It was the first morning of a three day walk around the base of the mountain. We’d covered the route from North Egmont to Holly Hut in good time. It was a brilliantly sunny day and a pleasure to be back in the outdoors.
When I got to junction where the others had been standing I headed in the direction I was sure they had gone. I didn’t read the signs, nor look at my map. Having just checked the lay of the land back at Holly Hut we knew that the upper track to Kahui Hut via the Pyramids was closed due to severe slips. It was the lower track for us.
Fifty metres past the junction I dropped steeply down a couple of metres through a culvert-like stream crossing, and then scrambled up the other side. Strange that there was no bridge I thought to myself. Thinking nothing of it I motored along brushing aside wild overgrowth, trying to rejoin my companions. The occassional fresh-looking boot indention their only sign.
When I got to a rise overlooking a wide, gravel fan at the junction of two small streams, I was certain I would be able to see some packs bouncing along: red and blue flashes in the bush. No joy, must be hidden by the foilage I thought. Suppressing a swelling sense of unease about being on the wrong track, I kept going. Those other blokes must be steaming ahead.
It was slightly tricky navigating around the streams as there were no markers, nor any cairns. Priding myself on my route finding ability I managed to find the track. I had been going for 20 minutes or so (I had no watch so couldn’t tell exactly) and still no sign of anyone else. The unease was bloating into a mild panicky feeling.
Banishing my fears, I thundered up a gradual incline which looked out on Peters Stream cascading through a rocky valley. I had been walking fast and now hadn’t seen the others for about half an hour. Stopping to have a drink, I thought it would be a good idea to look at my map.
It didn’t take long to realise that I was charging along the closed track.
The lack of signage, the wild overgrowth, the culvert-like creek crossing all replayed before my eyes. Despite the many signs, it had taken me a long time to work out my navigation error. Breathing deeply, I had a long draft of water. I realised my companions would be wondering where I was, so I rapidly set off back to the junction.
As I hastily retraced my steps I marvelled at how I ignored the obvious signs the track was disused. I also tried to work out a convincing explanation for my wrong turn.
Reaching the junction, I turned to inspect the signs I had so nochalantly passed earlier. “DANGER! Track closed.”
It was a relief to be walking on the Stony River Track, the lower route bypassing the slip. Soon enough I came across a small search party. I mumbled an apology and an incoherent explanation for my absence. Looking both shocked and relieved, our trip leader Paul said “thank christ you didn’t come to any harm”. A slap to my back dispelled any remaining anxiety.
We walked downhill to Bells Fall in silence. It seemed pointless to say I was a veteran of more than 50 tramps and had never done anything quite so vacant ever before. I vowed to stick to the track, keep the rest of the party in sight and read every single sign with care.
POSTCRIPT: I completed the rest of the round the mountain walk without incident. The track passes through varied vegetation and landforms. At the high point of about 1,500 metres below Fanthams Peak you pass through alpine tussock fields having climbed from the tangled forest in the Waiaua Gorge. There are good views out toward the coast, and in fine weather, inumberable angles of the towering peak of Mt Taranaki (2,518m). As I have yet to scale the summit I plan to go back sometime. Any takers?