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Exploring New Ground

Dave checking out the Whanganui River – looking for future fishing spots.

Exploring new hunting areas is something I enjoy immensely; it’s one of the most rewarding things for me about hunting. Maybe because I’m an adult-onset hunter, I feel there are so many places I’ve yet to hunt and explore, and I want to experience as much as I can while I still can! Deep down, I know if I concentrated my efforts on a few locations and got to know them better, I’d see more animals – in fact, I know I would. But I can’t help it … I just love experiencing new places and soaking up all the sights and sounds nature has to offer.

Invitation

In January this year, during a chat with NZRod&Rifle’s editor, Dave, about planning the upcoming Roar issue, he casually threw into the conversation, “By the way, I’ve planned a four-wheel-drive hunting mission for later this month. Are you keen to tag along?”

It didn’t take much consideration on my part to agree, as this was ‘new ground’ for him too. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that Dave has done a LOT of hunting in a LOT of places, so to hear this was new for him and he was inviting me … duh! … of course – I’d be stupid not to go! The opportunity to explore new hunting spots and learn how an experienced hunter like Dave goes about scouting areas is priceless and something I was grateful to have the opportunity to do.

When Dave told me it was the 42 Traverse, I was excited; having considered entering the T42 MTB (mountain bike) race several times in the past (one of the great MTB races in the Central North Island) but never having committed, a four-wheel-drive trip sounded great.

Underpacked?

Subsequently, arrangements were made for Auckland Anniversary Weekend. Dave picked me up en route; Chris Morris, aka the ‘Manawatu Hunter’ (whose rear end appeared on the cover of NZRod&Rifle’s Issue 4 in 2019) was also along on the trip. Chris is a mate of Dave’s from his army days – a top bloke whom I’ve also hunted with in the past. Having shared a backcountry hut with both of them previously, I knew the humour and banter would be good.

Squeezing my gear into Dave’s truck between the recovery kit, his personal gear, camping chair, etc., I had the distinct impression I may have packed too light for this trip.

Prior to his arrival, I was debating taking a frying pan, real food over freeze-dried and various other camp luxuries. Not knowing the protocol on space allocation when travelling in someone else’s truck, or if we’d be packing in to a hunting spot off the track, I’d decided to go lightweight – something I’d come to regret at mealtime.

We met Chris at the supermarket in Turangi for last-minute supplies: snacks, lollies, a six-pack of beer and, in Dave’s case, an entire grocery shop! This had me thinking for the second time that day that maybe I’d underpacked for this trip. I did notice, though, that neither Chris nor Dave packed a chilly bin, which was one of my many luxury items I didn’t load up. This did provide me some comfort later on, knowing I wasn’t the only one to not consider something that should be a must for ‘truck’ hunting.

The 42 Traverse

After a short drive down Highway 47, we ended up at the Kapoors Road entrance to the 42 Traverse. It’s a short 6kms to the trail head where the multi-use, one-way track starts, so expect to see mountain bikers and other trail users along the way, and take care.

The 42 Traverse is located in the Ruapehu Region in the North Island and is part of the Tongariro Forest Park. The Traverse takes its name from its historical National Forest designation number (42) – the main trail is 46 kilometres of regenerating native forest.

Originally, between 1903 and 1978, the park was used for logging native timber. In the 1980s, proposals to turn the Tongariro Forest to farmland failed due to stiff opposition by local community who wanted the park preserved for conservation and recreation. Sound reasoning prevailed, and the forest was turned over to DOC for them to manage. I have to mention the great work the local community at Owhango and the 4×4 clubs and other groups have done in working with DOC and being able to retain 4×4 access to the Tongariro Park and the Traverse. If you do visit, please be respectful of this access; 4×4 access is available from December 1 through to April 30.

Tracks and Trails

Dave had done his homework prior and identified various parts of the Traverse for us to explore, so after exchanging map info with Chris and with a firm plan in place, we set off with Dave and I up front and Chris following behind in his truck. Anticipation was high of seeing plenty of animal activity.

As our small convoy wound its way up the initial few inclines, it didn’t take long to sight the first bit of sign in the track drainage pools that litter the trail – some of which act as entrances to game trails off the main track … this was promising.

