There is a place round here where
the water runs clear
First published, March 2013
This story was originally going to be about water, and more specifically, the Oroua River. But as often happens with SwampThing stories set in the bush, things took an unexpected turn.
It’s the end of February and the heat from one of the hottest summers Manawatu has had for years is becoming intolerable, so the chance to go up the Oroua River just north of Apiti to check a stoat line seems like more of a holiday than a chore.
My partner and I had checked our first stoatline up the Oroua River a month earlier. It had just rained but the river wasn’t too high. It was hot, but the heat still seemed novel at the end of January.
Things are a little different now. The dry summer is staring to bite. The Manawatu River isn’t much more than a foul stagnant sewer. The Oroua River south of the Affco meat works has been in the news because of toxic algal blooms. How low and murky would the river be?
I needn’t have worried. The Oroua in the mountains is still gurgling away. Deep emerald pools with fish in them are still inviting.
So to show what a river and its water should really be like, and to make up for the disgraceful Manawatu River in the previous photo essay, I thought I’d treat you to this.
But first I’ll tell you about the night we spent and the people we met at Iron Gate hut. It’s about a four hour walk into the Ruahine Ranges from a carpark at the end of Petersons Road near Apiti.
I say four hours - but that’s if you’re fit and travelling light and aren’t into stopping for the occasional rest and refreshment.
The first time we went up three years ago it took us more than five and a half hours. We were newby trampers and had heavy packs - tent, wine, coffee, camembert - the sort of things you need in the bush. We found the going pretty tough.
A month ago we went in to do our first stoat line above Iron Gate Hut along the river to Triangle Hut. We are fitter now, but still had a tent (no wine or cheese), so our packs were still pretty heavy. It took us four hours.
The other day we went light. No tent and minimal gear. It took three and a quarter hours. I’m not trying to show off here...it’s just been interesting watching our fitness develop - even though we’re getting older and our knees creakier. But it was especially interesting to see the difference going light meant.
A trip up the Oroua River in the heat of summer is a welcome reminder
of how good rivers can be. By Anthony Behrens.
Click to visit Iron Gate Hut @ DoC
When we got to the hut it became clear we had company. Seven Venturer Scouts were inside. The hut was full - of kids, smelly socks and chatter.
We’d be sleeping on the porch.
The weather was just right for it. The warm, dry night quickly descended and our inflatable mattresses were soon in business.
As we lay down for a read by head-torch Mary and Dan arrived. They’d left the carpark at about three and it was well dark by the time they got to Iron Gate. We cleared the deck of firewood to make room for them, had a bit of a talk then buried ourselves in our sleeping bags.
Iron Gate Hut was chockerblock. The kids were asleep by nine and the happy-campers on the porch soon joined them.
The odd Morepork could be heard over the hiss of the Oroua River as the occasional moth flew down someone’s sleeping bag. There was no dew or mozzies...it was about as good as you’ll ever get for sleeping outdoors in the Ruahines.
The Raukawa Venturers at the hut were a group of six aged from 13 to 17. They had a twenty-year-old minder, Michael McCrae and a bush radio. The walk in had pushed the youngsters’ endurance slightly, but hadn’t scared them off.
They’d spent the first night an hour into the bush at Alice Nash Hut. The next day was a bit more demanding but nothing they couldn’t manage. It was their first tramp as a group and leader, Carol Kelly had designed it as a challenge, but a challenge that would be suitable for a group with varying abilities and needs.
Mikayla Dooney, a Type 1 Diabetic had had a bit of a drama on the way in to Iron Gate. She got pretty tired at one stage and was worried her exhaustion was the much more serious diabetic hypoglycemia. It’s easy to understand her concerns as many, even experienced trampers, get flakey at some point. She also had the unfortunate experience of having her insulin pump site “torn out” by her pack close to the end of the day.
It was her first tramp - her first nights in the bush.
