The following article was written by Graham McCallum in the 'Tramper', the magazine of the
Tararua Tramping Club, in 1978.
"It sounds funny, I know, but I regard the Five Mile as one of my oldest friends, But when
you think about what makes a real friendship it starts to make sense.
It was over thirty years ago that I first met her (with such a range of moods she surely
must be feminine) and yet I still look forward to the next encounter. During our first
years together we often met in the dark, for in the war years and the early 50s nearly
everyone went down the Wainui Road on the Friday night bus. Not everyone likes her dirty
feet and unkempt appearance but I do, for that's what sets her apart from her city friends
and country cousins and helps to make each meeting an adventure. Despite all efforts to
get her to conform to modern standards, she still retains much of her unique character.
How long will this uniqueness last? or will progress soon reduce her to just another face
in the crowd?
Like all friends of long standing, she has changed a lot since first we met - perhaps you
would like to hear something of her story.
It would be rather romantic to be able to record that the Five Mile was an old Maori track,
but in reality it seems that a substantial part of the route was established during a
survey conducted by J .D. Climie in 1882. A map published that year shows a track extending
most of the way to the Orongorongo River but it is probable that it was not completed, as
the boundary of the area being surveyed did not extend to the river. However one of his
field books gives details of two tracks from Wainuiomata that did reach the river, these
follow the lines of the present Whakanui track and the route over McKerrow. He states
'Both these tracks are well blazed' and gives travel times of three hours for both routes.
The fact that during the early part of this century the standard way into the Orongorongo
Valley was up over the Baker from Graces Stream supports the belief that Climie's track up
the Catchpole Stream did not extend to the river.
'Tararua Story' states that the track was cut by the surveyor Hugh Girdlestone about 1914.
(Girdlestone Peak on Ruapehu, which was originally known as the Little Matterhorn, is named
in his honour (He was killed in action in 1918). He was certainly in the area in 1915
during the course of a first order triangulation survey from Mt Matthews, but his official
duties would not have warranted a track being cut through the Five Mile, although he could
have used the route for access to the Orongorongo Valley. Certainly the direct route
through to the valley began to be used about this time but it was little more than a blazed
trail and was probably first established by shooters. Like all innovations it did not
receive universal approbation and was referred to as the 'Stink Pot' by those who continued
to go over the Baker or over Brown's Track, the route now usually called the Cattle Ridge
The Five Mile of those days was very different from today's track. For a start, a trip to
the Orongorongos usually began at Rona Bay after a crossing from Wellington on one of the
Days Bay Ferries. A bus might then be taken to the south end of Eastbourne, then the
tramping would start. First the road into Gollans Valley, then over into the Wainuiomata
Valley, down the road for a mile to Jackson's farm where the 'Five Mile' actually started,
then up the Gutsbuster (G.B.) and down into Graces Stream. After about two hours going the pre-war tramper would be near where the present track STARTS. Many active trampers still remember the track up the gorse-covered hill behind Jackson's and the steep descent down to Graces Stream. But those with more than 50 years' acquaintance with the track remember that the route down to Graces Stream from the top of the G.B. was via a spur to the west of the later track. Once the flats of Graces Stream were reached - the area usually known as the Catchpool - the track kept near Graces Stream, crossing it 7 or 8 times before rising steeply and crossing Middle Ridge almost at right angles to the present track. It
descended steeply on the other side and after a couple of crossings of the Catchpool Stream joined up with the line of the present track. From there through to the Orongorongo River the original track followed the same line as the track does today.
The first major upgrading of the track took place in the summer of 1933/34 when the sidle
track was cut up the flanks of Middle Ridge from the Catchpool, thus eliminating the
numerous crossings of Graces Stream. Joe Gibbs was the prime mover behind this enterprise - he marked out the track and put in about 50 hours of work on it. Many other Tararua Tramping Club members helped on the job, which was completed after a working party in March. The following season a graded track was constructed on the Catchpool Stream side of Middle Ridge. This joined the original track half a mile further on and eliminated one or two crossings of the creek. The 'Tramper' reporting this work concludes: 'From here on the old track has been straightened out and led away from wet places. There still remains a considerable amount of work to be done'. This is not surprising for the latter part of the track runs through a comparatively flat area which is difficult to drain and today the situation appears to be little different from that in 1925 when it was described as a
'canal of mud'. However there was a period when even this part of the track was in a
comparatively good condition. This was just after World War II when the Catholic Tramping
Club was in its infancy. The C.T.C. was formed in 1946 and for several years worked on
upgrading the track - the muddiest areas were covered with extensive corduroys, some of
which must have been a chain or more long. But alas, punga corduroys have a very limited
The next major change to the track followed the Forest Service's purchase of Burdan's 900
ha block in the Graces Stream area in 1969. The 2.5 km road up the stream was constructed
soon after. Few people were sorry to forego the trip over the G.B, but the road conveyed
one more important benefit to the tramper - guaranteed access to the Five Mile, for until
then the route had gone over private property. Many generations of trampers owe a debt of
gratitude to the property owners, particularly the Jacksons, for permitting access over
their land. In 1977 the track from the road end to the Catchpool was moved from the north
to the south side of Graces Stream and the section to the top of Middle Ridge upgraded.
The Five Mile track is certainly not all that it was but there is still enough left in its
original form for it to be worthwile trying to ensure that it is kept that way. The
alternative could well be a footpath in the bush rather than a genuine trampers track. I
for one hope that the Five Mile will be spared from such progress. To leave it as it is
will ensure that future generations will feel that a trip to the Orongorongos is still the
adventure that it has been up till now.
Preparing this article has been most enjoyable. I have been helped in various ways by a
number of Tararua Tramping Club members and have even talked to two old-timers who first
visited the area in 1911. Photograph albums, bound volumes of newspaper clippings and
early 'Trampers', all kept in the TTC library, provided useful material as well as
entertainment. The most interesting part of the project was looking through the early
surveyors' field books at the District Office of the Department of Lands and Survey."
Graham McCallum's article was written in 1978. When, in 1981, it was realised that the
very high use of the Five Mile Track was damaging the track and its surroundings the Forest
Service decided not to upgrade the Five Mile Track. Instead, the Orongorongo Track was
constructed. This track is a metalled path which starts at the end of the Catchpool Road
and climbs through the edge of the pine plantation before commencing its easy grade along
the edge of the Catchpool Stream. It can be followed to the Orongorongo River. For old
time's sake the Five Mile has been retained in its original condition.