Wednesday, September 15, 2010
JOURNEYS OVER WHAKAIRIORA-THE SACRED MOUNTAIN: Part one
Whakairiora Mountain across Ngunguru River.
Jan and I never dreamt we could reach so easily the four hundred and seven foot
summit of the coastal mountain we had looked at from across the Ngunguru River for
thirty years. It always looked so steep and imposing. Now we have been there it is
easy to see that there are interesting valleys with dense bush but from a distance we
could never have imagined that glorious crater-like valley where we had lunch with our
neighbour Reggie today. Sitting on the roots of a handsome Hall’s totara, surrounded
by mighty puriri, kahikatea, rimu, totara, kohekohe, taraire, kowhai and nikau palms.
We had driven out to the end of Ford road and parked on the edge of a cul de sac
roundabout. We’d scrambled up a clay bank into regenerating manuka and Gahnia
grasses and to our delight readily found a marked track maintained by cattle and possum
hunters that led up an easy slope until we were in a well regenerated forest of mamangi
coprosma trees with lots of lancewoods, kanuka and young totara. A lovely piece of
A point was reached where the slope steepens and another track branches to the left,
skirting the slope towards Ngunguru Bay. We opted to continue our upward climb.
We wanted to get to the top. We found later most trampers would have taken the
easier option that runs out to the Kawaka Promontory and thence to a lovely cove and
on out along a cliff edge track to Kumi Point and Harakeke or Goat Island. Next time...
Eventually we attained a point where the track leveled off on a ridge top with keyhole
views through foliage of Taiharuru and a steep drop-off to the south. Pig rootings
showed lots of midden remnants along the way, signs of former habitation. The track
then leads left following a ridgeline, falling and ascending until we rose on to a plateau
of lighter growth, mostly kanuka, perhaps thirty to forty years old. I shuddered. Through
the trunks I glimpsed a spooky man-made structure like part of a roof gable. Was it a
deserted old homestead? We homed in on a substantial trig station that had been
dwarfed by regenerating bush until it was concealed by the canopy. The track now
gradually heads eastward and down along a ridge.
It was Reggie who saw the first matai tree on the right of our path with its distinctive
hammer-patterned trunk, so straight and powerful. A chain further on I found another.
We began searching for their offspring, strange divaricating shrubs utterly unlike their
parents. Tryffids... In an area of dense coprosma undergrowth I sensed something was
near. “We’re getting close”, I called pregnantly, meaning our quest was at hand.
Perhaps this is some sort of peripheral subconscious vision? I gasped. My shoulder
was actually touching a young matai about head height; another smaller one alongside.
Black fungal growth obscured the peculiar zigzag branchings sprigged with sparse
flitches of green feathery foliage. We were overjoyed to find a kindergarten of these
plants. Never before seen after so many forest walks. At the base of a huge puriri,
spikes of lush green Peperomia were clumped. The sound of seagulls cautioned us
cliffs were close by.
Hunger and thirst set in as we made our way further along the ridge to where a deep
valley dropped away to the right. Descending from the track was a gently sloping arena
that reminded me of a section of the Maungatapere volcano crater and it was full of
immense old-growth trees draped with thick puka and rata vines. And so, at the base of
a huge totara we paused to drink and eat from our packs. A small patch of sunlight made
us feel at home.
Refreshed we continued the track until it led out onto a promontory with lighter bush
where we found a huge spreading pohutukawa tree still in full flower. Its immense
boughs framed enticing glimpses of complex coastline.
Now the track thinned to low manuka scrub sprinkled with putaputaweta bushes, white
patches of starry flowers gleaming through the undergrowth. The track descended with
more and more open grassy spaces until we emerged into a glade of massive
spreading pohutukawa; a gathering of giants, limbs wide spread in voluptuous
pleasure. Our path wound through them until we reached a sandy cove backed by
bush brocaded cliffs. We explored a series of rocky promontories and recesses and
we trod across the isthmus of smooth sand that leads to Harakeke [‘flax’] or Goat Island.
To reach the infinity of ocean only minutes from a deep forest gloaming and restricted
vision is a huge contrast. Panoramas of headland coast, sweeping beaches, intimate
coves, gem-like tide pools; graceful white plumes of toetoe clumps on ridges; flax-flagged islets, were all rendered so much more impressive after a sylvan journey.
These bays were familiar to us from our sailing catamaran days but Reggie, who had
never been there, was wide-eyed and gob-smacked. Jan found a cave she once knew
well and led Reggie along a narrow corridor with her torch until they found a swallow’s
nest. Sand seems to have choked the caves since we were last there. It needs a big
On our return journey it would have been wiser to have taken the cliff edge path which
would have led us to the exquisite Purapuratahi Cove, up on to the Kawaka Promontory
and across the forested slope to our original path back to the car -but this was not to be.
Reggie had to cook a chicken for a dinner party so we hastened to retrace our original
path, missed the track and got lost. In so doing we found another valley above a
marshy swamp. There were massive old rata vines and enormous, grotesque puriris like drunken giants. We crept past one with a big wasp colony in its trunk. Eventually we regained the ridge track after crossing a disused, fallen barbed wire fence and made our way back to the trig station on the summit and down to our car. It was hot. Twenty-five degrees. We were very thirsty and tired when we opened the door and quickly drained a quart of apple juice, sipped coffee and munched Reggie’s chocolate squares for quick energy; followed by cheese, salami and passionate ravings about our adventures. Shortly after Reggie called in home to relive the journey with pictures on our computer
Screen. With our initial confusion the return walk had taken just under an hour but we will have to return. We have yet to explore the Kawaka Promontory familiar to our Forest and Bird friends, who told us they had never taken the summit track we had ‘pioneered’! This is a superb remnant of coastal forest quite unlike any we have seen so close to the sea. It is another great starting point for our ‘stepping stones from coast to coast’ project, exploring a corridor of forest remnants left over from the holocaust of farming and forestry. An island of survival.
Now, when I look across the Ngunguru River to the mountain I see it all differently. Where once I saw uniform slopes I can perceive multiple ridgelines extending from the summit and forking out onto promontories, with deeper green patches of old forest
between the forks: areas for exploration. It is said that perception alters with
experience: having been up there I now have a mental framework on which to attach new information. Yet it was all just as perceptible before our journey; all those years of just seeing a lofty eminence clad with what I thought was a thin covering of scrub.