Your Cart is Empty

Waiau Jaunt

07 December 2022

Words & Photos: Odin Woods

When I say slackpacking, I don’t mean backpacking without carrying a full pack of gear. Or having some gear dropped ahead for later use. I mean bikepacking but the slack country version. Oh, you don’t know what that is either? It’s like getting on the ski lift to access the backcountry terrain instead of the hard slog up. Lazy but awesome.

Our ski lift was a 1996 long wheel base Land Cruiser, packed with gear for a long weekend away at the 'Kenvitational' held at the Wairoa Gorge (another yarn all together). The weekend forecast was damp, it was a late exit from the city and we had rain clouds chasing us along our entire journey to the Maling Pass access road. Our pace slowed as the 'Troopy' climbed its way over the weathering 4x4 road and pointed down towards the Waiau River.

Those rain clouds finally caught us as we clambered out into the darkness to start strapping bags to bikes. The sound of the river not so far off and the increasing rainfall on our jacket hoods serenaded us as we wound through scraggly matagouri and tussock lands. With a good arm, it was only a stone throw to our accommodation for the night, just follow 'that waratah'.

Not being able to locate said waratah due to the mediocre light on my head was a minor detail and one easily dismissed. I knew the river went right past the hut, so as long as we were next to the river, we were on track. Many river crossings and marshy grasslands later, we arrived at an empty Waiau Hut. 11 o’clock was no earlier or no later than we needed to get there. Time kind of stops in places like this. Dark is dark. You sit down and embrace the fire like it's the first time you've seen it. Have a dram or two and cosy up on the noisiest mattresses ever.

Dawn broke and the cloud lifted high enough out of the valley to offer a view of Waiau Pass. Contrasting scenes of lush green grass and river rock underscored the maunga surrounding us. The rain retreated and slivers of sunshine fought through the brief breaks in the cloud. The day looks slightly more promising than first anticipated!

We chose to meander upriver further to see what lay ahead and how ridable or enjoyable the route was. Waiau Pass looms ahead and curiosity had me planning another visit in my head. After more time spent crossing back and forth over river braids and stopping to feed the starving sandflies we turned south again and headed back the way we had come. Unsurprised at how much more of the trail we could actually see, and ride during the day, we hunted out some short and sweet beech forest trail that funnelled us back into the riverbed down the middle of the valley.

The high roof of our ski lift was spotted over the tops of the matagouri as we puzzled our way through the spiny labyrinth. We were back and feeling slack, and almost even dry. Micro missions like these fuel the soul enough to get by until the next big day out. Sitting back in the Troopy, my feeling of appreciation for accessible huts in the slack country, warm fires to gaze at and of course mum running the family circus solo in my absence.