Camping at Lake Waikaremoana

December 9th, 2005

The journey to Lake Waikaremoana was fairly uneventful, we left Rotorua on the 5th of December, early in the morning. It was a fairly calm day with a little drizzle and some rain. The roads were quiet and we drove on stopping occasionally to allow Diarmuid to stretch his legs. We knew however that the hard part lay ahead, State Highway 38 would soon start. It began well enough as we turned off from Route 5, it wasn’t quite as good as a motorway, but the roads were sealed. I began to think that maybe the horror stories we’d been told weren’t true or that major roadworks had occured. A sign soon put paid to that hope, “105km of Unsealed Road.”

Eventually we reached the gravel stage of the road and Diarmuid greatly reduced his speed to around 50kmph. SH38 winds through Te Urewera National Park and the deep valleys are quite spectacular. Unfortunately, it was quite a miserable day in the high places of the park but the clouds added their own mystique to the views. The road was a new experience for me as I’ve never been on a gravel road that continued for such a length of time, add to that the constant winding nature of it and the frequent hair pin bends with steep gorges just outside my window.
It was a lot of fun. Diarmuid didn’t find it as much fun but then he was driving and had to dodge the locals who though infrequent would come tearing round these hairpin corners at close to 80kmph possibly some of them pushing higher speeds. If cars were stuck behind us, Diarmuid would pull in and let them pass when he could and I’d watch in amusement as they tore ahead of us. New Zealand drivers are very interesting (read as dangerous) at times. Though I jibed Diarmuid at how slow and cautious he was driving, in truth I think he did an excellent job.

Shortly before we arrived at the Lake Waikaremoana Motor Camp we stopped at the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre, a DOC visitor centre for Te Urewera National Park. Diarmuid wanted to get as much information as possible about the walk and also had to confirm his booking for the Great Walk. While I was waiting I took a look around the place and there was a small display on the Maori who lived in the area during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The dominant theme of the display was their conversion to Christianity and the subsequent rising of one of the Maori from the area who claimed to be Jesus Christ come again. It was reallly quite an interesting exhibition with a few museum pieces and colourful displays about the history, geology and plants of Te Urewera. Seemingly Lake Waikaremoana is just above a fault line. I pointed this out to Diarmuid who is very hopeful that he’ll experience an earthquake while we’re here.

We checked in to the Motor Camp and picked a site. After taking a closer look at it, I suggested we move to another site. This is when we found that the car wouldn’t start. It had a problem in Rotorua and it had now reoccurred. Diarmuid still believed that the battery was to blame, I wasn’t sure. The battery seemed fine to me and it had been fully charged in Rotorua. I pushed the car most of the way to the new site I’d picked before it got stuck and I couldn’t push it any further. With Diarmuid’s help, we got it parked on a reasonably good site. We set up our tent and Diarmuid then took a look at the car. He wasn’t so sure about the battery anymore, he thought it was fine as well, though we still hoped a jumpstart would fix it when we needed to leave like it had in Rotorua. We were miles away from the nearest town and I didn’t fancy getting stuck at the lake.

The car was forgotten about for the time being as Diarmuid was heading on a four day hike the next day and he had to get his bag packed. A few hours later, he was eventually happy that he had everything he needed and that he had cut the weight of his bag down as much as possible. The next morning he got up early to catch his taxi to the starting point, I wished him luck as he left and then rolled back round in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. I spent the next three days and three nights while Diarmuid was away, having a very pleasant time just resting up in my tent, reading a few books and occasionally doing some other things such as cooking.

For the first time on this trip I cooked some proper dinners. It was nice to be able to eat a simple dinner of some meat, potatoes and another vegetable. I had to be a little creative in the kitchen though as no cooking utensils were provided and I wasn’t bothered enough to go round to the office and hire out some pots and things. It worked out very well though, I would bake the potatoes in the oven and cook the meat under the grill and boil the carrot or brocolli in my steel mug on a hotplate. As an added bonus, it saved on the washing up.

