Senior Helper Benjamin Pigott from Palmerston North Boy’s High School shares his experience walking the Ruahine Ranges this year.
Each year Palmerston North Boy’s High School runs numerous Year 10 camps throughout the North Island. One of these is the Ruahine Traverse, which sees a group of Year 10 boys crossing the Ruahine Ranges from east to west. This year, sixteen students, three staff and two senior helpers undertook the journey.
Our first day in the ranges composed of sweat and sore legs as the boys tackled the reasonably gentle incline up to Sunrise Hut with packs filled with six days worth of food and equipment.
We were lucky to have great weather and the view looking out from Sunrise Hut was fantastic. Heading up over Armstrong Saddle was something the boys enjoyed, the steep rock faces testing anyone with a fear of heights.
After passing Top Maropea Hut we carried on down to our first nights camp spot, in the valley below. The first night was an experience for the boys, some of who had never been out in the bush overnight before.
Up early the next day, we pressed on downriver. The destination for our second night was Maropea Forks Hut. We were travelling through some amazing country and the Maropea River was incredibly clean and crystal clear. Upon arriving at Maropea Forks Hut, some fishing was attempted, and a helicopter graced us with its company. This saw the boys, (who had never experienced a helicopter hovering directly above them) scrambling around to clear a landing spot.
Day three was a planned rest day, which saw another reasonable attempt at fishing and lessons in bush craft. While exploring the Maropea Forks area, we encountered a pair of whio who were very photogenic. This was a great example of some of the rare wildlife that can be seen in the Ruahine Ranges. The group was beginning to acknowledge the beauty of the bush and wildlife around them. Walking in for two days with a heavy pack upon their backs gave them a greater appreciation of what was around and why our environment needs to be preserved.
After the rest day at Maropea Forks we set off up to Puketaramea. With most of the heavy food now gone, this climb was not as bad as the contour lines predicted. After some great photos on the top, we carried on past the junction to Otukota Hut and then followed a track back down into the Maropea River to our next destination, Iron Bark Hut. The boys rested their weary legs, put up their tents, began their camp cooking and most importantly, dished out well deserved banter. Everyone had now come out of their shells and through the challenges of weather, terrain and navigation they had formed a group capable of functioning well in the New Zealand backcountry.
Another rest day was on the schedule for the fifth day, which included well deserved sleep, an attempt to build a trap (which ended up as fire lighting material) and a walk to the waterfall up Unknown Creek. This second night at Iron Bark was the final night we were spending in the ranges, and it was spent well with games of cards and campfire stories.
With an early start the next day, we trudged up the track to Mokai Station. This hill was the last thing standing between sixteen boys who were craving a pie and a coke back at Mangaweka. Needless to say they motored over the Mokai-Patea Range to the road end to meet the bus.
This part of the ranges was incredible to cross, even with a larger group plenty of camping was available, and plenty of hills were there to test the young legs of year 10 students!
The bush was incredibly diverse with mountain cedar, clematis paniculata and a few endemic mistletoe all sighted on the journey. The famous Ruahine Ice Cream Tree was also discovered and after being tricked into each eating a leaf, the boys quickly learnt what horopito was. Bellbirds and tūī were often heard, as were grey warblers, shining cuckoos and the occasional whio. This section of the Ruahine Ranges is one that everyone on the trip will always remember as a classic Ruahine adventure.