|Hiking over the Tararua Peaks|
Mt. Crawford, Kahiwiroa, Aokaparangi, Maungahuka, Tunui and Tuiti (the Tararua Peaks) with Mt. Hector are names to bring an itch to the feet of any Tararua tramper (hiker). These fine peaks form most of the southern half of the Main Range of the Tararua mountains, stretching 18 kilometres from Mt. Crawford in the north to Mt. Hector. The highlight of any trip along the southern range is the traverse of the Tararua Peaks (Tunui and Tuiti) which form a rugged barrier that was not pierced until 1930. These conical peaks are steep and pointed with a vertical cleft separating them. Coming from the south, there is a steep climb up to the top of Tunui and then an even steeper, rocky drop into the cleft. The last 25 metres (77 ft.) down to the bottom was via a metal chain ladder (see above). In March 2002, this was replaced with a more robust metal ladder. To get out of the cleft, the track sidles around the slopes of Tuiti (a metal rope provides much needed support) before a rocky climb up to Maungahuka. The rest of the range is easy in comparison.
This description should not deter anyone from attempting the trip - all you need is a good head for heights and some tramping (hiking) experience in your party. I met one party with a couple of children and a dog - however the 4 adults were very experienced.
This hike is a loop from Otaki Forks, up onto the Main Range at Junction
Knob, south to Kime Hut and then back to
Otaki Forks. There are some other options to bag the peaks:
The quickest way to bag the peaks is to climb to Kime Hut on the first day, cross over the peaks to Maungahuka Hut and return the same way on the next day (the fit can go straight down to Otaki Forks - over 8 hours walking). For variety, you could drop down to Penn Creek Hut from just past the peaks. But currently the track out of Penn Creek is washed away (but experienced parties can still use it with care) leaving you with either a climb out via Table Top or a wet walk along the creek and Otaki River.
A 'Southern Crossing' can be done by dropping from Maungahuka Hut over Concertina Knob to Neill Forks Hut. From there it is possible to exit out to the Holdsworth road-end in about 8 hours. Alternately a stop at Totara Flats Hut leaves the next day for an easy walk out to the Holdsworth road-end or along the Waiohine River.
A long but interesting route continues north up the Main Range from Maungahuka Hut to Aokaparangi and then drops down to the Mid-Waiohine Hut. After the climb to Mt. Holdsworth, you can either drop down to Powell Hut (leaving an easy day out) or go north along the ridge to Jumbo Hut (more interesting with a slightly longer walk out).
The entire Main Range is travelled by those who do the South-North Traverse (this is a fairly serious undertaking with most of the hike above the bushline and very exposed).
The usual way to do the loop is by a long steady climb from Otaki Forks to Bridge Peak and then heading north. I decided to do the reverse - entering via the Otaki River and then climbing to Junction Knob. In hindsight, this is definitely the harder way to do the hike since there are 2 steep climbs (1000 metres from Otaki River to Junction Knob and the later 300 metres up to Bridge Peak).
|Otaki Forks to Waitewaewae Hut|
My day started with the 8 am train from Wellington out to Otaki and then a taxi to Otaki Forks. The taxi dropped me off in the carpark by the caretakers house - there is an intentions book there to sign and a telephone for local calls. The track passes the fork to the caretakers house, crosses a creek and arrives at the top of a steep bank in a couple of minutes. A nice zigzag drops to the fields by the Boielle carpark and the banks of the Waiotaura River - the junction with the Otaki River is less than 1 kilometre downriver. The river is crossed by a sturdy wooden footbridge. Just over the river, a path off to your left leads to Parawai Hut while the main track takes a steep climb up to the top of the river terrace (5 minutes from the river). The paddock is crossed diagonally (follow the painted poles) to the remains of a gate where the track to the southern Tararuas (Kime Hut, etc.) heads uphill to the right - have a look at my description of the Southern Crossing. The Waitewaewae/Penn route heads to the left and the edge of the terrace. In 300 metres, the Penn Creek Track continues along the terrace and the Waitewaewae Track descends along the terrace side to a long swingbridge.
|From Otaki Forks looking over Plateau Saddle to Shoulder Knob|
There was a small traffic jam here since the fine weather had encouraged plenty of people to visit the Forks for day hikes. On the other side, there is a short steep climb (bit of a zigzag) up onto the river terrace - this is Sawmill Flat, named after a sawmill that used to be there (there is an old steam boiler in the NE corner) until it was destroyed in the 1936 storm. The track does not go out into the flats but climbs along the hillside to a tiny saddle between the ridge and a small knoll (about 1 kilometre from the bridge). This is a good spot to look back over the river terraces to the start of the tramp.
