From the Lion Education Centre on Matahi Valley Road (blessed with a public toilet!)
our group of 7 walked up the Ngutuoha Stream for 30 minutes to a small confluence. Between the streams
a marked turnoff led us to climb steeply up "The Wall" track to reach Tawai Ridge. The trail is aptly
named: it rises 400 metres in just over 3 kms. Another less steep option would be to take the Otamatuna
Track from Ogilvies bridge. Both routes involve taking a left hand track down from the ridge to reach
Waiiti stream and then continue downstream for about a kilometre to reach Koaunui Hut. The hut has 19
bunks with mattresses, a log burner, plenty of cooking space and running water inside. There is a spacious
deck outside to relax on.
For the long ascent back to the Tawai Ridge the next
morning, we employed a 15 minute walk / 5 minute rest regime, which got us up to the junction with reasonable
energy still intact. Just as well, for it was a long, hot hike south along a waterless, undulating trail
before we dropped into the Otapukawa Stream. En route we encountered several possums hanging by their
heads from elevated snares, in various states of decomposition. We also admired several magnificent rimu
Otapukawa Hut sits on a clifftop plateau 800 metres upstream, just below the first
confluence. The track to it is easily missed, because there is no signpost. Follow the 4WD vehicle track
on the true right. Where it peters out, look for a narrow dirt path on your left.
Our third day was very straightforward, but may not be after heavy rain. We followed the Otapukawa downstream,
with around 40 shallow crossings. It was a pleasant stroll in sun and shadow, with the 4WD track guiding
us on the most amenable path. Once at the road-end, an easy 30 minute walk northwards completed our long-weekend
loop. Of interest on our journey back to SH2 was the house and grave of the Maori prophet Rua at Tuapou.
Our visit to this area highlighted the need to acknowledge and nurture the mauri of the northern
Te Urewera ecosystem. The word ‘mauri’ can be translated as ‘spirit’ or ‘life-force’, denoting spiritual
as well as environmental values. It was a worthy setting in which to enhance both.
In 2013, the
Tuhoe people and the New Zealand government agreed upon the Te Urewera Act, giving the park "all the
rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person." A joint Board was established to serve as
"guardians" of Te Urewera and protect its interests.
Physically, the land is characterised by
ridge after ridge of bush-clad ranges, rising from valley floors of significant rivers to over 900 m
above sea level. It is the largest surviving forest tract in the North Island, encompassing the Huiarau
Range which divides Hawke’s Bay, Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty. The vegetation is characterised as
semi-coastal lowland forest, being relatively homogeneous in nature and largely comprised of beech forest
to the south and rimu/tawa forest to the north.
It was to the north that we ventured, a region
which contains an assemblage of flora and fauna as complete as any in the North Island. Over 650 species,
sub-species or varieties of plants have been identified and at least 48 bird species are present, including
nearly all the extant North Island forest species (the exceptions are weka, saddleback and stitchbird).This
includes a number of rare and threatened species, such as mistletoe, tusked weta, kereru, kaeaea (falcon),
kokako, kaka, kiwi, whio, long-tail bats and short-jawed kokopu.
Most of these species require
some form of active management to prevent their numbers diminishing. Accordingly, as we walked along,
the efforts of the Northern Te Urewera Ecosystem Restoration Project (NTUERP), also known as the Te Urewera
Mainland Island, commenced in 1995, were very much in evidence. Dozens of pink, blue and yellow markers
indicated bait stations, trap numbers, line names and track junctions, all part of a 20-year battle to
reduce possums, rats and mustelids over 50,000 ha. We had to be careful to follow only the orange tags!
We also met several contract deer hunters who utilise dogs certified for avian (kiwi) aversion.
It is one of the largest restoration projects of its type on mainland New Zealand, and one with a twist.
Here they are not only interested in protecting and restoring the forest habitat but also with finding
about how to do this restoration in better ways.