PART 2. THE TRIP. “Real” Aorangi Crossing (instead of mid-Tararua crossing via Carkeek Hut) - December 11-13 2020
On the Friday we headed off up the Mangatoetoe Stream, and 6 hours of walking took us past Mangatoetoe Hut and Kawakawa Hut to Pararaki Hut where we stopped for the night. Some of the walking was relatively easy, up and along river beds but there were also quite a few steep slippery bits that kept things interesting.
The problem with a “true” Aorangi Crossing is that there are no tracks from Pararaki Hut to Sutherlands Hut, our Saturday night destination, so the next day was all off track work. The goal was to reach Sutherlands Hut via Mt Ross (at 981m the highest peak in the park). None of us had tramped in this area before but looking at the map we thought we should be able to head up the Pararaki Stream before finding a spur that would hopefully take us onto the ridge leading to Mt Ross. From Mt Ross there is a marked track down to Sutherlands Hut. It was a fairly early start, as we didn’t know how long it would take us, especially as we were carrying multi-day packs (the answer was just over 8 hours walking time).
Initially the travel up the stream was fairly easy with some good terraces that we could follow. We even stumbled on some old rain gauges, left over from the 1980s (for about 25 years until the mid-80s scientists over-wintered in Pararaki Hut to study possums). Reaching a fork in the stream, our GPS based maps indicated it might be a good time to ascend a spur. Gerald investigated a “likely” one – calling back to us at one point that he was having to crawl as the ridge was so narrow, then he encountered a 2m high vertical rock face, decided it was too dangerous and retreated back to the stream. After some lively discussions (1/2 the party were keen to try the next available spur, whereas the other half were keen to keep going up the stream as long as possible) an executive decision was made to follow the stream for as long as we could, all the while keeping an eye out for suitable spurs, in case we had to retreat. As it turned out we managed to get almost to the watershed of the stream, with only one waterfall that necessitated a trickly scramble across a steep slip face. In this section of the stream there was plenty of signs of deer, and we even saw one stag on an open face. As the stream started to peeter out, and head away from the direction of Mt Ross, we found a not too steep spur and headed up. After some gnarly bush bashing we came to some slightly more open ground and stopped for a late lunch. Then another hour or so of bush bashing upwards along a ridge, finally saw us on Mt Ross. Then it was mostly downhill to Sutherlands Hut which we reached at around 5pm. We were all pretty tired by this stage (even Gerald said that the hut was a welcome sight), but it was a lovely evening, so we had a wash in the river, relaxed and chatted to the other occupant (who was the only person we saw all trip).
Sunday morning we explored the Sutherlands sheep dip (a massive structure, built in the 1880s to combat scab, with the cement carried in by pack horse from Pirinoa) and then headed up the Pig Ridge track to the road end and our waiting transport.
Special thanks to Fergus for the transport to Cape Palliser on Friday morning and Kate for collecting us Sunday lunchtime. Also, thanks to Phil B who was going to provide transport to Poads Road for us (plan A). And of course, I must thank Gerald for all his helpful advice as I made multiple attempts to find a challenging, but safe trip for us. And in case you are interested, Gerald says that John, Steve and I are fit enough for The Dusky, so bring on March (and hopefully some good weather)