Modern media convention is to include a picture of Stupid Tarn with any and every reference to Egmont National Park, even when Stupid Tarn has no relevance.
Below this picture I enclose a trip report for an occasion on which I visited Egmont National Park. I did not visit Stupid Tarn. I was generally on the far side of the mountain, but I was within the boundaries of Egmont National Park. Therefore I enclose this Stupid Tarn photograph so we can all bask in its reflective alpine glory as if we’re a real part of the juggernaut of Instagram following camera wielding visitors who must have visited Stupid Tarn on this day. Also, it’ll make it clear that I’m writing about Egmont National Park, which is really little more than Stupid Tarn surrounded by a rich culturally deep mountainous diversity.
This trip begins at Dawson Falls carpark, and probably gets no closer to Stupid Tarn than that. More accurately it begins in New Plymouth which is even further from Stupid Tarn.
Dates: 29th – 31st December, 2018
Location: Egmont National Park, Dawson Falls Visitor Centre.
People: Just me.
Huts visited: Hooker Shelter, Waiaua Gorge Hut (1 night), Lake Dive Hut (1 night), Kapuni Lodge.
Route: Dawson Falls carpark upwards past Kapuni Lodge, then across high route to Waiaua Gorge Hut for the night. To Lake Dive Hut via lower track for another night. Then up to upper track, across and back down to Dawson Falls.
[Download GPX] [LINZ Topographic Map in new window]
On Thursday morning I pulled on my right sock and immediately felt it tear around my heel. I haven’t even used this sock that many times. I guess the modern incarnation of this brand is not what it used to be. I didn’t have any spare socks, so I taped my foot. The previous night I’d finished packing. It’s been a while since getting out tramping due to some interventions of real life, but I helpfully found some two year old jelly beans and chocolate in an isolated pocket of my pack. Jelly beans and Chocolate mix really well in one’s mouth. The left sock was fine.
I was helpfully dropped at the Dawson Falls carpark at 10.30am, and soon after began my initial trek up the side of the mountain. I’d conservatively estimated up to seven hours to Waiaua Gorge Hut, so with so much daylight to work with there should be plenty of time.
The track up to Fanthams Peak was already well populated with day-walkers visiting Syme Hut. I passed and greeted many walking in both directions, past the Hillary memorial, past the bus stop Hooker Shelter, and past the junction to Kapuni Lodge. A few minutes later I reached my turnoff point, where I could start sidling clockwise around the mountain on the upper track, and the traffic density immediately plummeted.
There are a few narrow bits on this section, but overall it’s a very straightforward route in summer with the proviso of having had some introduction and experience with walking through tussocky terrain.
I passed a group of six who jovially asked me to save them a bunk at Lake Dive. They were even more delighted to learn that I was aiming for a different hut altogether. It was not far beyond that I reached the junction allowing a descent to Lake Dive. The group caught with me again, and we greeted each other, as I sat at the sign munching my cheese sandwiches, before the headed down the hill.
It had taken me around 90 minutes to make it this far from the carpark, which was highly encouraging.
The next part of sidling was considerably different. The route is well marked with waratahs, especially in this summer weather, but it necessarily wraps the side of the mountain including the various guts and ribs, inwards and outwards. Several times, I had to carefully consider a route to reach a marker pole in the distance because the was no obvious ground trail.
I met a woman coming the other way. We briefly greeted each other and I memorised a message type give her companion following. It was a whole 15 minutes of further walking before he came by.
The was little water except for a single stream. I stopped to refill my bottle but changed my mind upon seeing a large dead bird lying in the water. I took a few steps further up the hillside and took my water from upstream.
Underneath Bob’s Ridge, marker poles suggested I should delicately weave myself steeply down the side, then sidle along an edge above a small but potentially still lethal bluff, gradually finding my way to the base. On the far side, the opposing route climbed steeply up and back and forth until, finally, I glanced 100 metres away to see a marker pole on the far side which I could identify as having been at about 30 minutes earlier. I had not factored a 200 metres an hour stretch into my calculations when applying my metrics to what I saw on the map.
From here the track continued to be clambery and felt relatively slow, never frightening but constantly requiring care and concentration, even after I reached the main spur down of the Brames Falls track. Experience in the Tararua and Ruahine had been a good background for this afternoon’s episode.
Getting down was also slow, carefully sliding over rocks and guiding myself down in the necessary direction. If what I’ve seen of the Around the Mountain tracks, this area is probably at least equal to the most technical. Gradually it morphed from a technical issue into merely one of managing the placement of feet along a reasonably step descent down a spur, but by then it was a relatively straightforward experience. Thud thud thud.
I met three people sitting on the track on the way down. Thud thud thud.
(Must carefully edge my way around their stuff. That’ll be easy.)
Oh, crud. I kicked the guy’s sunnies and watch of his pack.
Sorry. You’re going to Waiaua Gorge, too? See you there.
Thud thud thud. How embarrassing.
