Walking New Zealand

New Zealand Walk: Kahikatea Country - the Pehitawa section of the Te Araroa Trail

The Pehitawa section of the Te Araroa

- By Phillip Donnell

Pehitawa is a 12.5 kilometre track from Waitomo Village in the north to Te Kuiti in the south. It does not traverse any areas within the conservati­on estate, but has gained significan­ce as part of Te Araroa (“The Long Pathway”), which now enables hikers to walk the entire length of New Zealand.

We experience­d it as a walk of contrasts: town and country vistas, forest and farmland habitats, public and private land, native and exotic flora/fauna, historic and contempora­ry features, urban bustle and rural serenity.

The track had us puffing at times, with 150-metre ascents and descents. It was generally easy to follow, except for a few obscure twists and turns, and well-served with stiles, marker posts, and bridges.

Leaving the northern end, we soon dropped into an open pasture basin beneath somewhat obtrusive pylons, like steel giants stalking for prey. Late autumn colours were a welcome change from the monotony of various shades of green.

A sudden swing to the left found us grunting up a grainy goat track grasping gorse, then down to a picturesqu­e pond complete with maimai. This was the first of three steep bush-covered hills which periodical­ly afforded panoramic views.

After the effort of the climbs, we enjoyed pausing on the ridgelines to stare across the King Country’s rich agricultur­al landscape. Low, tumbled limestone hills rose to formidable volcanic summits in the distance

— north to Pirongia, Kakepuku and Maungataut­ari, east to Pureora, and south to Ruapehu.

A downhill dash to a deep ditch led to loping along a level farm race before reaching the small suspension bridge over the Mangapu River, a sluggish channel with steep banks. We stood, staring silently into its murky depths, a sad reminder that the majority of our lowland waterways are now seriously polluted and unsafe for swimming.

At this point, the track entered the 18.5ha Pehitawa Forest Reserve, which is Queen Elizabeth II Trust-covenanted land (purchased in 2001) and one of the finest remaining remnants of mature pole stand kahikatea trees in the North Island, some aged around 120 years.

Although small, it is in near virgin condition and self-sustaining. We also noticed fine specimens of swamp maire, matai, titoki and pukatea, and the ground cover was in excellent condition. Such forest originally occupied 41,000ha in the Waipa Ecological District, but is now (tragically) reduced through clearance to only 158ha, onethird of it in the Mangapu valley.

It was therapeuti­c to lie on the ground gazing into the towering treetops, while listening to tui, kereru, pukeko and shining cuckoo. This reserve was the highlight of our day.

Once “out of the woods”, the rocky outcrop of Oparure Pa came into view, an ideal lunch-stop. We then crossed the sealed road (of the same name) and climbed briefly to two stiles.

Just 50 metres north-east of here we discovered two old trees, a British holly and a pohutukawa, within the

grounds of a nearby residence. They stand as symbols of a fascinatin­g story of utu, shrewd politics and even humour, namely Te Kooti’s rescue of a survey party kidnapped by Maori chief Mahuki in 1883. The rescue was a ploy to curry favour with the government for his pardon.

From the two trees, it was just three kilometres to the finish – through paddocks, across Gadsby Road, then over undulating terrain and a rather roundabout rising route to trig point 263 overlookin­g Te Kuiti. The trig marks the site of Motakiora, a fortified pa constructe­d in the 17th century by Rora, a son of Maniapoto. It stands like a sentinel above the town.

Continuing beyond the trig, we scrambled down through a pine plantation atop Brook Park, which also contains wood-lots of gum and black walnut, along with the Blackman conifer collection of over 300 species.

It was a pleasant spot to recline on the thick carpet of autumn leaves and bask in the afternoon sunshine, accompanie­d by eastern rosella and Australian spur-winged plover. The reserve’s Red Trail, then Blue Trail, guided us to exit on SH3, adjacent (happily!) to a well-appointed café!

It is unlikely that Pehitawa will ever become one of the most popular sections of Te Araroa, but it does have enough notable features to make it a worthwhile investment of time and energy. In particular, it offers the chance to sample a unique forest type that once covered extensive areas, but has been largely destroyed.

Such opportunit­ies are few and far between, at least in the North Island, and should therefore be prized.

If you have a hankering to undertake this walk, Footsteps Aotearoa NZ would be pleased to make it possible. Contact them: footstepsa­nz@gmail. com, 021 172 3244, 07 544 9509.

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 ??  ?? Above: In Kahikatea Country.
Above: In Kahikatea Country.

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