A Swamp called Colenso

The idea of a trip to a blue lake nestled in the trees with sandy beaches and a chance for a swim seems to attract trampers like a cat to smelly fish. The numbers for the open tops trips in past years have been quite low so this year we opted for just one trip at anniversary weekend and had 18 book in on the trip. So many in fact, that several experienced trampers pulled out to arrange an alternative to keep away from the crowds, including me. So when Viv had to pull out and ask me to lead the trip, I was slightly reluctant. It was in fact, very good to see so many people wanting to go on an extended trip. In the end I think it worked for everyone.

We stayed at Turangi on the Thursday night and then drove to Mokai Station at the back of Taihape the next day, leaving the carpark at about 11:00am. The route is quite different to what is shown on the 260 series map and we were blessed to have both Rowen and Don who knew the way to Iron bark Hut. Unfortunately they did not completely agree on the detail of the route. Being in the faster group, Rowen the navigator and his band were not close enough to confer with Don the pilot, whose knowledge was suffering rust stains. Don’s horse track had become overgrown and due to the huge hill (Mokai Patea itself), we were sore tempted to sidle into the saddle too early while the others went high past the scrub and gulches. Eventually we all met up at Iron Bark hut making mental notes about the route and whose advice to take in the future.

Next day we crossed the Maropea River and set off up the very steep scrabble onto the Ruahine Drop-off that forms the first part of the ridge to Colenso Hut and Lake Colenso (a Ruahine drop-off is like Viv’s Kaimanawa Drop-off on steroids). The track climbs like most Ruahine tracks, straight up a very steep ridge, 400 vertical metres to a summit and then up and down along the ridge to a similarly steep descent. Next is a quite exposed sidle for 30 minutes around the end of a spur to the plateau and basin of Lake Colenso. Geologically, Lake Colenso was formed by a slump in a limestone and Papa Clay ridge system that subsequently filled with water to make a swamp with sufficient depth to cover all the tree stumps. The “lake” is shallow, warm and an opaque green due to the algae and weeds growing in the water. The surrounding bush of the plateau has a dense flora rather reminiscent of the northland jungles rather than the beautiful beech forest typical of the rest of the range.

That evening a tropical depression off the east coast brought misty rain. The Hut is situated on the left bank of the Mangatera River. It looks out across river flats filled with budlea and lupin, apparently flourishing due to the decline in the deer population. Iron Bark to Colenso was about 5 hours.

The next day four of the party left early to go via Unknown Stream to Otukota Hut while the main party returned to Iron Bark hut. The following day we all set off up respective routes to meet on the top of the Mokai Patea Range for lunch. The Otukota Party did not like the look of the northern route to the Mokai Patea Range and elected to take the much longer southern ridge. I had been warned by DOC about the northern access on a previous occasion but when asked this time they did not mention any problem.

As we approached the summit of Mokai Patea, some party members seemed to suffer an acute attack of letsgethomeasfastaspossible-itis. Don the Pilot elected to escape down the long leading ridge from Mokai Patea while the rest of the party went south along the range, with some grumbles of various sorts, to meet the polled route down to Mokai Station. The route is certainly steep even if the drop-off is a bit shorter. I would not like to do it on wet grass.

The weather was just glorious and we had fabulous views east and north into the Ruahine Range, out across the papa clay country of the Mangawekas, Ruapehu and Ngaruahoe and south along the Mokai Patea towards the Ruahine high points of Hikurangi and Mangaweka. That is what I go tramping for, and so I was in no hurry to leave the tops. It seems that not so many others share Viv’s and my passion for the open tops. But then I cut my teeth in the Tararuas.

Eventually we had to get down and suffer the long grind home in the car.

On the party were: Clive & Helen Bolt, John & Briar Gregory, Don Rolls, Rowen Crawford, Brenda Williams, Rob Whorley, Marcel Horvarth, Annette Ashton, Lesley Hawke and Arnold VanZon.

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