Camping can be very restful, since it tends to be quiet and you don’t have to go rushing around doing anything. Unfortunately the silence of the lake was disturbed by two school groups on a trip, as its the time of year for school trips here in New Zealand. Indeed, Diarmuid when he came back complained about the number of school kids on the walk. All in all, they weren’t too bad, indeed compared to some scout camps I’ve been on they were exceptionally quiet. Mealtimes were a bit awkward though, since they tended to take over the kitchen and one night I didn’t get eating my dinner until 10 o’clock. For the most part, they were away on canoe trips or fishing. I meanwhile was quite content in my tent listening to the rain tapping on the canvas above my head. There is something very soothing and enjoyable about listening to rain falling on a canvas tent. When the tent was dry the first wave of drops would create patterns on the canvas that the sun would then shine through.

My appetite for books was voracious, I finished “Oliver Twist” on the first night and the next day I finished reading the third part of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” Next I read “The Princess Bride” in 24 hours and started to read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I finished on the third day that Diarmuid had been away on the walk. I would occasionally grin evilly to myself as I thought of him out in the rain, while I was dry and warm in my tent.

As Lake Waikaremoana is in the middle of nowhere with no major urban centres for many miles around, light pollution is non-existent and one night in particular when there were no clouds in the night sky, the stars and moon were very visible and it was easy to pick out Mars and Venus in the evening sky. I also got one of my clearest views of the moon that I’ve ever had and the craters were extremely crisp with the aid of a pair of binoculars I bought in Auckland.

One morning I was eating my breakfast and there was a German couple sitting fairly close near by. As I was walking back into the kitchen I noticed that the man was videoing the man and I stopped, muttering “Entschuldigung.” He waved me on saying it was OK and I thought nothing of it. A few minutes later we were all in the kitchen, they were doing their washing up and I went over to the water boiler which was right above their sink and got some water for my mug of coffee. There were talking to each other in German when next thing I see the guy’s hand waving in front of my face and I suddenly realise that they’re actually talking to me. I then explain in English that I’m actually Irish and not German. The woman then says…”But, outside” and I finished the sentence for her, “Yes, outside I said Entschuldigung” and then explain that I know a little German from studying it about seven years ago. It’s fairly easy to be mistaken for English, Scottish, American or even Australian here but the fact that a German had mistaken me for a German really made my day.

I also went on some of the short walks in the vicinity of the motor camp. One evening I made up way up the Hinau walk to Whaitiri Point and the site where the Lake house Hotel used to be situated. It was a very pleasant walk along a light dappled track and some fascinating trees, including some mighty northern rata and many silver beech trees. I started up the Ngamoko track just acoss the road from where the Hinau walk ends and got some very good views of the lake from clearings in the trees.

The next day I made my way along the Black Beech walk which takes you to the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. The Black Beech walk follows the old road which was replaced when the lake was lowered 5 metres in 1946. It was really clear that it was an old road and you could easily imagine a horse drawn cart coming round one of the many corners. The walk provided some more spectacular views of the lake and there were one or two points when I wished I hadn’t given my camera to Diarmuid for his walk.

When I reached the centre I followed the Hinerau Walk and the Aniwaniwa Falls Track which take you close to the three different waterfalls in the area which are collectively known as Aniwaniwa falls. I was able to climb down from the Hinerau walk to the rocks at the edge of the river and I scrambled over these huge boulders to get a better look at the roaring falls. The Aniwaniwa river was clearly deep and very fast flowing and it was exhilirating to clamber around and jump from rock to rock. I noticed a small beach on the other side of the river and I tried to figure out how I would get down to it. After clambering back up the slope to the track grabbing on to convenient roots and rocks I returned back to the track and then the centre. The Aniwaniwa Falls Track gives some better views from the actual viewpoints but was more difficult to climb down. I did find my way down to the beach and there was even an overhanging cliff face at the edge of the beech. I considered whether it would be suitable for camping and I think it might though DOC might frown upon that. I found a stick lying on the ground and used that to see how deep the water was, it would have reached well up to my waist and that was more than enough to keep me from even considering taking one step out in a more shallow part. Using the stick to help me back up the slippy slope I finished the walk where it reached a dead end beside the river bank. It was truly a sight to behold this huge winding river, I thought it would be fantastic for canoeing and possibly fishing if wasn’t too deep. Unfortunately, when I tested the depth right at the edge of the riverbank, it couldn’t reach the bottom and hence would at least have been up to my chest.

