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2019 Jan-March Waikiti Track Clearance expedition.

Monday, April 8, 2019

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Waikiti Track Clearance-Mission Impossible?

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to organise and lead groups of volunteers that you have recruited, and to clear the overgrown Waikiti track, from the road through to the hut”.

This is more or less what Craig Benbow, of the Permolat Group (slightly altered by me for effect) said to Charlie Ledbrook and Ian Fussell, about two years ago, at an AGM of the Permolat group, in Arthurs Pass.

(Permolat is a group of enthusiastic trampers and hunters, who became concerned that DOC were allowing huts, bridges and tracks on the West Coast to fall into disrepair, due to a lack of funding. The group was established to try and halt that slide. Click on the next line for much more detailed information about this group of hard working, tireless volunteers.)

Craig Benbow is also on the Board of the Back Country Trust, the function of which is best explained in this from the Permolat site:

 In 2014 we saw the establishment of the Community Conservation Partnership Fund from which DOC would distribute $26 million over a four year period to local communities to support volunteers doing conservation and recreation work in the high country. A portion of this went to an outdoor recreation, recently renamed the Backcountry Trust, which is an alliance of The Federated Mountain Club (FMC), Deerstalkers Association and TRAILS (a mountain biking organisation) The Trust will bid for funds from a pool each year and divvy it between the three organisations. It usually manages to secure 3-400K per annum. This represents a devolution of DOC's functions to the community sector, and although there most likely to be cost cutting motive in there somewhere, from Permolat's perspective it's one of the best thing that could have happened as it gives a significant degree of ownership back to user groups. 

The Waikiti Track is a typically rugged West Coast track primarily through bush and forest, East of Haupiri, which is East of Lake Brunner, and follows the Waikiti River up to the Waikiti hut. Because of the rugged nature of the track, and few onward routes, according to the logbook, the six bunker hut appears to have been used mainly by hunters, who fly in by helicopter. It was built back in the 1950’s but is still in good condition due to some maintenance done on it over the years. It doesn’t get a lot of visits from trampers, and, as a result, maintenance of the track was deferred indefinitely.

Charlie mulled this “opportunity” over for some time and finally, late 2018, after sounding out a few OFTC members as to their interest, put his hand up to take on the task of organising and completing the clearing of the track, which was last cleared by DOC in 2009.

There is a lot of organisation required to get a project like this underway and into action and Charlie launched himself into the task with admirable energy. In fact, it was planned with almost military precision!

So, after a lot of preparation, the first group set off from Charlie’s place on Jan 25th 2019, for a day trip to the Waikiti track, to start the work. As in the case of several of the next trips, this meant a really early start, and a 3 hour drive to the start of the track, before any work was done. And, of course, there was the 3 hour drive back, usually broken by a stop at the Otira hotel for something to eat, and a large coffee, before continuing, and arriving back at Charlies well into the night-big days!

There was no point in going all that way and working in adverse conditions so the weather forecast was an important part of the planning process. As well, equipment had to be suitable for the task (DOC won’t allow us to use powered chainsaws without all sorts of prohibitive restrictions) and it was soon found that the most suitable tool was a hand held lopping saw.

Day One (25 Jan) saw good progress made with 1.4km cut by the four people that day, working along the river flats and then starting uphill. It gave Charlie a good idea as to what to expect for the rest of the track.

Day 2 (29 Jan) was harder going with lots of windfall needing clearing, and 700 hard metres were achieved by 3 people- a hard day.

Day 3 (7 Feb) had 5 people on it, and they achieved 1.5 kms, which enabled them to get over the bridge which is roughly at the mid point of the track and then make a start on the hardest part of the track.

The Waikiti River is a beautiful, rugged West Coast river, with steep sides and bush down to the water’s edge. Evidently it has some good floods from time to time so the track is quite high above the river in places in tough bush/forest with some short, steep climbs-and descents!
There were two tricky places before the bridge, where chains were in place to assist getting past them. Charlie decided the first one needed a ladder and, on the next trip in, carried one in (as you do) and the team installed it, very securely, to the rock face. It certainly made travel over that obstacle a lot easier. Well done the ladder securing team.

