Cliff Walk, Eketahuna

Our weekdays and weekends are just a tangle of days. With Gerry often teaching on weekends and sometimes weeknights, on top of weekday classes, while also running a photography company where traveling is part of the process (when not in lockdown when all jobs gets cancelled), we have no routine. It’s messy. Most days and weekends just come and go. The joy and excitement of ‘normal’ life Fridays (ay, ay, it’s Friday!) is a big miss, especially when Saturdays are workdays. Unfortunately, the dread of Mondays are still there. Must be ingrained after many years of school, Uni, and work-life, or perhaps just everyday life where there are still lots of memes, and people agonising over the dread of their Monday-back-to-the-grindstone fate.

We often don’t make plans for the weekend. And with the recent Level 4, followed by Level 3 and current Level 2 lockdown, we have been spending all our hours at home. Not that I mind too much. But by mid-morning on Sunday, it felt like a good idea to get out of the cabin and go for a drive somewhere. Heck, even if just to give the car battery a charge.

The weather was miserable: super windy, cloudy, with the occasional drizzle. We decided to drive to the Putara trail head on the Wairarapa side of the Tararua Range, and if the weather was okay, to saunter up the mountain for a couple of kilometres before turning back. It was never the intention to go far, but thought an outing in nature might be a pleasant change from four walls. The nearer we got to the parking area, the more the drizzle persisted and the stronger the wind.

Finally getting there, we parked, looked at each other, poured a cuppa while the car was rocking in the wind, and decided to drive back to Eketahuna before risking a slip or windfall blocking the narrow gravel road, trapping us out in the sticks. We had no business sauntering into the mountains on a day like this anyway, even if being prepared, or just for a kilometre or two.

Unbeknownst to us, at about the exact time we wimped out, a female solo tramper was trapped on the ridge between Powell and Jumbo Huts (not too many miles from where we were), and couldn’t move due to the wind threatening to blow her off the mountain. She called Search and Rescue at 9am, hunkered down in the tussock, and was only reached by 5:30pm. She was fine apart from mild hypothermia, and they all spent the night at Powell Hut.

Another man also got in trouble in the same 130k winds, tonnes of rain, sleet and freezing temperatures, just a bit further along the ridge and deeper into the mountain from where she was (Mt McGregor), and set off his PLB at around 9:30pm. SAR couldn’t reach him, and would continue their search on the Monday morning. He spent the night in horrific conditions without a tent or sleeping bag. With the horrendous weather still hammering the country, SAR couldn’t reach him the next day either. Fortunately he still had some battery life left on his phone, had reception and they could guide him to the McGregor bivvy. Luckily he also had his dog with him, and I can only imagine that the extra body heat generated by the dog might have saved his life. Sandwiched between two mattresses with the dog, SAR reached him at 2am on the Tuesday morning in the bivvy. I guess one could argue that he was foolish for walking into the backcountry in imminent extreme weather without more gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc). Perhaps he knew that with the added body heat of the dog he didn’t need a sleeping bag. It is quite easy to judge from the couch and think his foolhardiness could have cost him his life, but we don’t know anything about him or his backcountry skill level.

On the way back to Eketahuna, I searched for some short walks in or near the town and stumbled upon the Cliff Walk. At only one kilometre long, it is hardly worth the effort. But a stretch of the legs has never been a bad idea.

We parked at the campsite side of the track, donned some warm clothes and rain jackets, and set off in the wind. I had to question whether it was a good idea walking in strong wind given that the walk is sandwiched between trees, the tall ones leaning against the wind. Although the trees provided some shelter, it was at the expense of a calm walk and not stressing about being crushed by a redwood.

The walk is on the edge of the bluff/cliff, but between two fences and trees. Not many views of and down the cliff is possible, but the wee walk is pretty in itself. The trees make a nice canopy in places, and the track underfoot is quite smooth (apart from minor windfall), presumably wheelchair friendly.

At only about 920 metres long, it took no time to reach Eketahuna. Another block and we were in the metropolis that is the city centre. It was such a non-event that we didn’t even think to take money for coffee.

On the way back, we made the steep, slippery trip down the cliff on a narrow track to the historical ‘Old swimming pool’. It’s a lovely spot in the Makakahi River that I can imagine would be a popular picnic and swimming hole in summer.

Back at the car without any fallen trees or branches incidents, we poured another cup of coffee from the thermos and drove home. I guess this walkway really is just a commute from the campsite to town, and for the locals, but if one happens to be in Eketahuna on a road trip and have the time for a leg-stretch, this is a nice walk to consider.

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