Trip: Lake Dive to North Egmont

I visited Eggie between Christmas and New Year, and stayed a couple of nights on the mountain. More specifically, I started around Lake Dive and Dawson Falls on the southern side, and made my way around to North Egmont via the eastern side. If you’re after a remote wilderness experience then Egmont National Park isn’t the easiest place to get one. It’s quite small, and very few parts of it (if any) are out of reach of daywalks, especially during the long days of summer. On the other hand, I think it’s definitely worth visiting. Egmont National Park is an isolated circle, literally. It’s as if someone took a compass on a flat topographical map, and drew a circle around the centre of the mountain to define the national park. Trees and native bush outside this line have been removed, and generally converted to farm-land.

Lake Dive in front of Egmont
and Fanthams Peak.

Dates: 28th – 30th December, 2008
Location: Egmont National Park, Dawson Falls to North Egmont.
People: Just me.
Huts visited: Lake Dive Hut (1 night), Kapuni Lodge (0 nights), Hooker Shelter (0 nights), Waingongoro Hut (0 nights), Maketawa Hut (1 night).
Route: Lake Dive Loop from Dawson’s Falls (lower track then upper track), then around the eastern side of Egmont from Dawson Falls to Maketawa Hut on the lower track, and out via North Egmont.

This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.

Mt Egmont seen from New Plymouth,
with the Pouakai Range to the right.

As with most parks in New Zealand, Egmont has its own colour and character; this park is sharply defined by a solo cone-shaped volcanic mountain in the middle. There is actually a mountain range going through Mount Taranaki/Egmont, which is the consequence of a slowly moving volcanic centre of which remnants can still be seen poking out of the sea off the coast of New Plymouth, then climbing to the south into the Pouakai Range, continuing through Egmont’s discrete 2518 metre peak, and finishing at Fanthams Peak on the southern slope, which is the consequence of the most recent volcanic action. Although it’s been relatively dormant in the past few hundred years, the park is dotted all over with massive domes and bluffs, all of which are symptomatic of the mountain’s violent and continuing volcanic history.

Starting at Dawson Falls, which is one of the main visitor’s centers on the southern side of the mountain, my original plan had been to walk around the western side of the mountain, and end up at North Egmont 2 days later. After checking in at the visitor’s centre, however, the DOC guy there talked me out of it, indicating that there was no way I’d get to Waiaua Gorge Hut (which I was hoping for) now that it was midday, and also pointing out that some of the higher areas around the western side might not be as well suited to tramping along, noting that there were quite a few things around there to fall off and it wouldn’t be good for me to be stuck by myself in such a situation. My adjusted plan ended up being to simply do the Lake Dive Loop from Dawson Falls, and then walk around the eastern side after passing back through the visitor’s centre.

I left Dawson’s Falls at about 12pm, and actually getting to Lake Dive via the lower track didn’t take long at all. It’s sign-posted as a 2.5 hour walk and this is about how long it took me, though someone’s tried to cross out 2.5 and write 3.5, so it probably varies.

I stopped for lunch after about 20 minutes of walking, and was saddened to find that the pita bread I’d quickly grabbed from the supermarket shelf earlier in the day was absolutely vile, to the point where I actually ended up choking on it. The cheese I’d hastily chucked in wasn’t a lot better (very dry and crusty), and all of this was concerning because in the longer term, I ended up not getting anywhere near as much lunch as I should really have been eating.

Boardwalks boardwalks everywhere.

Eggie is interesting when compared with places I visit more frequently (especially the Tararuas and Ruahines), because most of the “official” tracks in Egmont National Park are very strictly maintained. Around much of it, especially on this side, there’s hardly an up-hill or down-hill without cut and built steps, and step-ladders are even encountered from time to time where in other places, a route would probably just switch back and forth a couple of times to sidle up a slope. Ditches and little gullies frequently have small bridges and boardwalks. This does make the going easier, as long as you plan to stick to the routes that have been laid out for you, but I’m not sure if I’m personally a big fan of it. It does remove some of the wilderness feeling of actually getting away from things, not to mention that the heavily graded tracks tend to be much harder on one’s knees than something like mud and undergrowth.

Another thing with Egmont is that after all the built-up walkways and artificial crossings, streams that actually matter don’t have anything and still need to be crossed in the usual way. Consequently, there’s no clear guarantee that the well-built tracks will be traversible in heavy rain. This is probably because without spending lots of effort and money, anything that’s built over these streams would likely be washed away, and other parts of the tracks are probably strongly maintained because they get lots of people, and without it they’d likely erode far more quickly.

