I’m taking friends out on a guided hike today, they are keen to explore the Waitakere rainforest and I’m keen to show them how bountiful the bush can be if you know what you’re looking for. We are hiking the Upper Huia Dam Track
It’s been raining heavily the last few days, the track is rougher than usual. We look like ballerina’s leaping through the bush, or maybe we look like monkeys swinging from branches trying not to get our boots stuck in the mud. Above us we can hear the Tui singing and a Kereru watching us plot our way through the mud. The Miromiro ahead of us darts back and forward guiding us along the track.
It’s an advanced walk, even if you are fit it can still be challenging. I met two groups of people turning back warning me that the track is too difficult and muddy. This is true if you are unfamiliar with the Waitakere Ranges, some of these tracks will put many people off. It’s not a track for sneakers, you need hiking boots, a rain coat, warm jacket and a change of clothes. As one woman wrote in another blog, ‘this track is not for the faint-hearted’. We continue down the tack and I’m in search of some ‘tasty treats’.
I’m picking the Kareao (Supplejack) within arms reach of the track. I watch my friends reaction as they eat these for the first time. To their surprise, this brown furry stick is rather delicious. The taste is between a freshly picked cucumber and edamame beans. A warning: I read an article about a guy who thought he was eating the young shoots of Supplejack but he was eating Tutu. Tutu is deadly, he’s lucky to be telling the story today. Only eat them if you can identify Supplejack.
As we walk along the track I spot some Kareao berries on the ground, we look up and there’s a bountiful supply of red berries also in arms reach. We each try the berries and I’m keen to hear what the judges think. As expected, the presentation is enticing but unfortunately the looks don’t match the taste, they are very bland. Recently I’ve been studying the benefits of plants in the bush and these do contain crude protein. The seeds can also be eaten and contain fatty acid, which could be good in a survival situation. I suspect you’d need to each large amounts of these to reach your protien and fat goals.
I’ve never seen so many different fungi on a track. How they manage to cling onto the log as people clamber over is outstanding, although I’m sure many are knocked to the ground accidentally. I’ve only identified one mushroom that I know is safe to eat in the bush, Ear Fungus. It looks worse than it sounds. This is my go to book when out hiking in NZ: A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand, Andrew Crowe.
We are so busy foraging that it may have taken an hour to come down the hill. After crossing a couple of streams the track flattens off and the mud turns to solid ground. On either side of the track the flora changes to fresh edible ferns.
I pick a few shoots of the Hen and Chicken fern. It has a fresh celery taste and you’d need to eat in large amounts to get your nutrition but for now, I add a few shoots to my sandwich. Hounds Tongue is everywhere too, its stringy to eat raw but nicer steamed.
To the left of the track there is a small cave, a great reprieve for the animals during the storm. There are sleepers at the entrance suggesting the people who made the dam were using this cave.
There are a few streams to cross and one which takes a bit more to navigate if the water is up. The rocks are slippery and worse if they are slightly under water. A solid walking stick is good for keeping your balance. In the summer the water flows clear and it’s a nice place to stop.
For nearly two hours we’re in the bush knowing that the dam is on our right. Every now and then we could see glimpses of it. Finally we reach the dam, its a welcome sight and a great place to rest up before we make our return.
Download the route on my ViewRanger: http://my.viewranger.com/route/details/MTIyODc5
Distance: 11km Return
Time: 3-4 hours
Surface: Very Rough, Muddy
When people ask me to take them into the Waitakere Rainforest, I always choose this one. If you know what to look for, it’s an edible forest within arms reach.