Easter tradition for us seems to involve an epic hike – last year it was the sunrise hike of Mt. Taranaki, the year before a similar (but unsuccessful) attempt in stormy conditions. This year, considering Taranaki well and truly accomplished (Barry later summited in alpine conditions too), we turned our sights to a more remote part of New Zealand: The Kaimanawas.

Approximately 4.5 hours from Auckland (not counting Easter traffic), it’s a reasonable distance to drive, so we wanted to make the most of it with a multi-day hike. This would also give us ample time for the photography projects that had been bubbling away in the back of our minds.

Day 1: Let there be mountains

The original plan was a 38km loop track over 3 days and 2 nights, with the first night to be spent in Waipakihi hut and the second night tenting. But Day 1 proved to be tougher than expected, and with rumours of bad weather rolling in like Chinese whispers, we decided to shorten the loop and get out of there before Easter Monday’s predicted deluge.

mt ruapehu kaimanawas

Day 1: View of Mount Ruapehu

Our journey started with the Umukarikari Track, which emerges from the bushline like something out of Lord of the Rings, featuring epic hiking along ridgelines and open alpine terrain. It was the remote wilderness at its best; the only people we encountered (until we got to the hut) were a few deer hunters.

The hut itself was spacious and comfortable, with a fireplace in the kitchen that was much appreciated as the sun set. Ironically, a few hiking parties turned up later that evening; by night the 12 bunk hut was bursting at capacity! It all worked out in the end though – some of the hunters slept outside, a few hikers tucked themselves into the kitchen, and our friend Nick gave his bunk up for an old retiree!

deer hunters kaimanawa range

Spotted: Hunters in the wild

Day 2: Following the Waipakihi river

Our shortened loop meant we were spending the next day in the valley, following the Waipakihi river**. It was an novel experience; the terrain was completely different to the previous day, and there was no marked path so we had to deduce where to tramp, crossing the river every time the trail ended.

follow waipakihi river

Day 2: Follow the river

Waipakihi river Kaimanawa Range

Lunch stop

Of course, no hike would be complete without an impromptu dip! We all took turns plunging into the icy river and seeing how long we could stay in the water. I think Barry won, holding on for approximately 40 seconds! We’ve also been trying out the Wim Hof Method, so it was an interesting test to see if it had any effect. For me I think it made me more inclined to jump in, in the first place, though I don’t think I did a great job of allowing myself to relax!

waipakihi river swim

Taking the plunge

Waipakihi river swimming hole

Dive vs. Belly flop? 

As we scrambled through brambles and bushes, the landscape kept changing – one minute we were in a phantom forest, the next wading through tall grass or marshland.

hunting kaimanawa range

Hunters’ tents nearly camouflaged in the grass

After another 8 hour day, we reached the start of the final section at 4pm. There were only 2 hours of daylight left so we decided to camp there for the night and tackle the final climb early the next day. It really was the perfect camping spot – level ground, sheltered by trees and a fire pit waiting to be used! In fact, the highlight was getting a fire going to keep us warm – too bad we didn’t have marshmallows!

camping kaimanawa range

Gathering firewood

camping fire kaimanawa range

Nothing like the warmth of your own fire!

Day 3: Urchin Summit and beyond

The first drops of rain hit the roof of the tent at 2:56am, jolting us awake. Uh oh, the deluge was starting! We drifted back into an uneasy sleep, eager to get back on the track as soon as possible. After a hasty breakfast and donning all our waterproof gear we were ready to go by 7am. Side note: Packing up the tent in rain is not fun.

Unfortunately we had left our socks out to dry – and by the time we packed them away, it was like they were carrying half the river with them! Our cameras had to be retire – it was time for the GoPro to come out.

urchin track kaimanawa range

Breaking the bushline (GoPro)

urchin summit kaimanawa range

En route to the final summit (GoPro)

Day 3 at 7am, The track started off to a steep climb almost immediately. The rain was incessant. As we broke the bushline, the view would have been breathtaking – but we couldn’t see anything! The wind picked up too. By the time we reached the summit we were being buffeted sideways.

Luckily the rest of the descent was drama-free. It was a relief to get to the car, pile in, mud and all – and head to Taupo for warm lunch. Wonder what next Easter will bring 🙂

For more pictures check out our instagram page.