8 December 2007
Mercer Bay Loop Walk
Miranda and Dan have been to Mercer Bay twice. Right down to the beach. They went down a very steep path that I don't even want to think about. Even Dan feels more comfortable on it with ropes to hang onto. He should know. He put the ropes there himself, and the track is not an official one.
The Mercer Bay Loop Walk is a different animal altogether, albeit it wanders along the edges of some very steep drop-offs. It is well-signposted, and well fenced, and where it isn't, the trackside vegetation is dense enough to prevent any serious consequences from a slip.
It is a member of that select band of New Zealand tracks that have claimed a life. A tourist climbed through the fence for a cliff-edge photo opportunity and lost her footing.
With recent experience on the Waikaremoana Lake Track highlighting some of my unresolved fears around heights I decided to do some more work on this, via a process of desensitisation, and Mercer Bay seemed a likely place to start. (I am improving. Situations that on the Heaphy 3½ years ago, or on the St James 2½ years ago, were a worry would not be a concern today. But there's still room for improvement.
To get there, head out to Piha, and just before you start down the big hill, Te Ahuahu Rd heads off to the left, and from the end of that, Log Race Rd continues out to a former World War II radar station that serves these days as a navigation beacon.
There's a big traffic island with parking all around, and no signs of broken glass.
We do the trip the "wrong way round", ie, clockwise, and in retrospect that seems sensible. Most of the interesting stuff is along the coast. To do that section first and then be faced with a return uphill through relatively uninteresting scrub seems a bit like an anticlimax, and besides, as we head down, glimpses appear of the huge drops around Mercer Bay.
ARC estimated track time is 90 minutes, which seems crazy. I'm no speedster, and today I am not hurrying at all, stopping to process my reaction to the dropoffs as I go, and taking heaps of photos, and I'm still back in just over the hour.
ARC are very specific, very detailed, in their approach. I contrast this with Waikaremoana DoC who tend to be on the vague side of vague.
So you know what to expect. Later, when it is relevant there is a further reminder.
If you are dealing with members of the public at large, rather than a specialist tramping fraternity, and a Great Walk falls into this category, you cannot afford to assume knowledge or ability beyond the average.
ARC scores well in areas like this, as well as in step design (way ahead of DoC), and in regards to dogs. ARC is quite specific in each case: No Dogs, or Dogs on a Lead, or Dogs Under Control, or Dog Exercise Area, and background notes are usually provided to explain.
DoC, with rare exceptions - Otaki Forks and Mt Holdsworth - don't want to know. I personally doubt that DoC's almost blanket ban on dogs is warranted in every place it applies, and I think it undermines their credibility. I think they are being precious.
We head through the gate at the top of the track
It's a bluedome special.
A young hangehange is a touch more leathery than usual out here in the open.
Manuka is just into its peak blossom period
Ahead of us the first glimpses can be had of the big cliffs ahead
A young akeake is vigorous and green.
The broad beach at Karekare is just visible
The hillsides here are covered in wind-sculpted scrub, and dusted at present with manuka flowers.
I presume this is the mown track referred to in the ARC tracknotes.
We carry on down the hill
NZ flax is also just coming into bloom, it's bright red-brown flowers standing out against the blue of sky or sea.
There's Mercer Bay. How the hell did they get down to there?
In just a minute Miranda will show me. We reach a fork, with the left hand side heading on to join Ahuahu Track, and the right continuing the Loop Track.
Over there on the left is the start of the track down, and you can see where it sidles across to that bare patch.
We carry on round the loop. At this point, we have the option of heading out onto Te Ahua Point, or continuing around the loop, and we choose the loop, for today at any rate.
The track sign is nearly lost amongst the flowers.
We continue around the loop and take a look back where we've come from.
Karekare looks great.
This side of the loop is uphill.
Beside the track, the grass is full of wild flowers. Robert Frost comes to mind:
"We raised a simple prayer