It was hard to believe, as I drove along the Southern Motorway out of the hustle and bustle of Auckland City, that my Sat Nav thought I’d be at my destination in 25 mins. At that moment, I was surrounded by trucks and cars, but I’d soon be surrounded by ponga and nikau trees. It was the Hunua Ranges that I’d decided to spend my day walking in. Its somewhere I’d been about five years previous and had been struck by its lush, steep valleys and vast reservoirs.
Sure enough, I pulled off the busy motorway and began driving through a familiar NZ scene of dairy farms and small villages towards the dark-green band of hills in the distance. Soon I was on an unsealed road heading to the edge of the Hunua Ranges. Driving down into the Wairoa Dam Otau Road Car Park, I was surprised to see only one car there. It was to be quiet walk.
My plan for the day was to walk to the Mangatawhiri Reservoir via a few different tracks. After parking the car in an eerily quiet spot, I sun-screened up and threw my backpack over my shoulders. But, before beginning my walk, there was a Kauri Dieback cleaning station that needed some use.
Kauri Dieback. A disease that threatens one of the most (if not the most) magnificent living things I’ve ever seen, the Kauri tree. A true giant. Mature Kauri can have a diameter of over 4m and be up to 50m tall! Kauri can live for 2000 years and the largest Kauri (Tane Mahuta in Waipoua Forest, Northland) is thought to be anywhere from 1250-2500 years old! Kauri Dieback is something that you’ll be very aware of if you live in the northern part of the country, but those from overseas may not be. The cause is from a pathogen that hangs around in the soil and attaches itself to Kauri tree roots. Eventually, it starves the Kauri of the nutrients and water it needs to survive. Unfortunately, this nasty pathogen is mostly spread by humans and animals such as pigs. To help fight the spread of Kauri Dieback, its imperative that people use the Kauri Dieback cleaning stations that are now set up at the start of most trails that head through areas with Kauri. I started my day walk at one such station and made sure all my gear was free from any dirt before heading onto the trail.
I was following a section of the Wairoa Loop Track to begin with. Tramping alongside streams and climbing gradually through dense bush. This first section of the walk was everything I wanted and expected from a walk around this area. Winding through the humid and lush forest, I was constantly stalked by fantails and tomtits.
After a pleasant section in which I kept crossing the small stream over little bridges, the track steadily started to climb as it stopped hugging the flowing water. Soon I emerged from the Wairoa Loop Track and onto a wide grassy road. Due to Kauri Dieback, the rest of the Wairoa Loop Track had been closed. So, I turned right and followed Repeater Road until I saw the next track I would take on my left. The Challenge Track.
So, this was where I made a few rookie errors. Turns out, that this track is really for mountain bikers. Not that I saw any mountain bikers on it, and I can kind of see why.
When I started down the Challenge Track, passing the nicely placed Repeater Campsite, I thought ‘This is a bit overgrown… Oh well, I’m sure it’ll get better!’. It didn’t. If anything it got worse. I pressed on far enough to make it pointless to turn back and spent the next 2 and a half miles being bushwhacked and beaten by various plants. I love to see native NZ plants on a walk, but it was a bit much being hit in the face by them for over an hour.
It was a relief to get to the end of the Challenge Track. Lesson learnt and knees bleeding, I continued down the antithesis of the previous track. Now, I walked down a wide unsealed road that no doubt is used by logging trucks and forestry cars. After a short spell on the Wairoa Hill Road, I turned onto the Waterline Road, leading me on a winding and steady descent all the way to the Upper Mangatawhiri Dam.
Following the edge of the reservoir, I would get glimpses now and then of the water framed by huge ponga trees. Ready for a sit down and something to eat, I arrived at the Dam and sat to eat my lunch.
A impressive structure. Finished in the 1960’s, it’s the second largest in the Auckland region. Along with a further five reservoirs in the Hunuas and five in the Waitakere Ranges, it supplies water to the people of Greater Auckland.
The walk back to the car from the dam would be on gravel roads like the one I had been walking on. It involved a couple of climbs, and apart from the views nearer the higher point of the road, was fairly uneventful.
Arriving back at the car park I had a lot to reflect on. On the entire 12 mile route that I had walked, I’d not seen a single person. It was great to be able to head out somewhere so close to a major city like Auckland and still find solitude. I also realized from the day’s walk that I have a lot to learn. Maybe reading a few reviews of tracks such as the Challenge track might stop me from walking down an overgrown mountain bike trail and getting whacked by toetoe and ferns.
It’s frustrating not being able to use certain tracks that have been closed due to Kauri Dieback and having to use some of the slightly less exciting roads on the route. But, to put it into perspective. It would only take a pinhead size amount of a pathogen on a tramper’s boots to bring down an entire area of Kauri. Once the tracks have been updated with better drainage and surfaces, they’ll reopen in the future. This is a very small sacrifice to save a tree whose antecedents have been in NZ some 135 million years. Kauri are one of the most ancient trees in the world, so to close tracks for a year or so to ensure their survival is sensible if you ask me.
The Hunua Ranges are a little slice of the wild within a 1 hour drive of Auckland City. I’ve only touched the surface of what the Hunuas have to offer, and I’m sure I’ll have more than a few tramps in this neck of the woods over the years.
On Foot Notes
Map Used: NZtopo50- BB33- Hunua