Speaking of fishing, I did try my hand again a couple of times but no luck, indeed I only saw one fish jump in my time at the lake and maybe one or two other rises. It was infuriating to see the hatches of flies but not a single fish was rising for them. From talking to another fisherman there, it just seemed that there was nothing happening with dry fly but that spinning out on the lake in a boat was worthwhile. This was proven to me when I saw a man come back from a day’s fishing on the lake with two fine trout in his hand. I saw him put the fish into a plastic bag in a freezer and when he actually left for home a day later, he collected two large plastic bags full of frozen fish that he’d caught.

Diarmuid back from his walk on the 9th and he had somewhere found Marcus along the way. It turns out that they’d met at the start of the track and Marcus and walked round the lake with Diarmuid. After having settled himself, Diarmuid then turned to business as he always does and got cracking on the car. He got talking to a man who worked round the motor camp and tried to jump start the car with the use of his tractor. This didn’t do a think like we had half hoped since it had worked in Rotorua, a few more attempts at trying to figure out the problem but to no avail. He told us about a local mechanic and Diarmuid rang him up. He promised to come by the next morning with a specialist electrician who happened to be visiting. Sure enough the next day around noon, the mechanic turned up with this electrician in tow. I was just about to head back to the waterfalls to take some photos when they arrived and decided to stick around. Within two minutes and about 30 seconds work, the electrician had got the motor running with a quick short tap at some part of the engine. It turned out that the brushes in the starter motor were worn and needed replacing. With the engine started, Diarmuid didn’t want to turn it off, so we quickly broke camp, packed our stuff away. (All of which had been taken out of the boot as Diarmuid wanted it empty in case the mechanics had to take the car away.) Within half an hour we were on the road and I never did get to take those photos.

A New Beginning

December 4th, 2005

On Tuesday 29th of November, Diarmuid became the proud (if slightly cautious) owner of a 1993 Mitsubishi Galant V6. Mitsubishi Galant He was wary of the few spots of rust in out of the way places but in my opinion there was little wrong with the car seeing as it is 12 years old. Though today we did have a bit of a scare when the engine wouldn’t start. After getting a jumpstart, it’s back up and running but the battery seems to be fine, so we’re a little confused as to what happened.

We left Auckland a day later than planned, last Thursday, as I found that I needed one extra day in Auckland to get a few things done, primarily sorting out the photos that were left on my camera and packing and organising my gear. Diarmuid was a little annoyed, seeing as I had been very eager to leave Auckland, but in the end I was surprised at how quickly we were ready to leave. On the Monday that he bought the car I had been thinking that it was likely that we’d be staying for another week, but in the end it was very quick.

On Thursday we set off for Rotorua. It was a glorious day, the sun was pouring rays of heat down upon us as we travelled along the motorway and roads, listening to music. Halfway through I switched to The Beach Boys and that lasted us for most of the rest of the journey. Having got some information with regard to accomodation and activities, we stocked up on some food from the local PAK’n’SAVE and headed to Kuirau Park to have our lunch. I then started to walk around and take some pictures, but unfortunately the battery ran out after only a few pictures and I cursed myself for not having charged it in Auckland before we left as I continued to walk around the impressive steaming pools and the pits of bubbling mud. Which brings me to perhaps the most noticeable thing about Rotorua which is the smell. Depending on how close you are to the geothermal areas you get the constant stench of sulphur and other foul smelling chemicals. Admittedly it is quite bearable most of the time but occasionally a strong whiff of rotton eggs is carried by the wind and I find myself gagging when this happens. Diarmuid claims that it smells no worse than Dublin, I beg to disagree.

Having walked around and enjoyed the sights of Kairau park, we left for the Waiteti Trout Stream Holiday Park whose brochure had grabbed my attention with a trout prominent in its logo. We soon settled in and I quickly did a reconnaissance of the river after talking to the owner who said that several trout had been caught and that a particularily large one had been seen. I didn’t catch a glimpse of a fish, but I did get the feeling that there was plenty of fish in the river and there were plenty of places for them to hide. The river leads down to Lake Rotorua and I sat there for a while. On the way down we had passed a group of local children who were playing and jumping in the river and their whoops and the splashes as they jumped into the river could be heard clearly. All in all, the place struck me as a very pleasant sort of area to live.

