Two out of three ain’t bad
The annual Paul Furkert led Labour weekend Masterton Tramping Club “fit” trip saw a
team of four (Paul, Conrad McCaffrey, Rupert Holbrook and Nic Blair) embark on a 4-day
(3 night) tour of the southern Tararuas. The route was basically a large circle, starting
and ending at Otaki Forks, but not retracing our steps – or at least we wouldn’t have if
the last few kms of the road to Otaki Forks wasn’t still closed because of the slip at Blue Bluff. Luckily Nic had some local knowledge and told us we could ignore the signs and walk along the road and over the slip (~1 hour) and not take the DoC diversion track (~2-3 hours). It turns out that a track, with steps and handrail has been built across the slip so there were no dramas there. Conrad left Masterton at 6am on Labour weekend Friday and collected Rupert and myself from my place (just out of Carterton) before the long drive over the Remutakas, Haywoods, Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway. We met Nic at the road end and were underway at 8:30am, at the same time as a mountain runner who was unloading her bike. She informed us that she was going to bike the 5kms along the closed road, then stash her bike in the bushes, thus saving an hour each way. We all looked at ourselves and thought “why didn’t we think of that?”.
We headed off along the road, past the campsite and onto the Waiotauru track, in the
early morning sunshine and a light breeze. We had morning tea at the site of the
Sheridan Creek timber mill, then carried on past Waiotaura Forks, at about which time
the walking track turned into an old 4WD track (from the logging days in the 50s and
Lunch was had on the banks of the Waiotauru River beside Waiotauru Hut, then it was
more 4WD track walking upwards towards Maymorn Junction. We left the 4WD track
just before the junction and were back tramping in the bush again (the junction isn’t
actually marked other than a cut off post beside the track). Then it was onto Renata Hut for the night, arriving around 4pm.
The hut (that we had to ourselves) sleeps 6 on a Māori bunk, has an open fire and had recently been done up, so was very spacious and comfortable.
Next morning we were on the track just after 7:30 and headed uphill in the misty fog,
over the peaks of Renata and Elder before reaching Elder Hut around 11am for an early lunch. Elder Hut is well hidden in the bush, the first sight we saw was a toilet at the side of the track, then the hut appeared about 10 meters further on. Then there was more uphill walking until we reached Aston on the main divide. At this point the cloud had lifted to about 1400m, so we had nice views around to Alpha, down Quion Ridge and back the way we had come yesterday. Continuing along the main divide, by the time we had crested Atkinson we were in the cloud, and remained so as we passed The Beehives, Mt Hector, Field Peak and around to Kime Hut.
Conrad and I had been at Kime Hut on Labour weekend Saturday last year, arriving at
6pm and sleeping on the floor (there were 36 people in the 20-bunk hut last year). This year we arrived at 4pm to a fullish hut and after a bit of detective work by Rupert we ascertained there were three spare bunks. So as trip leader I made a “captain’s call” and slept on the floor again. At least I knew the best spot to grab and was eventually joined by four others (thus only 25 in the hut this year). As we already knew from the DoC website there was no water at the hut due to a leaking pipe, however it wasn’t too far to the tarn below the hut, and we just boiled everything for a minimum of 5 minutes. The mist was coming and going so as the sun set there were some nice photo opportunities.
Shortly after dark the wind got up, and later in the night the rain arrived too. Next
morning you needed full wet weather gear just to go to the toilet – visibility was about 20 meters, the wind strong, rain cold and according to YR the temperature was 1-2 degrees. The plan for the day was to continue along the main divide to the Penn Creek turnoff, drop our packs and visit the steel ladder at the Tararua Peaks, then descend to Penn Creek Hut for the night. Conrad, Rupert and Nic had never been to the steel ladder, and although I had been there, I hadn’t done the stretch from Tuiti to Kime (the desire to close this gap was the genesis for this whole trip). Kitted up in hats, gloves and wet weather gear we headed off at 8am. There were a number of peaks on the route, and we summitted Boyd-Wilson Knob, Vosseler and McIntosh in succession, however we only knew this afterwards. Our hands were too cold to get out the GPS more than necessary, but a prolonged downward stretch would reliably indicate that we had just passed another summit. At one point I was leading the group as we walked along a steep ridge. My foot slipped and as I leant forward to steady myself, I slipped backwards. According to the rest of the team I did a complete backward somersault before landing nicely cushioned in the leatherwood below the track. Luckily I wasn’t hurt, and the consensus was that given I got my legs above my shoulders as I rotated, I would have scored at least an 8.5 in any gymnastics competition. We reached the Penn Creek turnoff at 11am, and conditions were such that there was unanimous agreement to head straight down to try and get into the bush and out the weather.
Once in the bush we stopped for some lunch, and then the further down and west we
went the better the weather got. Half an hour before the hut we stopped to strip off the last of our wet weather gear, and reached the hut, in sunshine around 2pm. However looking back up to the ranges the weather looked just as foul.
We had a leisurely afternoon, hung our gear out to dry, cut some firewood and perused the reading matter in the hut (which we had to ourselves). Next morning, as forecast, the weather was lovely and fine again, so we were away just before 8am for the long haul (~850 vertical meters) up onto the Judd Ridge above Table Top. We stopped for a snack on Table Top and admired the views, up onto the main
range, across to Wellington and down Otaki Forks to the Kapiti coast.
There were plenty of goats around, we surprised one on the grass outside the hut, saw four on a slip face above the hut and whilst I was having a wash in the river, there was a nanny and kid happily grazing on the other side of the river (about 5 meters away) who took absolutely no notice of me.
We had a leisurely afternoon, hung our gear out to dry, cut some firewood and perused the reading matter in the hut (which we had to ourselves).
Next morning, as forecast, the weather was lovely and fine again, so we were away just before 8am for the long haul (~850 vertical meters) up onto the Judd Ridge above Table Top. We stopped for a snack on Table Top and admired the views, up onto the main range, across to Wellington and down Otaki Forks to the Kapiti coast.
Then it was all downhill via Field Hut and Parawai Lodge to lunch at the Otaki Forks
campground. All that then remained was that hour long trudge back along the road to the car, getting there around 2:30pm and Conrad dropped us home a couple of hours later.
All in all a great 4 days tramping. On the plus side of the ledger there was lots of red line for all of us, and some high scoring gymnastics, and on the downside we didn’t quite manage to get to the Tararua Peaks (so there is still some of the main range I haven’t tramped, although this has shrunk from a 4 hour gap to a 3/4 hour gap – albeit it will be a couple of day’s walk (from any direction) to get there). But as they say, two out of three ain’t bad.