Beyond the Badlands

Exploring Aorangi Forest Park

It was here that Bill Ralston had his head chopped off, with the Putangirua Pinnacles featuring in not one but two of Peter Jackson’s films: Braindead and a Lord of the Rings. In each they were stand ins for terrifying sites, the home of an infected rat-monkey and the lair of a ghost army respectively. It’s not surprising, because there’s few places like the pinnacles in New Zealand. These spindly towers of crumbling rock and shingle are one of our only sites of badlands erosion. Terrific name that, badlands, and even better is the term for an individual pinnacle: a hoodoo.

The pinnacles are just one part of Aorangi Forest Park, a pocket sized conservation area on the edge of the Wairarapa. It’s a surprise to find it, not far from the better known and well-trodden Tararua and Rimutaka Ranges, and offers a break from both. Tramping into it for the first time, passing the hoodoos, and walking up into the ranges, we found ourselves in different bush from either of those – lighter, less dense. No doubt this means it is younger, and a chunk of it was once farmed, but it still made for an interesting walk.

We hiked up to views of the South Island, Cook Strait a deceptively calm blue swathe with the Kaikoura Ranges ghostly above. Wood pigeons burst out of trees, and Forest Service era huts offered plenty of overnight options – even if we did choose the only one already full of hunters for our last night. There was a strange scale to the place, I remember walking in and out of one small basin shaped dip in the hills, and also misreading our guidebook, interpreting ‘stinging sidle’ as something easy and tramping on up, wondering why it was so hard. We were better at taking advice from the name ‘Washpool Hut’ and swimming the chill, clean stream just beyond its door.

In short, it all added up to a great trip, a good reason to look beyond the Tararuas and proof of more on offer in the lower North Island than those famous ranges. Just make sure that you stay clear of that rat-monkey.