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Cone Ridge stretching to the north
Cone Ridge stretching to the north
Country: New Zealand
Location: Tararua State Forest Park
Accommodation: Camping at the Walls Whare road-end. Hotels, motels and B&B in nearby Carterton and Featherston with Masterton a bit further away
Transport: Train stations at Woodville, Carterton and Masterton but taxis only from Masterton (expensive trip!).
Maps: Parkmap Tararua (1:100,000) Topomap S26 - Carterton (1:50,000).
Trip Dates: 6-8 February, 1998
Also See:
The Tararua Tramper - trip reports from the Tararua Tramping Club.
Introduction

Cone is one of the many special places in the Tararua Ranges (north of Wellington, New Zealand). This modest peak is only 1118 metres high - the maps have the point at 1080 metres marked as the summit but this is really just where a survey point was established. It is special for many reasons:
Great views east over the civilised Wairarapa Plains, west to the rugged wilderness surrounding the Main Range, north along Cone Ridge to the steep slopes of Mt. Holdsworth and south along the green-clad sides of the Tauherenikau valley.
There are nice campsites to either side of the track at the bush-edge. The large tussock meadow at the head of Cone Ridge also provides camping possibilities.
Cone is easily accessible from many points, primarily from the end of the Waiohine Gorge road (about 4 hours). The road-end is locally known as Walls Whare after the road-end hut that used to be here (whare is Maori for house). The following huts are all within 5 hours from Cone: Cone Hut, Neill Forks Hut, Totara Flats Hut and Tutuwai Hut. A longer, tougher route can be followed for 6-7 hours from Kime Hut via Mt. Hector, Winchcombe Peak and Neill.
For botanists there is a wide range of environments - high silver beech forest, wide tussock meadows and an alpine wetland centred around Cone Tarn.

The 6th of February is a public holiday in New Zealand - Waitangi Day, marking the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 where the Maori people gained the "protection" of being British subjects in return keeping rights to their lands and fisheries. These rights were very abused in the past and much of NZ politics is concerned with repairing the abuse. However I decided to escape the usual hassles of the holiday and head into the bush. My plan was to stay at the road-end on Thursday night, head up to Cone to set up camp (filling the afternoon with a wander along towards Winchcombe Peak), proceed along Cone Ridge to drop down to Totara Flats Hut for Saturday night and squeeze through the Waiohine Gorge back to the road-end on the Sunday.

Up to Cone

When I arrived at Walls Whare after a very expensive taxi ride from Masterton, the picnic and camp sites were packed. Apparently every man and his dog had decided to enjoy what promised to be a sizzling weekend. The best camp site was taken up by a group of 50 boys but I managed to set up in an alcove nearer the river. Surprisingly the boys were not noisy - I didn't here a peep out of them after about 10 pm - but a group of people talking nearby kept me awake past midnight.

I had intended a very early start (waking 6:30 and hoping to be off by 7) to avoid a steep climb in the heat of the day (24°C was predicted). But for some reason I decided to get a full 8 hours sleep and woke up at 8:30 to blue skies above my tent. After packing up, I headed down to the Waiohine river (the road-end is on a high terrace about 50 metres above the river) to collect water and to grab a couple of photos of the lofty swingbridge that I was about to cross. Shortly before 9:30 I was off (only 2 hours late!).

The summit clearing on Cone (1118m) from the track to Neill (looking south).

The track departs to the right of the road-end carpark to drop down through large trees to the swingbridge. This is one of the highest bridges I have been across - there is a good 30 metres below you. On the other side the track climbs onto a bush terrace and a T junction where the Lower Waiohine Track to Totara Flats goes to the right and we head to the left over a small stream. In a minute the Cone Saddle track starts to climb up towards the ridge that connects Reeves with Cone (the path straight ahead goes up to Reeves and then the Tauherenikau valley).

This climb is the steepest of the day with half an hour of unrelenting slog up dirt banks and over tree roots. The track climbs over 200 metres in the next 500 metres walked. There is a spot about a third of the way up where fallen trees give a nice view back across the river to where you have come from. The gradient relents as you reach the second of two good-sized groves of rimu. This marks the start of ancient downlands before the current phase of mountain building and river erosion. A gentle bump at point 572 is passed and soon the rough route to Reeves (bush navigation skills needed) is passed where the main ridge is gained (at point 682).

