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Following part of the historic Gisborne to Waikaremoana Road

Gillian Ward reports on a two-day walk through Te Urewera and some of the region’s history. She and three friends made their way back along the overgrown old road from Gisborne to Waikaremoana last month, after being dropped at Papakorito Falls . . .

Once a road suitable for horse and coach traffic, the section of the historic Gisborne to Waikaremoana Road within Te Urewera is now indistinct.

From Gisborne, the route of the Gisborne to Waikaremoana Road followed what is now SH36 (Tiniroto Road), which was called Hangaroa Road in the late 1800s, and Bushy Knoll Road. The old road then descended on an easy grade into the Ruakituri Valley before heading into the eastern part of Te Urewera.

The sections of the road were formed at different times, initially as six-foot-wide pack-horse tracks. The road builders cut the last section of the track from the Ruakituri River at Puhoro — where there was a ford (which had a wire rope and cage put in for crossing when the river was high) towards Lake Waikaremoana — in 1899 following a surveyed line. At that time there was already a metalled road to Waerenga o Kuri, an unmetalled dray road to Hangaroa, and a pack-horse track to the farms on the Bushy Knoll Road. The Poverty Bay Herald editor wrote on 4th January 1899, “Good progress is, we learn, being made with the construction of the Gisborne-Waikaremoana road, which should be completed in about March next, enabling people to ride through to the Lake at Easter. There are only about two miles of bush to be cut through to enable the parties working from opposite ends to meet, and with fine weather this should be done in a few weeks.”

This last section of the road to be formed, heading into Te Urewera, climbed on a gentle gradient out of the Ruakituri Valley, under the Ngapakira bluff, sidled along the Matakuhia Range, descended again on an easy grade into the Aniwaniwa valley, then followed the wide valley to the lake. This would all have been bush country.

The Gisborne to Waikaremoana road was used as a bridle track, for pack horses and as a stock track, and in the early 1900s there were several delegations from Gisborne to the government tourism department requesting that the road be made suitable for horse and coach travel.

The government tourism department Lake House at Waikaremoana was opened in 1903, but the established route from Wairoa to the Lake House was problematic because of the unreliability of the Wairoa River bar. The usual way to arrive at Wairoa was by steamer over the bar.

In 1903 the Cook County Council Liberal Assn, in 1906 the Gisborne Farmers’ Union, and in 1907 the General Manager of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, Mr T. E. Donne, all requested/recommended that the pack horse track/stock route from Hangaroa to Aniwaniwa be opened up as a coach road.

To open this track to coach traffic, bridges needed to be constructed over the Hangaroa and Ruakituri Rivers. The Hangaroa bridge was constructed in 1909 and the Ngapakira bridge over the Ruakituri a couple of years later. During the period that the Aniwaniwa valley at Waikaremoana was farmed and the forest was being milled, between 1912 and 1930, the road was upgraded and maintained and there were organised horse and coach tours up to about 1920. After this, though, without maintenance, the condition of the track deteriorated.

Jim Hall had been keen to walk along the section of the old road in Te Urewera for many years. In mid-January he invited Glen Stichbury, Gillian Ward and Barry Foster to join him to do this two-day walk. Sharron Hall kindly agreed to drop off our group at Aniwaniwa, then meet us again at Puhoro.

We started the walk at the Papakorito Falls on Aniwaniwa Valley Road. Part of the old road is maintained as a road by Ngai Tuhoe, as part of their management of Te Urewera, as far as the falls. From here the route is no longer maintained.

Initially it was fairly easy to follow the road formation in the Aniwaniwa valley, although manuka, young trees and ferns are regenerating on the track, and there is a lot of deep peat bog. Two of the original log bridges remain but both are no longer in their original position.

At the site of the farm in the Aniwaniwa valley there are parts of old fences, a clump of bamboo trees, numerous old glass bottles of various kinds, and lots of rusty iron — a flanged bush tramway wheel, and parts of cars and machinery and household items.

A thoroughly enjoyable adventure

Further along the Aniwaniwa valley, near the site of Ward’s hut, the road formation is within red beech forest and is raised off the valley floor. In many places red beech has regenerated at the edges of the old road, creating a line of even-aged young trees.

We camped at the Ward’s hut site near Aniwaniwa stream. Here again, there are many glass bottles and iron relicts, bricks and concrete, and some pieces of slate.

It was raining lightly the next morning and we continued following the formed track through forest. There are ferns, small-leaf shrubs, and rimu, halls totara, and kahikatea saplings on the track, and we got very wet pushing through them! There are many young trees but very few mature podocarps, since these and the large red beech trees have been harvested and milled. Most of the small forest birds were present, but in low numbers — fantails, tui, tomtits, grey warblers, whiteheads, riflemen and bush robins, as well as numerous chaffinches. We heard ruru, kereru and long-tailed cuckoos, and kaka flew over us several times.

As we started to climb on the gentle gradient on the side of the Matakuhia Range, the track formation became benched and there are occasional venetian-blind track markers. Building the benched track involved cutting into the rock in places, and at times the track surface consisted of clean papa rock. We wondered whether explosives would have been used, or just a pick and shovel?

With increasing altitude there are less rimu and kamahi — instead we saw neinei, mountain cabbage tree, and quintinia. At times the track formation is defined by dense crown fern. The track zigzags in and out (track dongers) of the headwaters of numerous tributaries where there would have been fords.

We temporarily lost the track a couple of times, but generally we could see the benching formation, and this was our guide (as well as the GPS). There was a lot of climbing over or under to be done where numerous large trees have fallen across the track.

The benched formation became more obvious at the Ruakituri end of this forested section. We could see that at times the track builders deviated from the surveyor’s line to go around huge red beech trees. These trees were later sawed down, but their stumps remain. Some of the more intact large stumps still show the wedges which supported a platform for the two sawyers to stand on. Deer sign was more numerous near the farmland edge, and there is little forest regeneration.

We walked out of the bush on to Ngapakira Station farmland at the eastern end of the Matakuhia Range, the edge of Te Urewera. From here the old formed track continues along the bush and scrub edge, then through farmland below the dramatic Ngapakira bluff, descending on an easy gradient to the Ruakituri river at Puhoro.

Trekking downhill through the farm we followed a more recent bulldozed farm track, being shorter (but steeper), and looking across the Ruakituri valley to Bushy Knoll we could see where the old road continued to Bushy Knoll Road, Hangaroa and Gisborne.

Although our second day was a long one, the walk was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure and an interesting excursion into some of the region’s history.

Ngapakira Track: Benched track cut into papa rock — pick and shovel work in 1899. Picture by Barry Foster
HIGHER UP: A benched track at higher altitude sidling along the Matakuhia Range. Picture by Gillian Ward
FURTHER ALONG VALLEY: The track further along the Aniwaniwa Valley — the bush is regenerating on the old track. Picture by Gillian Ward
Papakorito Falls: The beautiful Papakorito Falls at the end of the current Aniwaniwa Valley Road. Picture by Gillian Ward
OLD CAR CHASSIS: There are lots of rusty iron relicts on and near the road in the Aniwaniwa Valley, including part of an old car chassis. This car didn’t complete the trip! Picture by Barry Foster
Aniwaniwa Valley farm: An old fence, and corrugated iron, around a house site at the Aniwaniwa Valley farm. Picture by Barry Foster
REGENERATION: Upper Aniwaniwa Valley, young beech forest regeneration at track edges. Picture by Barry Foster
Ngapakira Station: The old road descends through Ngapakira Station to the Ruakituri River. Bushy Knoll is on the skyline on the right — the route of the old road to Gisborne.