in the sunshine just after the cave and all made our way back to the van’ at our preferred speed.

Opureke Track:   On the way out we stopped at the entrance to the Opureke track and wandered up this for 20 mins, to do a recee for a future tramp. On the way up, a short track led us to a magnicent matai tree with a huge girth. We continued on the 4 wheel drive track and followed the Orureke  track’s orange markers for a while, before returning to the van and departing for home. As we neared the hills, rain began to set in and continued till Sunday night.

 Party: Simon W, Murry A, Anne D ,  Susan L, Peter B & Glenda H

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