Public parks with genuine wilderness within their boundaries are wonderful.
Twelve km to the North of Upper Hutt, is Kaitoke Regional Park. This park can be viewed as a pleasant set of tree-lined picnic areas connected by a good set of roads, situated at the edges of about 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of native bush. Its recreational value is enhanced by two attractive rivers, the Hutt and the Pakuratahi. It is adjacent to the even larger wilderness of the Wellington Water Catchment area and bigger still, the 116,000 hectares of the Tararua Forest Park . What’s not to like?
There were two van-loads of people enjoying a picnic lunch in the main information centre car park as I arrived yesterday morning. They were passengers from the cruise liner “Sea Princess” who had signed up for a tour of the “Lord of the Rings” sites in Wellington. Kaitoke regional park had been the location of the Rivendell sets.
In my opinion, there has been magic in this place since long before anyone thought to use it for the filming of the Tolkien trilogy. All credit, though, to those who recognised the magic and used it in the films.
Wilderness? Yes, I admit that there are some well-formed gravel walkways to take you through the fringes of it in a civilised non-wilderness walking style. You could almost take a push-chair on some of the easier ones. In fact I strolled round one track yesterday with my already solid camera, mounted on its heavy (3.5kg) tripod.
But don’t be fooled by the accessibility of these “close to home” tracks. A few steps off the path and it’s as if you were in an undiscovered land. And if you are fit and more adventurous, there are some altogether less developed tracks.
I chose the so-called “Swingbridge Path” because the walking time estimate on the signs was one hour. I usually interpret that as 50 minutes. Even with the tripod and camera, and frequent stops for considered photographs, I was back at the carpark in 35 minutes. Be aware, if you visit, that the posted walking time estimates are just a little conservative.
So “why is it called the Swingbridge Path?” I hear you ask. Well I’m glad you asked that question.
Pretty much the first steps off the carpark bring you to the young Hutt River. It’s not very wide here, but it is a respectable and solid flowing river nevertheless. The way to cross this river is … you guessed it … a swingbridge.
It looks sturdy. It is well anchored (at least on the side that I can see), with multiple steel guide wires, and lots of lateral stabilising wires and safety mesh. It has a solid wooden deck with an antislip wire mesh. Nothing to fear here. It looks perfectly safe. The drop isn’t even all that great. So why are you still talking about it instead of crossing it?
Eventually, I did cross it. It wobbled and jiggled. Despite that, I paused part way across and set up my tripod (there was no one else waiting to cross). When the oscillations and my pulse rate subsided, I took my shots. Then, with gritted teeth, and a white knuckled death-grip on the wires, I made it to the other side. On firm ground again, the path was instantly beneath the green canopy of some of the most beautiful bush you could wish for.
It’s very hard to characterise this park because each twist in the track tends to show another wildly different aspect. Beech, Rata, Rimu, Ponga, all have their own place and each area creates its own feeling. The image I chose as representative of my walk is of a cathedral-like grove of Ponga (Tree ferns, Cyathea dealbata).
There was very little wind, but the fern fronds in the canopy were rising and falling, slowly and gently, as if the forest were inhaling and exhaling.
Tolkien would have recognised the magic here.