Back to the site and a quick lookover of the facilities and then we proceeded to put up our tent. I went for another walk along the river and read some of “All Creatures Great and Small” down by the lake. As I was sitting there a small rowboat with the couple who were camping beside us went by and out on to the lake. They had a few fishing rods with them. I returned to the campsite again and got my own rod out to try casting. My first few attempts were woeful but I quickly improved to at least something passable as a cast. I didn’t see anything let alone catch something. The couple arrived back a little after I did, but their trip had been much more profitable, they had caught two fish. The husband had caught a small trout, which at home would have been a reasonable result of a days fishing but his wife had caught a monster of a trout, as big as a salmon. Talking to them, it turned out that they were from Dublin and Wicklow respectively. The husband, Ben was a keen fisherman back home and was sorely missing his fishing rod which he’d been unable to take with him on his travels so far but was hoping to get at least his fishing vest taken over for him by a friend at Christmas.

After I’d finished my dinner, I had a chat with Ben about fishing as he was filleting the small trout, the big one was already being smoked. With such trout obviously being around I went for another walk down the river, but still not a sign. I knew they were there but just couldn’t see them and they were no rises. I turned back a little downhearted when I heard a plop. I stopped and looked back trying to find the telltale rings. I couldn’t so I turned to leave, “Plop,” I heard it again and turned around, then again “Plop.” I had caught that one but couldn’t believe my eyes, it was one of the smallest fish I’d ever seen jump. I wasn’t even sure if it was a fish, but again and again the little fish jumped and fell back again into the river. I crouched, gazing in wonder at it for about five minutes and then turned back to the site. Diarmuid met me on the way and as we had just reached the boundary of the campsite, I heard what sounded like a rise and Diarmuid had seen it. I heard another rise to my right and then another to my left. That was enough, I went back to the campsite and got my rod and spent a few minutes casting a nymph, but the fish didn’t show any more interest and I didn’t hear or see another thing.

I made my way to the kitchen where I met Ben and his wife Jenny again. They invited me to sit down and try some of the smoked trout which was just about ready. With a glass of wine, a slice of tomato, I ate some small pieces of the trout. It was delicious, the smoking had added a rich taste to the fish which was quite unlike anything else I’ve eaten. Diarmuid joined us at the table and he too tried some of the fish. We spent the next couple of hours talking about fishing, films, home and travelling. Midnight wasn’t long in coming and by that stage Ben and myself had both comitted ourselves to getting up at 05:30 the next morning to do some fishing. Ben had been invited by the handyman on the campsite to come do some fishing with him and I was welcome to join them, but figured I’d be better just having a go on the river.

I eventually went to sleep, but woke a couple of times most noticeably at 04:30 when I heard an unearthly scream from some animal or bird. I fell asleep again only to be wakened by my alarm at 05:30. I quickly turned it off and considered my options, whether to get up and go fishing or just go back to sleep. I almost went back to sleep but forced myself out of the tent. Ben was up a minute or two later and then his guide arrived. He set Ben’s rod up and added a large fly, followed by a smaller fly below that one. The larger one looked big. Then then went off in the handyman’s car and I started down the river looking for any scene of a rising trout. There were none. When I made it to the mouth of the river, I met another fisherman who appeared to be a local. There had been no activity for him either and though he had floated a fly twice over the same trout, he said it hadn’t moved, that it was in a coma. “It’s too cold but when it warms up, it should send the trout in from the lake.” I thanked him for his advice as he left for home to get a mug of coffee. I returned back to my tent and went back to sleep, an hour had been enough for me and I was very tired.

A couple of hours later, I got back home. Ben had arrived back and though he’d seen plenty of trout, he hadn’t caught anything. They left that morning and I occasionally kept an eye on the river but the only thing breaking the water’s surface were the many ducks entering and leaving the water. At first at each sound, I would raise my head, but I soon realised that it was only the ducks.

