Southern Crossing of the Tararuas
|Kime Hut on the morning of the
2nd day of the hike
||Country: New Zealand
||Location: Tararua Forest Park
||Transport: Trains and buses to Otaki. Taxis available
to Otaki Forks and can be booked from Kaitoke to Upper Hutt where there are
trains to Wellington. There is a bus service from Masterton to Wellington that
||Trip Dates: 14 - 17 April 1995
||Special note should be made of the book 'The Tararuas' by
Chris Maclean. It is full of great photos and has many details of the history,
geology and ecology of the Tararua mountains.
The Southern Crossing is a classic tramping (hiking) route over the
peaks in the southern part of the Tararuas. It is particularly good for anyone
living in Wellington since they can stand on the quayside and know that they
have hiked over the skyline beyond the Hutt Valley. The track starts in Otaki
Forks (20 kilometres inland from Otaki) and goes for 32 kilometres to Kaitoke.
It normally takes 2-3 days but I stretched it out to 4 days by breaking the
last day at Tutuwai Hut (making 38
kilometres in all). Note that this is a sub-alpine route that climbs to a
height of 1529m and there is no shelter other than
Kime Hut between the bushlines above
Alpha Huts. Several lives have been
lost on this route (notably E. J. Kime), it should not be taken lightly. Alpine
equipment is necessary in winter conditions and crampons are handy.
This route can be done in a weekend as follows:
Friday night, walk up to Field Hut
just below the bushline (2-3 hours).
Saturday, traverse the tops to Alpha
Hut (8 tiring hours).
Sunday, follow the Marchant ridge out (8 boring hours).
I arrived in Otaki Forks at 10:00 on 14th of April 1995 having travelled
from Wellington via train and taxi. If you drive to the start of the hike in
Otaki Forks, be aware that much of the way is a single track dirt road - drive
carefully and look out for oncoming traffic. The track starts from the large
footbridge over the Waiotaura River about 5 minutes walk from the Gibbons
carpark, past the caretakers house (sign the intentions book). From the bridge
climb the narrow ridge up about 40m to a plateau of farmland. Cross the plateau
and turn right at the first fork to head up the hillside. There is a fairly
steady gradient (300m in 1 kilometre) up a clear track until the real bush
|The gravel path over Table Top
points the way to Dennan
After you enter the bush, there is good walking up a steady climb to
Tirotiro Knob which is sidled around and then
Field Hut is encountered at a height
of 866m. I arrived at the hut at 1 pm - too early to stop for the night but a
good time for a brew and break. Field
Hut has been around for more than 70 years now so have a look around inside
for the original pit-sawn timbers.
The gradient now steepens as the track climbs beyond the bushline to
Table Top (1047m) and then levels out before the climb to Dennan (1214m). There
is some serious erosion as the track nears Table Top with it embedded in a
shoulder high trench. Table Top is the northern end of a relatively flat
section of ridge forming a sensitive area of alpine wetland. The Department of
Conservation have placed a gravel path and boardwalk across the wetland from
Table Top to the base of Dennan (the peak to the right of the clouds). As the
easy climb up towards Dennan starts, there is a poled route departing to the
left (east) down a spur into Penn Creek and its hut.
The track sidles around the summit of Dennan through leatherwood shrub
land and then drops a little back to the ridge. Here I met the only bad weather
of the hike as I climbed into the clouds and a cold wind. You pass around and
over some small bumps and then ascend in earnest up the ridge to Bridge Peak
(1421m). As you near the top the track makes some good zigzags through an
On Bridge Peak, the ridge broadens out and becomes level. After about
250 metres, the track descends a bit and then rises to Hut Mound (1440m).
Kime Hut is now just below you in a
small valley with 2 tarns (this was the only water here - there is a water tank
now). On a popular long weekend like Easter, the hut can get full. When I was
there, all the sleeping platforms were full, there was a tent on the hillside
and some latecomers even slept in the entry (bootroom) to the hut.
|Looking up to Hector from Field
At dawn the next day the weather was exceptionally fine but not too hot
- perfect for the high-level walk to Alpha
Hut. The photo at the top of the page was taken at 8 am, shortly before I
set off. The day starts with a good climb up 80 metres to Field Peak (1483m)
where the views are marvellous - west over Kime Hut and Bridge Peak out to Otaki,
north to the Tararua's Main Range, east to Mt. Hector and the peaks circling
around to Alpha in the distance and south to the Hutt Valley and Wellington. I
spent a good half an hour here just drinking in the views. The track continues
with a sharp descent of 100m down to a saddle and even sharper ascent of 150m
to Mt. Hector (1529m). The saddle is a good place to admire the headwaters of
the Hector River separating you from the Tararua Main Range. The summit of Mt.