Beyond the knoll, the track dips down to cross a stream and then picks up an old bush tram-line. This is followed all the way to Saddle Creek with a couple of diversions to cross side-streams (the old tram-line bridges have vanished) and a rough sidle over a slip just before Papa Creek. The tram-line was constructed with wooden rails mostly and these have all rotted away. However there are still remains of the iron rails used at sharp corners and a few sleepers. Overall the tram-line provides quick going - an hour from the footbridge to Saddle Creek is easy done. The end of the tram-line is marked by an old traction engine boiler with its rusty red colour contrasting nicely with the greenery around it.
|Old steam traction engine boiler rusting away|
The track drops sharply from the boiler to Saddle Creek - the junction with the creek should be noted for any return journey. There is a track most of the way up the creek with plenty of crossings, otherwise the route is in the creek-bed. After the easy, well-marked tram-line, the route seems fairly rough but it is still well-padded with little chance of going wrong. The creek is left in about an hour where the track (now on the true left ) leaves the main flow to climb up beside a trickle of water towards Plateau Saddle. The approach to the saddle is marked by heavily eroded terrain before the lip of the saddle is gained. The erosion is not entirely due to trampers boots - Saddle Creek is threatening to capture the headwaters of Plateau Stream (an event that will cause massive and long-lasting erosion in this area).
A few metres over the lip, Plateau Stream is crossed; followed closely by a second crossing and then the fording of a tributary. The track then wanders for 20 minutes (sometimes muddy) over the plateau before descending to the steep slopes above Arapito Creek. The track keeps well above the creek on its true right faces. Beware of any false pads leading down into the creek - I met a couple of blokes who had followed one of these and wasted an hour hiking down to the correct track. The track crosses 3 side-streams before starting to descend gradually into the creek where a good crossing is found about 35 minutes from the saddle.
There are now a couple of choices:
In bad weather (or if you have a phobia about getting your boots wet) cross the creek to take the well-padded track that sidles the hillside well above big slips down on the Otaki River. After crossing a side-stream, the track continues to sidle until the slips are passed and it can descend to above the river. The river is then followed to the hut.
In normal weather, you can drop quickly down the Arapito Creek on intermittent tracks to the Otaki River. The river edge is then followed under the slips until steep banks force you into the river. Wade about 200 metres up the river until there are gravel beaches on the true right (on your left when travelling up-river). From the beaches, you will find the alternative track just up a small stream - there is a good set of steps leading onto the river bank a few metres up the stream and to your right. The hut is a couple of minutes up-river.
It takes about 70 minutes to the hut from the saddle by either hiking route.
Waitewaewae Hut is a good modern hut with a hot pot-belly stove (useful on this trip since the nights were getting chilly). Having a full complement of 16 trampers also helped to keep the hut cosy. Most of them had just come in for the night or down from Anderson Memorial Hut or Nichols Hut, though one girl had spent a couple of days here recharging her spiritual batteries. Funnily enough, I was the only one making the ascent up to Shoulder Knob.
|Over Junction Knob to Anderson Memorial Hut|
A fairly early start to the day (about 7:30) took me into a misty and dull morning. The track drops from the hut to the river bank where a large rock provides a good platform for a swimming hole. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the swing-bridge up the river. This is anchored into a rock bluff on the true right of the river and it is slightly awkward to get onto the bridge (don't fall in!). The middle of the bridge is a good place to admire the river. On the other side, the track heads upriver for a bit - there is a swampy ditch to negotiate (best crossed to the right of the track) - before it heads directly up the spur faces.
