Our (Paul Furkert (trip leader and scribe) and Conrad McCaffery) Labour weekend tramp started Friday lunchtime from Kaitoke. I dropped Conrad and the packs at the Kiwi Ranch entrance, and then drove back to park the car 5km away at the Regional Council’s Kaitoke camping area (where we would exit at the end of the trip). Conrad was expecting to wait (in the cold sleety Southerly showers) around ¾ of an hour for me to walk back, but luckily I hitchhiked a lift for some of the way and was back within 20 minutes. It was then up and over the puffer track to the Smiths Creek shelter for lunch, then onwards via Tutuwai to our overnight destination of Cone Hut. This was a first for both of us, as although we’d often been there, we’d never stayed the night. It was also the first time along the Kaitoke - Tutuwai track for me since my Duke of Edinburgh days 30+ years ago, and Conrad for at least 10 years (after all why would you drive from the Wairarapa to Kaitoke, just to walk back 5 hours to be almost on your doorstep?)
Conrad took me on a slight detour to visit the [unmarked on maps] Joe Gibbs Memorial Hut, and then it was on to Cone Hut (arrival 5pm). We had the hut to ourselves, so had plenty of time for a wash in the stream before cooking dinner and settling in for the night.
By Saturday morning the weather had cleared (as forecast) giving us a calm sunny day, albeit a cool start. We were away by 7:30am and had our first view of Hector and the main divide about an hour later - it looked a long way away.
We were on Cone by 9:30am, but the frost had still to lift, and there was a millimetre or two of ice in the puddles. After a quick break we pressed on, pausing briefly at Neill where we popped out of the bush for a moment and could view the rest of the Neill-Winchcombe route
We finally had a late-ish lunch at the Neill Winchcombe Biv at around 1:30pm
From then on we were out of the bush, so enjoyed the views, even if the steep slog upwards wasn’t quite so enjoyable. We finally reached Hector at 4pm, at which point we decided in a slight change of plan
The original plan was to head for Elder Hut, as a precursor to heading down Quoin Ridge the next day. However this was still about 3 hours away, and we were tired, so invoked “Plan B”, which involved going to Kime Hut instead (1 hour in the wrong direction). Suddenly the hills were alive with people, as we passed a couple of parties, without packs, heading for the cross on top of Hector. These were people staying at Kime, heading out for a late afternoon stroll, and it didn’t bode well in terms of getting a bunk. Suffice to say, the 20 bed Kime hut was a little overcrowded, and not counting the 4 people who returned to Field Hut in the hope of a mattress, and the couple who decided to camp, there were still 11 of us sleeping on the floor. Conrad and I made the best of a bad situation,and rearranged the tables to create a private “room” for ourselves, which we graciously shared with another lady. As it got darker more sleeping mats kept appearing, until almost the whole floor was covered. It can’t have been much fun for those by the door(who got stood on as people went to the toilet in the night) or those under the kitchen benches (who got food spilled on their sleeping bags by early morning risers).
As you can imagine we were up fairly early, so we got to admire the sunrise from the hut’s door step.
By 7:30am we were underway again, and the crisp frost and frozen mud confirmed to us that we had made the right decision to sleep in the hut rather than in our tent. The plan for the day was to have a short day and head for Elder Hut, and then tackle the Quoin Ridge on Monday (getting home a day later than originally planned - but we had taken enough food for 4 days as “Plan B” had been on the cards from the start). Although a bit breezy it was again lovely and sunny, but the forecast for Monday wasn’t so good. The views around the Dress Circle were outstanding, the Wairarapa one way, Wellington and the Kaikouras another, Mt Taranaki another.
We were travelling faster than expected and were at the turnoff for Elder Hut by 10:00am (the DoC signpost said the hut was 2 hours away on a side ridge). At this point we had another change of plan, and decided to carry on, enjoy the fine weather and exit on Sunday as originally planned. By 10:30am we were on top on Alpha and left the marked track to descend Quoin Ridge
From afar the open tops travel didn’t look too bad, and mostly it wasn’t, although there were a few interesting bits here and there. We stopped for lunch on top of Quoin and sitting just below the ridge (out of the wind) enjoyed lovely views over Lake Wairarapa
It was then into the bush, and although the maps showed a route in places it wasn’t blazed, so we had a mixture of following a faint foot trail, navigating by GPS and occasionally retracing our steps. There was one section of the route where there is an old sign saying “Fragile plants next 350m - please keep to the marked trail”. We managed to find both signs, but not the trail between them! However as we bush-bashed through I think our arms and legs were more fragile than the plants. In hindsight we think the signs might be quite old, and the “fragile” plants have now matured into more hardy specimens. Near the bottom of the trail we finally picked up some blazes and after a very steep and scrambly last few hundred metres of descent reached Hutt Forks around 4:30pm
We then followed the track back up the Eastern Hutt river, crossed by the Hydrology Tower (which we hunted for but couldn’t find), then it was just a case of walking the last 90 minutes on the 4WD track back to the car (this might sound easy, but the track steeply climbed 300m before descending equally steeply). The car was a welcome sight for our tired bodies when we finally reached it at 6:30pm, 11 hours after starting off.
To recap lots of walking (5 hours, 9.5 hours and 11 hours), but we had great weather on the tops and covered lots of interesting terrain that neither of us had visited before.
I tracked our route on my phone (apart from a small glitch on Saturday morning)