6-9 February 2015
Last issue we ventured into the Southern Kaimanawas for some hunting along the Southern Access Corridor/Poled Route, this time we head in from the opposite end of the park to hunt an iconic area of the Kaimanawas; Ruatea Stream or as it is more commonly known as, 'Jap Creek'.
Ruatea Stream begins as two large gullies that join up to form one huge valley, which runs directly South into the Oamaru River. Another large valley joins the stream a little further down on the true left side. There is a smaller tributary that joins just up from this valley on the true left side. The entire area is bush clad with semi open creeks and small clearings offering some fantastic stalking opportunities.
During the summer months the guts are covered in ferns keeping the ground beneath moist and ideal for young growth to emerge.
I first began hunting the lower section in my teens at a period when I was hunting the Oamaru and Kaipo on a regular basis. This trip would be my first into the headwaters. To reach the headwaters by foot, the quickest route is to leave from the Clements Mill Rd car park and begin walking the Hinemaiaia Track, hunt your way over into the Upper Kaipo and then head right up and over into the top of Ruatea Stream. Which is exactly what I did. Refer to the access section for alternative ways to reach Ruatea Stream.
At this time of the year the hinds are still tending to their fawns, who will be anywhere between 6 weeks to 3 months old. The stags will be in the later stages of antler development and feeding heavily in preparation of the approaching rut. It is for these reasons I decide to leave the rifle at home and concentrate on filming and photography. I guess I'm somewhat of a purist at heart, preferring to shoot a stag, which has stripped and stained his own antlers. We still have some venison left in the freezer so harvesting some isn't necessary either.
Reaching the car park at midday and with plenty of time up my sleeve, I throw on the pack and get moving. On the way in I pick up the UOVision trail camera (A J Productions) which has been in the scrub for over 5 months, as I approach the saddle where the camera is located two hinds burst from cover, they don't hang around long and head off over the ridge. Upon checking the trail cam it is loaded with pics which is great to see, there are also some pics of the two deer taken by the trail cam just ten minutes before I arrived, hard case!
The original plan was to head towards the Katipo Saddle and walk the ridge towards Ruatea Stream. However, the light wind present is blowing westerly and approaching from that direction will most likely put my scent through the area. Altering my route I drop straight over into the Kaipo Stream and make my way East. As I make my way along the track I hear a couple of sika squealing just up off the riverbed. An hour later I begin heading up to the main ridge that encompasses 'Jap Creek'.
Beech forest doesn't get much better than this. The 'Jap Creek' headwaters include some of the best deer stalking terrain the author has ever encountered.
It is late evening when I reach a suitable spot to bivvy up for a couple of nights, with the tent pitched I head out for a hunt. The bush is very dry, and with little to no breeze, the sound of each step is amplified making stalking difficult. Sign is plentiful though and I spook a couple of deer before its time to head back for some food and sleep.
The main ridge is fairly wide in places and noticeable is the amount of stag droppings around, an indication that stags are summering in the area. In general I would consider this hind territory and there is the sign there to prove this also, however due to the nature of the terrain and the high amount of available feed, I think the stags are also making the most of a good thing. Another observation was the distinct lack of rutting activity present, apart from an old wallow and scrape, there was little to no rubbings or scrapes in the vicinity.
Time for a 'selfie'! Nik takes a breather on the main ridge that divides the Ruatea Stream and Kaipo River.
The next morning I drop down into one of the headwater guts and begin slowly sidling along. It is a fantastic morning with next to no wind and a clear blue-sky overhead. With the weather like it is and in country as good as this, it is easy to almost forget why you are here and simply enjoy the moment, that is until a shrill squeal from close by breaks the silence and your concentration. Over the course of that morning and evening hunt, including the next morning, I reach a tally of 4 sika seen and another 12 spooked, great fun but still no photos or footage...
On the third day I make a decision to begin heading back, splitting the distance with an overnight stay on the main ridge that divides the Kaipo and Hinemaiaia streams. It is with reluctance that I pack up and move out of the area but I am in good spirits and stoked to have visited this special location. Reaching the Kaipo River around midday, I take a long lunch break at 'Scotty's Gully' before beginning the big ascent up the leading ridge. This particular spot is where Scotty and I did a winter hunt where we managed to tip over a 5pt sika stag and capture some great footage and photos. I am confident of putting up some game during the climb. 20 minutes into it and I spook a sika, not long after that and another starts up with a flurry of squeals and chirps. All good fun!