The track climbs unrelentingly for a height gain of 300 metres before the first of 2 flatter sections. It took me less than half an hour to climb above the river mist into a fine day with patches of blue sky visible through the trees. My slow (unfit) pace got me to the first flat section in about 2 hours - it gave a much needed respite before the track returned to a steep climb. I met a group of 4 blokes coming down the track around here. On gaining the top "plateau", the track takes a slight northwards curve and the ridge becomes less well defined. As you approach the bush-line, the track takes an unexpected jog to the right into an erosion gully (marked by a length of red tape hanging from a tree branch). This is a bit overgrown until you break out onto the tussock tops in a small basin. From then on, cairns and a few iron standards mark the track which climbs out of the basin to your left (north). Shoulder Knob (1310m) is 5 minutes away along a well-defined ridge.
|South from below Shoulder Knob - Aokaparangi (left), Maungahuka and the Tararua Peaks (centre) and Bridge Peak (right)|
Shoulder Knob is a great spot to break for lunch with plenty of soft tussock for cushions. To the SW, you can look over the Plateau Saddle back to Otaki Forks or even down the Otaki River itself (there are a few glimpses of the gorges that make travel up the river difficult). Directly west, there is a gap in the hills showing the coastline at Otaki. The Otaki River can be seen to the north bounded to the west by Oriwa Ridge and on the east by the Main Range. At the head of the river (about 10 kilometres away) is Waiopehu (1094m) and Twin Peak (1097m). I could just see the slopes of Mt. Crawford to the east in the lowering clouds. The clouds had not yet obscured the view to the south with the entire route back to Otaki Forks clearly visible. There is little excuse for not having a long break here since the next huts are quite close (within 3 hours to either Nichols or Anderson Hut) - I spent more than an hour here.
The track continues SE from Shoulder Knob to descend to a saddle and then a short climb up to Junction Knob (1375m). The views ahead of you over the Waiohine River to the Holdsworth-Mitre-Arete range make a stop worthwhile. The route of the Northern Crossing can be seen from Arete, past Lancaster, over Tarn Ridge and then out by either Mitre or Mt. Holdsworth. On your left (north), there is a small bump and then Mt. Crawford at 1462 metres high (there is a short steep section to climb if you go this way). The basin holding Nichols Hut is visible to the east of Mt. Crawford (see the left of this photo in the Northern Crossing).
I turned to the south to head along a dry, well-padded track through the tussock - gently descending until the small rise to point 1356. A slightly steeper descent takes the track to a tarn near point 1226 which is sidled around on its northern slopes. When the broad tussock shelf containing Anderson Hut is reached, the track becomes quite muddy and is often hidden by hip-high clumps of tussock. Anderson Memorial Hut soon peeps out of the bush below the ridge ahead of you. A just-as-significant building is passed as you approach the hut - the long drop!
I was a bit worried when I found a group of 9 people (and a dog) basking in a patch of sunlight by the hut door. Luckily they included a family group who were going to camp out. The hut was still full with me, a party of 3 and 2 kids from the other group. The clouds continued to swirl up above the ridge top and around the hut for most of the evening, giving an colourful sunset. After nightfall, they cleared enough to give brilliant views of the night sky.
|Over Kahiwiroa and Aokaparangi to Maungahuka Hut|
A wonderful frosty morning with clear blue skies and a scattering of mist in the valleys. I found that the best place to admire the views was to walk north (past the long drop and a campsite in the tussock where the family group were packing up) to gain the edge of the tussock shelf. The hills of the South Island were just visible poking above a broad band of clouds in Cook Strait.
|Shoulder Knob (left), Junction Knob near the centre and point 1356 (right). Anderson Hut is hidden on the far right of the central tussock shelf.|
The track leaves the hut and immediately enters good honest bush with lots of smallish trees heavily laden with green moss and lichen. It sidles the slopes of the bump just above the hut and then gains a clear and easy-going ridge which is followed for the next 40 minutes. There are a few minor bumps to cross but the well-padded (and so a bit muddy) track takes the easiest route along the ridge. Views are few but rewarding. The bush-line under Kahiwiroa is gained by a short steep section and you emerge into deep tussock grasses. The track is tricky as it swings south and then west to avoid a belt of leatherwood - the ridge above this is easily climbed on the way to the top. Looking back from the ridge will give you a sight of Mt. Crawford poking its head above the ridge to the north.
