Where: Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park, Bay of Plenty
Distance & Time: 26km, one night, two days
Take: Camera, sunscreen, hut gear for one night, sturdy boots, water, walking pole(s)
Amenities on route: One with mattresses (serviced), fireplace, water. Bathroom at start + end of walk, and at Vern’s Camp
Cost of the walk: Central Whirinaki Hut is $15 a night.
The Whirinaki Track is a one way, 26km track, so it’s best to do it with two vehicles with one parking at the north end and the other at the south end. Those who park at the northern end have the slightly harder job with walking uphill (nothing too intense) and a longer first day. Those who start at the southern end have an easy job with an amble downhill, and a short first day. But it’s pretty neat being able to meet up at the hut in the middle (just make sure you remember to swap car keys at the hut!)
We parked at the northern end (River Rd) with my brothers driving longer, but having a shorter walk in to the hut, by starting at the southern end (Plateau Rd). Depending on where you drive from, you could be starting this walk mid morning or like us, just after lunch.
We parked up and after checking the map at the entrance, started walking. The track is really well formed and once you get to the Whirinaki River fairly early on, the track stays fairly close to it, occasionally meandering up and around but nothing too strenuous.
While I knew there was a side walk to a waterfall that we could take I somehow completely missed the signs for it, and missed it. I’m sure it’s lovely! There’s something about walking alongside a river and hearing the water gurgling that is a really nice accompaniment while walking. Add in the birdsong of the piwakawaka/fantail that popped up regularly along the track to keep us company and the first couple of hours flew by.
There is quite a bit of pest control going on along the northern section of the track as we passed traps alongside the track fairly regularly, with most of them having a dead pest inside. It’s good to know the traps are working, but also shows how much more work there is to do in our native forests.
We had a late lunch break at Vern’s Camp, a super adorable shelter on the river bank. It was a simple open A frame shelter, but it had lots of seating, a good kitchen area, fireplace and wood! I could imagine on a warm summer night it would actually be a really nice place to camp out!
Closer to Whirinaki Hut the track took us through a short tunnel in the hill – about 5 metres long. Why they built a tunnel here rather than having us walk over or around it, I have no idea!
We made it to the Hut around 3.30pm, and I was expecting to see the brothers already there. However, we were the first ones to arrive. There was barely any wood cut so our first mission was to go on a wood-hunting mission. Easier said than done. The axes that were at the hut were incredibly blunt and there was a lack of suitable wood around. We collected what we could though and somehow managed to get a stash together.
At this stage it’s getting close to 5pm and it get dark at 5.30pm. The brothers still haven’t arrived and I’m starting to get a wee bit worried. There’s no cellphone reception and I’ve got no idea if they even made it to the start of the walk, or if they had been waylaid on the drive in – my mind definitely started to wander to some not very great places. At 5.15pm they FINALLY arrived, and what a tale they had for us!
While they’d arrived at the car park when they were planning to, they had taken a wrong turn approx 10 minutes in and ended up on a track that had many, many river crossings, and was steep. They both injured themselves (not too badly) before ending up at a hut that slept 8 people. Thankfully, one of the brothers had remembered me saying that the hut we were staying in slept 25 people! So they checked the maps/info at the Hut and found the track that led down to the hut they were supposed to met us at (Central Whirinaki Hut) and made it to us in time, thank goodness! I’m still not entirely sure how they managed to take that wrong turn, but it just goes to show why it’s always good to be prepared, have a map, and know where you are going!
We had our sausages, mash and beans for dinner, and tried to air out the hut while also keeping it warm (downside of burning wet wood) which was a bit trickier than usual considering that the hut was missing door handles for the two outside doors! No idea where they were or how long they’d been missing for, but it was definitely odd.
We were all in bed by 7.30pm that night, with just the four of us in the hut. Reading through the visitor book, there had been more than 50 people sharing the hut the weekend before!
The next morning we swapped car keys before the brothers headed off as they had 6km more of walking than we did. We left shortly after as we only had 10km but the brothers obviously couldn’t tell us anything about it as they hadn’t walked it! We didn’t pass anyone else the whole time, which was very cool, especially as at the giant cave we were able to explore it all on our own! I didn’t venture much past 20metres from the entrance but Paul went in relatively deeply. It was an enormous cave, with a sandy floor. It would make a fabulous shelter if you got caught out here!
There were lots of kaka flying overhead in this section of the walk, and not as many piwakawaka. It always interests me when hiking to notice how the bird life changes and what you’re more likely to hear/see in one area over another. We saw the turnoff where the brothers had taken the wrong turn- I can kind of see how they did it, but if they’d looked at the map at the start of the walk they would have realised they kept going straight!
At the carpark we passed a group of hikers heading in to the hut we’d just came from. The drive out was very slow going as the road was full of pot holes and dips. I don’t think we made it above 50km for the drive out. You’ve got to keep an eye on the road signs as there are lots of forestry roads so it would be easy to take a wrong turn. We met back up with the brothers to switch cars back, they’d been waiting 30 minutes so they had absolutely hoofed it out! They had done the side trek to the waterfall on the way out after telling them we’d missed it the day before. They said it was neat but you couldn’t really see a lot of it, which made me feel better!
The photos were taken by Paul + I!
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