26-Nov-2017 -- This is my second visit to this confluence, the first one was about 4.5 years ago. The main goal of this visit was again geocaching, as I “adopted” the Divine Hiwiroa geocache from its previous owner, and as such am now responsible for its maintenance.
This visit is 18 months in the making. Accessing the confluence involves the last 400 m as a “bush-bash”, the previous 2 km are on an overgrown disused walking trail, and the access between the State Highway 5 and the start of the old trail involves 7 km of private plantation forestry roads.
In spite of the physical challenges in getting to the confluence, the most difficult step appears to be obtaining an access permit from the forestry company. Three times over the last 18 months I attempted this, and the first two attempts I was simply ignored. On the third attempt, I selected a specific date, sent the forms with 6 weeks to spare and nagged by email weekly until somebody got back to me. Obtaining the permit involves a Health and Safety Briefing, which one member of our party attended 9 days before our visit.
So, it’s on a calm and overcast Sunday (not dissimilar conditions from my last visit) that we all met at the start of the forestry (Galaxy) road. We drove the car to a locked gate, where we took our mountain bikes for the next 4 km of roads. The area looks different from my last visit, as the young Radiata Pines are 4-5 years old and now well over my head, when last time the place had been clear-felled and only parts had been re-planted with seedlings. A bit further the trees are much bigger but not quite ready for harvest, and as we approached the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park boundary we can start seeing pockets of native bush. Once we reached the boundary, the gravel track is unmaintained, overgrown and very rutty. The last short section had a very large mud puddle that we couldn’t pedal across and had to get wet and muddy feet.
Since the 1990’s New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has faced serious freezes and cuts to its budgets, even though it is facing greater conservation challenges and increased tourism pressures. As part of the rationalisation of their budget, maintenance was ceased on the Lake Hiwiroa Track in 2004, as general public access through the private forestry roads became forbidden.
Although the track is unmaintained by official authorities, it is still being used occasionally by hunters and the local tramping (hiking) clubs. As such today the trail was marked very well with some fresh-looking bright pink ribbons. It was more overgrown than at my last visit, but relatively easy to follow nonetheless.
The water level on Lake Hiwiroa was much higher than before following 2 very wet years. We could not circumnavigate it at lake level, therefore had to climb up a steep slope and follow a roughly defined ridge to the confluence, crossing 2 shallow gullies on the way.
The confluence itself is pretty much as I remember it: in a shallow area, our GPS devices giving us the most accurate position when standing on the end of a moss-covered and blackened fallen tree. The geocache was found about 10 m from that location, and, standing in a supplejack-free circle about 2 m in diameter, we ate lunch and cleaned the cache up. I returned it a bit closer to what we agreed was the confluence.