The above three photos illustrate a sika hind on full alert with all her senses working, the stamping of the front feet to warn her offspring or other nearby deer and; that shrill squeal that most, if not all, hunters that have chased sika will have heard at some point...
As I near the last part of the climb I hear yet another squeal, however this time luck is on my side and I spend the next 15 or so minutes capturing some awesome footage as well as a great sequence of stills of a mature sika hind in full summer coat and in excellent condition. She eventually tires of the "cat 'n' mouse" game and moves off into the scrub. I continue on and reach the summit with a couple of hours before dark. I make camp, have a feed and crash out early.
The next morning I wake to a moderate breeze and drizzle, so waste no time packing up and heading out. On the way I spook yet another deer which runs a short distance before stopping broadside on at about 70m and looking back for a good 10 seconds, not quite long enough for a photo...
The Hinemaiaia to Cascade Hut track takes between 4-6hrs to complete depending on your fitness levels. With a bit of bush bashing involved it can provide direct access into the Upper Kaipo and Ruatea Stream areas.
I hit the Hinemaiaia Track and make good time reaching the car park. It has been a fantastic few days in the hills but at the same time I look forward to gettingback to my son and wife.
There are numerous ways to access Ruatea Stream including both walk in and fly in options.
Park at the Helisika car park and walk in through Peronei Station to the Oamaru Hut (3-4hrs depending on fitness). Once there you can either continue on an hour past the hut where you will reach the confluence of Ruatea Stream and the Oamaru River. Ruatea Stream is situated on the true left side of the Oamaru River. There are numerous campsites.
Another option is to walk the Kaipo Track hunting up towards Rouiti, then drop over into Ruatea Stream.
Walk the Hinemaiaia Track and hunt your way into the upper section of the Kaipo River, allow 2-4 hrs. From there hunt your way up and over into the Ruatea Stream headwaters, allow another couple of hours.
Walk the Te Iringa track up and over to the Kaipo Swingbridge, take the leading ridge heading SW and make you’re way towards Ruatea Stream.
Via Helisika fly into the Oamaru Hut and either hunt or walk from there.
Via Helisika fly to the end of the far end of the Oamaru River flats to the Jap Creek Access Drop Off.
Via Helisika fly to the Maungaorangi Drop Off and head East into the headwaters.
Over the roar period I imagine it would receive it's fair share of hunting pressure. 'Jap Creek' would rate as one the most iconic sika hunting areas in the Northern Kaimanawas and with good reason. It is a proven hotspot that regularly produces animals. However, over the winter and summer months that pressure reduces somewhat and it is mainly the lower reaches of Ruatea Stream that receives the bulk of hunters visiting the area, filtering in from the Oamaru Hut end. During our last three trips into the Upper Kaipo/Ruatea Stream area, (June, August and February) coming in from the Clements Mill Rd end, I would rate the pressure as being somewhat light.
February generally provides settled weather and this year has been pretty good. I did delay this trip by about a week to time it with a forecasted high and fortunately hit it just right. The summer months certainly dry the bush out and the dreaded layer of Beech leaves resembling cornflakes are an inevitable factor to deal with.
As usual, the deer are generally moving at first light up until around 8-9am and then again from about 5pm until nightfall. The middle of day is considered less productive, however I did encounter deer throughout the day, such is sika hunting. They are more active and mobile over the warmer months and will arguably cover more ground for feed, which on the other hand, is more readily available for them. Forget about 'targeting' Broadleaf, which is everywhere in there, they feed on it opportunistically. Finding a height that the animals are hanging about at is almost pointless in this heavily forested area, I encountered deer and sign from the riverbed to the ridge tops with no obvious browsing level. Concentrate instead on your approach into likely looking areas and adjust your hunt to suit the terrain and wind direction. With the 'toast' dry leaf litter, foot placement is critical in areas of fresh sign and I adopt a much slower stalking speed than normal. On average I would cover more ground over the summer period utilising the amount of available daylight, but reiterate the importance of deliberate and slow movement when in those areas that 'scream' deer.
Time to hit the Kawekas with a pre-rut hunt into the Makino Headwaters, our destination – Ballard Hut. Heading in via Middle Hill Hut, we climb up and over the Northern end of the main Kaweka Range, base ourselves at Ballard Hut for a couple of nights, then loop around down the Makino Valley for a night at the Makino Hut.
Open tops and bush, mint!