The lower track to Lake Dive is very straightforward, although it crosses at least 3 (possibly 4) streams which look as if they’d be very prone to flash flooding in heavy rain, so the route is unlikely to be walkable in those heavy rain conditions. One of these crossings, specifically the Kaupokonui Stream about half way to Lake Dive, is a crossing where last October (2008), a woman was swept away and sadly died. Even with the stream well down, this was probably the most complicated crossing, if only because the track didn’t resume directly on the other side, but actually came out about 15 metres further down. I had to look around for a minute or two to figure out where I should be going. By comparison with the stream in a very tame mood, however, it was still nothing to be concerned about at the time.

Lake Dive.

Nobody was home at Lake Dive when I arrived at 2.20pm, and I began to wonder what on earth I should do with the remaining 7 hours of daylight. It crossed my mind to keep walking to Waiaua Gorge Hut, but ultimately I’d already made up my mind by that point and indicated different intentions, so I elected against it. It’s also just a really nice place.

So far I’ve not really found Egmont National Park to be a very photogenic place, at least without a lot of skill that I don’t really have. It’s a dark pale green and gray all over, and the green frequently has spiky dead trees poking up all over the place, which I find very interesting to look at, but very difficult to frame in a photo. The only place I’ve had more trouble taking photos I like has been the Aorangi Range, for some reason. Lake Dive was a real contradiction to this impression though. In fact, for the rest of the day and the next morning, I spent quite a lot of time snapping almost the same photos over and over again.

A possum probably bent the
guttering, or something…

A couple of chaps (a trainee pilot from Ohakea and his younger brother) showed up within about 30 minutes of when I arrived, having come down from the upper track, and immediately noticed that the main pipe from the guttering into one of the water tanks had fallen out. This was probably due to a possum leaning on the guttering and crawling on the pipe, but between us the three of us managed to climb up and thump it back in using various techniques of which I doubt Occupational Safety & Health would have approved. It’ll probably fall off again as soon as another possum perches on the guttering, so I made a note to report it on getting back. Throughout the rest of the day, we were joined by another couple, a girl who’d walked from North Egmont that morning, and a family group of 6 people, one with a prosthetic leg, who’d come behind me on the lower track from Dawson Falls.

My bed for the night.

The weather had been really sunny for all of that day, which is unusual for Taranaki. Locals have a saying that if you can’t see the mountain then it’s raining, whereas if you can see the mountain, it’s going to rain. I’d been seeing the mountain all day, even though the forecast had been for light rain to come in the evening, and for things to really pack in the next day. This never really happened, though, and it didn’t look as if it was getting worse, so I thought I might take advantage of things, and hauled a mattress out onto the front deck to sleep outside for the night. I’m really glad I did, despite nobody else there at the time really understanding why.

Everyone was in bed by about 10pm. The trainee pilot guy came outside for a last smoke under the stars, and during the 30 minutes he was there we picked out 5 or 6 meteors (probably part of a shower because they had a similar radiant), and several post-sunset satellites including a very bright satellite which was probably the International Space Station. The snow-topped Mount Taranaki/Egmont itself was lit up all night by the stars, and crowned by the Pleides and Orion, although by several hours later that night, Leo had cruised over into roughly the same region.

Lake Dive in the early morning.

I had a fantastic sleep that night, too, at least for the time I was actually sleeping. I suppose the only down-side was that the 5am sunrise over Mt Taranaki/Egmont meant that I woke very early, and after it began I simply didn’t want to go to sleep again. At a quarter to 6, I pulled off my sleeping bag, and picked myself up for a 2 minute walk through the wet grass down to the edge of Lake Dive. It was worth it, and the mountain reflection of the sunrise on the fog-covered lake was a calming sight. After 10 minutes I snuck back to the sleeping bag on my mattress and continued to stare at the mountain.

Lake Dive Hut from the upper track.

2 hours later, at around a quarter to 8, I finally left. It looked to be a fairly nice day, although the most recent forecast still said it should already be raining by now, and much worse as time went on. The upper track from Lake Dive back to Dawson Falls heads up the side of the Fanthams Peak dome almost straight away, and within about 10 minutes of walking the surroundings are already sub-alpine scrub. I hadn’t realised there was much leatherwood outside the Tararuas and Ruahines, but Egmont also certainly has its share, though I didn’t need to fight with any because the tracks are so well cut. Lake Dive Hut is clearly visible from up here, against the front of one of those massive overgrown domes (one of the Beehives) which was formed by volcanic activity some time ago.

An unfortunate boardwalk.

