Waipakihi River – Kaimanawa Forest Park

Waipakihi Valley

Waipakihi River – Kaimanawa Forest Park

Today’s hike was one of those where we left a lot to chance.

The aim was to head to the Waipakihi hut from Mount Urchin, but were being all spontaneous about it. To be honest we hadn’t read up on it much and the weather wasn’t being particularly kind to us either. At some point in the past, I had downloaded a gpx file of the routes to Waipakihi hut onto my Backcountry Navigator (topo map app) on my phone, so this acted as our guide.

We had van camped overnight in the rather marvellous (and free) DOC campsite beneath Mount Urchin. It was packed with around 15 vans and cars. We were hiking the Waipakihi after a pretty grueling 3 days on the Round the Mountain (Ruapehu) track, so we allowed ourselves a lie-in, and a magnificent breakfast.

Mount Urchin Trig
Mount Urchin Trig

Mount Urchin

We left Urchin campsite at 10 am, and road walked 20 minutes uphill to the trail head. We reached the Urchin trig at midday after the steady climb. For more details about the Urchin track see my recent post. It’s an amazing, accessible short hike, and rewards you with incredible views of Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro as well as sweeping views of Lake Taupo and the Kaimanawa ranges.

Towards lake Taupo
Towards lake Taupo

We stopped for the obligatory photos at the trig and decided on our next move. This week we’d seen gale force winds on Ruapehu, and it was the same on Mount Urchin. A quick check on the weather earlier had told us that the winds were due to subside tomorrow, so we decided to go down to the Waipakihi river and walk to the hut and return on the exposed ridge of the Umukarikari track.

Across the tops at Urchin
Across the tops at Urchin

We walked across the tops from Urchin trig for about 30 minutes until the track divided, then began the very steep descent down to the Waipakihi river.

Waipakihi River

We reached the river at 1.30pm and ate our lunch. There was a DOC signpost which notified us that the Waipakihi hut was 4-5 hours upstream. As we’re usually a lot quicker that the standard recommendations, we assumed we’d be at there by 6.30pm at least.

First crossing on the Waipakihi river
First crossing on the Waipakihi river

Unfortunately we made the mistake of treating the gpx file on my topo map as gospel (I couldn’t remember where I’d downloaded it from) and spent ages searching for a non-existent path/trail on the true left side of the river. We ended up with a bit of winging it, and a lot of uneccessary checking the ‘route’ on the app and confusing ourselves even more. We bush bashed, trudged through bog, went up over and down various riverbanks, and scratched our heads at exactly why (……???!!!!) the ‘route’ on the map had us taking this line.

The Waipakihi river
The Waipakihi river

Most of the river crossings were easy, especially given all the rain we’d had recently. However Blair and I hadn’t had the conversation about what I was or wasn’t comfortable with re. river crossings. This lack of communication on my part ended up wth me having a huffy moment as I struggled up to my thighs through one particularly deep bit of river whilst he (completely unaware of my momentary situation) carried on ahead of me. Of course, I blamed him for not looking out for me – whilst he was completely unaware that I was struggling momentarily (a valuable lesson in communication right there). We named that part of the river ‘Pissy Corner’ and had a laugh about it later.

The Waipakihi river
The Waipakihi river

Needless to say the hike was really slow going. We were trying to take a path that didn’t exist, and we became really annoyed with ourselves and our slow progress.

What we should have done was made the best trail we could. In hindsight I have no idea why we didn’t just make our own way up river. We had done this so many times on Te Araroa trail, walking from bank to bank and finding our own route.

By 3.30pm we’d only covered about 4 out of the approx 10kms to the hut. We decided to turn back and camp at one of the lovely little camp spots we’d seen right at the start, at the bottom of the steep descent. We got back at 5pm and picked a sunny camp spot on the true left bank around 300m upstream from the crossing point.

A perfect campsite
A perfect campsite

We set up Blair’s new tent – a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It’s a roomy one-person and snug two-person tent. We had room inside for ourselves and a few belongings, and our packs and shoes sat in the vestibule. We spent the evening enjoying the sun, and swatting hundreds of sandflies.

Enjoying the evening sun
Enjoying the evening sun

We woke the next norning to glorious sunshine and light winds. It was a pleasure to enjoy a leisurely morning. Usually we’re up and out pretty quickly. Today we waited for the tent to dry out, and didn’t leave camp until 9.35am. The 400m climb back out wasn’t nearly as daunting as I had expected, and we tackled it enthusiastically. We were up on the tops and an hour later basking in the sunshine.

On the Urchin tops heading back to the trig
On the Urchin tops heading back to the trig

We looked over towards the ridge and the Umukarikari track, and put it on the list for another time.

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