This write-up will be far too long compared with the few hours that I spent on actually walking it, but whatever. 😛 With a spare day, I thought I might drive around to Catchpool Valley, where I haven’t been for some time. Several years ago and shortly before I’d left for Melbourne and since returned, I’d been thinking it’d be neat to get up Mt Matthews. I never got around to it at the time, and while there was also no way that would happen this day (for several reasons), I thought I could use my time to remind myself of what the Orongorongos are like.
Weather was a factor, having already had a day or two of torrential rain. Several further heavy downpours, due to be heaviest up until about 1pm, caused me to look for excuses to delay leaving home. Nevertheless I couldn’t delay for long enough to arrive any later than about 11.30am, and it was then that I arrived at the Catchpool Valley parking area.
Dates: 5th January, 2014.
Location: Rimutaka Forest Park, Catchpool Valley.
People: Just me.
Huts visited: Turere Lodge (0 nights), plus misc other private huts.
Route: Up Butcher Track, along Cattle Ridge, then stomping around the Orongorongo a little. Big Bend track to Turere Lodge and back, then back to Catchpool carpark.
[Download GPX] [LINZ Topographic Map in new window]
My main goal was to head up Butcher Track and check out Cattle Ridge, which I’ve not really been to in the past. (If I have, I don’t remember it.) The only part of Cattle Ridge that I’ve previously traversed is the small section at the Orongorongo River end, where Browns Track climbs up one side, crosses the top, and drops down the other. The secondary part of my intentions was that I’d possibly stomp around the Orongorongo River for a look, expecting it to be in flood. The third part of my plan would be to return to the carpark, either via Mt McKerrow, or directly, depending on timing.
Being 11.30am, there was still quite a lot of rain and few people around. A couple of joggers hovered around the large carpark, but I didn’t see where they went. Wherever it was, they didn’t follow me.
Heading up the Orongorongo Track (which is wide and flat, albeit climbing), the junction with Butcher Track is only about five minutes in. Compared with the Orongorongo Track, Butcher Track is fairly steep, but it’s still well maintained. Logistically, from the carpark, it gives more direct access to a much more southerly part of the main Orongorongo River, although I was really just keen to walk along the ridge towards the Turere Stream confluence on this occasion.
Apart from the climbing aspect (which would be very likely separate people by their hill-climbing fitness), it’s an easy track. Map contours suggest it sticking closely beside its stream, but this is slightly mis-leading. Much of the track is benched into the hill-side some distance above.
This is all fine, but it reminded me of an earlier Orongorongo visit, where a small group of us were trying to navigate down a spur into Turere Stream. We messed up, somehow ended up on the flat side of a ridge, which had only a low density of trees on a very steep-sided face, and very little to hold onto except loose and deceptively available rotting branches lying all over the ground. Not long after, this incident was reported, in that same Turere Stream catchment. Although there’s no certainty as to what happened on that occasion, it did cause me to wonder how easy it could be in that sort of area to slip, and just keep falling and gaining momentum without being able to stop. The sides off Butcher Track look familiar in that type of way, but it’s really only an issue when leaving that track. The Orongorongos are generally a safe place in many respects compared with some others, but in my head I think I mostly now associate that specific type of risk with the Orongorongos.
Anyway, Butcher Track is straightforward and with a casual effort I reached its junction with the main Cattle Ridge track after about 35 minutes. At this time I stopped for a moment, rearranged some things, and found a couple of squares of chocolate. This junction is under trees, but it soon enters a more exposed region, flat on the side of the ridge. It’d be sheltered enough as the vegetation through which it’s cut is still about head-high, but the ridge’s flat face towards a fairly strong nor-westerly made that wind quite obvious. Within a few minutes, in the north-east direction, the track re-enters trees and is well sheltered, despite being along the top of the ridge.
Without getting into it this time, I think Cattle Ridge just shows off how accessible the Orongorongos are for navigation exercises. For starters I found it a great track to practice my location awareness skills, noting the subtle twists and dips along the route and attempting to track my location on the map, and was happy to find myself being mostly successful in this instance. That’s nicely reassuring. Furthermore there are countless old tracks and routes heading off minor spurs down the sides—some marked with old markers and others not so much. At some point I bet it could be fun to come back and attempt to navigate down some of the less major spurs.
With the ridge being full of distractions, it was 1.15pm before I hit the criss-cross junction of the Cattle Ridge Track and Browns Track. Not far after here, the Cattle Ridge track drops sharply towards the Orongorongo Track, which I reached after about another 20 minutes. The Orongorongo Track itself, at this point, still sits about 60 to 80 metres above the river, and it drops that last amount fairly suddenly. It was from here that I had my first view of the river being in obvious flood, from a combination of the last few days’ heavy rain and this morning’s downpour. The track itself switches around some long detours to keep itself relatively easy, but there’s at least one clear short-cut which it’s possible to take for anyone who can’t be bothered with the long, boring switching route around the inside of the hillsides.