After around 40 minutes of casual climbing, I reached the junction of the upper track at which point it splits between the Brames Falls Track to Waiaua Gorge Hut, or the Upper Lake Dive Track back to Dawson Falls. I took the eastern branch, back towards Dawson Falls. The track sidles around several spurs and into several gullies off the southern side of Fanthams Peak, although it’s a very easy sidling track and although it’s a little thin in places, there’s always something to hold onto for balance if necessary, it never feels as if there’s far to fall, and there’s nothing that really feels dangerous such as trying to clamber over recent unstable slips… which I’ve noticed on some other parts of the mountain. Once again, this is also board-walk and constructed track region. Board-walks and little bridges turn up in unusual places, although the most unusual that I noticed was what looked to be a recently built platform that was crushed underneath a big rock. It’s just a reminder that erosion is always happening, I suppose, and it’s what DOC will always be fighting with as they maintain tracks such as this one.

The view from Fanthams Peak.

After another 45 minutes of sidling around the southern side of Fanthams Peak, I reached what’s sometimes referred to as “the staircase”, which is quite a long line of constructed wooden steps leading up the side. I had lots of time so I thought I might try to head up to Syme Hut for a look, which sits on the top of Fanthams Peak. Walking up from that point, the steps stop after 163 of them, and the route quickly becomes a poled route which, at this time of year, was over scree… although I could easily imagine it being nice, hard ice in different conditions. I followed the scree up for about 30 minutes and passed a couple of people on their way down, but in the end I never quite got to Syme Hut. I’m not sure exactly why I turned around, but I didn’t feel quite right about it at the time. It might have been a combination of the forecast I had which implied bad weather could be quickly rolling in any time now, and considering that I was all on my own and it’d probably be a helicopter rescue if anything bad happened. So I took a nice photo from near the top, turned around and went down again. Next time, I guess.

Looking down the staircase.

From the top of the staircase I went back down the first 163 steps to the junction I’d started from, then continued another 568 steps to Kapuni Lodge. Kapuni Lodge is a private lodge owned and operated by the Mt Egmont Alpine Club, and I was lucky that one of the people I’d seen coming down from Fanthams Peak had booked the key and based herself in the lodge, and was busy cooking herself some spaghetti… she invited me in and I was able to take a look around and see how nice it was inside.

Hooker Shelter.

I stopped bothering to count steps from Kapuni Lodge, so I don’t know how many further steps there were down to Hooker Shelter, which is a bus stop shelter (not literally) about 20 minutes further down. By now I was starting to encounter people on daywalks, including a few who were walking the Lake Dive loop. I exchanged information about track conditions, and was gracefully informed that the day’s forecast was actually really nice, so I had no idea where the rain had gone except that perhaps the front had hit somewhere further north. (This is very unusual for Egmont, which just attracts rain all the time.) 30 minutes later, I was back at the Dawson Falls visitor centre, where I signed out of the intentions’ book, signed in for a new walk to North Egmont, and got an update of the mountain forecast, which once again predicted heavy rain for later in the day.

At that time I still hadn’t figured out how I was going to kill all my time until 2pm the following day. My original plan was to stay the second night at Waingongoro Hut, literally 45 minutes from Dawson Falls, but I’d still be there before lunch time. In the end, I decided to simply have lunch at Waingongoro Hut, and continue on to Maketawa Hut for the night, which is very close to the North Egmont exit where I was being collected. It sounded as if this would be the best day for walking, so I figured I may as well get it out of the way.

Waingongoro Hut.

Lunch at Waingongoro Hut (about 12.30pm) was another episode of choking on dreadful pita bread and crusty cheese. This was a shame because once again I didn’t get a very good fill, and I think it contributed to me not feeling too well for the rest of the day. There are a couple of main options for getting to North Egmont from Dawson Falls (upper track or lower track), but this time I just chose the lower track, which was closer, even though it was probably less direct. The weather was starting to close in, and by that time I was getting tired of seeing the mountain all the time (heresy, I know). The other attraction at the time was Curtis Falls, marked on the map between East Egmont and the Maketawa River, which I thought might be interesting to check out.

I left Waingongoro Hut in the sunshine after about 45 minutes of relaxing, and chatting to a few people who’d come by for a look. 10 minutes from Waingongoro Hut, heading anti-clockwise around the mountain, is a very impressive swing bridge over the Waingongoro River — it’s the kind of bridge where it may be easier to just look straight ahead if you don’t like looking at emptiness below your feet, so I just consoled myself in the knowledge that I still don’t know anyone who’s ever fallen off this kind of bridge.

From there on, it’s a bush-walk to East Egmont, which is another road crossing on the round-the-mountain track, this road being directly below Egmont’s skifield. And once again it was well-built hard tracks everywhere. In fact, I spent the better part of the day on hard tracks and boardwalks and step-ladders here and there, which I found difficult because it’s not really the kind of surface I like walking on with tramping boots and when carrying a pack. I ended up with knee problems last time I visited Egmont, and I started noticing them again this time, though I consciously made an effort to deal with them this time.