This track has the curious name of the Brames Falls Track, which suggested to me that it should give some access to a waterfall. I waited with conservative anticipation, in part because my map indicated that I’d be on the high side of a bluff whilst in the region of the falls.
My conservativiness was well assumed because the track merely provides a scant handful of opportunities to view the falls through the trees, from a distance. One of these includes a DOC signpost which aggressively declares to onlookers that the point they’re standing at has a view of Brames Falls. Maybe there was a fear that people might confuse the large waterfall in the distance with something else, or more likely it might just be to ensure everyone didn’t walk straight past a point they were looking for on all the days which are probably too rainy and clouded in to see anything at such a distance.
Glancing at the map, much of the valley towards the falls looks reasonably wide and it crossed my mind to wonder if some people might informally walk up the river to reach the falls, as a day trip from Waiaua Gorge Hut.
Soon after came the track junction leading off to Lake Dive via the lower track, and then, after a short and sharp descent, I heard water and found myself at the edge of the more eastern branch of the Waiaua River. On reaching the far side of this, after ten years of intermittent efforts, I’d finally tick off my last segment of around the mountain track. Just in case a disaster should befall me in the next few minutes, I found a celebratory barley sugar to celebrate early.
It took me a few minutes to identify a good place for crossing. The situation at the point where the track hit the river was not a trivial crossing, and with my first exploratory attempt I nearly choked on my celebratory barley sugar.
Through whichever events of erosion had occurred until now, I soon found a short, slow moving pool of deeper water a short distance downstream. Once located this made for an easy crossing, combined with a careful rock scramble up the true right to return to the marked route.
“The preceeding section of track may have
been overgrown or eroded. You should have
expected steep and slippery terrain, and
navigation may have been difficult.”
I muddled around and found another celebratory barley sugar. Yay for me! All it took was 10 years and I’ve finished walking around the mountain.
The route continued up a mostly dry side creek to a ladder, through a small muddy big (because you couldn’t have a route to a hut that would allow reaching it without mud drenched boots), and then I arrived at Waiaua Gorge Hut.
It was 4pm, and nobody was home. For the time between Christmas and New Year, I was amazed. I sat down. I removed my boots, socks and gaiters. I sat on the deck, facing towards an oblique, high contrast scene if a mountain. I found my eBook reader that I’d pre-loaded with a free download if Hard Times by Charles Dickens, and began to read.
Minutes passed. It felt like hours.
I put the ebook reader away.
I opened my pack and found my new camp slippers, then glanced at my boots, noticing how much of a mess their draining if muddy water was making of the deck, on which I secretly hoped to be sleeping this evening. I picked up the boots and placed them to drain on the steps, then I wiped up the muddy water with a sock, rinsed it and squeezed it out. Its net state by the end of this transaction had not changed.
Then I found an 18 month old FMC Bulletin that I had also packed, now called Backcountry but I still haven’t adapted to that name, and began to read.
Some time passed and two more people arrived, having walked from Holly Hut. I declared to them that nobody was here except me, knowing that for some reason the first thing many people want to know is how much space there is, and they immediately expressed polite relief. It was not the group that I’d overtaken on the way down the Brames Falls track, but the hut is big enough that it didn’t seem as if it’d be close to capacity that evening.
Some time after, the three I’d met earlier finally arrived. I learned that they’d followed the same route as me, albeit for their first leg of an around-the-mountain effort, but instead of 5.5 hours, they’d taken 9 hours. One of their party in particular had been struggling, and I regretted that I’d not realised they were short on water at the time I overtook them. Still, everyone was in a state now where they could rest.
For dinner I felt exceptionally lazy, re-hydrating my off-the-shelf de-hy meal as those around me engaged in more sophisticated levels of cooking. As I ate, another two arrived from the Holly Hut direction and by then all the evening’s occupants were present.
That evening, having checked that nobody minded, I set up my mattress and sleeping bag on the deck of the hut. Despite a limited viewing window between the hut’s roof and the mountain-dominated horizon, I watched the stars overhead… at least until the Moon rose. Night continued until dawn woke with reflected sun from the mountain.
Today would be a cruisy day compared with yesterday, following the lower track to Lake Dive. I’d been warned by several of the other occupants that they had good second hand information that this route was extremely muddy. I was skeptical, although it seems to be a given that most of the lower tracks around Egmont National Park have reasonable amounts of mud.
Having fed myself, written in the book and packed up my things, I left Waiaua Gorge Hut shortly after 8.30am, and plodded my way to the ladder that would descend to the Eastern branch of the Waiaua River. I crossed at the same point as the day before, and at 9am I met the track junction with the lower track to Lake Dive.
It turns out that, as expected, this track is fairly standard fare for a lower track in Egmont National Park.
