Heading into the Wilderness zone in the Southern Kaimanawas was a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time - I had heard stories from Scotty about the area where no helicopters were allowed and the only access is via foot into incredible back country, where there were good numbers of Sika, good fishing, and a high chance of having the place to yourself. I was nervous about the big walk in, but excited for the prospect of the elusive Sika.
We headed off after finishing work on New Year’s Eve, leaving Te Puke around 4pm and arriving at the turn off from the Desert road around 7pm. The forecast was for some rain and a bit of wind for NYE (as per usual!) and then clearing up for the rest of the week. We drove off road as far as we could, parked up and got all our gear on ready to go when the weather was just starting to come in. We had decided to try and get as far as we could that night, even if we were walking in the rain, as we were super keen to get down to the river bed on day one and it is a fairly decent walk in!
We ended up walking for around 2.5 hours; it was a bit like the road to nowhere in some spots, where I could only just see Scotty in front of me and then into the fog. We got to the clay pans at the top of the ridge when we made the call to settle in for the night, we could pitch our tent here or keep walking to the bush line which we weren’t too sure just how far it was. We got the tent set up with no problems; Yuki the dog was pretty wet, but she cuddled down at our feet and we settled in for the night. I think this is the first time I've had a cup of tea on New Year’s instead of too much Gin and Bubbles! Waking up to clear skies and the most amazing view in the morning proved our early bedtime had paid off.
New Year’s day we woke to clear skies and good weather and packed up camp around 8am and started the big walk. We had about 2.5 hours before we reached the bush line, and at about 10:30am we saw 3 nice Sika hinds in the clearing. We stopped and watched them for a while—surprised to see them out so late in the day—but it was early in our trip and needed to keep walking. We descended down to the river bed and had a quick bite to eat before our first climb
Hydrated and ready to go, we hiked straight up for about 45 minutes to the flats, and along the ridge line. We saw some Kaimanawa horse sign—tracks and scat, but didn't see any of the infamous horses themselves. There is one area here where we had cell signal so a quick check of the news and a quick “Happy New Year’s” message to friends before turning the phones off for the next 4 days. From here, a new poled route had been put in since Scotty had last been in, and we made a decision to follow the old route as we weren't too sure where the new one went. (After talking to a friend a few months later who had tried the new route, we had made the right decision! Apparently the new poled route took you down some precarious gorges and steeps.)
Down the other side for lunch, and then we started the next climb! From the top of the next ridge we could see the bush line where we would start the descent down to the river bed and headed along the tussocks.
We finally made it to the bush line, and had some amazing views of the Kawekas.
We were about 8 hours in at this stage, and at about 5pm we began the walk down to the bottom of the valley. The old poled route hadn't had much upkeep so was a bit challenging at times and Yuki and I both started grizzling about half an hour in. We did some bush bashing, and Scotty got us to the bottom about 2 hours later, and the feeling when we got to the river bed was one of the best feelings I've had!! We crossed the river and walked upstream to find a great spot for our tent; just as we were about to set up, Scotty whispered to hand him his rifle as he had seen a deer already! It was just a fawn looking back at us—I think he was just as shocked to see us as we were to see him! So we set up camp, took our boots off and made up a fire to get dinner ready.
We both slept well that night! It was a tough walk in but well worth it! We woke a bit later in the morning and had a cruisy day. Yuki spent most of the day sleeping and Scotty set up to have a fly fish out the front of camp as we had seen three nice looking rainbows chilling in the pool.
We had lunch and decided to head upstream and find a nice slip or clearing to set up for an evening hunt. We left Yuki to have a rest in the tent, put our boots back on and headed off. Only half an hour upstream from camp (and at 3:30 in the afternoon) we saw two nice Sika Stags in the middle of a clearing between the two rivers. We watched them for a little while, and I set up to try and take the bigger one. We were still on the track, and nicely hidden by bushes, so I set up the rifle (a Sako 300 WSM) on a tree branch and fired. On the shot, he bolted but the reassuring “thwack” was a good sign of a solid hit.
We made our way down to and across the river to where he had been feeding, and found him only a stone’s throw from where he had been on the clearing.
We took a back leg for camp meat, liver for the dog and the back steaks and a few chosen cuts the long walk home. He was a beautiful animal, his coat looked like he may have had a bit of red in him but I think was just the time of the year. He was fairly skinny, and obviously looking for food early in the afternoon, but I was still excited for my first Sika!
With meat taken care of, and having seen some nice fish in the river, it was a quick trip back to camp to grab the rod. We creeped in on a couple of fish that we had spotted in a deep blue pool. Scotty spooked a big brown, but hooked up a nice rainbow who put up a good fight! He took him for a walk but managed to land him after a good struggle! He was a beautiful big rainbow trout—Scotty's personal best and we think close to 10Ibs!
We took a few photos and put him back to fight another day, and headed back to camp. All in all an awesome day! A personal best for both of us. We had dinner and then marshmallows over the camp fire to end our exciting day, and settled down for another night.
The next morning we decided to have a day fly-fishing down river before starting the walk out. A lot of fish were seen but it wasn’t until we were back at camp that Scotty managed a take. After a nice fight which saw the rainbow jump around the pool, she was landed on the beach. We released her back, and headed back to camp for lunch.
We packed up camp after lunch and started the trek straight up the gorge. The walk up was a good hour and a half, and we were happy to be at the top! Headed on, back along the tussock, and over the next ridge. We stayed in a hut just on the bush line with the best view up to the top of the ranges—a good night’s sleep, since the hut even had pillows!!
The next morning, we had an early start and only one big ridge left to climb. Walking up just past the bush line we saw some hinds, once again in late morning. Scotty got closer and saw that it was only a hind and her fawn, so we decided to leave them to grow. We got to the top of the last ridge in good time, and with one more small climb back to the car we pushed on. We arrived about 5 hours later, tired, a bit sore but happy and smiling.
My first trip into the wilderness zone lived up to my expectations and more! 5 days into the wilderness with no contact with another human, no cell phone cover, perfect weather, the most stunning back country and to top it off a personal best rainbow for Scotty, and an 8 point Sika stag for me. Definitely a trip to remember!