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Buttercups, Sunrise and Rurus

Here is a trip report from Chris Leather just before the lockdown

It was the quaint and endearing name of Buttercup Hollow that made it sound a compelling destination. This also seemed to be more accessible than other interesting sounding places in the Ruahine Forest Park, such as Deadman’s Track, Purity Hut, Wooden Peg, Sparrowhawk, No-Man’s Hut or Shut Eye Shack. Buttercup Hollow is also the site of the aptly named Sunrise Hut, which sits on the tops of the Ruahine Range in a tussock basin beside the bush edge at 1280m, with spectacular, expansive views across the Hawke’s Bay.

Three of us set out by car from Napier along SH50 in Central Hawke’s Bay. A well-signposted route to the Sunrise Track entry to the Ruahine Forest Park leads to some farm gates and signs telling us we are on a private working farm road so “please shut the gates.” The car park, start of the track, toilet, small shelter and substantial information board, emerge after Gate #3.
We set out walking - over a stile, along an indistinct farm track for about 10 minutes, over another stile, and are then into the Ruahine Forest Park and on the Sunrise Track. After about 15 minutes we come to a track junction; to the left, the Swamp Track loop, to the right, Triplex Hut, and straight on for the Sunrise track proper. From the junction, the Sunrise track dips down to a stream bridge before zig-zagging up a spur to the main ridge, where it begins an earnest, continuous, 5km upward climb on a wide, benched track. The track is my kind and a pleasure to walk on – sometimes gravel, frequently a soft layer of beech leaves and only a few tree roots or big rocks. Don’t be deceived however! We are now on an ascent of nearly 700 vertical metres to sub-alpine country, winding around more hairpins than would fit in a normal head of hair.
The forest we initially walk through is a dense mix of red beech, rimu, miro, matai and mountain beech, and kahikatea in the swampy areas. The undergrowth is rich in ferns and small trees and shrubs such as horopito, rangiora and mahoe. As we climb higher, we keep an eye out for viewpoints through the trees that allow us to be amazed at high we have climbed. After about an hour’s walking time from the car park, the track levels out briefly, and another track junction is reached, with a bench seat – time for a rest. One track heads downwards to the Waipawa Forks hut, but we carry straight on, upwards, once again!
This is a popular track for family day outings and has occasional information panels giving short lessons in botany, bird life or track features. One panel marks the site of Shuteye Shack, a hut built in 1911 on the spot where a horse carrying building materials, collapsed and died. With the demise of the horse, there was no way of getting the materials any further towards the destination of Buttercup Hollow (and assumedly the building of an early version of Sunrise Hut) - it seemed the materials were used to build a hut/shack where they had been dropped. What about “Shuteye”? We sort of assumed this was name of the dead horse but that is unclear from the sign or subsequent research.
We know the hut is getting nearer because the beech trees become more stunted than their majestic versions further down the valley, the forest is sparser and horopito bushes increase. A few late-summer eye-bright decorate the trackside and moss covers most surfaces. Then … about 3 hours after leaving the carpark we suddenly emerge from the bush and in front of us is Buttercup Hollow and Sunrise Hut. We are on the wide-open tops with sub-alpine shrubland, tussock grasslands and the inevitable leatherwood (tupare). The Hawkes Bay day is windless, sunny and clear, the expansive views of the plains are spectacular and we have an unimpeded view of the main Ruahine range heading off into the distance.
We could have stayed the night in the comfortable, 24 bunk Sunrise Hut and caught the sunrise which gives the hut its name. Or, we could have carried on up the ridge to Armstrong Saddle where apparently even more grand views open up and we might have seen Ruapehu and Tongariro in the distance. Instead, we sat for a while, ate our lunch and took some photos. Then came the news through another tramper’s phone reception and a crackly RNZ report– “all 70 plus year olds are to go home and stay home”. Despite having spent 3 hours climbing and not believing I belonged to the said demographic, we conformed and commenced our descent.
After about 10 minutes of striding downhill – a ‘woooosh’ comes across the path directly in front of us, just above eye level. A morepork (Ruru) settles on a branch in the bush within a few metres of the path. We remind it that it’s broad daylight and not a suitable time to be out for a nocturnal bird. In Māori tradition the Ruru is a watchful guardian (kaitiaki) that protects or warns and advises. We’re not sure what omen our Ruru is presenting us with but it’s not making a high piercing ‘quee’ call, which apparently spells bad news. (More of that was yet to come in the following few days.) The Ruru eyes us up and down for a while, and then watches us as we continue on down the path.
Plenty of Piwakawakas entertain us with their energetic hi-jinks, as we walk. Then at one point, we can distinctly hear the noisy call of some kind of swamp or water bird – but dismiss the idea because cannot think of how or why there could be any at this height, in the forest. Later research tells us it would have been our native blue duck (Whio), which inhabit the river valleys of the Ruahines.
After an easy 2 hours of walking we are back in the carpark, and on our drive home. In the following day it becomes clearer that we need to hang on to the memory of Sunrise Hut because it could be a long time before we are out in any forest parks again.

Total tramp: 6 hours

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