In years long gone, we went there quite often.
Not that we were ever tramping people (US = hiking), but the Catchpool Valley in the Rimutaka Forest Park has always offered easy walking access to some wonderful bush country. The main walks are almost able to be used pushing a baby in a stroller, and are quite wide and easy with very few really steep grades.
More strenuous adventure is easily accessible to the adventurous, and I have memories of our sons David, Drew and Anthony taking off with their buddies to camp out overnight, getting up to who knows what mischief. Happily they all turned out well, and I am very proud of them all (and their sisters).
From the Wainuiomata Coast Road, we entered the park and drove up to the main parking area, and after the usual loading and adjusting of backpacks and camera set out into the bush. Almost instantly you are in a different world.
The wind is still howling overhead, but down here in this green wonderland, the trees throttle it back to a very light and pleasant breeze. The main track from the carpark to the Orongorongo river is very civilised these days, though not everyone approves of that. For much of the way, you could walk four abreast on a well-formed gravel path. Most of the streams, creeks and drains are bridged, sometimes in unexpectedly grand style.
Mary walked these tracks more often than I when our elder daughter Catherine was a student at Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt. The school was heavily committed to participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, under the leadership of the late and much lamented Sister Marie Gabrielle Wright RNDM.
Mary went along as a parent helper. Marie-Gabrielle was a dedicated and very expert amateur botanist, and gave Mary a particular fondness for the various plants of the forest floor, and high on the list were the New Zealand native orchids, especially the Greenhoods. They look like grass most of the year, and even when flowering are hard to spot. Even the flowers are green.
This forest park is a living classroom, and strategically placed information boards provided information about noteworthy features of the landscape and the trees and animals to be found nearby. This Northern Rata (Metrosideros robusta) is an epiphyte. Its seeds lodge high in the branches of a host tree (in this case, a Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum)) and over a long period of time it sends roots to the ground , and wraps itself around its host. Though it had long been thought that this killed the host, the latest thinking is that it is more of a life companion relationship and that by the time the host dies, the Rata is able to stand alone, though hollow centred, as a mighty tree in its own right. It’s flowers and leaves are very similar to the Pohutukawa.
The only steep part of the track is the final descent down “Jacob’s Ladder” to the shingle of the river bed. We ate lunch in the sun on a shingle bank beside one of the little branches of what must be one of the few braided rivers in the North Island.
What goes down has to come back up, so it was a steady plod up the hill until we reached the ridge and then resumed the normal walking pace.
Much of the forest is beech and in order to get a sense of the place, I stitched together a panorama. I was really enjoying walking with Mary, though when we reached the sign that gave us the choice of 40 minutes to the carpark by the main route or another 80 minutes via the old Five-mile track loop, her preference for the longer walk was a challenge. It was less well-formed and required some leg stretching!
Occasionally a particularly handsome mature tree presented itself, but it was hard to capture them until I remembered the possibility of a vertical panorama. This is four images to catch the full hight of a majestic tree.
My last shot from yesterday is a grove of Ponga ferns (Cyathea dealbata) … when the sun reaches through and lights them up they can be spectacular.
Another walk is planned today though it may be less sheltered than yesterday.