Keeping my excitement levels in check was tough; the sugar from the sour lollies I was scoffing in the passenger seat while bouncing along the track possibly didn’t help either.

As I listened to Dave’s long metal car aerial play ping pong with the snorkel on his truck every time we went through a big rut or clipped a tree, thoughts went through my mind of how much traffic this area got and what effect the noise would have, if any, on the game in the area? Time would only tell. In the first hour, we came across plenty of what looked to be quad bike and hunter walking trails off the main track; these were so numerous, we surmised you’d need more than the couple of days we had to explore them … spending a week or so in the park would be a good idea.

The track, in general, was easy for the trucks to negotiate, although if you threw some wet weather in the mix, it could get interesting real quick on some of the clay-scoured declines.

Having your 4×4 vehicle equipped with AT or mud tyres would be a must as would recovery gear. Travelling with a second vehicle is recommended for additional recovery options.

After a few hours of cruising along, stopping for some glassing at vantage points, we all commented how cool it was to still have such easily accessible places like this to hunt in NZ.

Evening Glassing and Setting up Camp

The afternoon stretched on; we got into a good rhythm of drive, glass some country, drive and glass some more. Soon, we reached a suitable camp spot for the first night with a river nearby and some gullies and slips to glass. With only an hour of daylight left, we hastily set up fly-camps and got onto the job of glassing some nice slips. I must admit, having the luxury of camp chairs made for an enjoyable and comfortable glassing session. Dusk came and went without any of us laying eyes on an animal.

We discussed what a cool drive in it’d been, and given it was a holiday weekend, we’d seen little ‘traffic’ on the track other than a Jeep 4×4 club we’d pulled over to let past during our stop-start route in.

The track offers lots of little spots to fly-camp along the way plus an official DOC camp (Pokaka Mill); also within the park is Ten Man Hut, which I’ll get to later.

Ahh … dinner time … this was when I suddenly wished I’d gone with my first instinct of packing a frypan and meat option instead of packing light. The smells from Dave’s and Chris’s frypans had me salivating, but the Radix Wild Alaskan Salmon went down particularly well too. This didn’t stop Chris and Dave passing the odd comment about my choices though. And fair enough, I probably would’ve done the same. Except, I’d definitely not be as gracious as they were to offer any of my food up if the shoe was on the other foot!

Early Morning Exploring

Day Two arrived fresh and crisp with a light frost. After a quick brew and discussion on game plans, it was decided Chris and I would head off toward the river and the gullies we’d glassed last night while Dave was going to explore some of the sidetracks we’d seen on the way in.

After crashing through about 20 minutes of bush – some of it being nasty thick stuff – Chris and I found the river; but there was little sign to be found. We decided we’d get up onto the bench above the river where it looked to be a bit easier to move and make our way from there to the gullies. Once on the bench, we could see the river opened into a promising looking valley.

We eventually made it to a little clearing and discovered what looked to be a quad bike track into the area; we decided we’d check that out on the way back to camp later – ever hopeful it’d be easier than the route in! After a brief chat, we agreed that getting up high was the way to go to get eyes on the valley.

Pig Hunters

There was sign everywhere as we climbed the hill, and upon reaching the top, we were greeted by spectacular views looking into a valley. There was so much ground to glass – we split it between us and got to work. Ten minutes later, I spotted movement … bugger! Two other hunters were walking right up the valley floor with two dogs ahead of them covered in mud. I figured more than likely pig hunters, and they were being far from stealthy; I lamented the ‘joys’ of hunting public land. We settled in and hoped they hadn’t completely blown the area out.

A few hours later, we’d spotted zero animals. Still though, what a great day to be out hunting. The morning had heated up substantially, so we decided to pull the pin and headed back to rendezvous with Dave at camp for a late breakfast. Picking our way along the quad bike track we’d discovered earlier, sure enough, we bumped into the other hunter’s quad bike.

As we continued down the track, I reflected on our morning; we’d found an awesome spot to glass a very promising looking valley with an easy track to it, plus it was a ripper of day weatherwise. I was eager for what the afternoon would bring.