The summit of Kahiwiroa (1320m) is on the far (south) end of a level ridge - about 400 metres of easy, exhilarating walking through tussock and the occasional clump of leatherwood. Gaining the summit was not a great excuse for a break but, given the great weather, I took one anyway. The track hikes along another level ridge beyond the summit for the next kilometre (descending only 60 metres!). Some serious descending is now done into the scrub-filled saddle before Aokaparangi - the track is fairly rough here. From the saddle, the track generally climbs steadily up the 120m to the summit. However there is one short (20m) vertical section that will have you grabbing hold of the tussock.
|Aokaparangi with Maungahuka and the Tararua Peaks just visible on the right|
On the summit of Aokaparangi (1354 metres) there is a cairn marking the turn-off to the Mid-Waiohine Hut. There is also supposed to be a billy collecting rainwater here which I did not notice. A more recognisable landmark is a signpost a couple of minutes down from the summit. This points the way to the Aokaparangi Biv which sleeps 3-4 people and lies within the NE bush-line, 20 minutes down a broad side-spur. Another good place for a break and where I first noticed the clouds rolling in from the south.
If you compare the last 2 photos, the change in weather is quite striking - blue skies with a few fluffy clouds in the first turn into a descending blanket of grey clouds. In the photo below, Maungahuka Tarn and its hut are on a ledge at the head of the gully ahead of you. The Tararua Peaks don't show up well in the image - follow the gully up to the ridge and then Tunui is just to the right (hiding the cleft between it and Tuiti). A bright spot on the slopes of Tunui is a rock gully above which the track sidles in tomorrow's journey.
|Maungahuka and the Tararua Peaks|
The track descends quickly and easily for 150 metres to the SW and crosses over a small bump. Another scrub filled saddle is then encountered on the way to Wright (1196m). It is easy to lose the track in the undergrowth in these scrubby areas but it is never more than a few metres from the ridgeline and is soon regained. More scrub awaits you in the slightly shallower saddle between Wright and Simpson (1174m). The track takes an obvious southerly curve in gaining Simpson before a final tiny saddle to point 1138 is crossed. Soon the last bit of scrub is passed and the track takes a steady, gentle climb through good tussock (160 metres to rise over the next kilometre to the hut). When the ridge becomes abruptly narrow, you know that you are near the hut. By this time I had climbed into the clouds (or perhaps they had descended to me) and so the first thing I glimpsed was the tarn's dark waters through the mist. The track drops to the head of the tarn to where the orange roof and green walls of Maungahuka Hut greet you.
The first thing I did at the hut was to have a good long drink - the hot morning had dried me out. In the hut were 2 hunters who were hoping that I was the third member of their party - he was due back soon and they were worried about the lateness of the hour and the low visibility. He had not arrived back by nightfall so they went up onto the ridge at the back of the hut to let off a few rounds. There was no reply, but they were not too worried - he had good, warm clothing with him (and a cell-phone). They also spent some time replying to a flashing light before coming to the conclusion that it must have been a lighthouse on the coast. In the morning, they gave me a note to hand in at Otaki Forks in case he did not turn up. Actually, he walked into the hut not long after I left, so everything was OK.
|The Tararua Peaks!|
I stayed at the hut until after 9 am to see if the lost hunter turned up and then went out into dense mist (about 40 metres visibility) and a light chilly breeze from the east. The track quickly gains the ridge behind the hut and clambers over a couple of fairly sharp bumps to Maungahuka (1330m). However the route to the Tararua Peaks turns off just before the final rise to the summit. This is not easy to miss, but I managed to walk straight past it. I blame the fact that I was trying to make up a bit of time and was racing along with my head down. The summit just looked like another bump in the mist to me. After about half an hour of constant descending, I realised my mistake - especially when I could hear streams in the mist and glimpse the bush-line on Concertina Knob ahead of me. A quick bearing check confirmed that I was heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction and I climbed back to the summit (about an hour wasted).
I really kicked myself when I found the obvious turn-off. The track continues (west!) along the top of a ridge for about 10 minutes until the ridge comes to an abrupt end. The big drop ahead of you is avoided by a route zigzaging down the scree on the north side of the ridge until a final wide sweep crosses under the craggy end of the ridge. In a few metres further along the ridge, the track goes down a rocky gully - there is some slippery bare rock here - and gets back onto the ridge again. There are a couple of bumps to cross with steep climbs up their overgrown sides. The side of Tunui is reached 10 minutes from the gully and the track sidles around its slopes to a short spur. Care is needed where the sidle crosses over the top of a bare rock gully.