I crossed the road at East Egmont at 2.15pm, and it finally began to rain. This gave me a small burst of energy, because at the time I wasn’t sure how heavy the rain was likely to get, and I wanted to get through any rivers before they became subject to potential flash-flooding. As usual, my backup plan would have been to set up the fly somewhere and camp for the night, but I really hoped it wouldn’t come to this. There are very few places obvious for fly-camping, which I think is because the track is so strictly formed and bush on either side stays quite dense. It’d always be possible to bed down on the track if necessary, though.

The lower track on this side is a nice bush walk, though the latter parts of it (on the Maketawa side) tend to drop steeply into wide gorges, and climb steeply out of them. The first major one of these is through the southern branch of the Manganui River, on which the Curtis Falls are placed, where I arrived at around 2.50pm (35 minutes after leaving East Egmont). The river is wide and braided. Walking down from up high it sounded very loud and until I saw it, I was concerned that the river might already be flooding and over-full. This wasn’t the case, however, and I think the noise was simply from the falls, which admittedly I never bothered to go and find because I had a headache by this time and just wanted to get to where I was going. The route over the Manganui River, with several small rocky islands in the middle, is marked by a few orange triangles.

It would have been nice to see the falls, but my main regret is that I didn’t figure out an anomoly with the 1999 LINZ map that I was using. The map shows the falls as being about 500 metres upstream from where the track emerges, but on crossing the river it sounded as if the falls were downstream, and someone had created a make-shift sign with a plastic board and permanent marker that was stuck between two rocks and pointed down-stream. It’s yet another thing for next time.

The route up the
Little Maketawa Stream.

After the southern branch, the track climbs steeply up one side of an east-west spur, and down the other side into the northern branch of the Manganui River before flattening out some more. When the track finally reaches the Maketawa Stream, it finally stops being a well graded track for a while, and drops into a few switches of scree, marked by a few orange triangles, into the gorge before climbing again up the other side. The altitude is short-lived, however, as it once-again drops into the Little Maketawa Stream on the other side (yet another fairly wide, rocky gorge), and the route follows this stream for a few hundred metres up the mountain before climbing out the far side. Although the Maketawa Stream had some water flowing, the Little Maketawa Stream was nothing more than an empty river-bed of rocks when I visited, although I’m sure there was still water flowing underground.

I left the gorge of the Little Maketawa Stream at 4.15pm, and after climbing out the route reaches a track leading back to Maketawa Hut, literally only 5 minutes away. By now I’d become quite wet from the ongoing rain, but it hadn’t really gotten bad enough to don a raincoat (which would have just gotten hot) so I walked up to the hut with a saturated sun-hat.

Towards Egmont over the
Little Maketawa Stream from
Maketawa Hut.

As I arrived there were two people at Maketawa Hut, who’d walked around from Pouakai Hut and were planning to head up to Egmont’s summit the next day if the conditions allowed, even though it didn’t seem promising at the moment. The bunk room I set up in was filthy by comparison with most, with quite a lot of rubbish lying around, which I guess is a consequence of the hut being so close to North Egmont. Egmont is already a haven for casual day-walkers, many of those day-walkers would be visiting Maketawa Hut, and with that many people there are probably a few who aren’t as respectful of the generally expected etiquette of back-country cleaning up after yourself. I pushed aside the screwed up tissues and plastic bags, and ultimately ended up carrying some of it out the next day.

Within half an hour or so, a group of 8 people from the North Shore Tramping Club arrived, and also another couple from England, who’d been up to the summit also came by. I chatted with a few of them as they pulled out their cookers and their various dinners and cooked them. Meanwhile I sent a couple of text messages, and arranged to be collected early, because my headache was getting annoying and being within an hour of the road, I really didn’t feel like sitting around until 2pm the following day.

That final night was awful for sleep. We planned to leave the window open from the heat, but I closed it at 11pm after I started getting rained on, and I don’t think I was the only person short of sleep. Maybe I should have had a panadol, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Still, morning finally came and it was good to finally get up and outside into the fresh air. From Maketawa Hut, it’s literally a 45 minute canter down the hill to the North Egmont Visitor’s Centre, so after getting away at 8am I was there by 9, and still had an hour to wait. This turned out to work very nicely, because the visitor’s center has a really nice cafe which does big breakfasts and after a couple of days of worse than average lunches, it was good to have a fulfilling breakfast.

And that’s how things ended — with a very nice breakfast. If you plan to come out at North Egmont, make sure you have some cash or an EFTPOS card with you. I enjoy so much about tramping and walking everywhere and so many different things about it, but the nicest part of this 2 night trip was definitely Lake Dive, both because of the scenic surroundings and also, I think, because of the people I was fortunate to meet there. Waking up underneath the sunrise on the mountain was special, and I’d like to do it again some time.

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