Chapter 1: Winter 2019

Mt Taranaki on a happy day

On a clear, cloudless winter’s day the snow capped Mt Taranaki is nothing short of magnificent (as the above photo attests to this). Maori legend has it that the mountains of the North Island were all living happily together until the broad-shouldered Tranaki fell for the dainty Pihanga – the beloved wife of Tongariro. He tried winning her affection but this did not go down well with mighty Tongariro. In his anger, Tongariro drove Taranaki to the end of the land where he remains to this day. On the occasions when Tongariro is veiled in mist the poor thing is said to be weeping for Pihanga. Must be said that he was chased real far out but as far as I am concerned it’s not a bad spot at all, with views of the ocean and opportunities to observe his beauty from a countless number of angles.

I was fortunate enough to visit New Plymouth when Mt Taranaki was in a happy state of mind and heart and all. It was in early June 2018 and it had snowed substantially so the sight of the mountain was majestic. The opportunity to walk on the snow was exhilarating as it brought back happy childhood memories of winter play in the snow.

I was travelling with my Finnish snow-babe, adventure-loving friend Aloraway and we both hoped to be able to hire crampons and attempt summit. Not very wise considering the number of people who have underestimated the challenge the mountain presents in winter and have lost their lives attempting to climb to the top without much prior experience and preparation. However, no one would lend us crampons so we did not get to test our luck. The desire of getting up to the top of the mountain in winter though stayed with me so I did some research on how to do it safely. And that is how I became a member of the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club (WTMC) and signed up for their snow crafting course in the winter of 2019.

Unsurprisingly, the course requires a very good level of fitness and there was a prerequisite to do two intermediate tramps with the club before the actual fun on the snow began.

Mt Kaukau to Island Bay, 18 May 2019

It’s an early morning start, I was out of the door before 5.30am to be precise, as I had to make it to the Simla Crescent train station in Khandala for a 6.30am start to a long day of walking with my fellow WTMC trampers. About half of our group of a dozen were snowcraft hopefuls so a good opportunity to get to know the people I’ll be spending two weekends of snowcrafting on the slops of Mt Ruapehu with.

Views of Wellington from Mt Kaukau just before sunrise

It was still dark when we set off so we had to use our torches going up to the top of Mt Kaukau but it is a very well-maintained and well-trodden track so no major tripping hazards. It took about 20-30 minutes of continuous ascent to get to the top where we were treated to the sight of Wellington just before sunrise. Once at the top of Mt Kaukau we continued along the ridge line which is part of the iconic Skyline walk. The terrain undulates gently and offers great views of the city throughout, the ocean and the snow capped Kaikouras of the South Island (only visible when the skies are clear of clouds). We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had a bright, sunny day but still these parts are windy (a fitting place for the odd wind turbine or two) and the wind did keep us company the entire day.

Wellington the city of wind and the odd wind turbine

After we got to the end of the Skyline section of the track, in Karori, we walked up to Makara Peak where the gradient gets a little steeper but nothing too challenging, plus it’s  fairly short in length. By that point it was almost midday and we had been walking for over 5 hours so we stopped for a lunch break and a water refill at the Makara Mountain Bike Park car park. After we have had a bite we continued our march up to Wrights Hill which was a very pleasant walk through the bush, and once at the lookout we could enjoy some more glorious views of Wellington.

Views of Wellington from Wrights Hill Lookout, featuring the ever present long white cloud

We then followed the Zealandia fence for a short while and gained some more elevation until we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of Brooklyn (home of the eponymous wind turbine). From this point on we started our slow descend down to Red Rocks. As we were relatively high up we got some pretty spectacular views of the beach and ocean below us (as could be seen in the photo below). It felt like the descend took forever, with the weariness of an early morning start and a long day of walking starting to settle in. We eventually made it to the beach which was heaving with people considering that until this point we had come across a handful of trail runners and mountain bikers.

The long windy descend to Red Rocks

The last section of the track was a few kilometers along the road and we made it to Island Bay around 4.20pm. Almost 10 hours after we had started that day or 58,108 steps (approx. 42.4km). It was a long day but the walk was not challenging* (minus the wind) and we enjoyed some spectacular views of the city and the nature surrounding it which made it all very worthwhile and satisfying.

*This course is part of the iconic Wellington Urban Ultra (WUU-2K) and obviously if I were to run it, I would feel quite differently about the gentle undulation and the not so challenging inclines.

Maymorn to Featherston via the Rimutaka Rail Trail, 8 June 2019

Beautiful through and through, on the way from Maymorn to Pakuratahi Forest

The second walk I had to undertake by myself as life got in the way and I couldn’t join any of the walks offered by the club. I picked this walk because it is an easy train ride from Wellington (with a connecting train option at both ends of the walk). And more importantly it is a complete delight to the eye, mind and soul, with stunning scenery and interesting remnants of human history, including spooky tunnels that are very spooky.

It is 35km from Maymorn to Featherston and although the terrain is not difficult there’s a time challenge to it. I had about 6 hours and a half to complete the walk if I were to get the last train from Featherston back to Wellington that same day.

Things got off to a promising start with the sun peeking through the clouds exactly as the weather forecast had had it. The weather stayed more or less nice for the first hour of the walk but as I was entering the Pakuratahi Forest some light, timid raindrops started falling out of the sky – that wasn’t in the weather forecast. It drizzled on and off for the next 10km, up to Summit Yards when the clouds started clearing and the sun made an attempt to make an appearance once again. This was good timing as Summit Yards marked the half way point of the walk for me and my stomach was starting to make its voice heard so to speak.

Summit Yards, illuminated by the sun (well, just about)

After a 15-minute lunch break I carried on down to Cross Creek. Apart from the occasional piercingly cold wind blast the weather stayed nice and dry. I like the entire track but this section is a particular favourite as here you can truly feel the vastness of the ranges (see photo below).

On the way to Cross Creek
On the way to Cross Creek from Summit Yards

After an easy 8km descend from Summit Yard to Cross Creek the track continuous along Western Lake Road for another 10km. There is a footpath with Lake Wairarapa to the right (the view of which is stunning on a clear day but no such luck on this occasion as the skies were full of cloud). As there are farms along the way I had the cows provide me with the occasional moo in greeting (which kinda sounded more like a boo – thanks cows!).

The road from Cross Creek to Featherston

I made it to Featherston in five hours and a half which left me with an hour to spare in the booktown of New Zealand. Alas, it was after 4pm so a certain Bakery I am particularly fond of had closed. A good enough reason for another visit perhaps.

And on to snowy Mt Ruapehu next

EntMt Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park where the snow crafting will take placeer a caption

I am a couple of steps (well, it is more like over 100,000) closer to finding out if summit of Mt Taranaki will remain a fancy dream or it could become a reality for me. Next I have two weekends of mastering some essential alpine skills, including moving on snow and ice with an ice axe. Yikes! I need to check my insurance coverage before I proceed with this, I guess.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Winter 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s