Ten minutes away along a level (and sometimes muddy) track is the junction with the short-cut down to Cone Hut. I stopped here for lunch and to weigh up my options. The heat of the day was really sapping my strength and I was rapidly running out of water. It was tempting to head down to the hut, cool down in the Tauherenikau River and resume my progress to Cone the next day. However a faint breeze promised more refreshing weather higher up so I continued on after a long lunch.

The track descends gently through open bush for 500 metres and then zigzags nicely down to Cone Saddle - this is the remains of a packhorse trail from Reeves. Cone Saddle is a major Tararua crossroads with tracks into the Tauherenikau valley, down to Totara Flats, south-east to Walls Whare and north-west to Cone. There is a good tree just the right size for a backrest at the NW end of the saddle, right next to where the track continues up towards Cone.

The first 100 metres or so are along a well-benched track that takes you up the right-hand side of the ridge before swinging to the left and the ridge's crest. A steady climb brings the junction with the Block XIX track about 20 minutes from the saddle. Strangely I have never noticed the junction - I was probably too busy huffing and puffing on the way up or rushing on the way down. Just beyond here, the top of a small bump is reached and an uprooted tree gives a good view up the Tauherenikau River to Alpha and Bull Mound. Point 812 is reached over flatter going for 500 metres to the north and just beyond it there is another viewpoint. This time a slip gives clear views down the river.

Looking over tussock and point 1080 to the Wairarapa Plains

The track then sidles around various knobs courtesy of good routing by the early bushmen. Steady climbing then resumes for 30 minutes as the mixture of red beech and kamahi gives way to the more widely spaced silver beech forest. As the bush-line approaches, the height of the trees decreases and they become more gnarly and moss-covered. I spent more than an hour on this section, mainly due to running out of water but also because there was no hurry. A stiff breeze from the SW and a tower of clouds on the ridge tops told me that there would be no views from Cone today.

At the bush-edge, the best camping sites are off to your left where the first alcove has a rough fireplace and is good for fly-camping while the small clearing just beyond is relatively flat (good for a proper tent). Occasionally you may need a strong stomach - hunters seem to use the areas near the bush-line to butcher deer as shown by the meat hook hanging on one tree and the bones and hide of a deer in an niche to the right of the track. I thought the hunter I met on the way up had a rather heavy pack! Water can be obtained from Cone Tarn about 200 metres to the NE. The best way there is to head up the few metres to the crest of Cone Ridge (passing a small cairn in the tussock). The crest is followed through a dip and some leatherwood to the bank that is shown on the left of the top photo. About 200 metres along the bank gets you to the reliable waters of Cone Tarn (passing a couple of seasonal tarns along the way). On my water gathering errand, I had strong winds and low visibility to battle (i.e. typical Tararua weather).

I set up my tent, including a couple of extra ties to reduce the effect of the freshening wind, and settled in for the night. Even so the tent shook enough to make it a rather sleepless night. The next morning the wind was just as fierce and the clouds were even thicker. I decided to stay the day on Cone since the forecast was for better weather and the major point of this trip was to get some nice views. Around noon, I noticed a couple of trampers walking above the bush-line towards Cone and decided that the weather was clear enough (but still windy) to go up to Cone. I met the trampers as they were looking at their map having realised that they had passed the turn-off down to Cone Saddle. We had a bit of a chat before they headed back and I went further onto the summit of Cone. The summit was in a patch of sunlight with clouds billowing over the Main Range to the west. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Cone looking at the increasingly clear and beautiful views.

A very restful night was spent in my tent with one interesting excursion to look at the stars under a bright full moon (the first time that I can remember seeing my moon-shadow). The next day I got up early for a fairly leisurely trot down to the road-end.

Summary
From To Posted Time1 My Time2 Comments
Walls Whare road-end Second grove of rimu trees 30 90 Hot, steep sweaty work.
Rimu grove Point 682 60 100 Easier climbing
Point 682 Short-cut to Cone Hut 10 20 Level and sometimes muddy
Junction Cone Saddle 15 20 Gentle descent through open bush
Cone Saddle Cone 90 210 Slow going to conserve water.

1 Time in books or hut notices (minutes).
2 My time includes lunch, stops and my very slow pace (minutes).


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