This was a fantastic walk and amazing opportunity to experience a seldom seen part of the Kaimai range. Three of us – me (Barbara), Jane and David, were led by Barry Pethybridge, with his many years of experience and accumulated knowledge. Barry tends to follows deer tracks (not recommended for novice bush walkers) as opposed to tramping tracks and it’s amazing what you’ll see along the way with this approach. As we discovered however, deer don’t walk in very straight lines, so there was plenty of ‘around and about’ on this tramp!

We headed into the bush from Upland Road, our destination the rustic Kauritatahi Hut on the ridge line. The weather was lovely and with spring 2019 rainfall relatively low we found the track very dry underfoot. Several hours and much uphill later we reached the hut. It sits above cliff faces which are now scarred by slips.  It is believed that sea birds such as petrels once nested on these cliffs. It would have been marvellous to explore here but the requirements for abseiling gear to handle the sheer drops and younger, more agile bodies than we now possess prevented that!

The hut sleeps three and the remarkably intrepid Jane slept in her tent. Sadly, the next morning’s dawn chorus was very poor. Birds are not thriving here at all, and the lack of pest control is certainly a factor. Looking down into the western BOP, where Katikati and its surrounds were shrouded in fog, David remarked how peaceful it was up top whilst below us “SH2 would be going nuts”.

Following Barry’s pre-tramp instructions, we were wearing long pants and gardening gloves for the return trip which was a different route to the one up.  We set off to cross the swamp following the now disused North-South track. The dry conditions made for easy going, but it wasn’t hard to imagine how unpleasant it would have been walking in the bog if it were wet! No wonder the Kaimai North-South track was re-routed. This high swamp is a delightful area if you a keen (amateur) botanist with several examples of plants not encountered lower down e.g. mountain toatoa, bog pine, kaikawaka and toro.  We marveled at the old tree stumps. Fire had swept through the area some time ago. A timely reminder of what can happen.  The forest may look green, but it is currently very dry. It’s also very scratchy!  Deer tracks happily weave their way between clumps of cutty grass and thus we did a great deal of ‘bush bashing’ – thank goodness for those gloves.

There was deer sign and browse everywhere. Regardless of your opinion of these introduced creatures, Barry has huge respect for all animals. It was an enjoyable challenge coming down parallel to one of those huge slips, hanging on to grass clumps for fear of slipping, with Barry pausing to point out spots where deer would likely gather.

This hike was a lot of fun and an interesting chance to learn how this different type of forest is faring at the top of the Kaimai, especially in comparison above our lowland bush area of Aongatete.