Unlike the Ruahines, I got the feeling of a much more settled set of Ranges in the Kaweka Forest Park. I had a bit of variety with the weather but I never felt as though I was going to die if I didn't always keep part of my attention on how the skies behaved.
I had some phone reception at Comet hut and was able to check in with my emergency contacts, as well as receive an inspiring message from an amazing friend. This helped me to realise that I needed to push the reset button and treat the Kawekas with a fresh mindset. That combined with some truly beautiful forests, landscape and weather created a completely different experience. For me, the vistas throughout the Park were comparable to Mt. Richmond Forest.
After eating a whole block of chocolate, remembering how to laugh until I cry and spending the night being cold in Comet hut, Steve and Maria drove me out of their way, down the windy (bendy) Comet Road and through the even windier Gentle Annie (a drift-car-paradise of a road) to the track head. This saved me around 3-4 hours, allowing me to get to the second hut and helped my knee which had been struggling at times in the northern Ruahines.
The weather was gloomy with low lying clouds and rain showering on and off. The 650m ascent up to Kuripipango (1240m) was one of my favourite memories of the Park. The views got better and better as I climbed. The Nguraroro River weaved it's way like a worm between densely forested mountains, and I couldn't work out what caused it, but the terrain underfoot had suddenly changed to a pink-orangey or red kind of clay and rock. Maybe some volcanic influence? I climbed into the clouds and the heat expiring from me fogged up my glasses to the point that I found it easier to walk in a blur without them until I could change to contact lenses. Once at Kuripipango I continued to climb up to 1359m before descending to Kiwi Saddle and the recently refurbished Kiwi Saddle hut. With the gift of sight and painfully numb extremities I descended from the hut to a stream and then climbed steeply (normal steep) to a ridge. I had a long and clay-slippery descent to Kiwi Mouth hut. I'm surprised I only had one proper bum-skid slip for about 5m, and a few heartstoppers which looks like uncontrollably breaking into dance and throwing your hands in the air before you know what's happening. The hut didn't have much going for it. The fireplace smoked out the hut and my companion for the night was a mouse that explored all of my stuff for hours.
The next morning looked as though there was going to be snow on the tops with how low and dense the clouds were, but fortunately as I got higher, so did the clouds. I was happy to see no snow. I had to ford Kiwi Creek immediately after the hut before squelching my way up a 750m ascent to Back Ridge. The ridge track was more rugged and slippery than expected, and although almost not at all routed or marked, very easy to follow. I passed Black Ridge Biv without side-tracking to it and continued to climb until I got to a track junction where I met a couple of hunters. We had a chat and walked down a beautifully forested ridge for about 15 minutes until the hunters wanted to head towards the valley below. Some 200m further down the track a Sika Deer stood about 10m from me and whistled...must be the beard. The descent along the spur to Rocks Ahead hut was very peaceful. The sun had come out and the sky was almost completely blue when I arrived. I stopped for lunch and tried to warm up in the small sunny patch. From the hut I had an adventurous crossing of Rocks Ahead Creek on the 3-wire emergency bridge. Don't slip cause there's nothing to save ya! I enjoyed it way more than making my feet go numb. The final 700m ascent to Venison Top (1480m) was all forested until 1460m and quite steep. About a kilometre before the top my left knee had it and suddenly became very painful. I limped up to the highest point on Venison Top and stopped to rest/massage with 360° views of the surrounding Park, Kaimanawa Forest Park and Mt. Ruapehu standing like the giant that it is in the distance. The big and clean Tira Lodge or Chalet/Venison Top hut/Kelvinator Lodge/Blow Fly Lodge was just a 300m walk from the peak. I had a fantastic evening listening to Louis Armstrong and indulging in the jar of peanut butter left in the hut.
I spent about 30 minutes stretching/massaging my leg and knee the night before which helped dramatically the next morning. From the Lodge I descended into bush and followed a ridge to then ascend back out onto exposed country. The ground felt different underfoot as I climbed and then I noticed that all of the rocks and pebbles were frozen together. I reached the track junction with Mangaturutu hut, then there was a brief descent before climbing to Ahurua (1434m) following a poled track. Looking at the forested terrain ahead of me, I was expecting a rugged ridge track but ended up walking on almost flat terrain with a few exposed climbs before climbing to Te Puke hut and stopping for lunch in a sheltered sunny spot. I continued towards Harkness hut, but ended up climbing to the summit of Te Pukeohikarua (1506m) which was only a few metres off the track and spent almost 1.5 hours hanging out and taking photos. The descent to Harkness via a long spur was awesome and not at all steep until the end which involved scrambling down to a stream and being led to the hut.
I couldn't bring myself to get out of my sleeping bag until 8am the next morning. Why? Because it was -8°C according to the thermometer outside. Putting on damp clothes was a struggle. I left the hut with 4 layers on, and if my toes weren't already painfully cold, they were after the first 2...wait, I mean 39 fords of the Ngaawapurua (Harkness) Stream. The track eventually climbed above the Stream and undulated through easy tussock to Tussock hut. I met a couple of hunters in the toasty hut doing not much hunting. They gave me a coffee and I stayed keeping warm for 45 minutes. When I left the hut I saw the thermometer read a sizzling 3°C at one o'clock in the afternoon. I must be adjusting because I felt comfortable in a single top, thermal leggings and shorts. I had a short 150m ascent to a high point of 1254m before a long and easy descent along a spur. As I got lower, views of the massive and terraced Ngaruroro River valley became better. The track descended to the river and crossed it which was super easy. I then climbed up a couple of terraces and followed a track to Boyd hut. Just as I was nearing the hut a plane flew in and landed on an airstrip located down from the hut. As I was unpacking my gear, Jamie and his daughters: Sarah and Amelia + friend came up and said hello. It was nice to talk with some very enthusiastic people, even if I felt a bit conscious about possibly being smelly. Thanks for the donation guys!
The next day to Oamaru hut was brilliant and super easy. After descending to the river and crossing back over, the track climbed about 50m vertical to a saddle. Tough. Then descended into wonderful native forest and followed the Waitawhero Stream. After a couple kilometres, the stream flowed into the headwaters of the Oamaru River. I followed a track on the true left all the way to the hut. It was all super flat with the occasional stream crossing or terrace climb to avoid a gorge wall, and super pretty. Oamaru was a busy hut that evening with 4 fly-in hunters and Tai who was hunting and tramping. I worked on getting the common area of the hut warm for everyone, but ended up going to bed pretty early when the fly-in hunters started talking about safari hunting Elephants and Hippos in Africa...no!
Tai had offered a ride into Taupo which would save me a big road walk that I wasn't keen on. We crossed the Kaipo River near the hut and walked through forest until reaching the edge of Poronui Ranch. From there we followed an access route of mostly farm roads in fog for about 13km to the other side of the Ranch where a public carpark is. Tai dropped me at the awesome Taupo Urban Retreat hostel who have kindly put me up for a few nights as part of the Nomads sponsorship.
I'm about to move up to Rotorua for a few days where my mountain bike is before I move south and start the Whanganui River Journey in the right direction, and get back into TA trail life...no more skipping roads!
A little word on the charity: so far the fundraising is up to just over $4000 between the two Foundation entities. Thanks to everyone who has made a donation! If you would like to support my cause but maybe can't afford to make a donation, please feel free to help me create awareness by sharing the website with your friends via social media or otherwise. Sharing is still caring. :)