10-Mar-2012 -- As with the previous two documented visits to this confluence, Geocaching was the first reason for visiting. The geocache page provided a link to the Degree Confluence Project website. After a bit of investigation on the project website I found out that the previous logged visits were over a decade ago, in winter, and didn't provide the full array of photos that is possible to log on the website. Since I visited in early autumn and nearly 12 years later, I decided to log this confluence visit on top of my geocache find.
The confluence is located approximately 30 km NW of the town of Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand. The name of the immediate area is called the Mamaku Plateau. This area is dedicated to agriculture and plantation forest (mostly Radiata Pine), with also large expanses of unspoilt native forest. It is in the latter that the confluence is located, in the southernmost area of the Department of Conservation's (DOC) Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park.
Research for accessing the site was made easy by the geocache owner, who provided a series of waypoints indicating turnoffs and track entrances. The turnoff to the site is on State Highway 5 and through a plantation forest, for which an access permit is needed.
It's with this permit in hand that I set off, along with two very brave young geocachers, aged 8 and 10, and their parents who are work colleagues of mine. We knew that approximately 2 km in there was a locked gate, so we brought our mountain bikes to make the rest of the journey easier. The day was calm, mild and overcast: perfect weather for an adventure in the bush! Once we reached the Forest Park's boundary, the scenery changed from cut-off pine forest to native. The track became narrow and its earthen and stone surface very uneven. At the end of the track was supposed to be the start of a disused DOC walking trail, but the entrance was so overgrown that we couldn't find it.
Never mind, thought the experienced hunter in the group (and topo and compass backup in case of GPS malfunction), we just enter the bush nearby and walk until we stumble on the trail. Which we did... about 2 km later! Still the children seemed undeterred with the difficult “bush bashing” up and down ridges and gullies, over logs, around giant tree ferns, and endless tangles in a local invasive vine called supplejack. The kids were identifying native trees of all shapes and sizes on the way: rimu, matai, miro, wheki ponga, bush lawyer... and some non-natives, like the painful stinging nettle. We also saw deer, pig, possum, and bird tracks in mud puddles.
Once we'd caught up with the trail, it was only 50 m later that we arrived at our next step: lake Hiwiroa. There we stopped for lunch, as we contemplated the steep banks all around. We only had 350 m to go in a westerly direction, but had a good 40-50 m ascent, and struggled to find a place where we could do this. In the end we employed a Straight Up approach, which was very difficult and scary for the little ones who had to be pushed and hoisted, eventually to safety. The forest on the plateau was even more dense than before, but we were used to the bush-bashing by then and made good progress of the next 200 m. When we got within 40 m of the geocache/confluence, things got very tricky: it is situated in inclined terrain and rife with young supplejack. The accuracy on the GPS varied from 15-40 m, but we finally found what we came for. It was difficult to move around in such dense bush to find all the zeroes displayed, but even by standing still the numbers kept scrolling on the device and I managed a snapshot of 998/999.
The bush bash back to the lake and the trail seemed easier (we found another way to get down) and the return trip was twice as fast by following the trail (an overgrown trail with windfalls is still easier to navigate than the full-on bush). We found our bikes where we'd left them, and we finally made it back to the car, 6 h after setting off.
I was very impressed and proud of the young ones to have managed this marathon effort with only minimal amounts of complaints. Towards the end I asked them if this had put them off coming geocaching with me, and the answer was “no, but as long as there's a trail”!