This was the first tramp that my wife and I did on an 8 month tramping adventure in New Zealand. We decided that a 22 km walk over 2 days to a brand new hut would be a good start to our New Zealand walking adventure. A fuller version of this accompanied by 30 or so photos can be found at www.gang-gang.net/nomad/NZ/NZ02.htm
Day 1 – Waitomo to Dundle Hill (11.5 km)
We spent much of the morning sipping coffee in the YHA lounge and watching the gentle rain falling outside, as it had for the previous 6 days since our arrival in New Zealand (for those in drought-stricken parts of Australia who wonder where the rain has gone – it is here!). Finally at 11am it had virtually ceased and we headed off, keen to get some kilometres under our boots. The first part of the track followed the Waitomo Walkway - crossing the Waitomo common before climbing up through a temperate rainforest slope and emerging into pastures on the hill crests, with great views back over Waitomo town. Soon after we emerged we were greeted by the grey fantail hawking the insects that we disturbed in passing. These fearless little birds were to be regular companions as we traversed the farmlands, along with the odd wood pigeon, ducks and geese.
The one problem with crossing sheep pastures was that, after 7 days of rain, the Waitomo Walkway had become the Waitomo Slipway, making for interesting muddy descents on the steep hillsides, especially when the path was also well-used by the local sheep. Fortunately, several years ago I had bought a pair of telescopic walking poles and, despite never having used them in Australia where they would be considered “wussy” by most bushwalkers, we packed them in our kit. They would prove our salvation on the steep slippery tracks we were to encounter on this walk. The upside of the rain was the intense green of the landscape, a colour that I had almost forgotten and one that induces a sense of well-being as you pass through it.
The track soon led us back down to the Waitomo stream, which we followed through more sheep paddocks and back into the native forest where the slopes had been too steep for the original settlers to clear. This section followed part of the Ruakuri loop, through an area where the Waitomo stream had cut down into the Karst limestone landscape, at times creating caves and flowing underground, before re-emerging a short distance later. There is no better way to appreciate the damp, dark beauty of rainforest than by walking through it when it is dripping wet and exuding life; the rich cover of ferns, mosses and fungi on the floor, the delicate mid-layers of tall tree ferns, and the upper storey of giant forest trees reaching for the light, their trunks covered with mosses, lichens and a variety of epiphytes from bottom to top. The night before, Nello and I had walked the initial part of this loop to admire the clusters of glow worms that inhabit the ledges and crannies of the steep embankments.
All too soon, the track climbed sharply up and out of the forest and back into a rural landscape. The steady climb continued up through the pastures and past patches of bracken and gorse (the national weed of New Zealand) to reach a ridge where a herd of curious cattle followed us till stopped by a fence. A quick descent back into the forest of the Hohia Bush was followed by another climb up through pastures to the narrow ridgeline, with splendid views out over the tree-fern lined slopes to the south.
The last section of the walk followed the broad curve of the ridge, with a series of short steep climbs and descents (made much easier by the walking poles), through native forest and pine plantation, until one last steep pinch finally brought us to the top of Dundle Hill and the brand new Kay's Hut, with its superb 270º vista over the green Waitomo landscape. Soon after we arrived the sun finally broke through and bathed the pastures in a soft glow, before treating us to a magnificent sunset as the last of the rainclouds were chased to the east.
We spent a very comfortable evening, the sole occupants of the 38-bunk hut, lounging in front of the fire, soaking up the warmth and the isolation.
Day 2 –Dundle Hill back to Waitomo (10.5 km)
Waking up on Dundle Hill to a clear sunny sky will linger long in my memory. As we ate our breakfast on the deck of Kay's Hut, we took in the brilliant greenness of the landscape beneath us, the rolling hills to the north and the snow covered peaks of distant Ngaurohoe and Ruapehu in the south-east. We did not want to leave, but as the morning began to disappear, we finally had to load our packs and set off again.
This part of the walk is a loop and the track back descended steeply through native forest down a razor-back ridge to rejoin Waitomo Stream. This section was ridge-walking at its best, with the crest only 1-3 m wide in places, the densely vegetated slopes plunging steeply on either side and the sun filtering through the canopy above.
A short detour once we reached the stream led us to Olsen's Cave, where the Waitomo emerges from a large opening in a limestone cliff to start its meandering journey. We then followed the stream valley back into pastures, silent apart from the occasional bleating of sheep, the flutter of wings as a pheasant was disturbed by our passage and a short sharp 12 volt expletive when I slipped and touched the electric fence!
Eventually the valley narrowed and the track led us back into the steeply sloping, rainforest clad valley, where, after an interesting scramble across the fast-flowing Waitomo Stream, a stop to watch it crash over a waterfall and immediately disappear into a cave to continue its journey underground, and a couple of short passages through narrow limestone tunnels, we rejoined the Ruakuri Loop. After a short stop on the swing bridge to admire the Waitomo Stream and forest-clad valley one last time, we retraced our steps back to the township and starting point.
This track has all the ingredients of a great walk; it passes through a continually changing variety of landscapes, both natural and transformed, offers tremendous views and has a very comfortable hut to stay in. However, if you do this walk after rain, it can be quite slippery in parts and walking poles would be very useful. It also gave our legs a good workout and taught us that there is a much greater vertical component to walking in New Zealand than in Australia. For us, it was an excellent introduction to tramping the land of the long white cloud.