Walking the river

Walking Donald river track

It’s good to learn a new trick. Pleased to report I’m not an old dog quite yet.

This new trick was how to cross a river without falling over. I’ll admit it’s a skill I would have been wiser to learn earlier. I’ve been arse over tit in many rivers and don’t rate fine balance as one of my skills. My friend Sandy taught me this one. She’s done courses on how to cross rivers and I think finally got fed up with my gung-ho, wobbly approach.

But first the river, the tramp.

It’s a good weekend escape, under an hour from Napier up the Gentle Annie road into the Kawekas. There’s a campsite at the Lawrence Road end (a long-drop, a covered shelter, water from the river, what else do you need?). We pitched our tents in a small clearing and other that a couple of passing young bucks in a ute who offered to cut a steak from their kill for us — which we declined though if we’d said yes it would have made a better story — there was no one there but us and the birds.

At the confluence of the Tutaekuri and the Donald rivers the water is sharp and chirpy and gathers pace as it swirls around boulders and cuts into the banks. We were off to MacIntosh Hut on the plateau some 600m above, which we reached after a mossy-lined climb, and descended the next day, but instead of the steep path back over another hill, we chose to walk the river back to the campsite.

On the map the track looks like it runs neatly down the side of the river, but that is misleading. The banks of the Donald here have river ledges on the convex side and cliffs on the concave, swapping every 100m or so. We counted ten or twelve crossings before we lost count. The crossings are unmarked, though we picked up hunters’ trails between the lupins that cover the terraces. The water is mostly thigh-deep between deeper pools, with boulders and loose stones — not particularly slippery, but fast and cold.

I suppose most trampers know the trick to crossing rivers, but I didn’t.
Use a stick!

I’ve resisted getting poles for the risk of looking old or foreign (though my baggy shorts brand me indelibly as kiwi), but Sandy found me a trusty stick and sent me into the raging torrent (my words) with a third leg. So simple. So life-changing. I’ll never balance on one wobbly pin again.

When three legs aren’t enough, hard to beat six legs for stability. Here’s my picture of the linking arms method, where you grab the other’s pack and have a stick on each end. One leg moves at a time, five anchor you to the river bed. Taller person on the upstream side.

The walk to MacIntosh hut from the Lawrence car park is a good stretch of the legs: 4-5 hours, half uphill and half along the plateau, but the hut is cracking. You can reach it more easily from Lakes Road, but where’s the fun in easy? The hut sleeps eight and can’t be booked ($5 for a hut ticket), so good idea to take a tent just in case.

We were worried about being shut in with rowdy hunters for the night (actually, I’ve never met any but courteous hunters when tramping) and there were a couple of hunters there: hiking with their twelve-year-old daughters. So cute.

There’s my tip for a Hawkes Bay weekend away. Don’t forget to pick up a stick.

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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