Hector has a 2 metre wooden cross as a war memorial with a small tarn 50 metres
to the east.
From the summit, there are excellent views over into the plains of the
Wairarapa and the route onwards.
|Onwards from Mt. Hector towards
The photo to the left shows the route descending and following the ridge
over the bumps of the Beehives (1485m) before a gentle fall and rise to
Atkinson (1472m) in the centre of the picture. Extending to the left of
Atkinson is the False Spur ridge - take care to NOT descend this. Poking above
the ridge is Alpha (1361m) with Alpha
Hut below the bushline to the left (its roof is just visible as a speck on
Alpha's east ridge). The arc of peaks from Atkinson to Alpha is known as the
"Dress Circle" for its panoramic views. The track continues down from Atkinson
to the right, crossing over an unnamed peak at 1372m passing a small tarn which
is handy for lunch. It then swings around and up to Aston (1376m) - the
flattish peak in the distance on the right. The track drops 110m in the next 1
kilometre before the ascent to Alpha. The true summit of Alpha is 100 metres SW
of the highest point of the track - worth a visit for the views of Wellington.
The last kilometre down to Alpha Hut
will test your knees a bit with a fall of 260 metres. As you near the hut the
tussock is left behind for stunted silver beech forest.
Alpha was part of the Pukemoumou Maori trail from Otaki Forks to the
Hutt Valley in the 1800's. Europeans later scaled the Tararua peaks to survey
the plains below for settlement. A track was cut over Omega Peak to the Alpha
bush line in 1912 and this quickly evolved into part of the Southern
|Alpha from the Dress
The next day was a fairly easy crossing - leaving
Alpha Hut to cross over the steep dip
of Hells Gate to the Marchant Ridge (the usual exit route) and then dropping
directly to the Tauherenikau River. From Alpha Hut, the track drops a bit, rises to
pass over a knoll and then drops sharply into Hells Gate (a drop of 200 metres
over 400 metres travelled). There is a slightly less steep climb to a fork.
The right fork takes you up to Omega (1118m) via an often muddy track
and then out via Marchant Ridge. This is a good but long walk along the
undulating crest of the ridge. There are a couple of good viewpoints, one about
a third of the way along and the other on Marchant itself (3-4 hours from
Omega) where an old burn is still regenerating. The drop down to the site of
the old Dobson's Hut is fairly steep with easy walking from there to the road
end. I accompanied a group to where they were splitting up between the Omega
Track (down to the river) and the Marchant Ridge Track and then returned to
take the left (northwards) fork leading to Bull Mound (1060m).
The left-hand track goes through various clearings before reaching the
stony Bull Mound - it thus offers plenty of viewpoints. The descent into the
Tauherenikau valley is via a clear, well-constructed track which partially
follows the course of the original Southern Crossing trail that was constructed
in 1912. By the time you get to the river, your knees would have had a good
workout on the drop of 730m in 2.5 kilometres. However they will cool down fast
when you ford the river (no bridge) to pick up the track from the historic
Cone Hut to the modern
Tutuwai Hut. Before visiting the
comforts of Tutuwai Hut downriver, it
is worth visiting Cone Hut (10 minutes
up the track and back) which is one of the best examples of bush carpentry in
NZ. The hut was built in 1946 and restored to its original condition in 1987
including replicating the adzed totara framing and totara slab walls.
Tutuwai Hut is 1 hour down the
river from Cone Hut on a track that can
be muddy. The river is fairly closely followed along grassy flats and bush
terraces except for one short section where it is forced away from the river.
The track from Tutuwai Hut to
the carpark at Kaitoke is quite good except at one point. About 1 kilometre
down from Tutuwai, the track meets Slip Stream in a clear pebbly stretch by the
river. The track resumes on the other side of the clearing on top of a 10 metre
embankment (at the remains of an old swingbridge). The climb up the embankment
is extremely steep and slippery.
The track continues to a swingbridge across the river and then down the
other bank to Blue Slip. At the foot of the climb over Blue Slip, you have a
decision to make - either follow the track as it climbs over various obstacles
down to Smith Creek or walk down the river. The river is walkable right down to
Smith Creek where the track is easily regained. If the weather is wet then
Smith Creek Shelter makes a good place for afternoon smoko.
From the shelter, the track goes up Smith Creek (usually a good distance
above it) until it starts up a ridge. Halfway up the ridge the track sidles
along the hillside to Puffer Saddle. This section is a good chance to have a
last look along the Tauherenikau valley. At the saddle there is a good view
across farmland to the top of the Hutt Valley. There is a gentle descent from
the Puffer down to the car park. If you are being picked up, it may be better
to walk for 10 minutes down to Kaitoke Shelter where the road is tar-sealed.
The Youth Hostel is a further 2 kilometres on where the road meets State