In her own words, Mikayla is “a very determined person”. Looking back at the experience, she was more than happy with the response of her mates. They were well-equipped and Michael’s safe hands saw them through without having to call in the Thunderbirds.
Mikayla’s friend, Jessica McCrae, has been on a few tramps and seen a few huts.
“I don’t really like going on tramps...cos my ankles and knees get really sore”. But she does it because it’s just “nice to get out”.
What would’ve happened if they’d turned up last and there were no bunks left. “It’s happened before. We got to a hut that was full of hunters. We just had to negotiate,” says Jessica.
According to the girls, fellow Venturers, Alistair and Logan, were running this tramp. Mikayla and Jessica will be running their own events soon - so they “had to come along to support the others, or the others wouldn’t support” them - Venturers is a give and take thing.
Michael, Katelyn, Jessica, Hamish, Alister, Logan and Mikayla of the Raukawa Venturers.
RECIPE: IRON GATE SOCK COFFEE
Take one classic back-country pot. Fill with Oroua river water and plunger ground coffee. Boil until black. Take one well used, but not holey cotton sock - strain the thick brew into your cup.
It’s not quite George Street - but it’s close.
A return trip...
Mary Legg first came to Iron Gate in her second year at Massey with a group of freshers. She was shy in those days and remembers the pressure to always move on from the fit people in the group. She may have been put off by her fellow high-achievers, but she thinks enough of a seed was planted to get her back into tramping about 30 years later.
Mary, left, and husband Dan, right, have only been tramping for 2 or 3 years now that their kids are older and able to look after themselves. Mary got into it first but Dan caught the bug soon after. He was always more of a fisherman, preferring the beach to the plants Mary loves.
But it wasn’t just their new-found freedom that’s got them into the bush - they’re both fair-skinned and would now rather spend their outdoor time in the bush than in the blistering sun on the coast.
They’ve come across Venturers before, which is why they were prepared to sleep on the porch with their blow-up mattresses.
Many tramping clubs are finding it hard to attract new and younger members these days. The feeling is that kids are too involved in computers, malls and individual sports to want to spend their weekends in the hills.
But judging by the full house at Iron Gate the other day, it’s not all bad news. Perhaps people just need to be shown the bush when they’re young - and one day that memory will be enough to drag them back when life is ready to let them return.
Don’t tell OSH
We were at the hut to check the stoat-line so took the opportunity to show off the awesome AND scarey power of the DOC 200 trap as Fiona checks the bait.
We cleared 9 rats, 1 stoat and a mouse from the traps that weekend on a trip that wasn’t part of the regular monthly clearance cycle. It’s been a record year for stoats, so the more often the traps are cleared, the better.
PICTURES FROM THE RIVER OVER THE PAGE...
A Kapokapowai or Giant Bush Dragonfly by the river below the hut
The water up the Oroua River Valley is crystal clear.
The beech forest comes right down to the river’s edge.
Unlike the Manawatu RIver that goes through Palmerston North, the only litter is leaves.
Shoulder deep and the bottom can still be seen.
There is algal growth...where pools have been cut off from the flow of the river. But even these show evidence of the abundant life of the valley.
Beech seedlings sprout on river gravel. Some areas of the river bed are thick with juvenile and native re-growth.
There are gentle rapids all the the down the river to Iron Gate Gorge and beyond.
Even though there’s a drought, water still drains out of the sides of the hills and into the river.
But just as we’re starting to think this place is perfect...
Buddleia. As we approach the end of a 6 hour trip downstream, the banks of the river start to get overwhelmed by this foreign invader. Some think it’s a great nursery plant...but nothing really grows under it and the Oroua River seems to have plenty of its own natural nurseries. Slips up the river are stablised by fast growing and thick native beech. Below Alice Nash Hut slips are covered by the more aggressive Buddleia as it makes it’s way into the forest.
The end of our trip...
...it’s back to town through the heat of a Manawatu drought.
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