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The Last Bumshot: The Sandy Bay Track

Aniwaniwa to Sandy Bay Hut

27-28 September 2008

Lake Waikareiti, Urewera National Park

This is the last route Miranda and I walked together. For some time now her interests have been principally beyond the treeline, and mine have continued comfortably below it. We have decided to go our separate ways after nearly thirty years together, and she is leaving to live with Dan.


Candidates to fill her shorts to provide colour interest in pictures of the bush should queue on the left.

They should present, as Rex Fairburn described our flowering bush clematis, “like laughter in court”.

We first encountered Lake Waikareiti last year after we’d walked the Waikaremoana Lake Track and were looking for a walk to fill the extra available day. We walked as far as the lake, loaded up with lifejackets, and rowed, well, Miranda rowed, one of the great 3.6m aluminium tanks out to Rahui Island to see the lake on the island in the lake. This is written up in Two in a Row, and if you want to have a closer look at the first 60-90 minutes of walking, you should read this first.

When we called in at the DoC office to pick up our hut tickets – you have to book for Sandy Bay – we discovered a significant difference in the focus of this office and the Te Anau office where we paid a similar call to get our Routeburn tickets two years before. The Aniwaniwa officer was concerned that we had adequate clothing and equipment for sudden and severe changes in the weather. The Te Anau officer wanted to know whether we had sufficient plastic bags with us to pack out all our rubbish. Takes all sorts, I suppose…

This year we had spent much of the previous week improving our fitness down at Mt Holdsworth in the Tararuas, and we were in reasonable shape.

From the four lane highway that leads up to the lake, the track narrows, and, still easy underfoot, makes its way to the Ruapani Junction, about middle left in the sketch below. From here, the track is over grown, and while not seriously difficult in any way, the constant pushing through long grass and ferns becomes something of a drain after a while, especially for the elderly and stout such as I, and more especially after the drizzle had set in somewhat.

For a period, the track is more or less level until once more it reaches the lake edge, then heads inland across a series of decent sized ridges involving long uphill stretches followed by long downhill stretches, all the while pushing one’s way through vegetation encroaching from each side. As you can imagine, hiking poles become something of a chore, but do earn their keep providing stability along the way.

The descent to Sandy Bay should have been the highlight of the day but it was Windy Bay the day we were there and the last hour or two were in light drizzle, icy cold, with the wind funnelling across the lake from the south-east.

Elapsed fatman time from Aniwaniwa to Sandy Bay, including lunch, about six hours.

We take up the walk as we leave the day shelter where the track first meets the lake.

At this stage, it’s still fine, with white fluffy clouds, but they’re on the wrong side of the wind. Back towards Aniwaniwa, grey clouds are beginning to pile up and the wind has already begun to rise.

Just ahead of us is the oar locker. The bush, while lush and green has still just a few of the markers that tell you this could be an uncomfortable place to be in winter.

Initially we’re just a few metres above the lake, with lots of good views out and across.

This has obvious value and it’s smooth surface looks well used.

These dracophyllum have a tougher air about them, leaner and meaner than their softer cousins in the Waitakeres.

You can see the track has changed somewhat from the pre-shelter motorway. You do have to watch your feet, but overall it’s still open track and easy going.

A shrubby mingimingi is also showing signs that life is not all beer and skittles, but early growth is already on the way.

The bush opens out some along here, with not very much to show between moss at the bottom and big trees at the top

I pull my tummy in and ease my way through

This is a bit more of a challenge and I opt for a small detour.

Low branch!

From time to time a particular perspective or a combination of trees commands my attention in a way that is difficult to describe or comunicate. This is when I take a minute to stop and simply soak up the picture.

Then it’s on towards the Ruapani Junction where we have arranged to stop for lunch. Miranda is looking to stride out a bit. She has the prospect of a walk up Tongariro with Dan immediately in front of her in a day or two and she wants to make sure she is fit enough.

Ruapani Junction is a reasonable fatman goal for a day’s walk in and out. Along the way a bit we are passed by an energised Scot who is loping along at a fast jog. He makes the hut around 4.30pm and then turns around to jog back. We learn later that he got back to Aniwaniwa very late with a blistered foot, which stuffed up his ETA considerably. He wasn’t dressed for cold weather, but he wasn’t expecting to be out after dark.

Out of assumptions like these are emergencies created. The DoC officer who asked after our preparations had seen many others like him who take the bush lightly. They waste a fair amount of DoC time.

On the other hand, for guys like the “Kingston Flier” on the Heaphy Track, years of experience have enabled him to earn a living jogging the track. He delivers you to the track start, takes your car and drives to the other end, then jogs along the track, delivers your keys and continues on his way. We took 6 days but to a competent distance runner its about one and a half marathons.

This is, I think, a species of Uncinia, the hook grass that carpets much of the goblin forest on the track up to Panekiri Hut above Lake Waikaremoana. The fern immediately beside it is also a creature of the goblin forest. Both of them send messages about cold winters.

Speaking about the goblin forest, here’s a tree that, given a beard of lichen, would not be out of place there either.

I carry on. I am starting to get a bit peckish and grab another piece of biltong. I don’t know how accurate it is but the (Zone Diet) theory goes that if you have a protein snack instead of a heavy carb snack, your body gets “permission” to use some of it’s fat stores. Maybe. I nearly always lose about 3kg minimum over a week or so solid walking. Probably the most pleasant way to lose weight that I know…

The way that the light changes in beech forest is quite remarkable.

A tree stump to the side of the track sports a striking looking creamy fungus. It’s about 15cm across.









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