Saturday 30 July 2016


Over the past few month I've been exploring some of the foothills in the eastern Tararuas so it was inevitable that Kaiparoro would eventually catch the eye. I'd never really noticed this out of the way corner near Mt Bruce; defined by an acute bend in the Ruamahanga and neatly containing the Makakahi headwaters.

Information on the internet is fairly sparse but there are a number of references to a plane crash site, some geocaches and a few trip reports (see links at end).  The weather forecast is a bit unpleasant and the map says there's only a few clearings so it looks like it will provide good navigation practice.

What: Solo one day trip 
Why: Visit air crash site, navigation practice in unpleasant weather, visit neglected wee corner of the Tararuas
Where: Makakahi catchment, Kaiparoro and Tawhero
When: 30 July 2016
Map:  Link to map

It's a short drive up a gravel road off State Highway 2 to the road end which is exactly that and no more. A turning bay, a barrier across the road ahead and no signs to indicate a track. At about 7.20am I follow a 4WD track a few meters down to the river which is unexpectedly at normal flow; calf deep but no avoiding wet feet.

Kaiparoro road end

Morning light

Across the river the track is pretty easy to follow although I head up an old forestry track at the wrong point and rather than back track just bash up through manky pine forest to regain the track. There's a few old forestry tracks about and I don't see any DOC track markers until well up the hill. The track up the hill is an old bulldozed forestry track so solid, wide and easy to follow.

It changes from pine to Manuka then mature bush as it climbs. To the east the sun angles in through the tall trunks.

The track to the trig is well marked but not sign posted, leaving the bulldozed track as it starts heading off to the right; about 40 minutes after leaving the car.

Turn off to Kaiparoro

Less than a kilometer later the track to the crash site is easy to find and follow; 55 minutes from the car and about 20m before the bush opens onto the top clearing. A solid ground trail leads off to the left and there are some markers on the trees (easier to see from up hill). The trail is well marked and potters along to the spur then follows it down aways, the first intimation of the crash is a piece of aircraft alloy tied to a tree (15 minutes from main track). Within a few minutes the track ducks into a small gully on the spur with a tiny stream (probably dry in summer).

The aluminium cross is the first thing that emerges in the relative dimness. Lodged in a small mossy cairn by a trickle of water with pieces of aircraft strewn around the slopes. The pieces seem to lie pretty much as they would have after the plane smashed into the spur, scattering debris as it disintegrated.

Near the cross an engine has settled solidly into the gully floor with ferns growing around it and water running through it. The cowlings have been ripped away exposing the workings (by modern standards simple). It is all remarkably undisturbed, small and loose pieces that thoughtless souvenir hunters would usually pilfer are still there. A few have been collected and put by the cross where the pilot and sole occupant, Flying Officer David Leary (aged 27) is buried.

Flying Officer David Leary

Engine nacelle

I don't try to find all the wreckage on the spur but take a few photos and then sit for a bit. It's sad that the pilot was so young, and unsettling to think what the last few split seconds must have been like; the ridge emerging suddenly from the clag leaving him just enough time to realise the inevitable and grit his teeth. The wreckage lay undiscovered for a year.

In the scheme of things it is just one accident in 1952; a long time ago. The nature of the tragedy however lends itself to attributing human sentiments to the site, ascribing a somber character to this unremarkable spur in a less fashionable corner of the Tararuas.

Sitting in the quiet forest I take some time to think about my uncle Scott who died recently in a car accident. The similarities: a truck appearing out of nowhere and the resultant destruction. And the differences: 83 years of life well lived and loved compared to 27 years that might have stretched to 91 today.

Changing mental gear I head back up the spur to the clearing at the top of the ridge.  The trig is visible across the russets and greens of dracophyllum, leatherwood and tussock. It's quite a pretty landscape. The weather is threatening in the west and clear in the east, on the ground there are occasional tiny patches of snow.

Clearing at top of Kaiparoro

Kaiparoro trig

West ... my route is along the lumps to the left

Kaiparoro trig - somewhat weather beaten

From the trig I can't find a specific ground trail but take a bearing for the saddle to the east, it's not to bad travel across the broad top although a little scrubby in places. I duck into the bush a little bit early thinking the going will be easier - it isn't so return to the clearing until the top of the route into the saddle. There's some tape at one point but it is a little tricky on the broad face before the ridge forms a defined top. Once under the canopy travel improves and some ground trail comes and goes.

A veritable Totara lawn sprouting from a suspended log

I'm trucking along on a good ground trail and overshoot 835 - coming back to the clearing from the north and having to find my way across it. The clearing is to be avoided; masses of fallen timber and bushlawyer. As soon as I can, I get onto the south eastern side of the ridge where game trails and possibly some old tramping tracks provide some reasonably good going.  Thrashing through the odd clearing or wandering off line slows net travel down a bit.

