Atene Skyline Track

Date: 28 January 2017
Distance: 13km + 2.5km (approx)
Time: 5:20 + 25 min

For our weekend “long-run” we decided to fast-pack the Atene Skyline Track. It’s been on our to-do list for quite a while now, but with work, other commitments and not the best season so far weather wise, we haven’t got around to it. The intention was to run-bits-walk-bits, but with the changeable weather we thought it best to carry at least a day pack, with some wet and cold weather clothing. Still light enough to jog with, but totally unnecessary as the one good day of the summer so far was bestowed upon us for the walk. Sunny, no wind and warm enough, it was perfect conditions for a walk in the forest. Which is exactly what we ended up doing. So apart from about twenty metres of jogging, we walked the whole way just enjoying the outing and life in general.

Driving from Palmy to Whanganui and making our way up north, before turning off on the Whanganui River Road, I was reading Dean Karnazes’ The Road to Sparta. He remains an inspiration, and has a way of putting broad concepts into perspective. A nice read and amusingly apt given that we were headed to the small settlement of Atene/Athens, even though we’re clearly not exactly Greek heroes on a mission to save civilisation!

Passing by the signpost for the southern entry to the Atene Skyline Track (where we finished), we drove another 2km further up the river to the start/northern entry of the track. You could walk it either way around I guess, but the “finish” end doesn’t have parking, and if you plan to only walk up to the viewpoint and back, you will have a very long walk ahead if you don’t start at the up-river side.

At the carpark, we found the whole area occupied by honeybee trucks and a bunch of workers. Luckily we could squeeze the car in behind them, got ready and quickly took off on the walkway, keen to avoid being stung by all the bees buzzing nearby. A steady climb of about 260m takes you to an old road, with the following 3kms being fairly flat and easy going. From there you continue the ascent and follow the ridge line all the way around a little hill, Puketapu. Imagine a crater with a small round hill in the middle. The track follows the ridge of the crater, giving you beautiful views of Puketapu hill and the wider Whanganui area. Many years ago, the Whanganui river still flowed around this hill like a little thumb in the river, but it has since cut a path straight past.

At the campsite which is about halfway, we had lunch (boiled eggs, and cheese and feijoa jam sarmies), before continuing along the ridge. Passing over bluffs and walking on the verge of sheer drop-offs on both sides for a fair part of the way, this is a tough little walk and definitely not for the faint hearted. But with an abundance of vegetation; indigenous trees, ferns of all shapes and sizes and a variety of mosses, you feel protected from the abyss that is sometimes just one step away, sheltered from the sun and surrounded by beautiful scenery.

Something I haven’t encountered before, was the size of the Kanuka trees in the area. These giants were towering above us for most of the way. Softer to the touch, with creamy white flowers and bright green leaves, they differ from Manuka trees that have pure white or pink flowers and harsh, prickly, darker leaves. Both are known as tea trees, and have a similar look, although they are a different species.

Information about this track is scarce and inconsistent at best. Distances vary from 18km in some references, to 12.22km in other places. Our GPS measurement was more in accordance with the latter. However, since the track is essentially a point-to-point, you have another roughly 2+km of walking on the Whanganui River Road from the end point downstream back to the carpark upstream, resulting in a total distance of just under 16km.

I find it both curious and unsettling that a plus-minus 13km walk with only a 500 metre gain in altitude can take six to eight hours to complete. It is deceivingly more challenging than it might look. Although completely do-able and not very technical as such, it still takes long to complete, which I find mind-boggling. Why? Some much needed maintenance might help minimise the bundu-bashing in some places, while lower down the gorse is threatening to take over the path. Some slips in recent months also caused some damage to the track, but still easy to pass through or over. In rainy weather, the whole track might be a bit more challenging and quite muddy, maybe? But we had it fairly easy underfoot and could walk at a steady pace, with the exception of some steep inclines.

The track might be a little out of the way and maybe not be as popular as some other tracks, but certainly deserves more attention and its well worth the outing. If a quiet walk and the possibiliy of an empty campsite is what you’re after, this might be it. We didn’t see another soul (and it was a perfect weather Saturday) and you may well spent the night all alone.

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