Mushrooms are my new favourite thing. I'm not talking magic mushrooms - though I do think mushrooms are magical - nor am I brave enough eat any foraged from the forest floor... I just delight in the thrill of finding fantastic fungi and appreciating their beautiful brilliance.
A friend tipped me off that Dansey Scenic Reserve in Rotorua is one of the many secret spots to find mushrooms. (Another is Mount Pirongia along the Hihikiwi Track, awesome!) We were told it is untouched native bush with a long history of consistent pest control that allows the flora and fauna to flourish. And, most importantly for us on a mushroom mission, that it's a haven for fungi.
It turned out to be a little bit trickier to find than expected. As we drove along Dansey Road from the Rotorua side, we saw a sign that said Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, but didn't see a carpark. We kept driving along, scanning the edge of the bush for track signs and the entrances. We didn't spot anything, except for small carpark with several vans marked with Rotorua Canopy Tours.
We made it all the way past Dansey Road Scenic Reserve to the town of Mamaku and realised we had no idea where to go. Luckily, we still had phone reception so I phoned Rotorua Canopy Tours to see if they might help. The friendly woman on the other end of the line, explained the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve is Department of Conservation land and, as such, public access is allowed. Happily, she also confirmed that there are loads of fungi waiting to be discovered. She cautioned us that the only tracks through the reserve are put in by Rotorua Canopy Tours and many have stairs, bridges, and landings used by the tours. She asked we stay off these structures, park on the roadside (instead of their private carpark) and wished us well in our mushroom quest.
Armed with this new information, we found a spot for the car and instantly found photogenic mushrooms! But the best was yet to come.
As we started to explore the native bush, two other trampers came along behind us. When they saw us crouching for photos, they knew we were the mushrooming types... and they were too! In fact, they'd just come from another spot and were giddy from their discoveries. Especially a field of blue mushrooms!
They gave us directions to Mokaihaha Track and encouraged us to rattle our dags, lest we get caught out in the dark. They were the kind of directions I've only experienced since moving to New Zealand - turn left at the curve, turn left again, then stay on the road until it turns to gravel, drive by a bit of forestry road until it turns to native bush, then look for the second bit puddle on the right. In response to our confused expressions or perhaps out of concern for our lack of preparedness, or (more than likely) the overwhelming urge to share all things mushrooms, they offered us the ultimate kindness of the day. They drove back from where they had come and showed us where to park. Even better? Then took us on a whistle stop tour of the fungal highlights along the first 1km of track before leaving us in a field of blue mushrooms. Blue!!
The loop at Lake Rotohokahoka is 4km return. It's a stunning walk through virgin forest with a couple of short, steep descents, roots, and peaceful lake views. It gives a serene, isolated feeling and - if you stop squealing with delight over all the mushrooms you find - you can hear a chorus of native birds. The lake looks quite shallow and muddy with a fair bit of debris, not recommended for swimming.
Kathy with a 'K' and Gary, you made our day! And I'm hoping with this post, I can make someone else's day, too.
Disclaimer: I'm not a skilled mushroom photographer nor do I know the names of many species. Please don't be put off by my photos - these mushroom are more than worthy of a visit.
Lake Rotohokaoka, Mokaihaha Track, Mokaihaha Ecological Reserve
Access: South Road
Alternate Access: West Road (not attempted on this trip, 4WD recommended)
Distance: 4km return
Time: 1-2 hours, (or 8+ hours, depending on how many fungi photos you take)
Difficulty: Moderate. Lots of roots and slippery spots.
Barefoot: Tested and suggested if you're the barefoot type