The last time I walked Tirohanga Track was back in 2003. That year was quite momentous for two reasons. It was the year I first discovered digital photography, and the year I met my wife.I didn't own a digital camera back then, but I'd borrowed one from a friend, which provided me with my first experience with digital photography. It was a little Nikon point and shoot, all of 3 megapixels, which seemed amazing at the time. Back then, the Interislander was running the Lynx fast ferry service across Cook Strait, and I was still single. Fifteen years is a long time, especially for a track within 30km of home.
There's an old saying that "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun". It's well past mid-day, however in the sweltering midsummer heat, you could easily be mistaken. I park my car in as much shade as can be found at the side of the narrow road that is Garden Terrace out the back of Picton. I smother myself with copious quantities of sunscreen, hoping to avoid returning to the car looking like a cooked prawn, then try to wipe as much off the palms of my hands as possible with tissues and alcohol hand cleaner. Sunscreen and photographic equipment don't mix particularly well, unless you are trying to achieve an unusual impressionistic effect, which is not my objective today.Instead of the compact point and shoot camera I borrowed back in 2003, that could fit in my pocket, I now have my own DSLR along with several lenses and filters that necessitate a backpack. I take my camera back-pack out of the car, and tripod, just in case, although I'm unlikely to need it today unless I want to resort to making selfies.
A sign labelled 'Tirohanga Track' points down a bit of a steep, stoney track to a creek with stepping stones. I set the GPS tracker on my phone to record my time and distance and set off. I precariously negotiate my way across the large rocks, and miscalculate, soaking one of my feet, although the experience is actually somewhat pleasant given the high ambient temperature. I'm more worried about blisters than about the cool wetness. Up the other side of the stream, and a few metres along a gravel road, I come to a sign indicating the start of the track proper. It says 45 minutes to the summit lookout point. I also see a sign pointing back over a bridge that could have avoided wet feet, but I'm not going to worry now.
Nature Healing itself with a little help
The track starts off through luxuriant native forest with tall tree ferns offering welcome shade. Small trees and shrubs make up the understory. It's testament to the ability of nature to heal itself given a little help. As recently as the 1970s, historical photos show much of this area as bare land, stripped of vegetation.
The track is unrelentingly steep, climbing steadily through the bush. Every few metres, I pass wooden trap boxes put in place by Picton Dawn Chorus, a volunteer group set up with the ambitious goal of dramatically reducing introduced predators in the area. Many have eggs in them as bait to attract predators. This gets me thinking about chickens, wondering whether anyone would have thought that they could have a vital role to play in pest control!
As the track climbs, the tree ferns give way to tall, spindly kānuka trees, better suited to the drier conditions higher up the hillside. Finally I reach open patches that provide me with glimpses of the surrounding bush covered hillsides, and occasionally, Picton. I see the occasional small gorse bush, a reminder that this area is still recovering, and there is still work to be done to restore the area to its natural state.
At last, with the hot afternoon sun beating down on me, I reach the summit. From an open clearing, a magnificent vista greets me with views over Picton and Waikawa and out to Queen Charlotte Sound. I've serendipitously arrived at the lookout point just in time to watch the Interislander ship, the Aratere, last of the rail ferries, arrive in Picton harbour. I have the luxury of having the place to myself. Almost fifteen years ago, I stood here and watched the Lynx fast catamaran depart Picton.
I look at my phone. Apparently I've been walking for 21 minutes, and have covered 1.1km, climbing to about 240m above sea level. I don't consider myself particularly fit, so the 45 minute suggested climb does seem a little exaggerated. I put my camera bag and tripod down on a bench seat, and take a few photos for the record, before setting off back down the track to my car.
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