We returned from Taranaki on Thursday, after a nice (albeit short) trip away. I was quite keen to come back to Wellington via Palmerston North, mostly because I haven’t been that way for a very long time, and I really wanted to go through the Manawatu Gorge again. We stopped at The Greytown Gallery  on the way back, which I thoroughly recommend for New Zealand Bird paraphernalia. I picked up the Birds of New Zealand CD (for NZ $30), and also a very nice clock, which plays a different New Zealand Bird’s Song every hour, although it includes a light sensor and only plays sounds when it’s not dark. It’s very cool.
We heard the news on returning that Parahaki Hut (in the Uruweras) burned down , apparently due to some kind of gas bottle accident, and took a couple of fishermen with it. The hut was supposedly scheduled for removal anyway so presumably won’t be replaced, but it’s really sad when it happens this way.
I didn’t have time for any tramping in Taranaki this time, or even serious daywalks, but I did go for a wander around some of the walks in New Plymouth. The main one worth talking about was probably my attempts to follow the Waiwhakaiho River out to the sea on Boxing Day (26th December).
The Waiwhakaiho River flows around the eastern side of the main centre of New Plymouth, and after beginning at Merrilands, I was quite keen to see how easy it would be to walk alongside the river out to the sea. It turned out that it wasn’t really possible to walk directly alongside the river for most of the time, and for much of it it was necessary to walk around the suburban streets above, but I suppose now I know. Actually, the rest of this post is likely to be fairly boring unless you’re after a description of trying to walk alongside that river for some reason, and I’m also writing it from a perspective of someone who doesn’t know New Plymouth very well. Otherwise it’s probably a good idea to stop reading right now.
I began on Mangorei Road. Armed with a basic fold-out street map of New Plymouth, my first mistake was to walk up Boulevard Drive. It’s a short dead-end street, but on the map it looked as if it got quite close to the river, and perhaps there would be some kind of access point through the properties at the end. There wasn’t. I back-tracked, and continued a short distance further north along Mangorei Road until I reached a sports field on the eastern side, which I think is called Merrilands Domain. The road along the right hand side of this field is open to vehicles during the day, and at the back right corner of the field, the road continues on a windy path down to the river, where there’s actually a parking area. Apparently it’s a popular swimming hole, to the extent that there was even a council sign advising people to enjoy their swimming. I’m not certain, but I think this may have been the place where a chap was tragically swept away and drowned on the previous day . There had been a lot of rain in Taranaki during Christmas Day and the river would have been flooded.
Finally being at the river, I made an attempt to follow it. Unfortunately, the easy walk alongside the meadow that bordered the car park quickly turned into an overgrown experience of thick, wet grass. People had obviously pushed their way through here before, but it didn’t go any further than the river’s edge. I met a group of four locals who were checking the river for fishing opportunities, and unsuccessfully looking for eels, which apparently visit that area from time to time. It looked as if edge of the river very quickly turned into steep cliffs, and after asking them they confirmed that it wasn’t possible to walk alongside the river from there. I briefly considered the idea of getting my feet wet, but I didn’t really have the right gear to do it properly, and I was also on my own without having told anyone specifics of where I was going, plus the river looked quite fast and inconsistently deep in places.
Pushing back to the field near the parking area, it looked as if there was a steep track going almost straight up the hill-side. This would have been about the only hill-walking I managed to get during this trip to Taranaki, which is largely flat if you happen to ignore that ~3000 metre high mountain in the middle. The track was very steep and slippery in places, and for a few minutes I hoped that it might lead over the top of the cliffs above the river. Unfortunately it didn’t, and within 10 minutes I found myself at the opposite back corner of the sports field at which I’d begun.
Not having had any luck at my first attempt to find my way to the river, I re-started my navigation of the suburban streets, examining every street on the right hand side for signs of new tracks leading towards the Waiwhakaiho River. With some continued effort, I eventually found a street-track through the back roads via Hawea Street, Waiwera Place (advertising itself as New Plymouth’s “Best kept street in 2003/04, I think), via a footpath over to Turakina Street, and eventually over to Riversdale Drive via Kennedy Place.
I’d already been going some distance, but hadn’t yet discovered a (legal) way down to the Waiwhakaiho River that would allow me to walk alongside it. I was hoping to find something along Riversdale Drive, though, and sure enough there were a couple of apparently empty sections on the eastern side, a short distance after the turn-off to Lindaver Grove. The first of these had a sign at the back which announced nothing except the penalty for dumping rubbish over the bank. The second, which was only a minute or two after the first, had a track leading off the back of it. The track connected with some farm-land and from here I was finally able to cross a fence, with the help of one of those fence crossing step things (which to me implied that it was legal), onto what seemed to be a 4 wheel drive track running alongside the river.
The track continued north above the river for some distance and eventually I started hitting some industrial-like buildings built between the track and the river. Before the first of these, there was a side track which I followed down to the river’s edge, and was encouraged after seeing someone else’s footprints in the sand. From here I was able to push myself through some very overgrown vegetation right next to the river bed. After about 5 minutes of this and going quite slowly with uncertain footing, however, I looked ahead and noticed that the river up ahead was meeting the cliff faces again, and that it was unlikely I’d get anywhere. Presumably that track had simply been another way down to another swimming hole.
Returning to the 4 wheel drive track, it very quickly reached the dead-end road called Rimu Street, with the most obvious first building being a large warehouse type of building carrying a sign declaring that it belonged to the Destiny Church (ugh). I kept following Rimu Street for a short distance, and then turned off along an un-named street which continued near the river. This whole area would probably be prime real-estate overlooking the river if it was built on today, but as it happened it was an industrial zone. I guess it made sense historically to locate industrial properties near a river, which would have made it easier to dump waste. After this, a track began which led under a railway bridge and a road bridge (Devon Street), then past a collection of netball courts before I eventually found myself having to back-track and wander up Raiomiti Street to get around more river-side cliffs. From here I followed Clemow Road all the way to the suburb of Fitzroy, and was a little surprised to discover that it didn’t actually flow into Lake Rotomanu, but bypassed the lake completely. So I continued around the lake (between the lake and the river) to reach the sea, and followed the coastal walkway back to the centre of town.
It was a bit disappointing not to have been able to properly follow the river out to the sea, but I guess now I know for next time and it was an interesting way to spend a few hours. If I try a similar thing in the future, I might try to figure out if I can walk along the other side of the river.