At a couple of nondescript points there are metal survey pegs in the ground - they are not on top of the ridge or near any particular feature that I can see.

Random survey stake

View south to where I'm heading
I think that's Tawhero on the left and 962 towards the right  

The wind is well up now and it's trying to rain.  It's sheltered in the bush but the clearing at 858 is unpleasant and I don't find an easy route across. This is the first area on the route where I have been expecting navigation to be tricky.  At 12:15 I'm looking out for indications of a route towards the Roaring Stag track; a little over a km away down a gentle shelving spur. There are three markers on a tree at a point where I suspect you would head off. After that there's some ground trails but it's a little wandery getting through the saddle to climb up towards the southern ridge and point 962.

Probably marking the route towards the Roaring Stag track

The wind is strong now and at one point I step gingerly past a tree that is rocking alarmingly, its roots lifting the mossy ground at its base. Whilst well formed, the track passes under low branches which indicate more animals than people pass this way. There's a few scrambly bits on the way up but it's not too bad bush bashing to get to the scrub which has a bit of a trail.

At the top the wind is strong and cold. Turning east it's a struggle to keep from being blown about and stinging rain and sleet quickly numb one cheek. It's somewhat mixed travel along the ridge, the scrubby section's aren't the worst but the legs get a battering against the tough leatherwood and the wind hurtles between the knolls on the ridge. Under the canopy going is good and I've overshot Tawhero before I know it. The altimeter has given up the ghost so I'm a little short of confident of my exact location but know that in this weather I'm not keen on trying to find my way around to a possibly non-existent route off the south side of Tawhero.

The streams draining the north of the ridge in to the Makakihi look not too steep and not too big so I'm relaxed about dropping down a spur or a creek. I select a spur and start down. It runs out all too soon with a steep clamber into a creek which promptly pops over a water fall or two. The creek gets gradually bigger as I follow it down or sidle around waterfalls. It is far slower going than anticipated and there are some slightly hairy climbs hanging off trees on precipitous, loose, greasy slopes. Each foot and hand hold well tested before moving to the next.

The creek intersects a larger creek and I confirm my location. The stream is now quite large and periodically there are huge logs jammed together and rotting into the creek bed. They're slick as ice. More unmarked side streams join and the odd pool starts to climb up the thighs. Heavy rain comes down between the steep valley sides.

There are a few points where there is room to leave the stream and potter along old terraces but more and more time is spent in the water. The going is even slower now as the odd gorgish section has to be circumnavigated and more care is required during the multiple crossings.  The deeper sections are now mid-drift deep and the light is starting to fade although it's only just after 4pm. I haven't seen any signs of humans passing this way.

Fumbling and stumbling down the stream in the gloom I'm putting off getting the head torch out and negating all peripheral vision. Just as I'm about to give in to the inevitable, a mass of white water ahead marks the junction with the Makakihi River. One last very careful crossing of my stream and I take a break to crack out the light and check the map. It shows there's a stretch of about 300m river travel to the next creek where I can join a forestry track for 500m to the car.

It rapidly becomes pitch black and it's quite a different river from this morning. I estimate almost a metre up and with steep scrubby sides that provide precious little opportunity to get out of the water. It's very slow going waist deep in the river edge keeping out of the main current and hanging off trees. Occasional sorties along the bank are possible but in the torch light it's impossible to tell the height of a face and I figure that trying to get to a possibly non existent terrace is not worth the risk of a fall.

After a false alarm I reach the marked side stream and thrash along the bank a short distance before finding the edge of the road.  What a relief - wide and flat, I can shamble along at a slow trot in the rain back to the car. At 5pm it's as dark as midnight.

Once stopped the cold rapidly takes hold, I hastily chuck sopping kit into the car and hit the road. The legs have taken a fair old battering from the leatherwood and rocky stream bed and I am a long way from being thawed-out by the time I get to Carterton for the now habitual blagging of a shower, good food and bed.

Post Script

I certainly got my money's worth for the day and learnt a few lessons. In retrospect (and pretty obviously) I could have spent a few minutes longer below Tawhero to work my around to the big spur leading down to 650. This would have been quicker and easier than the creek.

The crash site is worth a visit if you're interested in that sort of thing. It's hardly a navigational challenge now though. And while you're there it would be pointless not to visit the trig which has some interesting views. The nav practice around the rest of the route is worthwhile and there would be some good views on a clear day. Be prepared for a bit of bush bashing - it took a fair while for my bruises to fade.

Probably the most sensible trip in the area would be to head through to Roaring Stag via 713 rather than completing the circuit. Another option would be to come up the Ruamahanga and take the spur opposite Cleft Creek to get to Tawhero then connect with one of the old 4WD tracks to get down to SH2 and a short walk back to your car.


Article on the crash
Geocache at site 
Tramping club trip (page 6) 
Another tramping club trip

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