The spur gives you the first look into the cleft between Tunui and Tuiti and in good weather must have marvellous views down Whatiuru Creek to the Otaki River and back along the Main Range. The track drops over the vertical side of the spur - the soil is rapidly being eroded away here with bare rock providing scant security. A couple of metres of teetering on the rock and the start of a metal cable is reached. It provides a supportive guideline all the way to the foot of the ladder. The thin route sidles along the steep slopes and over a wet trickle to the base of a once-grassy crag (now mostly rock). The track and cable climb straight up the crag for a few metres and then there is a final sidle to the base of the cleft (and ladder). There is room here for a couple of people to rest before starting up the ladder.
The old (pre-March 2002) wire ladder has been replaced by a proper metal ladder but here is a description of my climb of the previous ladder:
The old wire ladder contains 57 rungs of which you have to climb 55. There are about 20 (1 per metre) lengths of 4-by-4 wood attached to the back of the ladder to provide a little space between the rungs and the rock-face. Even so, there are a few spots where the rungs can only accommodate your boots sideways. Erosion has put the track an uncomfortable distance down from the lowest rung. I found it easiest to drag the ladder a little to the right where there is better access. The climb up is fairly easy but the depth below you demands that care be taken. The rock in front of you still shows some of the holds constructed by the earlier Tararua trampers. All too soon, the ladder reaches its end at the dome of rock around which its supporting cables pass. The brave (foolhardy?) can go straight over the dome using the last couple of rungs. The more cautious (i.e. me) can step off the ladder early and squeeze around the side with help from the cables. A tiny gully provides a flatter bit of ground for a rest.
|Judd Ridge in the evening light. Table Top is in the centre.|
More scrambling takes you up steep rocky slopes above the ladder until the slope gains soil and eases. The track soon reaches the top of Tuiti and starts a relatively gentle descent to the saddle before McIntosh (1286m) - there is a tarn beside the ridge that may be useful. The climb up to McIntosh involves a sharp southerly turn, but don't worry about missing the turn since the track is muddily obvious along the side of the ridge. If you are heading for Penn Creek Hut then the route along Pakihore Ridge starts on the north of the sharp turn.
The route from McIntosh to Yeates (1205m) is clear and easy to follow. The drop to the west from Yeates is less clear because it soon enters a carpet of thick growth - the track is easy to lose but just as easily regained. The saddle is filled with mature leatherwood and a track has been literally hacked through the middle of the scrub. Halfway through, there is a small alcove suitable for a rest out of the wind and for lunch (there is even a fireplace). Another southerly turn awaits you on the climb out of the saddle to the long summit ridge of Vosseler (1198m). There is a cairn about 10 minutes north of Vosseler that marks the beginning of a rough route down to Penn Creek Hut (about 2 hours, bush navigation skills needed).
From Vosseler, a long undulating ridge nicely narrows as it dips and climbs to Boyd-Wilson Knob (1138m). A sharpish descent then takes the track to the base of a 300 metre climb up the ridge towards Bridge Peak (1421m). The first couple of hundred metres up the ridge are good steady going until the steeper slopes are reached (however these are only a 1 in 3 gradient at most). After gaining 100m in height the gradient eases again and gives plenty of opportunity for looking around. To the west is Judd Ridge stretching down to Otaki Forks and on the east is the rugged Winchcombe-Neill Ridge over the headwaters of the Hector River. Ahead is the notch between Bridge and Field Peaks that contains the hut. Luckily I climbed out of the clouds and was able to enjoy these views (see the next photo).
In an hour from the base of the climb, I topped out on a spur running south from Bridge Peak. The track does not actually visit the peak but dips down into a small valley before Hut Mound (1440m). The head of a stream is crossed and the track heads for the slopes of Hut Mound, passing on the way a large alpine meadow on the right that used to contain the old Vosseler Hut. The track progresses from a narrow rut in the tussock on the flats to rocky scree on the way up the mound. A few minutes gets you to the top where the track veers to the west to join the main track along Judd Ridge to Kime Hut at a well-marked junction. On this beautiful evening, I spent some time on the mound admiring the sight of the sun sinking into the clouds over the Tasman Sea and the rippling of the wind-blown tussock in the golden twilight.