Moving On

Meeting Dave back at camp, we discussed our mornings. Dave’s was positive, though no animals either; he’d located some good game trails to check out for future hunts and had a few chats with other park users. We decided to head further along the Traverse and made a plan to head to Ten Man Hut. Dave had been told that morning about how an infamous bog just before the hut can make it inaccessible; unfazed by this, we headed to Ten Man anyhow – we all had fly-camp options if required.

A few river crossings along the route added some variations to the trail; you’d definitely need to watch out for rising water on these during a fresh and heavy rain, but during a dry mid-summer, they offered easy crossings.

The Traverse takes you awfully close to the Whanganui River, and no doubt, some good fishing spots. Dave and I agreed – the next trip in, fly rods will be packed … and fishing pools explored!

Ten Man Hut

By early arvo, we’d made it to Ten Man Hut and found that the infamous bog had had a detour put in place – so you can get to the hut after all, albeit via a tight right-hand turn. Thank you to whoever put in the detour. The hut is rustic for sure; the mailbox out front is a great touch!

There was a group of trail bike riders having a brew when we arrived. They explained that DOC actually tried closing the hut at some stage, but reopened it after a lot of pressure from the 4×4 clubs and hunters, etc.

Ten Man Hut only has eight bunks these days, but it does sport a she’ll-be-right, number-8-wire, homemade hot shower set-up. Simply light a fire under the old boiler filled with water, and away you go with a hot shower – sweet! It’s the kind of Kiwi ingenuity you don’t often see any more, and the shower set-up really adds to the backcountry charm of the place.

We decided to base ourselves here for the night – either in the hut or camping out on the lawn if needs be – as we figured it could get busy on the weekends with it being a drive-up hut.

The trail bike riders headed off and we were left to ourselves to have a brew, take on some calories and work out the evening hunt plan.

North, East and West

We decided to go three separate ways to cover more ground; we each chose an area hoping to grab the pick of the crop location. Dave snaffled his spot straight off the bat! Later, when I quizzed him on this, it was clear he’d put in some homework prior to selection.

Chris decided to head north further into the park, I went west to some likely looking clearings and Dave headed east a good way back down the main route. We split up like this to make sure we weren’t encroaching on each other’s areas; after agreeing on safety protocols if anyone was late back, we headed out.

As it happened, we were all back to the hut just after dark and had it all to ourselves. We got some food on the go with a fire lit and settled in for a cosy hut night. We recounted our afternoons over a beer chilled in the creek, with Chris and I having had zero luck despite some foot kilometres put in.

Three Stags

Dave’s spot turned out to be the best of the lot – he’d had eyes on three red stags just before dark. Unfortunately for him, they were just short of a kilometre away; closing the gap and having a shot that night wasn’t possible due to lack of light. Excited to hear of some potential action to be had the next day, we all hit the sack early.

The next morning, we’d planned to hit the road; instead, we all headed in to where Dave had been the night before in hope of relocating the red stags he’d seen. Despite being up before first light, we were still a little late to the spot. Surely with three sets of eyes, we could find something though!

We glassed for a few hours, but it wasn’t meant to be. We suspected that the stags must’ve been out all night under the full moon, eaten their fill and slept in. We still enjoyed the morning’s glassing session though watching the local kererus’ antics and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Leaving the Park

We eventually made a reluctant call to head out back to the truck and hit the trail to Owhango and exit the park. No sooner than two minutes down the road from the morning’s spots and a young spiker ran straight across the trail and disappeared into the bush in a blink of an eye – typical! We added him to the tally of four animals spotted for the trip.

In conclusion, the 42 Traverse makes for a great 4×4 hunting experience with plenty of bush stalking options available as well as spot-and-stalk hunts.

Remember to pack your fishing rod if you plan on spending a few days in the park as you pass close to the Whanganui River and some other promising looking streams. Watch out for the mountain bike riders on the main trail and other park users.

We’ll definitely be back for more!

What I learnt on this trip?

  • Do your homework. Check those maps – both Topo and Google Earth.
  • Nothing beats boots on the ground in an area. Reconnaissance missions are important and give you first-hand knowledge of the area.
  • If you’re hunting in a group, split up and cover as much ground as you can – this’ll provide an overall picture of what areas to concentrate on next time!

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