“We’ll be under the trees,” my daughter, Jem, assures me as I wipe sweat from my brow before we have even left home. She’s talking about a hike we decided to go on today. Iron Gate Gorge Track. Today – the last day of a heatwave where the temperature is predicted to soar to 30 degrees.
All I’ll tell you is that I’m Jem’s (thatkiwihiker’s) mama – and I am no spring chicken!
A backpack each, loaded with lunch, sunscreen, and water bottles. We have a coolie bin with extra water and fruit in for the end. Jem downloads a map of the area on her phone as we climb into the car. At my age (60), quite a bit of preparation is of the mental kind. Positive affirmations of strength and determination to self – It won’t be as bad as you think!
From Feilding it is about 45 mins to get to the car park. We pass through Apiti village and head on yonder for the hills along Peterson’s Road. The last part of the road is gravel. It’s narrow and windy, so best to be on the alert for other cars. Keep left, and don’t be as complacent to question who else would be all the way out here in the never nevers.
We are there
There is a haze, a heat haze has spread itself over the landscape. It blitzes out Mount Ruapehu, which should be out there somewhere. Jem points out where it should be. The view is atmospheric in its own way, without a mountain.
There is a loo at the carpark. Thank goodness! As I come out, hoisting up my shorts, Jem is standing under a small V shaped shelter. She calls out, ‘Come ‘ere, I’ll show you where we are going.’ There’s a very extensive map of the area and she traces her finger along pointing outlines, dots and numbers. To me, it looks like a weather map. You know the closer together the lines are don’t mean anything good. And in my head, I see and hear weatherman Dan saying, ‘Vroommm, this is going to be a nasty one!’
Tally ho – We are on the way
We walk down a farmland track, lined with purple and while foxgloves that are past their best. It’s hot, but I know soon we’ll be under the trees. Ambling down —- and down — I know that this means it will be up — and up — on the way home. Push that out your mind. Just past the farm track, into the bush, there is a sign warning about slips in the area. DOC are working in clearing away the slips. Three days ago, they ripped and busted through a massive slip that would have been a killer to clamour over, if it was possible at all. Good timing, thank you, DOC!
Under the trees
Ah! It feels better – to be under the trees.
I’ll never get sick of NZ bush. It always seems like I am seeing it for a first time. It never ceases to stop me in my tracks and wow me.
It isn’t a hard, or very long slog up the hill to a lookout point. We stand on a corner and look down on a gorgeous scene. A wooden bridge, nestled in beautiful bush, arching over Umutoi Stream. Originally, there was a logging bridge here. It was blown up after logging was finished to make way for a swing bridge for trampers. In 1961, the Territorial Army built this wooden arched bridge. Go, the Army!
The track gets steeper past the bridge. It’s not too bad. We follow pink triangles tacked on to trees. Look out, look hard for those – some are a little elusive. This is not a DOC track at this point. It narrows and is quite overgrown. We reach another lookout.
The lookout and lunch
Jem tells me this is her favourite spot. We are eating late lunch and digesting a view down the bushy valley to the Oroua river below. The river is where we are headed for soon. My previous googling tells me that this will be a steep downhill and it is categorised as ‘experienced.’ Push that out your mind! It’s then, after I reset my mind – it’s then, I can see why it is Jem’s favourite spot to stop.
Trust your feet
I read an article in the Wilderness magazine (Feb 19 issue) called Foot Confidence. I am a good example of a hiker with no foot confidence. I constantly look at the ground, thinking all the time about where will be safe to place my next step. I grasp on to whatever is close at hand for dear life.
It may be a tree or a groove in an overhanging rock. It may be an unfortunate person! It’s just anything and everything! Now, a person with foot confidence is basically a mountain goat. They know how to move and trust their body and feet without thinking too much about it.
It takes practise. What a better way to practise than on a mountain goat track. (Speaking of mountain goats? How are they so clever that their tiny wee hooves negotiate steep mountainsides so easily? There is not a lot of surface area with those wee hooves, is there?)
Just one of the things that came to mind as Jem shows me how to angle different parts of me around my hiking pole. My pole rigidly held in my right hand, poking and testing bits of ground. I think it must take a few seconds for brain messages to reach feet. Be prepared for this delay. I fell within those few seconds. (Total – 3 times).
If you follow Jem’s blog you will learn that coordination is not a strong family gene at the best of times.
Note: There are times in this kind of terrain where sliding on your butt is a favourable option too.
The Oroua River
We reached it. Me a little broken.
Sometimes it is great to sit, rest – and soak (scenery, thoughts, and re-gather positive energy). We sat. Me on a good butt shaped rock, her upstream a little more. Both of us feeling soulish, touched by our surroundings.
Be prepared for man-eating mozzies along the Oroua, I warn you. They attack relentlessly, in blood-sucking armies.
Be prepared for wet feet. (That didn’t bother us a bit in the heat of mid-afternoon). We criss-cross the river several times. The ol’ hiking pole is a must I feel. I feel the river bed with my pole. I feel for depth, rockiness and steadiness. For me, I am sure my pole is as a white cane to a blind person. It’s also a handy tool for swatting mosquitos away.
Jem tells me never to cross a river straight on. You pick a diagonal point downstream, focussing on that, and let the current push you across. Another matter of trust.
It is mid-summer. It hasn’t rained significantly for a while. The river is waist deep for one crossing. This adds up and tells me that this is the only time of the year I would attempt this.
This is a magnificent part of the hike. To sound cliché, I will say it is truly breath taking.
We reach a campsite – the point where we leave the river.
Related Post: How to cross rivers safely
Onwards and upwards
Yes, onwards and upwards. This is the point where I am trying to telepathically communicate with my daughter who is a way ahead of me, to please be as kind as to dial a helicopter to pick me up and take me home.
This is the part I am finding it’s taking a lot of mental effort to keep me going onwards and upwards. There are flutters that keep me going. The flutter of a Fantail in a tree above. A Tui singing a late afternoon serenade. An expected view around the next corner. Things like that – they are like an oasis.
We cross over the wooden arched bridge again and we are at the point where the loop has looped back on to itself. The rest of the way is the reverse of the first half hour of our hike. Which reminds me – when hiking, do turn around every so often and look behind you. Behind views can be as stunning as front views.
Back. A word of relief! We are back at the car park. We sit by the pond, with the sky reflected in the water, and dragonflies having sex in the air. Toi Toi lining the top end of the pond blow in the breeze, like victory flags.
‘Was it worth it?’ Jem asks.
‘Yes, yes it was.’ I say – with no hesitation.
Other hikes in the area
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