I spent the rest of the day reading “All Creatures Great and Small,” which I finished yesterday and then proceeded to continue with “Oliver Twist. ” Fly fishing is a bit doubtful at the moment on the river and dry flies seem hopeless as the trout don’t appear to be feeding at the surface which is infuriating as there’s plenty of flies around. Still the weather has been very good with the sun beating down. My arms got burned the day before yesterday but that should hopefully even out the colour on my hands. Tomorrow (ie. Monday), we’re leaving here and heading for Lake Waikaremoana where Diarmuid is going on a four day hike. I’m going to go fishing and hopefully even catch something. Right now, things appear to be going well and the start of this new plan has been quite enjoyable for me.

The Plan Changes

November 27th, 2005

After the walk from Cape Reinga, it was clear to me that walking New Zealand was not going to happen. I knew that I hadn’t done enough research on the route and that I had the wrong equipment with me. In truth, I am convinced that we need some sort of support mechanism. Ideally, a support vehicle with people who know where we are and can travel on the road from town to town to help us and organise things if anything should go wrong while we are on the trail. That, or you’d need to have friends all over New Zealand, which I currently don’t have. Although in truth that option might not be all that viable in some of the places that the route would take us. This is not to say that the route couldn’t be followed without support, it can of course but I think for us, with our little experience, it would be foolish to continue with the original plan.

When we left Te Paki stream and in Paihia, I thought Diarmuid was of the same opinion and that he was quite happy to forget the plan and continue with something else. As far as I knew, he’d had just as hard a time on the walk as I had, and indeed his recuperation in Paihia seemed more needed, his legs were quite unwilling to cooperate when we walked into the town to get some food. My only problem was the few blisters on my feet, which caused me to limp slightly. I’ve since found out, how mad Diarmuid truly is. Even at Te Paki stream, he was watching the two distant dots of our neighbours from the night before and he wanted to follow them, he wanted to continue on to Ahipara. Madness! I wanted off that beach and into somewhere with food, water and shade.

We’ve now agreed to buy a car and instead of walk New Zealand, to drive from place to place and do various things at these places. Camping is still high on the agenda, (although I believe our opinions on what camping is, vastly differs). As far as I’m concerned the walking was only a means to an end first and something I wanted to do second. I have many other things that I want to do in New Zealand, so the changes to the plan don’t affect my reasons for going on this trip as much as they do for Diarmuid. Diarmuid came on the trip to complete the challenge of walking New Zealand from North to South and that’s really it. This leaves me in the uncomfortable place in which I feel that I’ve let Diarmuid down.

Still, I have no intention of returning to the original plan. It’s funny, but I have been reconsidering it in the recent days because you forget. You forget how bad it really was. As I think back to those two days, I don’t really remember any clear details. The second day especially feels like it was a dream and my memories are hazy at best. I don’t remember any pain, and in fact I don’t think I suffered from any pain on the walk from Cape Reinga. I remember pain on Great Barrier Island; there was a lot of pain on Great Barrier but there was nothing on Cape Reinga, except the thirst and a complete lack of energy. In part I think this has to do with the fact that I was prepared for pain, this was something I expected, I knew my feet would be sore, I assumed my back would twinge and my muscles would ache, but it didn’t really happen. My feet has some blisters but they were small fry compared to others I’ve had to walk with. I wasn’t prepared to be completely without one iota of energy nor was I in anyway prepared for the thirst I experienced, wich came as a complete shock to the system. As I reflected back on the two days, it occurred to me that my lack of energy was also probably due to not having eaten enough over those two days and even the night before we left I hadn’t eaten a whole lot. The only substanial thing I ate over those 24 hours was the sandwich provided by the tour company.

So I find myself in the one place I had no intention of returning to, Auckland. Auckland is fine as cities go, but it’s still another city and I find little to interest me and do. Knowing I would be returning I quickly came up with a survival plan of going to the cinema everyday and reading books. To this I’ve now added the idea of taking German back up. It’s been seven years since I last studied the language, so I plan on starting from scratch. I’ve almost seen everything that’s out in the cinema here, so that part of the plan will soon finish, unless I go see movies for a second time round. I’ve bought five books in the past week, finished one, about to finish another and will probably finish the rest in the next two weeks. In truth, I’m getting frustrated waiting for Diarmuid to find a car that he’s willing to buy, I want to get out of Auckland and go somewhere new, preferably some out of the way forest with a nice river full of trout running through it.