16-Jul-2003 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer from Colorado USA, Anne Olsen, geography teacher from Lower Hutt, New Zealand, and Murray Ellis, mathematician from Lower Hutt, visited 40°S 176°E in the Pohangaina Valley of the North Island, New Zealand, one winter day. As Anne and I were en route to teach a three-day GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) institute for New Zealand teachers, a confluence visit seemed like an appropriate field trip. This confluence at 40° South also had special significance for me, because I live near 40° North, and had visited 40° North, 105° West during the previous year.
This confluence visit proved to be one of the most difficult that I have undertaken, although it did not need to be, as we later discovered. We awoke the morning of 16 July in Taihape, drove south along Highway 1 to Mangaweka, and turned southeast on Highway 54. This terrain was some of the most fantastic scenery I have ever encountered--a seemingly endless array of steep hills, wonderful hidden gullies, and an incredible diversity of vegetation, all on the west side of the Ruahine Range of Mountains. Murray ably navigated us through twisting roads through Rangiwahea and Apiti, and anticipation mounted as we passed through Umutoi. We crossed the Horopito Stream and parked at the side of Umutoi North Road.
We departed from the vehicle at approximately 10 am local time, choosing to hike the fields toward the east along the north of the stream. Very soon, I became thankful that Murray had loaned me his gumboots, as we were traversing muddy tracks where cattle had trampled. This is a hilly area with deep gullies, dissected mudstone, overlain by terraces of graywacke gravels that extend westward from the Ruahine Range. The entire area bears remnants from past glaciation and is currently lightly populated. After 25 minutes, we skirted the north side of the Horopito Stream until we came upon a wonderful view of the gully and what would prove to be the confluence site, although we were not aware of it at the time. We took care as we crossed over the
electric fence twice as we neared 176° East. Then, as the GPS directed us to the south, we descended the north slope of the gully, sinking above our knees in places in the mud and organic debris. After we crossed the stream itself, we came face to face with nearly a sheer cliff on the south side of the gully about an hour after our foot journey began. It was obviously impossible to follow the line of longitude up the side of this gully.
After reading the account of the previous visitor, I was determined not to repeat his account of hanging onto tree roots for dear life. However, faced with the cliff in front of us, I did not see how we could get around the prospect of repeating the prior tale of woe. Heaving a sigh, we embarked upon the climb, making slow progress against the viney supplejack, prickly gorse, bush lawyer, and other thick vegetation. Worse, the thick tree cover meant continual loss of GPS satellites. Murray and Anne wisely climbed the spine of a ridge to the west, while I hoisted myself up a 70 degree slope. At times, I literally took two steps forward and fell back one step. Once, my GPS was perched precariously on a reedy plant as I scrambled for a foothold, with me having visions of it sliding to the valley floor below as I had lost my GPS case at 36° North 115° West earlier in the year. My faulty GPS readings convinced me that the confluence was on this cliff, but it was not to be. I met my companions at the top of the terrace, which had been cleared for
grazing, allowing us to reorient ourselves.
A good satellite fix showed the confluence to be still off to the east, so we followed the electric fence until we reached 176° East Longitude. The confluence appeared to be north, down the slope, back toward the stream that we had traversed. Fortunately, this time, the slope had been cleared for grazing, and we stepped through the slumping soil on a slope that fell away rapidly to the north. We arrived at the confluence about noon local time, about 2 hours after our hike began. Although the mountains were shrouded with cloud, we had pleasant winter weather, about 12° C, and no wind or showers.
The confluence lies approximately 10 meters east of the western fenceline of this field, 50 meters north of the top of the terrace. It is approximately 60% up the south side of the gully of Horopito Stream on a slope of 40 degrees. Vegetation in the area, besides the aforementioned plants, includes pinus radiata (pine) trees, grass, punga tree ferns, and rangoria trees. We saw steers, heifers, pigs, sheep, paradise ducks, and geese.
After doing the traditional confluence dance to zero out the coordinates, we took the photographs and video, marveled once more at the astounding scenery, and climbed out of the gully to the south. Not wishing to
repeat our hike up and down the vegetated cliffs, we walked through pastures on the south side of the gully, arousing the curiosity of quite a few young heifer cattle, who toyed with following us closely during our traverse. We followed trails back to the road we had driven, walking over the bridge over Horopito Stream and past the home of the landowner. We spotted what might have been the landowner when we reached our vehicle, but as he was talking with his neighbors at the time, we decided not to disturb him. We arrived at
the vehicle at 1pm, three hours after our hiking journey began. Once in the vehicle, we departed for terrain south, toward Wellington and to teach our GPS and GIS course.
I have also been caving for the past 15 years, and feel that confluence hunting accomplishes some of the same sort of bonding among one's traveling companions as caving does. I felt that Anne and Murray and I had been
friends for life. Perhaps it was because this was a difficult confluence, largely due to the cliff hike. I realize that the difficulty pales in comparison to what my confluence colleagues have accomplished the world
over, but each visit makes one feel that one has achieved a goal, and gained new-found appreciation for the diversity of our planet.