The track winds through the trees. It has recurring crossings of rivers which come down the side of a mountain and would probably become a risk with significant rain. Many of these crossings involve reasonably steep clambering climbs on either side to reach the water, and then to return to the level of the track. One particular crossing seemed to stand out, which was the Mangahume Stream, and which involved a brief following of the stream-bed over some awkward rocks and fallen trees, between getting in and out. The track also had a little treefall damage, but nothing that couldn’t be surmounted. Particularly at the Waiaua Gorge end of it, there were some muddy bogs, but really nothing more than shin deep at worst. I nearly slipped on one occasion and somehow managed to kick mud into my face, but was able to catch myself.
At around 11.30am, I stood at what I’d expected to be a junction with the Auroa Track. In actuality, DOC has placed a sign at the junction informing people there’s “no access” to the down-hill direction of the track as its for maintenance only, despite this being a National Park and I’m fairly sure that sign wouldn’t be legally enforceable. Having checked, there’s even an unformed legal road at the base of the park where the track exits. Those sorts of directions seem common around Egmont National Park, though. Someone’s probably trying to encourage everyone who wants to visit Lake Dive Hut to park at the more managed Dawson Falls visitor centre carpark.
I’d imagined the walk from here would be relatively short, thinking less than an hour, but it took me until 12.55pm, 85 minutes later, before I sighted the western end of Lake Dive. I’d hoped to see something of the domes on the way up, but from the track they’re largely obscured by trees.
And yet turning the corner, the tall trees were gone, the day was open and I found myself approaching Lake Dive Hut through the welcoming entrance of crunchy, sun-warmed bracken. With minimal wind I could imagine the lake to my left would offer at least as scenic a reflective view of the mountain as Taranaki’s Stupid Tarn ever does, but probably nobody’s posted a suitably viral photo yet on Instagram, so the hordes aren’t yet attracted.
I arrived at Lake Dive Hut at 1pm, and once again nobody was home. I suppose it was too early in the day. I removed my boots and my gaiters and placed them on the deck to dry, trying to angle them strategically towards the Sun. Then I found another FMC Bulletin for more reading.
People gradually filtered into the hut, and maybe there were ten or so by the evening, including a couple I’d met the night before who’d chosen to walk the higher track that I’d followed previously. For whichever reason I didn’t find the crowd as personable that evening, and it didn’t clearly register with me exactly who was there. Maybe most people were more interested in keeping to themselves, or it might have been me who wasn’t as switched on.
At one point I went inside to boil some water for a cup of tea, only to spill boiling water all over the floor and burn part of my leg through my sock. I was lucky it wasn’t worse and probably at least as lucky that nobody else we nearby.
I wiped it up, finished my cup of tea. When I gradually realised my sock was both wet and burning me, I removed the sock, filled my 2 litre water bladder, and snuck around the corner to the steps outside the fire exit to apply some running water to the burn.
The deck of Lake Dive Hut is less good for sleeping on. It’s an identical design to Pouakai Hut, and most of the deck doesn’t have a verandah. But there’s a great grassy campsite area right outside it. There didn’t seem to be much obvious sign of approaching rain so I laid out my bivy bag and sleeping bag in the long grass, aiming for a nice mountain view in the evening and morning. Soon after I was joined by an American couple who set up a tent inner nearby. They’d been in the country for only a week and were good to chat with about all things New Zealand – politics, pest control, literature, none of which I felt I was doing much justice in that evening.
I boiled more water, more carefully this time, and arranged my lazy backcountry dehy meal. Might feel and I settled back in my sleeping bag, watching a minor shower of meteors emerge from somewhere near the False Cross. Light drizzle came just before morning, not enough to soak me nor even to fully block a claggy mountain vista, but I didn’t waste time pulling up my things and hauling them under some shelter.
I hadn’t decided whether to return to Dawson Falls by the higher or the lower track. I definitely preferred the higher but the wind had picked up, visible with the speed by which some of the clouds were shifting around the mountain. Not knowing the area inside out, I wasn’t certain if this would make the high route difficult, but figured time was on my side. If the wind picked up too much then it’d be simple to return and leave the other way. With breakfast porridge eaten, bivy bag and sleeping bag dried out in the wind, I’d packed up and started climbing by 8.15am, pushing through crusty dew-saturated bracken.
There were some reasonable gusts of wind above the tree-line, but by the time of reaching the junction with the upper track shortly after 9am, it became apparent that the route was well shadowed from whatever turbulence was around, so really nothing to worry about. I stopped briefly to glance at the piece of boardwalk crunched under a giant boulder. It could have happened yesterday, except that I know it was here when I visited ten years ago. Just a reminder that some of the artifacts in these environments can be here for a long time without changing much.
The sun was beginning to emerge. An hour later I’d crossed to the junction with the main route coming down from Fanthams Peak, and from this point on would be mostly a downhill cruise. I stopped by at Kapuni Lodge, just to look at the outside, then continued down, briefly greeting the various day visitors trekking up to Syme and down again, finally reaching the carpark at around 11.15am.
Also, here’s one for the road.