Hiking and Hot Sludge

Lesson learnt. That is the last time I put a vague location into my iphone and expect google maps to get us there. As we drove around the rain soaked fringes of Kaweka Forest Park I chastised myself for my naive faith in technology. Heading up from Wellington we ended up near the Lawrence conservation site on the south west side of Kaweka Forest Park. Our intentions were to head to Mangatutu hot springs and spend the night camping at the road end. We soon realised we had to head all the way to Napier and back up the eastern side of the park if we wanted to make it to the hot pools. It would be dark by then and it was raining hard.  I cursed and blessed New Zealand’s environmentalists for not allowing a state highway to be built directly to Mangatutu hot springs from Lawrence Road. Our predicament was now an addition to the adventure which was originally planned to be a ski weekend in Whakapapa but a storm rolled in to the central north island and ensured that the mountain would be closed for the weekend. So here we were half an hour before sunset arriving in Napier deciding to stay for the night at the Shore line motel. At a special rate of $98 (less than a ski pass) with a king bed we weren’t complaining and the huge indoor spa that was built into our suite added a luxurious irony to our stay.

I encouraged Jack to take the subaru over the deep ford quickly. “Hesitation devastation babe!”

We had a good night’s sleep and a morning stroll around the Art deco town which is undergoing a vast waterfront upgrade. I spent many school holidays as a child here as my aunt lived in Napier. I was pleased to see Pania of the reef still in her place and as beautiful as ever. In the mid 2000s absolute scandal hit the town when the bronze beauty was stolen albeit briefly. Such was the outcry from the local public the police initiated swift action and Pania was found and returned to her rightful place along the esplanade. Later that morning we headed off to the correct area of Kaweka Forest Park. Crossing the gravelled farm land I encouraged Jack to take the subaru over a deep ford quickly. “Hesitation devastation babe!” and I scolded Jack for so much as lightly touching the brakes mid way across.  Fords make me nervous. But then I remembered when I was here last in 2014 I made it across in my Honda logo. The crossing and loose gravel road may have caused the  Hondas breather in the gas pipe to get blocked resulting in a $75 bill from Midas but hey it still made it across!

Cruising to the road end we passed part of the maintenance crew who had a ute full of chainsawed kanuka and beech tree branches. He asked us curiously if we were staying in for the night? When we replied yes he was quick to inform us “You know the weathers turning to shit right? Thunder, lightning and all sorts that’s why I’m out of here! Ha”. He  cheerily raised his eyebrows at us – the old man equivalent of “good luck” and pulled away in his ute. Any confidence we had about spending a night out doors was slightly diminished and the low grey rolling clouds weren’t helping our outset. The hike greeted us with familiar drizzle but first doubts gave way to enjoyment in our surroundings. The scenic river and abundance of beech trees were a beautiful site. We saw 3 kereru within our first 10 minutes, each of them startled by our presence beating their wings like helicopter blades through the trees to create some distance.  The trail often changed dramatically from river side copper tussocks, silver beech tree forest and open rock trails teterring above the swiftly flowing river. We saw a lot of work from the maintenance crew that had just departed. Much of the track had been damaged by high winds resulting in uprooted trees that had toppled over causing further damage to the trees below them. The maintenance crew had chainsawed a lot and after Te Puia lodge re routed the trail to avoid one of the larger slips. This was the one and only time we started seeing orange triangles. Otherwise the trail was so well carved out the OT’s were not needed.

We took one look at the springs and nearly gagged

After 2 hours and 20 minutes we arrived at Te Puia lodge, a beautiful 20 person hut set back from the river with its own private beach. Quickly perusing the intentions book there had been no other visitors since August. This I found hard to believe but maybe the damage to the track was putting people off. Or maybe the discreet silver intentions book holder was a little too discreet. Moving on we crossed our first and only bridge and spent another 45 minutes walking along the river and climbing over a few slips to the Mangatainoka hot springs.

We took one look at the springs and nearly gagged. I believed the intentions book now. The thick layer of sludge on both pools confirmed that no one had been here in awhile. We found a suitable spot to park our MSR before reviewing the hot springs. I thought that maybe the sludge was just discolouration, a bit of mould stuck to the sides and bottom of the plastic pool. As soon as my feet hit the bottom my feet felt the thick chucks of sludge  give way and they worked there way to the surface. I was out of there. It was so cold and rainy though so I simply just moved to the bottom pool where there was less sludge. We figured that if we didn’t disturb the sludge it would stay put. We considered using the brushes that DOC had obviously left by the pools for this very reason but figured we couldn’t drain it so the dark green mess would all just float at the top anyway. We resigned ourselves to crouching in the corner with the least sludge, not moving for fear of upsetting the impressive algae bloom. 

we heard the shrill call of a close by kiwi and haunting echo of the morepork

After heating up we got changed and headed into the tent. Dinner consisted of a bag of crisps and a cup of pinot noir. Shameful, but without a shelter we could not be bothered getting out the cookpot to cook in the rain. It was a beautiful but wet and windy night in the outdoors. A few times we heard the shrill call of a close by kiwi and haunting echo of the morepork. At around 7pm we saw some lights approach followed by a female saying “oh wow some more people”… So we weren’t the only crazies who had trekked into bathe in hot sludge. We heard them root around for a while getting their tent up in the trees. The white noise of the river kept me awake for most of the night, I never sleep well in tents anyway but I brought a book and thoroughly enjoyed Jennifer Pharr Davis’s hilarious account of Moot the thru hiker in Becoming Odyssa.

After sparse sleep and a quick no cook breakfast of Tom and Luke snack balls we were packed and headed back to Te puia for a cup of tea. We glanced back over the hot pools to see that they were spotless. The couple who were still slumbering in the tent nearby had given the pools a thorough spring clean. The couple had also obviously found a bucket which was now resting near the pools after doing a hard evening of sludge removal.They clearly had no fear of algae. We felt very precious and reprimanded ourselves for not just getting stuck in and giving the pools a good scrub so we could then enjoy them.  Oh well another lesson learned this weekend.

Heading back it was Saturday morning and there had been no one at the hut the night before. The rain bore down and on the way back we passed two very large groups with young hikers. We were surprised to see so many people out in such poor weather.  The 20 bed hut would be full tonight. After 2 hours 20 minutes exactly again we made it back to a very now full car park. In the rain we cringed changing back into our wet swim gear but were determined to have a proper dip in the broadened hot spring. We were grateful that the mangatutu hot pools were empty and very clean. Within 10 minutes the pools were full of beautiful natural steaming hot water. As we overlooked the Kaweka range the rain continued as we relaxed.

Leaving the park my encouragement for Jack to gun the Subaru over the ford came back to bite me. Part of the bumper had fallen off and was scraping along the gravel road. As the rain would not quit we both got soaked trying to push the wretched piece of plastic back up. Luckily a lovely local lad who was top to toe in hunting & fishing brand fleece stopped his 4×4 to help us. Without hesitation he was rolling around on the wet gravel checking out the situation. He got a bungee cord on the interior bumper and exclaimed “ there’s a bolt missing, must have been from ya last ding” pointing directly at the clear dent and rust on the  driver’s side of the Subaru. Jack had an unfortunate reversing incident in Queenstown a few years before. I couldn’t help but feel that the Honda Logo would have faired better on this trip. Thanks to the fleeced man we were on our way. As we neared Napier I regained cell phone reception and putting the directions into google maps I made my intentions very clear. Newtown..Wellington…NEW ZEALAND!

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Finally a non sludge hot tub with a great view

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