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Kime Hut
Kime Hut on the morning of the 2nd day of the hike
Country: New Zealand
Location: Tararua Forest Park
Accommodation: B&B, motels and hotels in Otaki and Black Stump Youth Hostel at Kaitoke.
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 passes Kaitoke.
Maps: Parkmap Tararua (1:100,000) Topomap S26 - Carterton (1:50,000).
My sketch map (with links!)
Trip Dates: 14 - 17 April 1995
Also See:
Tararuas - Southern Crossing - Kaitoke to Otaki in 2 days, 10-11 April 1999.
The Tararua Tramper - trip reports from the Tararua Tramping Club.
A description of the Southern Crossing from the Department of Conservation.
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 Field and 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:
On Friday night, walk up to Field Hut just below the bushline (2-3 hours).
On Saturday, traverse the tops to Alpha Hut (8 tiring hours).
On Sunday, follow the Marchant ridge out (8 boring hours).

Up to Kime Hut

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 appears.

Over Table Top to Dennan
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 eroded patch.

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.

Crossing Tussock Tops to Alpha Hut
Mount Hector from Field Peak
Looking up to Hector from Field Peak

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.

Mt Hector to Alpha
Onwards from Mt. Hector towards Alpha

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 Crossing.

Tutuwai Hut and out
Alpha from the Dress Circle
Alpha from the Dress Circle

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 Highway 2.

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