Day 4 (13 Feb). A team of 5 installed the ladder and continued removing trees and vegetation from the track. By now, the days were very long with 6 hours of travelling and 6 hours (3 hours each way) of walking before work started.

Day 5 (26 Feb) There were 4 this day and the going was slow now on the upstream side of the bridge as it was very overgrown, with a lot of time spent locating the track and scoping out what was required for the next trip.

Day 6 ( 4 Mar) Big day with 7 people-the last of the one day trips. (Because of the travel required, 4 of us went over the previous day and stayed at a motel in Moana-a lot easier as it was only 45 mins to the start of the track in the morning-but still 3 hours walk in/out.)Tricky stuff with some parts of the track travelling up the river which required some innovative markers  to be carried in and dyna bolted onto some boulders (designed, of course, by Charlie). Only 300 metres of track clearing was managed on this day, one of the harder parts of the track!

At this stage of proceedings, it was clear that the best way to finish the work was to base ourselves at the hut and work back. The Back Country Trust was paying for fuel costs up to this point and had sufficient funds for some helicopter transportation of equipment and people, which would save a huge amount of time and effort-and travel.

So, on 20 March. Tom and I flew directly from Kirwee to the hut in a Hughes 300 (slightly bigger than a Robinson R22-it’s the sort of helicopter you wear, rather than get in!) while the rest of the team and gear went in two other cars went to the start of the track and prepared equipment and packs for underslung loads to the hut. (We were intending to stay for several days or until we finished so there was plenty of food). Great trip over initially in some pretty average weather, skilfully negotiated by our pilot Allan, by flying through the Waimakiriri Gorge, then up the Hawdon, down the Otehake and across the Taramakau, before descending into Waikiti Hut. Interesting arrival as the hut was completely in fog and not visible, so we dropped down and flew down the river and landed in a small clearing about 100 metres away from it. Once we got out, the helicopter flew down to the road end and proceeded to bring two underslung loads and the other four members of the team. (It takes 6-7 hours to walk in- 5 minutes in the helicopter!)

Once settled into the hut (a nice, roomy Forestry Service 6 bunker) and after mattresses were cleaned (some were a little mouldy, mainly through disuse) the group got stuck into the track work. 

Over the course of the next 3 days, we finished the task, in perfect weather. The track goes high above the river in places, and had to be marked and cleared, which was hard work, especially when we encountered a couple of slips. With low river levels, quite a bit of the travel could be along the river which we did this each day returning to the hut, spotting a couple of pairs of Whio along the way.

It was very satisfying to reach the marker on the track which marked the limit of the trackwork from the road end, especially for Charlie, as it signified the end of the project, which had taken a lot of his time and energy to organise.

Fortunately, we had a Satfone, and were able to call and organise the helicopter for the next morning, thereby beating the atrocious weather that arrived a couple of days later. Tom and I flew back to Kirwee and the others were ferried down, with equipment, to their cars at the road end, for the long drive home.

It was very satisfying to take part in this project, and everyone involved felt this. There is a great deal of satisfaction and sense of achievement in being involved in this task and we hope that it will encourage people to use the track and explore the area.
There will be further opportunities for this sort of project over time and they’ll be advertised via email and the Newsletter. Hard work, good fun and a real team event.

Well done to those involved in this task from the OFTC- Charlie Ledbrook, Gavin Hampton,  Ian Fussell, Tom Cholmondeley, Neville Palmer, Stu McHugh, Peter Oliver, Russell Ramsden, Ross McGerty, Lawrence Allpress, Brent Smith and Paul Knox. (Scribe)    Permolat member Mauricio Lloreda joined us for the 3 days in the hut.

                                                                  WELL DONE GUYS!
Click here for Photos

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