The rest of the track to the hut is broad, well-marked and gets very eroded near the hut. The first thing I noticed was the new water-tank which now means much sweeter water than the stuff from the nearby tarns. I had the hut to myself making it seem much bigger than the last time I was here when it was full.
|Out from Kime Hut|
I woke up early this morning so that I could deliver the hunters' note down at Otaki Forks as soon as possible. The hut was very cold, mainly because the wind had risen during the evening and night and was in just the right direction to rattle the hut door which then worked its way open. The cold, clammy clouds also drove the temperature down, cut visibility to about 10 metres and made my visit to the long-drop freezing. I was out of the door by 7 am, dressed for the weather.
On a fine day, I recommend a 2-3 hour diversion over Field Peak to Mt. Hector and its memorial cross.
|Clouds boiling over the Winchcombe-Neill Ridge on the previous day.|
I walked rapidly back along the track past Hut Mound and Bridge Peak in order to get warm and to get out of the wind fast. Past Bridge Peak, the track zigzags 200 metres down from the exposed alpine meadows and into low scrub and tussock. The track is wide, stony and eroded in parts. After the zigzags, the slope is gentler and the track keeps to the ridge top. Keep an eye out for a split in the ridge where the track keeps to the true left (west) side of the fork - this is obvious and means that you are about halfway to Dennan (1214m). In cloud, the knob just after the fork may be briefly mistaken for Dennan.
A number of small bumps are passed over before the track gets to the side of Dennan and starts to sidle its slopes as it heads north. This is a good spot to put on more waterproofs in dew-laden weather since the sidle is very overgrown. A few zigzags take the track down to the plateau before Table Top on a usually-gravelled surface where some needed reconstruction is being done. About 75 metres before the old eroded track (now by-passed), there is a cairn and iron standard marking the turn-off to the track down to Penn Creek. A boardwalk protects the fragile alpine bog in the lowest part of the plateau and then the track rises gently towards Table Top (1047m) which is sidled on the south.
The track dives into a deeply eroded section with its banks well above shoulder height but soon becomes a highway as it goes along the ridge again. The scrub and tussock are soon left behind as small trees crowd in (a bit claustrophobic after the wide open spaces of the last few days). Field Hut is down a large zigzag starting 20 minutes from Table Top. This is a good spot for a break and the long-drop is not too smelly.
The rest of the way down the ridge (about 2 hours from Field Hut) is a mostly steady descent through good bush. There is a bit of a climb around Tirotiro Knob and a couple of smaller bumps. The lower bush-line is reached where the old farmland begins. There is a nice rest spot just over a small dip from the bush-line (look for the first of the striped poles) with soft grass and good views. The track follows the poles down onto the river terrace above Otaki Forks. I met the leader of a party here and an ill girl she was escorting back to the caretakers house and took over escort duty for the last 15 minutes. I handed over the girl and the note from the hunters at the house - luckily the note was redundant since the hunter had turned up the previous morning. I recommend that you book a taxi for the outward journey since both taxis were busy and I ended up getting an expensive one out from Levin.
|From||To||Posted Time1||My Time2||Comments|
|Otaki Forks||Waitewaewae Hut||240||360||Interesting creek walking.|
|Waitewaewae Hut||Shoulder Knob||180||280||Very steep to start, a couple of flatter sections higher up.|
|Shoulder Knob||Junction Knob||40||55||Nice tussock track.|
|Junction Knob||Anderson Memorial Hut||60||90||More tussock, gentle descent.|
|Anderson Memorial Hut||Kahiwiroa||60||125||Good bush travel to start, great views to the north.|
|Kahiwiroa||Aokaparangi||60||185||Quick descent, steady ascent (20m steep, rocky section).|
|Tararua Peaks||Bridge Peak||210||360||Plenty of small peaks, ends with a steepish climb.|
|Bridge Peak||Kime Hut||20||30||Wonderfully lit tussock in evening light.|
|Kime Hut||Otaki Forks||300||300||A fast descent (for me).|
1 Time in books or hut notices (minutes).
2 My time includes lunch, stops and my very slow pace (minutes).