From the Turere Bridge it was clear that Turere Stream was mucky, but the Orongorongo River was positively dirty. There was a clear line between the two where they joined. Still no sign of anyone else, anywhere, but at least it was no longer raining and the sky was actually starting to clear.
The Orongorongo River in flood.
I like watching rivers in flood, so I wandered down towards the river-bed to stop around a little, admiring the force of all that water. There’s only so far you can travel in a flooded river-bed, though, even one as wide as the Orongorongo. After about 30 minutes I wandered back, thinking I might follow the Big Bend Track for a time to see what the river was like further up.
With so many private huts and lodges in this area, hidden amongst the trees, Big Bend Track is almost in the same mould as the Orongorongo Track itself. It’s a very fast and highly maintained track, and for the most part much faster than trying to walk up the river-bed. I stopped briefly to check out a couple of the smaller private huts along the way, but I think this was evidenced very nicely when I reached Turere Lodge—one of the bookable DOC huts—to find a pram parked outside. Turere Lodge is signposted at 30 minutes from the bridge, but at my normal pace I arrived quite comfortably in about 10 minutes.
Turere Lodge is much bigger than I had imagined. It hosted a small group, and although I didn’t want to be too invasive, I poked my nose into the giant lodge and had a brief chat. They had originally booked into a hut on the far side of the river, but booked the lodge at the last minute after checking the forecast and deciding it was unlikely they’d have a hope of reaching their first choice. They were now planning to stay a second night and hoping to check out Mt Matthews the following day. There would be no issues with further rain, but it was more a question of how much water was stuck in the hills, and whether the Orongorongo River would drop to a safe level for crossing by the time they’d need to leave.
Noting that I’d left intentions of being out by about 5pm, it seemed I should start thinking about getting back, so from here I wandered back to the bridge along Big Bend Track, took a final look towards the Orongorongo River, and made my way across the bridge. By this time, someone else had arrived, left an overnight-sized pack on the bridge, and headed out to the river to take some photos. With the exception of those people whom I’d met in the lodge, this was the first person I’d encountered out walking since leaving the carpark.
With sun properly coming out, I decided on the walk back up the steep short-cut slope towards the Orongorongo Track to finally remove my raincoat. It was getting rather hot. Upon reaching the junction I decided not to bother with Mt McKerrow, which I didn’t consider to be a huge loss. I’ve been up it several times, and while it has its points of interest, I don’t fund much rewarding about it. It’s basically a case of climbing up a hill until you finally reach a fairly featureless pole that pokes out of the ground, and remains surrounded by trees. So back via the Orongorongo Track it was.
At long last, there were signs of people coming into the range for a walk. 10 minutes back from the river I met one chap, with two young children. They’d been walking in for a planned stay at one of the huts on the far side, and I had the sad duty of informing him that there was unfortunately no way on earth they’d be getting across the Orongorongo River today. His instructions had been ambiguous, and unfortunately weren’t clear that “opposite the bridge” didn’t mean that there was a bridge across the Orongorongo River. Not the greatest news, because by this point the children were getting tired, but it could have been worse. I suggested that if it’d be difficult to turn back at this point, they could instead aim for Turere Lodge which was open and they’d probably be welcomed, but I think he was deciding in the end to turn around.
Continuing to work on my location awareness, I was really glad to be able to pick out the bottom of the spur from where Browns Track leaves. Despite being a clear track on the maps, Browns Track is difficult to locate from the Orongorongo Track if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s not sign-posted, and marked only by a small pink tie around a tree. It’s necessary to walk 20 or 30 metres back into the bush before it begins to look more track-like.
Later in the day I met a few more people, walking in from the carpark, most likely having left home after the sun came out. I’d taken off my raincoat by this time, but I may have appeared out of place to them with my polypro and my gaiters and my map case hanging around my neck. The Orongorongo Track is not exactly the sort of track which demands a high degree of map reading unless you force it.
In the end, I found that by the time I reached the carpark I had much more time than I’d budgeted with, despite my laziness and regular distracted stops along the way. With the sun out, I went for a short walk around the camp-ground area, which is nice all by itself. I’m glad the rain cleared up later in the day, but in many ways it’s also great in a place like this when the weather’s less stable. In part because there are fewer people to run into, but also because it creates an opportunity to see the area in a way that some people simply don’t.
In any case, after this brief reminder, Mt Matthews is hopefully not too far away.